Friday, January 12, 2007

Stambovsky v. Ackley

I'm teaching real estate transactions in my Property II class, and today we covered Stambovsky v. Ackley, the famous haunted house case.  I have to say that despite its fun facts, I don't find the case very useful.  Sure, its discussion of caveat emptor is okay, but there are a lot of better cases out there on that point.  Am I missing something?

Ben Barros

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I actually really like the case. To me it's much less about caveat emptor, and perhaps the strongest illustration (especially in property) of just how strong estoppel can be.

Posted by: GMUSL 3L | Jan 12, 2007 2:12:01 PM


As Dukeminier & Krier point out in their Teacher's Manual, "Who could not have included this case in a property casebook? It made the newspapers from New York to California." The supposition is that such a notable case must be fun (but not necessarily enlightening) for students to read.

I actually find the case interesting on several grounds, all of which Dukeminier & Krier discuss. First, it's interesting to find that a court in the late 20th century was willing to estop the defendant from claiming poltergeists do not exist. Second, it is even more interesting (to me at least) that the court assumed that the existence of poltergeists would reduce, rather than raise, the market value of a house. Finally, the case is interesting because it created a weird situation in New York State (at that time) whereby sellers could be guilty of failing to disclose latest poltergeists but not latent physical defects.


Posted by: Dan Cole | Jan 12, 2007 2:26:11 PM

Ah, Ben, I think we've had a discussion about this case before. I love it; great facts and a nice setting to discuss well-settled law on misrepresentation.

Posted by: Al Brophy | Jan 12, 2007 2:54:49 PM

Al, I think you're right on our previous discussion. It was probably around this time last year. I appreciate everything mentioned in the comments. It certainly is a good estoppel case. There's something about the case, though, that leaves me cold. Maybe it's the tone of the opinion, though I tend to like opinions written with some humor. Or maybe it's the humor combined with what Dan mentions -- it's okay for New York to abandon the old, fusty, and stupid doctrine of caveat emptor so that a judge can have some fun writing an opinion about ghosts, while the court seems okay with the idea of non-disclosure of real defects.

Posted by: Ben Barros | Jan 12, 2007 6:38:01 PM

Here's a more sober case I like that addresses similar issues.

Smalls v. Blueprint Development, 497 SE 2d 54 (Ga App 1998)

Posted by: Mike Lewyn | Jan 16, 2007 4:36:41 PM

God Forbid that it should be included JUST to make things interesting for 1L's who, normally not having purchased any more valuable than a car by that point in their lives, normally find Property class soporific.

Posted by: AnonymousLawStudent | May 6, 2009 4:53:07 PM

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