Judge rules for owners with sellers' remorse

SUBLETTE COUNTY – In a civil suit contesting who should be awarded ownership of a once-listed rural home with acreage and a breached contract – the couple who backed out of selling or the couple whose bid they accepted – the judge ruled on April 6 the current owners would keep the property.

The losers – Virgil and Vicki Morningstar, with a young family and a desire for rural property for 4-H livestock – had spent six months looking for suitable property after their Jackson rental was sold, according to their civil complaint filed Sept. 3, 2021, in 9th District Court. 

Bid accepted

Last July, a realtor showed them a listed property owned by Christopher and Rachel Robison on Glacier Road near Daniel. The Morningstars submitted a bid, accepted the Robisons’ counteroffer and planned for an Aug. 27, 2021, closing, according to court records.

But the Robisons failed to show that day, having already decided they didn’t want to sell their home. After trying unsuccessfully to buy other vacant lots to build on while their home was for sale, Rachel Robison testified at the Jan. 25 civil trial before Judge Marv Tyler that they could not find comparable properties and would “be homeless,” records show.

The Morningstars, who lined up a down payment and financing, were prepared to move into the new home but were forced to rent an apartment in Pinedale.

Robison told Judge Tyler that their realtor failed to include a contingency clause with the counteroffer to make selling the Daniel home dependent on their purchase of new property. She wrote the Morningstars, asking them to back out of the deal, records show.

They declined, because this area’s heated real estate market made buying a different suitable home almost impossible for them. They had paid for a building inspection and made unexpected rental payments, record show.

Contract breached

Judge Tyler ruled that the Robisons did breach the enforceable and binding sales contract, with his next decision, to resolve the stalemate, taken under advisement.

The Robisons said they had no place to go and wanted to keep their Glacier Drive home.

The Morningstars requested “specific performance” or completion of the closing transaction to buy the Robisons’ property.

In his 36-page decision, Judge Tyler weighed both parties’ trial testimony and extensive legal briefs from each party’s attorney to decide on “appropriate relief” – specific performance or compensation.

He wrote, “The (Morningstars) have failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence of the existence of any compelling reasons why their claimed expenses, with an award of their reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, are ‘an inadequate or impractical remedy’ resulting from the (Robisons’) breach of the contract.”

Judge Tyler considered whether or not “the specific performance remedy would impose a significant hardship upon (the Robisons) that outweighs the benefits to (the Morningstars).”

He concluded, “After considering the admissions, stipulations, testimony and evidence touching upon the ‘special equities’ of the circumstances of this case, the Court finds and concludes that it would be inequitable and unjust to order (the Robisons) specifically perform on the contract.”

After denying the Morningstars’ request, Judge Tyler ordered the Robisons to prepare to pay the Morningstars’ reasonable attorney fees and court costs, return their $10,000 earnest money, repay them $650 for the building inspection and reimburse them $5,478 for rent and utilities from Aug. 27, 2021, through the end of the year.