This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




In Re: Estate of Timothy J. Murphy, Deceased.

Filed January 6, 1998


Klaphake, Judge

Stearns County District Court

File No. P6-95-1890

Richard J. Rawlings, P.O. Box 1677, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (For Appellant Estate)

Roger P. Schmidt, Schmidt and Lund, 11 North Seventh Avenue, St. Cloud, MN 56303 (For Respondent Vivian Murphy)

Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.



The Estate of Timothy J. Murphy appeals from an award to respondent Vivian Murphy equal to one-half the net proceeds from the sale of a piece of decedent's real estate (Lot 5), based upon an oral contract for maintenance of Lot 5 and another adjacent lot. Because respondent has demonstrated part performance in reliance upon the contract, we affirm.


In 1962, respondent and her now-deceased husband entered into an oral contract to maintain two pieces of real estate, Lots 4 and 5, that adjoined respondent's lot, and belonged to decedent Timothy Murphy. In return for their promise to perform all maintenance on the two lots, Timothy Murphy promised to either deed one-half of Lot 5 to respondent and her husband or to pay them one-half the proceeds from the sale of Lot 5. Without compensation and at some expense to themselves, respondent and her family landscaped, mowed, pruned, and otherwise maintained Lot 4 until its sale in 1990 and Lot 5 until 1995. Timothy Murphy died in 1994, and his personal representative sold Lot 5 in 1995. The estate denied respondent's claim for compensation, which was filed shortly after the sale.

We conclude the estate is correct in its argument that this is an oral contract involving an interest in real estate, which ordinarily would be barred by the statute of frauds. Minn. Stat. § 513.04 (1994). The trial court therefore erred in ruling that this was an oral contract for services not covered by the statute of frauds.

However, the trial court went on to rule that, even if this agreement is one that ordinarily would be invalid under the statute of frauds, the contract is enforceable under the doctrine of part performance. We agree and affirm on this basis. A court may order specific performance of a contract otherwise barred by the statute of frauds if the party seeking enforcement of the contract can demonstrate that (1) in reliance upon the contract, the party has so altered his position by acts of part performance that he will incur an unjust and irreparable injury if the other party is permitted to rely upon the statute of frauds; or (2) the relationship of the parties, as shown by their actions rather than by the alleged contract, cannot reasonably be explained except by reference to some contract between them. Burke v. Fine, 236 Minn. 52, 55-56, 51 N.W.2d 818, 820 (1952); In re Guardianship of Huesman, 354 N.W.2d 860, 863 (Minn. App. 1984).

Respondent has demonstrated sufficient part performance of the contract by maintaining the two lots for 28 and 33 years, respectively, without compensation and at her own expense. Failure to compensate her for this extended period of service would be unjust. Further, absent an agreement between the parties, respondent's rendering of these services and Timothy Murphy's acceptance of them is inexplicable.

We also affirm the trial court's determination that respondent's claim is not barred by the statute of limitations. Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(1) (1994) (action upon contract shall be commenced within six years). The statute of limitations begins to run when a party's cause of action accrues or "when an action thereon can be brought." O'Neill v. Illinois Farmers Ins. Co., 381 N.W.2d 439, 440 (Minn. 1986). When the parties to a contract recognize that a lengthy delay may occur before a demand for payment must be made, the statute does not begin to run until that demand is made or payment otherwise becomes due. Bannitz v. Hardware Mut. Cas. Co., 219 Minn. 235, 237-39, 17 N.W.2d 372, 373-74 (1945).

Here, the parties' agreement contemplated a lengthy delay. Respondent's claim would mature only upon the occurrence of one of two conditions: sale of Lot 5 or a move by respondent. As such, her claim did not mature until the sale of Lot 5, and her attempt to enforce that claim occurred well within the applicable period of limitation.

Because we affirm the decision of the trial court with respect to the applicability of the doctrine of part performance, we do not address the issues of equitable estoppel, promissory estoppel, and quasi-contract.