Lucy v Zehmer – 196 Va. 493, 84 S.E.2d 516 (1954) case brief

Here you will see Lucy v Zehmer case brief

lucy v Zehmer is a landmark case in U.S contract law.

Lucy v Zehmer is a very important case in the  U.S legal system especially contract law because it insists on the importance of the intention of the parties in the formation of contracts.

Lucy v Zehmer case is often taught in American law schools’ first-year contract law classes.

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Lucy v Zehmer case brief

Lucy v. Zehmer – 196 Va. 493, 84 S.E.2d 516 (1954)

Decided on November 22, 1954


Archibald C. Buchanan, Supreme Court of Virginia


W.O Lucy is a Appellant  and A.H Zehmer is a Respondent.


The Appellant was dissatisfied with the decision of the Circuit Court of Dinwiddie County, by Judge Hon J. G. Jefferson, Jr who decided in the favour of the respondent that there was no valid contract between the parties.

The Appellant appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia on the ground that the respondent has already accepted his offer so he can not refuse it, The  Supreme Court of Virginia reversed and remanded the decision of the trial court.


The Respondent and his wife Ida S. Zehmer owned the piece of land measuring 471.6 acres.

W. O. Lucy, the Appellant, had known Zehmer for a long time and had shown interest in purchasing the farm but his prior attempts to purchase it proved futile.

On December 20, 1952, With a bottle of whiskey in his hand, Lucy entered Zehmer’s restaurant.

They drink together and discussed the possibility of purchasing the land.

After the discussion, Zehmer wrote on the back of the restaurant’s receipt. “We thus agree to sell the farm entirely to W. O. Lucy for $50,000.00,” and he signed the note with his wife.

Zehmer later said that his wife originally refused to sign the instrument when he asked her to, but she eventually agreed when Zehmer persuaded her that his intention to sell the farm was only a joke.

The next day, Lucy discussed the acquisition with his brother, J.C. Lucy, and he engaged an attorney to investigate the title.

After assuring Lucy that the title was clear, the attorney wrote Zehmer a letter inquiring when he planned to finish the sale.

Zehmer responded that he never planned to sell the land and that the message signed by him and his wife was written in jest.

Appellant sued Respondent for specific performance of a contract to purchase the farm in the Circuit Court of Dinwiddie County which decided in the defendant’s favor, hence this appeal.


  1. Was there a valid contract?
  2. Is the specific performance a proper remedy?


The contract is nevertheless enforceable if one of the parties has a reasonable belief that the other party intends to enter into the agreement while he does not.


In reaching its decision, the appellate court was highly focused on the intention and belief of the Plaintiff and not the defendant.

In this case, the court is departing from the required “meeting of the minds” standard for a valid contract.


In relation to the first issue, the answer is Yes.

The court held that there was a vail contract between the parties.

The court observed that Defendant was not so inebriated that he was oblivious to the nature and effects of the instrument he used.

The circumstances surrounding the purchase led Lucy to believe it was a real business transaction rather than a joke.

In relation to the second issue, the answer is Yes.

The court held that specific performance was the proper remedy for the plaintiff.


The decision of the trial court was reversed and remanded.

Read the full opinion here

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