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.
If the purchaser demands specific performance against a vendor who can perform in part only, the courts are much more ready to grant relief in spite of a material variance between the performance which the vendor can be compelled to give and the performance which he has agreed to give, and they are much more ready to grant compensation for such deficiency in performance than they are in cases in which the vendor is seeking relief against an unwilling purchaser.1 Indeed, the doctrine of substantial performance does not, properly speaking, apply to cases of this sort. Since the plaintiff is the party who is not in default and since he seeks performance of as much of the contract as is practicable against one who has agreed to perform more than he can be compelled to perform specifically, the readiness of the courts to grant specific performance is not limited by the necessity of showing that the vendor can be compelled to perform substantially; but the limit is rather whether the remedy of specific performance can be given to the purchaser without imposing a hardship upon the vendor much greater than the benefit which such relief will confer upon the purchaser. If the land which is sold is encumbered by a party wall which is of no benefit to the purchaser, the purchaser may have specific performance with compensation for the damage done by such encumbrance.2 If one of two or more tenants in common has agreed to convey the entire tract, specific performance can be given against such vendor with compensation for the value of the remaining interests.3 If a contract is made with two owners in severalty for the purchase of a tract of land from each of them, and such contract is unenforceable as against one, specific performance with compensation may, nevertheless, be compelled as against the other, although a gross amount was to be paid for the two tracts.4 If A, who is acting in two different capacities, agrees to sell to B a tract of a certain frontage, and by reason of his inability to act in one capacity such contract is unenforceable as to a quarter of such frontage, the purchaser may compel specific performance of compensation as to the rest of such tract.5 A contract for the sale of a specific lot which by the terms of the contract is to contain one hundred and forty-five acres, may be enforced with compensation against the vendor, although the tract in fact contains less than one hundred and twenty acres.6
14 Vaughan v. Butterfleld. 85 Ark. 289, 122 Am. St. Rep. 31, 107 S W. 993.
15 Connor v. Buhl, 115 Mich. 531, 73 N. W. 821.
1 England. Milligan v. Cooke. 16 Ves. Jr. 1.
United States. Pratt v. Law. 13 U. S. (9 Cranch) 456, 3 L. ed. 791; Town-send v. Vanderwerker, 160 U. S. 171, 40 L. ed. 383.
Massachusetts. Cashman v. Bean, 226 Mass. 198, 115 N. E. 574.
Minnesota. Melin v. Woolley, 103 Minn. 498. 22 L. R. A. (N.S.) 595, 115 N. W. 654. 946.
Missouri. Barthel v. Engle, 261 Mo. 307, 168 S. W. 1154 (obiter).
West Virginia. Lathrop v. Columbia Colleries Co., 70 W. Va. 58, 73 S. E. 299.
Wisconsin. Doctor v. Hellberg 5 Wis. 415, 27 N. W. 176.
2 Cashman v. Bean, 226 Ma. 198, 115 N. E. 574.
Whether a purchaser of land free from all encumbrances may have specific performance with compensation if the wife of the vendor refuses to release her dower, is a question upon which there is a conflict of authority; some courts granting specific performance with compensation,7 and other courts denying it.8