Writing Requirement of Statute of Frauds Met By a Number of Documents Associated With Absentee Bidding at a Public Auction
The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Rivera, reversed the Appellate Division and determined the plaintiff had not failed to comply with the statutory (statute of frauds) requirement of a writing in support of its breach of contract claim. The defendant, as an absentee bidder at a public auction held by the plaintiff, successfully bid over $400,000 on an item but subsequently refused to pay for it. The Appellate Division determined that the name of the seller was not in any of the relevant documents and therefore there was no writing which could be enforced. The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that, because it was clear the plaintiff was acting as the seller’s agent in the bidding process, the absence of the seller’s name from the documents was not fatal to the writing requirement:
…[T]he absentee bidder form, along with the clerking sheet, provide the necessary information to establish the name of Rabizadeh as the buyer. …
In addition to the buyer’s name, the GOL requires disclosure of “the name of the person on whose account the sale was made”. * * *
[T]he GOL does not reference the “seller”, making it clear that the seller’s name need not be provided in order to satisfy the requirement of “the name of the person on whose account the sale was made”.
* * * It is well settled that an auctioneer serves as a consignor’s agent … . … Here, the clerking sheet lists Jenack [plaintiff] as the auctioneer, and as such it served as the agent of the seller. The clerking sheet, therefore, provides “the name of the person on whose account the sale was made” and satisfies GOL § 5701(a)(6). …
It bears repeating in such a case as this that:
‘The Statute of Frauds was not enacted to afford persons a means of evading just obligations; nor was it intended to supply a cloak of immunity to hedging litigants lacking integrity; nor was it adopted to enable defendants to interpose the Statute as a bar to a contract fairly, and admittedly, made’ … .
Using the Statute of Frauds as a “means of evading” a “just obligation” is precisely what Rabizadeh attempts to do here, but the law and the facts foreclose him from doing so. Rabizadeh took affirmative steps to participate in Jenack’s auction, including executing an absentee bidder form with the required personal information. He then successfully won the bidding for item 193, closing out other interested bidders, with his $400,000 bid. He cannot seek to avoid the consequences of his actions by ignoring the existence of a documentary trail leading to him. Willam J Jenack Estate Appraisers and Auctioneers, Inc v Rabizadeh, 229, CtApp 12-17-13