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Author Topic: Albinger v Harris  (Read 8329 times)

dkast

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Albinger v Harris
« on: August 09, 2005, 12:38:12 AM »
Has anyone read this case?

I've been looking at it, though I find the Majory opinion to be correct, their reasoning is completely irrelevant.

The Issue should be whether the giving of an engagement ring can be considered a contractual obiligation and if so whether that existed in this case. 

The "conditional gift theory" cant be valid in that the Black Letter Law cleary states that a gift is "a transfer of personal property made voluntarily and without consideration"  This is an oxymoron if i ever saw one i'm sure the court realizes that but i cant understand why they give credence to it.

Albinger cleary did not place a contractual meaning with the transfer of the property because he told her "to take the car, horse dog and ring and get out" during their last break up.  If he had transfered some sort of contractual meaning to the ring why did he not ask for it back.  Was he still under the impression that they would get married.  I think not.

This is a simple case that could have been decided on the fact that he did not consider the ring to involve some sort of contractual obligation because he never considered it as such.

There was no reason for the court to attempt to discern a conditional gift theory.  I havent even gotten to the gender bias part of the majority decision yet but that doesnt seem relevant whats so ever.

Southwestern2L

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Re: Albinger v Harris
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2005, 02:16:07 AM »
Congrats, you're starting to think critically, and you've uncovered the first maxim of legal thinking, one that will follow you throughout your legal education, and your career:

"Tough facts make bad law" (or some variation on that)

Good luck as a 1L :D

chaser

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Re: Albinger v Harris
« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2005, 07:11:38 PM »
The "conditional gift theory" is currently the majority viewpoint, because that is the theory expounded in the Restatement of Restitutions.

An interesting relatively recent ruling on the "conditional gift" theory is Marshall v. Cassano; 2001 NY Slip Op. 40320U.  This is what I would call a "conditional gift given in pari delicto," i.e. the plaintiff gave the gift in contemplation of marriage while he was still married; and the defendant knew he was married.

(Under a Contracts theory, it would have been an "illegal contract," to wit, "Contracts" illegal; which of course means "contrary to public policy," not necessarily "you are going to jail.")

Under the above case of what I would call, "conditional gift/in pari delicto," the fiancee' keeps the ring.  In Contracts (in pari delicto), the judge would probably return the parties to where they were before the contract was formed, which I would assume means the groom gets the ring back, and the fiancee' can accept new proposals.

Many jurisdictions use the objective contract theory--but some courts are reluctant, because what constitutes a "breach of the terms" of the engagement?  E.g., is a rowdy bachelor party a "breach"?


One last theory that would be the clear minority opinion but I believe is still in use would be the seisin/"transfer of title" theory.

In this theory, which was developed in ancient Anglo-Saxon law, the bride is sort of "one step above chattel."  The groom is asking for "transfer of title," from I guess her father.

In a similar way that one would offer, say, a lump of dirt and a twig for land, the groom is offering the ring as a symbol.

Ironically, this system would favor the bride, because she keeps the ring if the "title doesn't transfer" for whatever reason (transfer of title meaning "marriage")--similar to a land transfer not closing, and you don't have to give the lump and the twig back.
"Civilization is the process of reducing the infinite to the finite."  Oliver Wendell Holmes

dkast

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Re: Albinger v Harris
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2005, 07:58:56 PM »
The "conditional gift theory" is currently the majority viewpoint, because that is the theory expounded in the Restatement of Restitutions.

An interesting relatively recent ruling on the "conditional gift" theory is Marshall v. Cassano; 2001 NY Slip Op. 40320U.  This is what I would call a "conditional gift given in pari delicto," i.e. the plaintiff gave the gift in contemplation of marriage while he was still married; and the defendant knew he was married.

(Under a Contracts theory, it would have been an "illegal contract," to wit, "Contracts" illegal; which of course means "contrary to public policy," not necessarily "you are going to jail.")

Under the above case of what I would call, "conditional gift/in pari delicto," the fiancee' keeps the ring.  In Contracts (in pari delicto), the judge would probably return the parties to where they were before the contract was formed, which I would assume means the groom gets the ring back, and the fiancee' can accept new proposals.

Many jurisdictions use the objective contract theory--but some courts are reluctant, because what constitutes a "breach of the terms" of the engagement?  E.g., is a rowdy bachelor party a "breach"?


One last theory that would be the clear minority opinion but I believe is still in use would be the seisin/"transfer of title" theory.

In this theory, which was developed in ancient Anglo-Saxon law, the bride is sort of "one step above chattel."  The groom is asking for "transfer of title," from I guess her father.

In a similar way that one would offer, say, a lump of dirt and a twig for land, the groom is offering the ring as a symbol.

Ironically, this system would favor the bride, because she keeps the ring if the "title doesn't transfer" for whatever reason (transfer of title meaning "marriage")--similar to a land transfer not closing, and you don't have to give the lump and the twig back.

Yes this case involves quite a number of legal nuances that complicate the decision for the court and appellant’s council.


I belive that your analysis does in fact deal more with the issue at hand and what this case should turn on then what was represented by the majority decision of the court.  The case should turn on whether an engagement ring falls under contract or property law.  I believe that appelate's council was aware of this but his only recourse, under Montana law, was to attempt to argue under unjust enrichment under MCA 27-1-602 which a was futile effort at best. This is what the court based its decision on along with the gender bias argument which seems to come out of left field.

Your point:

Many jurisdictions use the objective contract theory--but some courts are reluctant, because what constitutes a "breach of the terms" of the engagement?  E.g., is a rowdy bachelor party a "breach"?

I would find it applicable, to contract law if at the end of the rowdy bachelor party the recipient of the engagement ring, receiver of the transfer, believes that the ring is given on said condition then a breach is evident again going back to the issue, is the giving of an engagement ring a gift or does it fall under the conditional gift theory.  The court never addresses this in their opinion and seems apprehensive to do so.   Very interesting case.

This is what i wrote on another board.

"if we look at the argument present by appellant’s counsel,
he should have attempted to prove that the
engagement ring was never a gift and hence can not be
construed as such and is not applicable to any gift law.

Now by firmly establishing that the engagement ring was
never intended as a gift the appellate counsel can refute
any type of gift legal analysis. So he would have to
argue in terms of property law or more specifically a
contract law case.

He has 2 major problems with this

1. MCA 27-1-602 which states: all causes of action for
breach of contract to marry are herby abolished...with
the exception of unjust enrichment which is his
argument.

2. By stating take the car, horse, dog ring Albinger
fails to put a contractual symbolism on the ring and
hence he fails to negate any elements of what is
considered a gift in black letter law. (a) competency
of the donor to understand the nature of his act; (b)
voluntary intent on the part of the donor to make a
gift. (c) delivery, either actual or symbolic, acceptance actual
or imputed, complete divestment of all control by the donor."

chaser

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Re: Albinger v Harris
« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2005, 01:43:27 PM »
You are making some very good points!

Apparently, London England goes by the "Contract"-theory, as I was reading an English lawyer's analysis over the controversy of the engagement of the actor Jude Law and--I forget the actress' name, Simone Somebody.  Anyway, the groom allegedly had an affair with the nanny of his children, and she went very public with the purported affair.

Fortunately for their future happiness and unfortunately for this interesting discussion; they appear to be getting back together again.  The ring was worth $35,000--and she wanted to keep it.

It should be noted that the bride can elicit the conditional promise by fraud, and have to give the ring back.

This would occur if she, say, wrote a letter to a girlfriend or other non-privileged communication that said, "I have no intention of marrying Richard Roe--I only said "yes" to get the ring."

I'm not sure which rule Georgia uses, but the so-called runaway bride, Jennifer Wilbanks, would have fit under this category--but there is another relationship that is, ahem, "back on track."

There was a case where a 75-year old man made extensive gifts in contemplation of marriage in a "conditional gift" jurisdiction (I think Kansas) to a 26-year old female, including a loan to start a beauty parlor, and the female took off and married a 24-year old man.  She had to return all the gifts, including the ring.

ADDENDUM--My facts were slightly off.  The citation is: Pavlicic v. Vogtsberger; 136 A.2d 127; (Penn. 1957).  And, of course, the jurisdiction was Pennsylvania, which has subsequently passed an Equal Rights Amendment.  (I don't think that would change the case in question--though it might change a gift under non-fraudulent conditions).

Thanks,
bc
"Civilization is the process of reducing the infinite to the finite."  Oliver Wendell Holmes

dkast

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Re: Albinger v Harris
« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2005, 02:32:42 AM »


Hi again chaser. 

It has been a very interesting discussion. I believe that the unconditional gift theory is analogous to the "contract" theory which you mentioned would apply in the courts of England.

Its great you mentioned:


It should be noted that the bride can elicit the conditional promise by fraud, and have to give the ring back.


This would constitute a breach and be applicable to contract law.  Here's my brief of the case:

The court finds that an engagement ring is a gift because it can not be anything else under Montana Law.

Albinger
    Appelle and Cross-Appellant      

vs.       

Harris
   Appellant

Facts: 
1.   Albinger presented Harris with an engagement ring and diamond earrings on Dec. 15th 1995.   
2.  The relationship was troubled and volatile, on each separation the ring was returned to or reclaimed by Albinger and was represent to Harris after each reconciliation. 
3.  Albinger and Harris lived together form August 1995 until April 1998 during which time Albinger conferred upon Harris a new Ford Mustang, a horse and a dog in addition to the earrings and ring. 
4.  The parties separated again in late April 1998 at which point Albinger told Harris to “take the car, the horse, the dog, and the ring and get the hell out.”

Issue:   
Does the transfer of an engagement ring fall under  a “conditional gift theory” with an implied condition of marriage under Montana Law?

Decision:
No, an engagement ring is an unconditional gift upon delivery and is subject to Montana Gift Law as such.

Reasoning:   
It is the courts findings that an engagement ring is a gift given without implied or express condition and, as such, must be applicable to the existing gift law and common-law principles in the state of Montana.

Appellee’s counsel argues that the court should adopt a “conditional gift theory”.  Albinger maintains he held a reversionary interest in the gift of the engagement ring grounded in an implied condition subsequent, in which said condition is the marriage. Montana law recognizes the transfer of personal property subject to an express or implied condition which must be satisfied before title vests, as either a contract or as a gift.

Due to “anti-heart balm” statues, specifically  §  27-1-602 MCA, which bars all causes of action in breach of contract to marry , the court applies Montana gift law to the case which maintains that the only revocable gift recognized by Montana law is a gift in view of death § 70-3-201, MCA.. Based on these findings, the court declines to create a new category of gifting under a “conditional gift theory”.

The court also finds that if a “conditional gift theory” were to be applied exclusively to engagement ring cases, it would carve an exception to the aforementioned Montana gift law which would be biased to the predominately male plaintiffs, and as such, the court declines to apply the rule to this case.

Rules of Law: Montana Gift Law; “Anti-heart balm” statute § 27-1-602 MCA;  Gender Bias; Conditional Gift Theory.

Application of Rules of Law: (see Reasoning)

Holding:
The court reverses the 8th District Court’s ruling in regards to an engagement ring being a conditional gift in the state of Montana.


chaser

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Re: Albinger v Harris
« Reply #6 on: August 11, 2005, 10:24:47 AM »
Good brief!  I like your style...

As I was leaving (late) for work today, there was a People's Court where a rather crusty old geezer had married a lady when she was 14 (in Utah, where there are apparently very liberal "consent" laws) and he was suing her for half the wedding costs, due to some alleged breach.  Wonder how that one came out?  They had subsequently had kids, etc.  She is about 20 now, but looks like a well-preserved 40.  Clearly, young marriage is not the "fountain of youth" or anything!

Another thought on the "seisin" theory--which is clearly the minority.  Apparently, the historical derivation of the traditional Common law spousal Tort immunity is also based on the ancient, Anglo-Saxon "wife is little more than chattel"-theory.  In other words, I might have standing to sue in an in Rem case of Chaser v. Someone Else's Horse; but it doesn't make sense to have a suit like, Chaser v. His Own Horse (in the old-fashioned theory.)

My school teaches us that a Tort of Husband v. Wife is not currently allowed in minority jurisdictions because it would "disturb domestic tranquility."  That is ONE of the reasons; it's just not the MAIN reason.

(I think the school thinks, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men, that "we can't handle the truth.")

Anyway, keep up the good work!  If you're like me, I think you will find that an objective analysis of this issue "clears your thinking" on a variety of Contracts issues.
"Civilization is the process of reducing the infinite to the finite."  Oliver Wendell Holmes

dkast

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Re: Albinger v Harris
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2005, 04:20:03 PM »
Chaser:

Thank you for your insight and replies to this case.

Objectivity of course is essential to any type of legal analysis and applying the law to given fact situations.

Where do you go to school btw?


chaser

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Re: Albinger v Harris
« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2005, 12:00:04 PM »
I am a 1L at Northwestern California University in Sacramento.  I take the Baby Bar on October 25th,

Here's another case that might interest you.  (The original case is documented in a new book called, "Love on Trial" that is supposed to be pretty good.  [As if law school students had time for recreational reading!]):

TOPIC: Alleged fraud in the formation of a marriage contract.

CASE: Leonard Rhinelander v. Alice Rhinelander; 219 A.D. 189; 219 N.Y.S. 548; Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, Second Department (1927).

FACTS: Leonard was the scion of a wealthy United States family similar to the Vanderbilt's.  Alice was an immigrant from England who, in the parlance of the day, was "of colored blood" and "could pass as white."

New York only allowed divorce upon the finding of adultery--which led to many "creative" marriage annulments.  Interracial marriage was illegal (meaning in this case viewed by courts as contrary to public policy) in many U.S. jurisdictions including this one; presumably until Loving et ux. v. Virginia; 388 U.S. 1 (1967).

Leonard alleged in the original trial that Alice had made misrepresentations of her race in the formation stages of the marriage contract.

In this appeal, Leonard contended that the judge had made an erroneous instruction to the jury regarding the weight they should place on Alice's refusal to testify (or "neglect to testify," if you will) on her alleged misrepresentations and Alice's father's (who was obviously black and whom Leonard had known during the contract negotiations) refusal to testify (see: Footnote).

HISTORY: Plaintiff appealed a decision from the Supreme Court of Winchester County, New York that found for the defendant--to wit, that there was no misrepresentation.

ISSUE: Was the judge's instruction (Footnote) regarding the defendant's refusal to rebut the allegations of misrepresentation with personal testimony in error?

RULING: No.  The judge's instructions (Footnote) were not in error.

RATIONALE: (Per Curiam) The judge instructed the jury that no presumption arose out of the defendant's refusal to testify. but that they should give this fact any weight that they chose to give it during deliberations.

The plaintiff's counsel made no request for the court to instruct otherwise on the subject in the original trial.

Counsel at trial also refused to make the distinction between the father's refusal to testify and the defendant's.

DISSENT: (Lazansky) The instruction was an error as to presumption.

RULE: Absent the plaintiff's objections to the contrary, the judge in an annulment proceeding may instruct the jury to give whatever weight it wishes to the defendant's refusal to testify (or neglect or failure, if you will) on a given issue.

FOOTNOTE: The trial judge's instruction was:

"While no presumption arises in this respect, you are at liberty and can give it such consideration and draw such inferences as you think are warranted by the proof from the failure to call such witnesses or to call any witness who might shed light upon the case.  Except in certain specific instances and then under specific circumstances there is generally no hard and fast rule that applies.

"Neither the defendant nor the plaintiff is bound to call every person as a witness who might give some material evidence in his or her favor, and yet if they do not you are at liberty to deem it of sufficient importance to merit your consideration, and if you do, then give it such consideration as the circumstances and the testimony in the case warrant."

##############################

Unfortunately, we only brief appellate cases in law school. 

(The Left Wing/Naderesque critique of this, of course, is that with the exception of Criminal cases that interested some "big shot" firm enough to do pro bono work, we only critique cases wherein the parties had the capital to appeal; in the classic Langdell "Case Briefing"-method.)

In this case, the facts in the original trial are of the "truth is stranger than fiction"-realm.  In fact, this case was a contender for "Trial of the Century" before California v. Simpson.

Inter alia, there was evidence that the plaintiff had "carnal knowledge" of the defendant before the marriage, which was technically illegal at the time ("Fornication").

The defendant had to appear before the all-male jury nude to the waist. 

(I guess black womens' breasts look different?  I don't know; I'm a law student--I've forgotten what white womens' breasts look like!)


"Civilization is the process of reducing the infinite to the finite."  Oliver Wendell Holmes