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In Law, What Is Specific Performance?

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  • Written By: Alexis W.
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2014
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Specific performance is an equitable remedy to a contract law dispute. When the court awards specific performance, the person who is attempting to breach a contract is forbidden from doing so and the contract is enforced by the court, who makes sure both parties carry out the obligations described in the contract. The remedy of specific performance exists in the United States and numerous other countries that operate on a common law system to enforce contact law.

In the United States and most other countries, contracts are legally binding and courts will enforce promises made within valid legal contracts. Traditionally, courts enforce contracts by awarding monetary damages for breach. This means that if one party fails to live up to the promises he made in a contract he signed, that party is obligated to pay money to the other party to make up for the other party's losses.

Specific performance, on the other hand, is a different remedy for breach of contract. It has its roots in English laws of equity or courts of equity. In equity courts, a decision is made based on what is fair or right or on the "consciousness" of the issue, not just based on the law. Equitable remedies are different from monetary damages.

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Specific performance is an equitable remedy because it is directed specifically at making things fair. The remedy is appropriate when a person's damages could not be adequately compensated by money alone. In other words, if money would not put a person in the same situation he would have been in but for the breach of contract, an equitable remedy is appropriate.

In situations where money cannot make up for the breach, specific performance is commonly awarded. For example, if a person makes a contract with another person to buy a specific and very rare item, no amount of money would be able to make up for the breach of that contract since the person who seeks to buy the very rare item would not necessarily be able to find another version of that item to buy for any amount of money.

Under the equitable remedy of specific performance, the person who promised to sell and went back on his word would be made to sell the item as he promised to do in the contract. This would be the appropriate and fair remedy since he promised to do so and the other party was counting on that promise. The judge or jury in contract cases has discretion to award specific performance — or any other equitable remedy — in appropriate circumstances when requested by the plaintiff.

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