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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sometimes the Statute of Frauds Can Be a Real Pain in the Neck

Just ask Professor Chander Kant.  He filed a pro se complaint alleging that Columbia University breached an oral contract promising him a senior-level, full-time, tenure-track faculty position in its Economics Department.  But the S.D.N.Y. (Gardephe, J.) dismissed the complaint: 

Kant alleges that an oral contract was formed when he was promised a senior-level, full-time appointment for two successive one-year terms, subject to (1) approval of the initial appointment by the economics department's senior faculty, and (2) Kant's regular attendance at and participation in weekly research seminars. (SAC ¶¶14, 17) Kant asserts that reappointment after the first year was mandatory if his initial appointment was approved and he met his seminar obligations. (See SAC ¶14 ("During [the initial year of appointment] two things will happen: Kant will be considered for tenure, and he will be reappointed for a second year."))

The alleged oral contract—although phrased in one-year increments—provides for performance over a two-year period, and thus violates the statute of frauds, rendering it unenforceable. See Bykofsky v. Hess, 107 A.D.2d 779, 782 (2d Dep't 1985) (holding an oral promise "to reappoint plaintiff for two successive one-year terms unenforceable pursuant to the Statute of Frauds") (collecting cases); Ginsberg v. Fairfield-Noble Corp., 81 A.D.2d 318 (1st Dep't 1981) ("oral employment agreement for a period of one year to commence at a time subsequent to the making of the agreement is unenforceable against a plea of the Statute of Frauds"); Whitehall v. Maimonides School, 53 A.D.2d 568 (1st Dep't 1976) (finding oral employment agreement unenforceable under the statute of frauds where the contract "was made on July 6, 1973, with performance to commence on August 1, 1973 and [to] be completed on July 31, 1974"); see also Andruff v. World Travel Holdings, PLC, No. 01 Civ. 10717 (LBS), 2002 WL 1033811 (S.D.N.Y. May 22, 2002) (granting summary judgment for defendant because unwritten two-year contract violated Statute of Frauds).

While Kant alleges that his oral contract was "renewed and restated" by Professor Davis in January 2002 (SAC ¶18), this confirmation of the original terms of the alleged January 2001 oral agreement by a second Columbia official in January 2002 does not alter the fact that the January 2001 agreement provided for performance over two years.

Kant v. Columbia University, 08 Civ. 7476 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 9, 2010).

[Meredith R. Miller]

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