Land Court: Ignorance of English Language Cannot Invalidate Contract

 

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Earlier this month Land Court ruled that a Portuguese-speaking homeowner was bound by a Purchase &  Sale Agreement written in English.  MISC 16-000010.

According to the terms of a 2015 Purchase & Sale Agreement, Luiza Barros agreed to sell her three-family house in Dorchester to Ocean City Development, LLC for $500,000.

Shortly after signing the agreement, Barros was informed that the value of the real estate was approximately $650,000 to $675,000.

She refused to proceed with the deal and the prospective buyer took the matter to court.

At trial Barros claimed that the agreement was not enforceable “because she doesn’t meaningfully speak and read English.”

She emigrated from Cape Verde in 1982.

The judge writing the court’s opinion describes her language comprehension as follows:

While I do not find that [she] speaks English fluently or even well, I do not conclude that [she] was so lacking in English communication skills that she failed to appreciate the substance of the transaction.

The court held that the homeowner’s “claim that she does not speak or understand English does not, by itself, render the P&S Agreement invalid.”

It based this decision on case law which states that a party is bound by the terms of a contract “’even though not understanding their purport and ignorant of the English language.’  Paulink v. American Express Co., 265 Mass. 182, 185 (1928).”

Additionally,

One who signs a written agreement is bound by its terms whether one reads and understands it or not or whether one can read or not.  Cohen v. Santoianni, 330 Mass. 187, 193 (1953).

If you have any questions about real estate law, please contact me at justin@jrmccarthy.com

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