By: Professor Abigail Perdue
This Valentine’s Day, encourage your students to fall in love with the law by incorporating a heartbreaking case into your class.
Bad Love: In the aptly named case of Valentine v. Pollak, 95 Conn. 556 (1920), Defendant Freda Pollak was allegedly no sweetheart. Plaintiff Florence Valentine accused Pollak of, inter alia, alienating the affections of her husband, and the court clarified that an alienation of affection may be established whether or not actual adultery occurred. Id. at 871. Likewise, when Johnny Valentine found out that his wife’s lover and boss, Jerry Fitch, had fathered their child, he sued Fitch for alienation of affection. Fitch v. Valentine, 959 So.2d 1012 (Miss. S. Ct. 2007). Declining Fitch’s invitation to abolish the tort of alienation of affection altogether, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed a damages award against Fitch of over $700,000.
But can you really put a price on a broken heart? After discussing these cases, invite students to research which states, if any, still recognize heartbalm actions like alienation of affection and whether, for policy reasons or otherwise, they should continue to do so.
Alternatively, open class with a research race leading students to find a case about a marriage that went askew.
Sad Love: Romance went wrong in California when a heartbroken husband alleged that he would never have married his wife in 1977 or made her a joint tenant in several of his properties but for her pre-marital assertions that she loved and sexually desired him. Askew v. Askew, 222 Cal. App. 4th 942 (1994). Unfortunately, during a counseling session in 1991, the wife confessed, “I haven’t loved you. I haven’t been honest with you. I feel like I have cheated on you.” Id. at 949. When their marriage hit the rocks, the court was left to pick up the pieces.
Or ask students to read my personal favorite, which began one fateful Valentine’s Day:
A classic case of kiss-and-bail: In Greco v. Anderson, 615 S.W.2d 429, 430 (Mo. Ct. App. 1980), Plaintiff Marie Greco sued Defendant Donald Anderson, alleging that she had slept with him on Valentine’s Day 1975 solely because he promised to marry her. They continued seeing each other and engaging in sexual relations through and until October 1975 when Anderson relocated to Missouri for work. Id. at 430-431. Thereafter, the couple maintained a long-distance relationship and continued to be sexually active. Id. at 431. Everything changed in early 1977 when Anderson became engaged to another woman and subsequently married her. Id. Consequently, Greco brought suit, alleging the common law tort of seduction, which Missouri still recognized. Id. In affirming a directed verdict in Anderson’s favor, the court observed:
To establish the cause of action the conduct of the defendant “must consist of such solicitations, importunities, misrepresentations, knowingly false promises or artifices, including a false promise to marry for the purpose of seduction, which lead the plaintiff, a chaste unmarried woman, to deviate from the path of rectitude” . . . The action is a species of fraud. It is the loss of chastity to which the tort is directed. Continuation of the sexual conduct between the parties after the initial act does not cause a continuing tort or create a series of torts. . . . It is recognized that a woman whose chastity has been compromised can “reform” and thereafter be seduced again by the same man. . . . But such reform requires a termination of the relationship and a new inducement to resume it.
Id. (citations omitted).
The court determined that the alleged seduction had occurred in Massachusetts, so that state’s law applied. However, Massachusetts law did not recognize the tort of seduction. The court further concluded that Greco had not “reformed” since the original seduction and that Anderson had not offered her a new inducement to sleep with him after he relocated to Missouri.
Happy Valentine’s Day!