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At what point does disclosure become oversharing?

8/21/2014 | Real Estate Blog

We talk about zoning and land use disputes all the time. A friend pointed out that those posts are generally about lawsuits or disagreements between landowners or between a landowner and the city. What we have devoted less space to are disputes between buyers and sellers. A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling has come to the rescue.

The case is about residential real estate, but we ask you to consider how this would have played out if the property had been either an investment residential property or a commercial property.

The plaintiff is a woman who, a day or two after she purchased a home in Delaware County, learned that the home had a gruesome history. She sued the seller and seller’s real estate agent, claiming they had failed to disclose a material defect in the property that affected the value of the home. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment — that is, they asked the court to decide the case in their favor without a trial because the defendant had not provided enough evidence to support her claim.

The trial court granted the motions, and the defendant appeals. A three-judge panel of the Superior Court, state’s appeals court, overturned that decision. The defendants asked for the full Superior Court to review the case, and that court determined that summary judgment was appropriate.

The Supreme Court does not accept every case that comes to it. In general, a case must have statewide significance; it must challenge a law or a standard practice that the court has not ruled on in the past, or that the court believes should be revisited after the passage of time.

It may seem odd, then, that the court agreed to hear a “caveat emptor” case, a case filed by a disgruntled buyer that two lower courts had ruled against. As it turns out, though, the court decided that this was a “case of first impression” — a matter it had not addressed before — that was worth a look. A decision for the plaintiff would change a state law and add a new layer to real estate disclosures.

What could have been so bad that this buyer would not drop the case?

Her new home had been the site of a notorious murder-suicide.

We’ll continue this next week.


Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Milliken v. Jacono, — A.3d —-, 2014 WL 3579791 (Pa.), via Westlaw, “Pa. home sellers don’t have to disclose murders, satanic rituals,” Sam Wood, July 24, 2014