[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal from the District Court for Gage County: Paul W. Korslund, Judge.
Lyle J. Koenig, of Koenig Law Firm, for appellant.
Bradley A. Sipp for appellee.
INBODY, RIEDMANN, and BISHOP, Judges.
[22 Neb.App. 588] Riedmann, Judge.
Gilbert Wolken appeals from the order of the district court for Gage County which ordered specific performance of an oral contract for the transfer of land from Wolken to Gerald Ficke. Because we find that the evidence establishes that the oral contract falls within an exception to the statute of frauds, we affirm.
This case arises out of an alleged oral promise by Wolken to give Ficke 80 acres of farmland after Ficke had worked for Wolken for 10 years. A bench trial was held in the district court, during which the following evidence was adduced:
Ficke began working for Wolken as a farmhand on January 10, 2000. His duties included tending to cattle, maintenance, mechanical work, and other activities associated with farming. Ficke typically worked between 40 and 60 hours per week, [22 Neb.App. 589] depending on the season, and was " on-call" at all times. He was often called in to work on weekends, after midnight, and during his vacations, but was compensated for his overtime hours. Although his starting wage was only $7.50 per hour, his rate of pay increased to $14.75 per hour by September 2010. He also received bonuses at Christmastime that totaled anywhere from $500 to $2,000.
During the early spring of 2003, Wolken told Ficke that he would give him a specific 80 acres of farmland after Ficke had worked for him for 10 years. Although the agreement was not reduced to writing, they talked about it many times over the years. Wolken would often remind Ficke in January how many years were remaining until he would get the land. For example, in January 2008, Wolken told Ficke, " [T]wo more years and [that 80 acres is] yours."
According to Ficke, on January 10, 2010, Wolken told him that he had completed his 10 years and that the 80 acres was his. Although Wolken did not sign over the land to Ficke, he started treating it like it belonged to Ficke. For example, after harvest that year, Wolken directed the cooperative where Wolken stored his grain to pay Ficke 40 percent of the wheat proceeds from that 80 acres as rent. Ficke received a check from the cooperative dated July 14, 2010, for over $5,000. Wolken admitted that he directed the cooperative to issue the check to Ficke, but stated the following reason for doing so: " I thought he could perform better on his job, that he'd settle down and make a man of himself. . . . You do things sometimes to get a guy on the right track." According to Wolken, the check was a bonus payment.
Ficke also testified that Wolken told him in 2010 that he would need to start paying the taxes on the land. Although Ficke never paid any of the taxes, he testified that he offered to do so many times but that Wolken was unsure of the amount. Wolken repeatedly told him not to worry about it and that they would get it straightened out later.
Ficke testified that he had considered quitting his job with Wolken because he worked constantly, had no family life, and had no health insurance for 5 or 6 years. He further testified that he thought he " could do better," but that " 80 acres after [22 Neb.App. 590] ten years isn't a bad deal either." When asked why he stayed working for Wolken, Ficke stated: " Well, 80 acres, and farming, that's what I loved. I loved to farm. And after the ten years, a bonus like that is something that a person works for." However, Ficke also admitted that he needed to earn a living and that he was working to support his family.
Ficke testified that he received one offer of employment during the time he worked for Wolken, but that it offered a lower wage than he was earning at that time. Ficke acknowledged that he worked substantially the same hours the entire period of time ...