Contract, etc. McIntosh Superior Court. Before Judge Stewart.
Ashley E. Browning, Williams, Rentz & Moulton, Jeffrey B. Rentz, for appellant.
Adam S. Poppell III, J. Alvin Leaphart, for appellee.
BOGGS, Judge. Barnes, P. J., and Branch, J., concur.
Jules Hagan appeals following a jury verdict in favor of Christopher Keyes on Keyes' complaint seeking damages for fraud, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. Hagan asserts that the trial court erred in awarding Keyes damages on the breach of contract claim, denying his motion for a directed verdict on the fraud claim, and awarding Keyes attorney fees. Hagan also asserts that Keyes' unjust enrichment claim fails as a matter of law. For the following reasons, we affirm the entry of judgment on Keyes' claim for damages, but reverse the award of attorney fees for lack of sufficient evidence.
Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence showed that Billy Nelson was contacted by Hagan about purchasing certain property owned by Bruce Townsend. When Keyes expressed to Nelson, who was his friend and neighbor, that he was " looking for some acreage to buy," Nelson told him about Townsend's property. Keyes asked Nelson if Hagan had a contract on the property, and if he would be " willing to sell the contract." Keyes told Nelson to inform Townsend that he would give him " a $100,000 upfront binder and that he would give ... Hagan $100,000 for the sale of the contract."
Hagan agreed to enter into the purchase agreement with Townsend and then to assign that agreement to Keyes for $100,000. Keyes testified that Nelson persuaded him not " to go down to the property" or talk to Townsend because " the deal would get screwed up." On May 14, 2007, Townsend
and Hagan signed an agreement for the purchase of 70 acres for $700,000 (71 acres minus the 1 acre for Townsend's home) prepared by Keyes' attorney. Ten days later, Hagan assigned the agreement to Keyes.
After the assignment, Keyes and Hagan went to look at the property, and Keyes discovered from Townsend that a portion of it, the marshfront portion, had already been sold. Keyes then researched property records and discovered that six of Townsend's seventy acres, a fair amount of which " was right along the marsh that would grant [Keyes] access ... to the river," were sold in 1999 and 2000. Keyes informed Townsend that the portion of the property that had already been sold, and which he believed he would purchase under the assigned purchase agreement, had significant value, and that while he remained committed to the purchase, Townsend had " significantly damaged [his] position." When Keyes requested the return of his money from both Hagan and Townsend, Hagan told him, " He didn't have the money, 'Go ahead and sue me, ... [n]othing is in my name anyways.' " Townsend told Keyes, " He ain't got it, you know, gone, spent, back taxes, whatever, spent it all."
[329 Ga.App. 179] Nelson testified that he was unaware that a portion of the 70 acres had been sold. Hagan testified that he was aware some of Townsend's property had been sold, but that he believed 70 acres remained and that the purchase was for the 70 acres " at [$]10,000 an acre." Townsend, however, testified that the total sales price was not based upon a certain price per acre, that he was aware at the time he signed the purchase agreement that he " didn't have 70 acres to sell," and that Hagan " also knew that." Townsend explained that he had informed the parties that " six acres [were] missing," that he had known Hagan " all [his] life," and that Hagan " knew that the acreage was missing. And I figured that there would be -- they had been out there doing some wetlands work ..., so I figured we was in the process of getting everything legally done the way it should be done." Townsend explained further that he was unaware of Keyes' agreement with Hagan to assign the purchase agreement and did not become aware of Keyes' involvement for " 10 days to 2 weeks" after he signed the purchase agreement with Hagan.
When Townsend refused to return the $100,000 Keyes paid in earnest money through Hagan, Keyes sued Townsend for specific performance, or in the alternative the return of the $100,000, and claimed that Townsend committed fraud. Townsend filed a third-party complaint against Hagan alleging that Hagan failed to disclose to Keyes that six acres were not included in the sale. Hagan answered and asserted a counterclaim against Townsend seeking damages for breach of contract and fraud. Keyes then ...