Wolf v. Marlton Corp.
57 N.J.Super. 278, 154 A.2d 625 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1959)
The Wolfs contracted to buy
land in a subdivision owned by Marlton. They paid a deposit.
Before their house was
finished, the Wolfs got a divorce, backed out of the deal and demanded
their deposit back.
When Marlton refused to give
them a full refund, Mr. Wolf told Marlton that they would otherwise sell
the land to an "undesirable" in order to lower the value of the
neighborhood and make racists unlikely to buy houses in that subdivision.
Marlton gave the deposit back
and then sued to recover it.
Marlton argued that the
Wolfs' threats amounted to duress.
The Wolfs' argued that it
was perfectly legal for them to sell their house to whomever they wanted
to, so how could doing something legal amount to duress?
Plus, who knows if property
values would have even gone down? The threat was too remote and vague
to amount to duress.
The Court found for Marlton.
The Court found that
although it was technically legal for the Wolfs to sell their house to
anyone they wanted to "duress is tested, not by the nature of the
threats, but rather by the state of mind induced thereby in the
Basically, it doesn't matter
what the threat is, if it's legal or not, or if it even makes sense, as
long as the victim is pressured by the threat (a question of fact of a
jury), then there is duress.