|Stambovsky v. Ackley|
Seal of New York|
New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department
|Decided July 18, 1991|
|Seller who had undertaken to inform the public at large about the existence of poltergeists on the premises to be sold was estopped to deny existence of poltergeists on the premises, so the house was haunted as a matter of law and seller must inform the purchaser of the haunting.|
Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.2d 254 (NY App. Div. 1991), is a notable New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division case that held that a house, which the owner had previously advertised to the public as haunted by ghosts, was legally haunted for the purpose of an action for rescission brought by a subsequent purchaser of the house. It is sometimes called the "Ghostbusters case", a reference to the author rhetorically asking "who you gonna call" to resolve a haunting. Because of the case's unique holding, it has been regularly printed in textbooks on the subject of property law and widely taught in U.S. law school classes, if not often cited or followed by other courts.
When Stambovsky learned of the haunting story, he filed an action requesting rescission of the contract of sale and for damages for fraudulent misrepresentation by Ackley and Ellis Realty. A New York Supreme Court (trial court) dismissed the action, and Stambovsky appealed.
Notwithstanding these conclusions, the court affirmed the dismissal of the fraudulent misrepresentation action and stated that the realtor was under no duty to disclose the haunting to potential buyers. Thus, no damages were available to Stambovsky because New York, at the time, adhered to property law doctrine of caveat emptor.
The appellate court reversed the trial court's decision regarding the rescission action, however, as it went on to note that "haunting" was not a condition that a buyer or potential buyer of real property can and should be able to ascertain upon reasonable inspection of the property. According to the court, though the doctrine of caveat emptor would normally operate to bar a rescission action, causing seller to have no duty to disclose information about the property to be sold (but also preventing the seller from affirmatively misrepresenting the condition of the property), the doctrine, in a merged law and equity system, can be modified to do justice to the parties. In this case, "the most meticulous inspection and the search would not reveal the presence of poltergeists at the premises or unearth the property's ghoulish reputation in the community," thus equity would allow Stambovsky the remedy of contract rescission against the seller, Ackley. The court held:
The opinion makes reference to a number of popular books and films featuring ghosts, including Shakespeare's Hamlet and the 1984 movie Ghostbusters and uses various words meaning "ghost" descriptively throughout (e.g., "in his pursuit of a legal remedy for fraudulent misrepresentation against the seller, plaintiff hasn't a ghost of a chance", "I am moved by the spirit of equity", and "the notion that a haunting is a condition which can and should be ascertained upon reasonable inspection of the premises is a hobgoblin which should be exorcised from the body of legal precedent").