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Page:Harvard Law Review Volume 1.djvu/377

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An inability in a vendor to make a good title is a legal (not a physical) inability to perform the contract; and therefore it is no excuse in the mouth of the vendor for not doing all the physical acts necessary for the performance of the contract. It is an excuse, however, in the mouth of the vendee for not performing the contract on his part. Moreover, the court takes upon itself the burden of ascertaining whether the vendor has such a title as the vendee is bound to accept; and that, too, whether the vendor or the vendee be plaintiff in the suit. Thus, if the vendor be plaintiff, he is not required either to allege or to prove that his title is good, nor is the vendee required to allege or prove the contrary; but the pleadings and proofs assume that the plaintiff is able to make a good title; and, if the questions raised by the pleadings and proofs be decided in the plaintiff’s favor, a decree is made that the contract be specifically performed, provided the plaintiff be able to make a good title, and that the cause be referred to a Master to ascertain and report whether a good title can be made. So, though the vendee be the one who seeks specific performance, he is not regarded as submitting to perform on his part, except upon condition that he can have a good title; and, therefore, if a decree be made in his favor, it must be in the same form as when the vendor is plaintiff, unless the vendee declare himself satisfied with the vendor’s title, and waive any reference to a Master in regard to it. The result is, therefore, that a reference as to title is an incident to every specific performance in equity of a contract for the purchase and sale of land, unless such reference be waived by the vendee.

If a vendor be able to make a good title to a part of the land sold, but not to the remainder, the vendee will be entitled, at his option, to a specific performance as to the former, and to have the relative value of the latter deducted from the purchase-money. So if the vendor’s title be defective as to the whole of the land, and the vendee elect notwithstanding to have the contract performed, the latter will be entitled to have a deduction made from the purchase-money on account of the defect of title, provided the amount to be deducted can be ascertained with reasonable accuracy. Thus, if the land be merely subject to a pecuniary encumbrance (e. g., an ordinary mortgage), the vendee will be entitled to have the amount of the encumbrance deducted from the purchase-money, he indemnifying the vendor against the encumbrance. So