Sometimes Blackacre is a Widget: Rethinking Commercial Real Estate Contract Remedies

57 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 3 Sep 2010

Date Written: August 20, 2010


This Article argues that the presumption that all land is unique, a principle so embedded in the common law that it is “settled beyond the need for citation,” is wrong. The “uniqueness doctrine” is used to justify granting non-breaching purchasers of real property nearly automatic access to the remedy of specific performance without requiring a wronged party to prove that it has no adequate remedy at law. This powerful common law protection for non-breaching purchasers evolved for a variety of social and economic reasons. This Article makes the case that these historical reasons do not support the applicability of the uniqueness doctrine to modern commercial real estate transactions. Despite the illegitimacy of the uniqueness doctrine, this Article argues that allowing the parties to commercial real estate contracts to bargain for equitable relief is not only desirable, but consistent with legitimate doctrine, practical concerns, and the property rule/liability rule paradigm described by Professors Calabresi and Melamed. The instability of the uniqueness doctrine poses an immediate practical problem – any sudden change would cause significant problems and increased costs for the already-troubled $6.5 trillion American commercial real estate sector. This Article proposes that acknowledging the illegitimacy of the uniqueness doctrine is essential to preserving and enhancing the remedies regime relied upon by the industry.

Keywords: specific performance, uniqueness doctrine, contract remedies, real estate transactions

JEL Classification: K11

Suggested Citation

Marsh, Tanya D., Sometimes Blackacre is a Widget: Rethinking Commercial Real Estate Contract Remedies (August 20, 2010). Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 635, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Tanya D. Marsh (Contact Author)

Wake Forest Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States

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