Posts tagged as:

alienation of affection

“A Charlotte man blames the breakup of his marriage not only on the other guy, but also on the online infidelity service that he says made it happen. … North Carolina remains one of only a half-dozen states that still awards punitive damages when a marriage fails and someone other than the husband and wife is to blame. The so-called alienation of affection/criminal conversation laws have survived numerous efforts by judges, lawyers and some legislators to repeal them, and in recent years they have led to million-dollar judgments for wronged spouses.” [Charlotte Observer]

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In the New York legislature, bowling alleys are hoping to win a law protecting them from slip-fall liability arising after their customers wear store-rented shoes outside the building and either slip there or track snow or other slippery matter back inside. Weather hazards have been tripping up more customers of the ordinarily indoor sport, it seems, since the state enforced a complete indoor smoking ban. The trial lawyer association is dead set against the bill; its president claims that the bill “undercuts the constitutional right to a trial by a jury” — presumably on the theory that it somehow undercuts trial by jury for a legislature to roll back any instance of liability for anyone anywhere. That’s sheer nonsense, of course — otherwise, it’d have been unconstitutional for legislatures around most of the country to have abolished the old heartbalm torts of breach of promise to marry and alienation of affection. [Albany Times-Union via Future of Capitalism] More: Lowering the Bar.

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Kyle Graham asks why that variety of “heartbalm” action remains a vital and frequently used tort in the Tarheel State, but not elsewhere, though it remains on the books in ten or so other states. “The popularity of the tort in North Carolina suggests, at least to me, the importance of inertia and claim consciousness in tort law.”

Distantly related: demise of Breach of Promise to Marry laws linked to rise of engagement rings [Margaret Brinig via Matthew O'Brien via Sullivan]

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This time they’ve ensnared a judge accused of seducing another man’s wife. Maybe that will be enough to get the causes of action abolished at last. On John Edwards’s possible worries about legal liability, see this post from last year. [OnPoint]

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September 21 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 21, 2010

  • Facing four harassment claims, embattled Philadelphia housing chief files his own suit for $600K+ [Inquirer]
  • “Ohio State Abuses Trademark Law to Suppress a Fan Magazine and Website” [Paul Alan Levy, CL&P]
  • “Judge Dismisses Baltimore Blight Suit Against Wells Fargo, Will Allow Refiling” [ABA Journal]
  • Trial lawyer taking behind-the-scenes hand in Louisiana politics [OpenSecrets via Tapscott]
  • “Are hedge funds abusing bankruptcy?” [Felix Salmon and WSJ]
  • North Carolina alienation-of-affection law strikes again: “’Mistress Ordered to Pay $5.8 Million’ to Wronged Wife” [Volokh, Althouse]
  • “Lawyers take a haircut on a contingency fee in Colorado” [Legal Ethics Forum]
  • ADA lawsuits close another beloved eatery [Stockton, Calif.; six years ago on Overlawyered]

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The defendant wasn’t at trial and didn’t have a lawyer, and plans to appeal; the judgment might as well be for $73 gazillion, as the ex-husband is already in contempt of court for failure to pay spousal support. (Greensboro News-Record March 18 and March 17 via Volokh). We’ve been covering the issue for years, as a click on the tags will reveal.

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Per ABC News, Andrew Young says that Elizabeth Edwards has threatened him with a lawsuit under North Carolina’s law permitting lawsuits against third parties — not limited to paramours — who helped break up a marriage. We’ve been covering the workings of this law for years at Overlawyered, and Ted may have been the first to spot its possible application to the Sen. Edwards squalor-ama. Much more at Death by 1000 Papercuts. (Rewritten somewhat for clarity 1 p.m. Eastern; & welcome Mickey Kaus readers)

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February 6 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 6, 2010

  • Wronged wife loses suit under California “Drug Dealer Liability Act” (DDLA) against mistress who supplied crack cocaine to husband [OnPoint News]
  • “D.C. Circuit to Former Judge in Pants Lawsuit: Follow the Rules” [NLJ, more, earlier]
  • “Law firm demands retailer destroy all copies of Olivia Munn comic, retailer refuses” [BoingBoing, HeavyInk, earlier on TJIC]
  • Can’t find jury for tobacco trial: “Lawyers excused a woman who said people have no right to sue over diseases that are disclosed on the warning label of a package.” [Russell Jackson, Chamber-backed W.V. Record]
  • Despite widespread misconception to the contrary, editing comments generally does not open blogger to liability over what remains [Citizen Media Law]
  • To heck with HIPAA, introduce your patients to each other if you think they’ll get along [Musings of a Dinosaur]
  • Devoted daughter vs. RSPCA: epic will contest in Britain over family farm bequest [Times Online]
  • Woman found guilty after planting dead rat in meal at upscale restaurant [Appleton Post-Crescent via Lowering the Bar and Obscure Store]

August 21 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 21, 2009

  • NYC criminal defense lawyer and TV commentator Robert Simels convicted of witness tampering in closely watched case [NY Daily News and more, NYLJ, Greenfield, Simon/Legal Ethics Forum]
  • Title IX suit says harassment by other students pushed school girl into anorexia, school should pay [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
  • Federal judge upholds some Louisiana restrictions on lawyer advertising, but says rules on Internet communication unconstitutionally restrict speech [WAFB, Ron Coleman]
  • “Woman Claims Display Was So Distracting, She Fell Over It” [Lowering the Bar; Santa Clara County, Calif. Dollar Tree]
  • Associated Press now putting out softer line on blogger use of its copy, but is it a trap? [Felix Salmon, earlier]
  • Update: Google ordered to identify person who set up nasty “skank” blog to attack NYC model [Fashionista, earlier here and here]
  • Some speak as if lawsuits over “alienation of affections” a thing of the past, alas not so [Eugene Volokh, more, yet more; earlier]
  • Connecticut: “State Holds Hearing On Whether Group Can Hand Out Food To The Poor” [Hartford Courant; "Food Not Bombs" group at Wesleyan]

Note: post was mistakenly titled as “August 22 roundup” at first, now fixed; thanks to reader Jonathan B. for catching.

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North Carolina’s alienation of affection law strikes again. [WRAL via Lawyers USA; earlier]

More from commenter “spudbeach”: “I am _sooo_ glad that I live in Wisconsin. Not only are alienation of affection lawsuits not allowed, it is actually illegal to even threaten one! Wisc. Stats. 768.03 makes it illegal to threaten, and 768.07 sets the penalty to $10,000 fine and/or 9 months in jail.” And XRLQ observes that these laws (still on the books in Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Utah, as well as North Carolina) could impose liability not just on paramours, but on plain old friends or acquaintances who’d encouraged an unhappy spouse to leave a marriage. Yet more: Robinette, 2007 (via); The Briefcase.

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Watch out, motel owners

by Walter Olson on March 10, 2009

Social conservative Maggie Gallagher, with whose views we have been known to differ, suggests a tort of “facilitating” adultery that would apply to businesses that “that intentionally and explicitly attempt to profit from acts of adultery”. [NRO "Corner", first, second posts]

P.S. Eugene Volokh now has a more lengthy and serious treatment: “you can love marriage and hate adultery without thinking that more tort liability will make things better.”

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I have no idea if the allegations that former presidential candidate John Edwards has a love-child with Rielle Hunter are true–though his actions seem pretty damning.

But let me be the first to point out that, if the allegations are true, Elizabeth Edwards can take advantage of North Carolina’s unusual tort law to sue Hunter for alienation of affection. When we last looked at the state of affairs in North Carolina in 2006, there were 200 such suits a year, with some verdicts in the six and seven digits. Of course, Mrs. Edwards would need a trial lawyer willing to take on her husband first.

Efforts to abolish the tort in the state have not been successful, though it is worth noting the fact that several dozen states have abolished heartbalm statutes without anyone suggesting that this tort reform is constitutionally problematic.

Update: Edwards persuades me that the story might be true when he gives a lawyerly non-denial denial filled with negative pregnants: “That’s tabloid trash. They’re full of lies. I’m here to talk about helping people.”  Someone needs to ask a more targeted question of a purported candidate for vice president or attorney general.

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December 8 roundup

by Ted Frank on December 8, 2007

  • As governor, Huckabee signed a good tort reform package capping punitive and non-economic damages, and reforming joint and several liability and venue law, but the rest of his economic record is big-government. And David Harsanyi is critical of Huckabee’s claimed opposition to nanny-statism. [Insurance Journal; Human Events; Harsanyi; RCP; Michael Tanner @ FoxNews]
  • Update to the popular Bridezilla flowers lawsuit; florist files opposition. Lots of comments ensue. [Lattman]
  • South Dakota Supreme Court: no, you can’t sue a pharmacy for being a “drug dealer” when plaintiff steals prescription medicine for a disabled friend and injures himself OD’ing on it. [On Point]
  • Former litigator hired to invest $100m in court cases for UK hedge fund. [Times Online]
  • Atkins fallout in Texas and California, as professional anti-death-penalty experts there happily minimize subject IQs to call their intelligent clients retarded. Earlier: Feb. 2005; Sep. 2003. [Science Evidence blog; and again]
  • Heartbalm tort of alienation of affection withstand constitutional challenge in Mississippi. Earlier: Jul. 5; Nov. 2006, etc. [Torts Prof]
  • Bob Woodruff biography: I would have died if my injury happened in the United States because of fear of liability. [Murnane]
  • I’ve updated my paper on Thomas Geoghegan’s new book. [SSRN]
  • Overlawyered holds slim lead at ABA Blawg 100 popularity contest. But why aren’t any of you voting for Point of Law? [ABA Journal]

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Arthur Friedman announced to his wife, Natalie, after ten years of marriage, that he wanted the couple to engage in group sex and swinging, so he could gratify himself watching his wife have sex with other men. Natalie, however, fell for one of her partners, German Blinov. The two left their spouses and ran off with one another. Arthur sued Blinov under the Illinois alienation of affection laws, and, amazingly enough, won $4802 from a jury that thought the case was stupid. (Steve Patterson, “Putting a price on love”, Chicago Sun-Times, Jul. 1). The former Mrs. Friedman expresses dismay about the award, but it’s not clear whether it’s the fact of the award or the trivial amount that offends her. Chicagoist and Alex Tabarrok are appropriately appalled.

Most states have passed the tort reform of abolishing the alienation of affection cause of action. Earlier on Overlawyered: Nov. 2006 and May 2005 (North Carolina); Nov. 2004 (Illinois); May 2000 (Utah).

Update: Of course, one doesn’t necessarily need that 19th-century cause of action when entrepreneurial lawyers are in play. Recently fired WellPoint CFO David Colby allegedly rotated among several girlfriends he met on a dating website, several of whom he allegedly promised to marry, even as he was married to someone else (albeit separated). One of the ex-girlfriends is suing WellPoint for “facilitat[ing] Colby’s lifestyle”; it seems Colby pointed to his webpage on the WellPoint site to seduce some of his targets. (Lisa Girion, “WellPoint named a defendant in sexual-battery suit”, LA Times, Jun. 29; see also “Women claim lives with WellPoint exec”, LA Times, Jun. 13 (no longer on web)).

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February 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 20, 2007

  • Trucker-friendly Arizona legislature declines to ban naked lady mudflaps [NBC4.com; Houstonist]
  • Crumb of approbation dept.: I’m “[not] as unreasonable as most of the tort-reform crowd” [Petit]
  • Sponsors of large banquets in D.C. must pay to have a paramedic on hand even when the banquet crowd consists of doctors [ShopFloor]
  • Homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover homewrecking: umbrella policy doesn’t create duty to defend lawsuit claiming the insured broke up someone’s marriage (Pins v. State Farm (PDF), S. Dak., Mayerson via Elefant)
  • New York mag on RFK Jr.: Is there some law saying all press profiles of America’s Most Irresponsible Public Figure® must be weirdly softball in nature and glide over his embarrassing book and rants, his Osama-pig farm lunacy, his anti-vaccine humbug, his trial-lawyer entanglements and even the wind farm flap?
  • Australia court rules Muslim prison inmate suffered discrimination and deserves money for being served canned halal meat rather than fresh [The Australian]
  • High medical costs and their causes: am I listening? [Coyote]
  • Economists may puzzle their heads over the ultimate incidence of business taxes, but in Wisconsin it’s whatever Gov. Jim Doyle says it is [Krumm via Taranto]
  • Feds may punish Red Sox pitcher Matsuzaka for doing a beer ad in Japan, where it’s perfectly legal for athletes to appear in such [To The People]
  • Guns in company parking lots: still one of the rare issues where the ABA manages to be righter than the NRA [AP/CBSNews.com; see Apr. 6, 2006]
  • Thanks, NYC taxpayers: Brooklyn jury awards $16 million against city in case where drugged-up motorist jumped sidewalk and ran over pedestrians, later blaming the accident on a city sanitation truck [seven years ago on Overlawyered]

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Tarheel heartbalm, cont’d

by Walter Olson on November 28, 2006

Newsweek looks at North Carolina’s cottage industry of tort actions by wronged spouses against the cads, hussies and assorted homebreakers who put an end to their domestic felicity (see May 22, 2005, Nov. 16, 2004, and May 18-21, 2000). “Although alienation of affection is rarely invoked in most states, a series of high-profile judgments in North Carolina, including one in 2001 for $2 million, have inspired more than 200 suits annually in recent years. Lawyers say people typically file these claims as leverage in divorce and custody disputes. ‘A wife says I’m going to sue your girlfriend if you don’t give me $50,000 more in property settlement. That’s an improper use of the [law], and it shouldn’t take place,’ says A. Doyle Early Jr., former chair of the North Carolina Bar Association’s family law section. … Conservative [i.e., Religious Right] groups like the North Carolina Family Policy Council say the law should stay on the books”. (Julie Scelfo, “Heartbreak’s revenge”, Dec. 4).

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The North Carolina Bar Association is pressing to abolish the state’s unusual cause of action for alienation of affection, a carryover from common law days in a few states which allows a wronged spouse to sue the other spouse’s paramour for having broken up the marriage. The law is still sometimes used, and in fact damage awards have been escalating briskly in the Tarheel State, reaching $500,000 (later reduced) in a 1990 Forsyth County case and $1.2 million in a case eight years ago in the same county. “Most of the time, lawyers said it costs as much or more to try these kind of cases than the injured party stands to win,” and Raleigh family law practitioner Lee Rosen says he often discourages clients from filing such a suit because by poisoning the atmosphere it “destroys the possibility of future cooperation” on, e.g., custody matters. (Amanda Lamb, “Some Want To Get Rid Of ‘Alienation Of Affection’ Lawsuits”, WRAL, Feb. 2). See Nov. 16, 2004; May 18-21, 2000.

While just about everything else has become more actionable in today’s compensation culture, there has been a countertrend in family law. Most states have barred suits for the ancient tort of “alienation of affection” by jilted spouses. Utah (May 18, 2000) and North Carolina are exceptions, as is Illinois; there, Steven Cyl is suing a neighbor he says stole his wife. “Is this thing for real?” asks the defendant. Previous Illinois alienation-of-affection plaintiffs include the always-entertaining ex-Rep. Mel “Did I win the Lotto?” Reynolds, whose case was thrown out for unspecified reasons. (Steve Patterson, “‘This guy, he ruined my life’ — so man sues”, Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 15 (via Bashman); “Former Congressman Mel Reynolds takes estranged wife’s lover to court”, Jet, Aug. 12, 2002; “Davidson Wrestling Coach Awarded $1.4 Million For ‘Theft of Wife?s Heart’”, North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, May 23, 2001). The ever-obnoxious Pat Buchanan approves. (“What is a Family Worth?”, Aug. 11, 1997; Hutelmyer v. Cox (N.C. App. 1999)).