Wolf v. Marlton Corp.
57 N.J.Super. 278, 154 A.2d 625 (N.J.Super.A.D. 1959)

  • The Wolfs contracted to buy land in a subdivision owned by Marlton. They paid a deposit.
  • Before their house was finished, the Wolfs got a divorce, backed out of the deal and demanded their deposit back.
    • When Marlton refused to give them a full refund, Mr. Wolf told Marlton that they would otherwise sell the land to an “undesirable” in order to lower the value of the neighborhood and make racists unlikely to buy houses in that subdivision.
  • Marlton gave the deposit back and then sued to recover it.
    • Marlton argued that the Wolfs’ threats amounted to duress.
    • The Wolfs’ argued that it was perfectly legal for them to sell their house to whomever they wanted to, so how could doing something legal amount to duress?
      • Plus, who knows if property values would have even gone down? The threat was too remote and vague to amount to duress.
  • The Court found for Marlton.
    • The Court found that although it was technically legal for the Wolfs to sell their house to anyone they wanted to “duress is tested, not by the nature of the threats, but rather by the state of mind induced thereby in the victim.”
  • Basically, it doesn’t matter what the threat is, if it’s legal or not, or if it even makes sense, as long as the victim is pressured by the threat (a question of fact of a jury), then there is duress.