This section is from the book "The Law Of Contracts", by William Herbert Page. Also available from Amazon: Commercial Contracts: A Practical Guide to Deals, Contracts, Agreements and Promises.
An attempt has been made to distinguish between cases in which extrinsic evidence is used for the purpose of adding to the legal effect of the written memorandum or, as it is sometimes used, for the purpose of adding words thereto, and the cases in which it is sought by oral evidence to exclude from the effect of the written memorandum provisions which otherwise would be evidenced thereby, or, as is sometimes said, to strike words from the written memorandum or contract. It has been suggested that if this distinction could be made, it would not violate the Statute of Frauds to limit the operation of the written memorandum by excluding therefrom provisions which otherwise would be evidenced thereby, since the Statute of Frauds does not attempt to make the written evidence conclusive, but merely attempts to prevent the enforcement of the contracts enumerated in the statute, unless such written evidence is offered to establish the existence of such contracts. Accordingly, it has been said that reformation may be granted if it is sought to restrict the operation of the written memorandum,14 although the same evidence would be inadmissible to add to the scope and effect of the written memorandum, since such evidence would violate the Statute of Frauds.15 Where the parties by mistake executed a mortgage when it was intended to execute a deed, reformation has been granted by striking out the clause of defeasance on the theory that "no attempt is made to insert a parcel of land that was omitted from the writing, or to construct any agreement by introducing a new element that is required by the statute to be reduced to writing in order to make the. agreement binding." 16 It seems easier to justify the refusal of the courts of equity to reform a written memorandum which is so incomplete as to be insufficient under the Statute of Frauds by adding the omitted provisions of the oral contract, since this is the very case to which the Statute of Frauds was intended to apply.17 The only theory upon which reformation could be granted in such cases is that the high degree of proof required in reformation lessens the chance of fraud and perjury; but unless any court has power to ignore the Statute of Frauds whenever it requires a higher degree of proof than a mere preponderance of evidence, no justification for such a violation of the statute can be found. It has, however, been pointed out that there is no real difference between these two classes of cases, since if the scope of the written memorandum is restricted, the party against whom such reformation is granted will receive less because of such reformation than he would have received by the terms of the written memorandum as originally signed; and this is as much a violation of the parol evidence rule as adding to the effect of the written memorandum.18 In any event, it may be added, even if such distinction is to be recognized, the true basis for the distinction is whether the reformation will add to the scope and effect of the written memorandum, and not whether it will add words thereto or eliminate words therefrom, since it is frequently possible to broaden the scope and effect of the written memorandum by eliminating certain words.19
11Allen v. Kitchen, 16 Ida. 133, L. R. A. 1917A, 563, 100 Pac. 1052.
12 Mead v. White, 53 Wash. 638, 23 L. R. A. (N.S.) 1197, 102 Par. 753.
13 See Sec. 2224 et seq.
14 Worley v. Tuggle, 67 Ky. (4 Bush.) 168; Kennedy v. Poole, 213 Mass. 495,
L. R. A. 1917A, 600, 100 N. E. 635; Gillespie v. Moon, 2 Johns. Ch. (N. Y.) 585, 7 Am. Dec. 559.
15 See note 9, this section.
16 Kennedy v. Poole, 213 Mass. 495, L. R. A. 1917A, 600, 100 N. E. 636 [citing, Canedy v. Marcy, 79 Mass. (13
If, by mistake, a seal is omitted from a contract which is required by law to be under seal, equity may grant relief by compelling a seal to be affixed.20 Whether reformation can be granted where the instrument, from its nature or by reason of positive provisions of law, must be in writing as distinguished from the cases in which the contract must be proved by writing, is a question upon which there is some difference of authority. It is generally assumed that such instruments as deeds, mortgages and leases may be reformed.21 A mortgage may be reformed with reference to the description of the obligation which it is given to secure,22 or by striking out the defeasance clause where the parties intended to execute a deed.23 Reformation of a promissory note may be granted.24 If a contract with a government or a public corporation is required by law to be in writing, all preliminary agreements are in legal effect merely negotiations, even if the parties have attempted to enter into a binding contract by such oral agreement. To reform the written contract which is entered into by the oral agreement in such a case would seem to be a more difficult matter than to reform a written memorandum which was controlled by the Statute of Frauds. Reformation has been granted in such a case, however;25 and where it has been denied it apparently has been denied rather on the ground of negligence of the party who seeks relief rather than because of the nature of the contract itself.26 'Reformation has been refused in such cases on the ground that the agent of the public corporation, who executed the written contract, had no power to bind the public corporation by anything but a written contract, and that accordingly there was no oral agreement by which to reform the written contract.27
Gray) 373]; Sawyer v. Hovey, 85 Mass. (3 Allen) 331, 81 Am. Dec. 659; Goode v. Riley, 153 Mass. 585, 28 N. E. 228].
17 Mead v. White, 53 Wash. 638, 23 L. R. A. (N.S.) 1197, 102 Pac. 753.
18Vogt v. Mullin, 82 N. J. Eq. 452, 89 Atl. 533.
19Macomber v. Peckham, 16 R. I. 485. 17 Atl. 910.
20 United States. Bernard's Township v. Stebbins, 109 U. S. 341, 27 L. ed. 956.
Massachusetts. Springfield Five
Cents Sav. Bank v. South Congregational Soc., 127 Mass. 516; Gaylord v. Pelland, 169 Mass. 356, 47 N. E. 1019; Parsons v. Parsons, 230 Mass. 544, 119 N. E. 1020.
Minnesota. Lebanon Sav. Bank v. Hollenbeck, 29 Minn. 322, 13 N. W. 145.
New Jersey. Conover v. Brown, 49 N. J. Eq. 156, 23 Atl. 507.
New York. Chase v. Peck, 21 N. Y. 581.
Rhode Island. Bullock v. Whipp, 15 R. I. 195, 2 Atl. 309.