Papanikolas v. Sampson

In Papanikolas v. Sampson, 73 Utah 404, 274 P. 856, 861 (Utah 1929), the Court addressed whether prospective buyers could bring a tort action for fraud and deceit to recover damages they sustained when the prospective sellers failed to perform an oral promise for the sale of land. In that case, it was clear that any contract claim would fail because the oral contract was unenforceable under the statute of frauds. Since the statute of frauds barred recovery under a contract action, the buyers attempted to bypass the statute by asserting a tort cause of action against the prospective sellers for fraud and deceit. The damages claimed by the buyers with respect to their tort claim were equal in amount to the damages they would have pursued under a breach of contract claim. Papanikolas, 274 P. at 859-60. Because the claimed tort damages directly coincided with the damages for a breach of contract claim, and because it appeared that any evidence of fraud was dubious at best, we held that the buyers' action was really a claim for breach of contract disguised as a tort claim and was thus barred by the statute of frauds. Id. at 861. The Court explained that a complaining party cannot "set up a promise void under the statute of frauds and base recovery upon rights or damages alleged to have been created by such promises which he would not have except for such agreement." Id. at 862.