In the law of remedies, a specific performance is a demand of a party to perform a specific act. While specific performance can be in the form of any type of forced action, it is usually used to complete a previously established transaction. It is the opposite of an injunction. Under the common law, specific performance was not a remedy, with the rights of a litigant being limited to the collection of damages. However, the courts of equity developed the remedy of specific performance as damages often could not adequately compensate someone for the inability to own a particular piece of real property or personal property. Specific performance is often guaranteed through the remedy of a writ of possession, giving the plaintiff the right to take possession of the property in dispute. However, in the case of personal performance contracts, it may also be ensured through the threat of proceedings for contempt of court.
In practice, specific performance is most often used as a remedy in transactions regarding land, such as in the sale of land. As well, it is also seen in transactions regarding chattels of unique value, such as art, heirlooms, and other unique items.
However, the limits of specific performance are narrow. The courts rarely allow specific performance to be used in the sale of goods. Usually damages equal to the value of the goods are awarded instead. Moreover, performance that is based on the personal judgment or abilities of the party on which the demands are made is rarely ordered by the court. The reason behind it is that the forced party will often perform below their regular standard when it is in their ability to do so. Monetary damages are usually given instead.
In cases where the ownership of land is in dispute, the plaintiff can often obtain a certificate of lis pendens to advise any prospective purchaser of the property that the person holding legal title may not have good equitable title to the property. However, if the plea for specific performance is denied, filing such a lis pendens constitutes a slander of title, which may allow the defendant to sue for any profit lost from his inability to sell the land.
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