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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Does the Engagement Ring Have to Be Returned When the Marriage Does Not Happen – Illinois Appe

Hard to resist posting on this classic law school issue, even if not really a tort. The article below is excerpted from the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin’s story on a June 26, 2009 Illinois appellate court opinion.

“Plaintiff James Carroll filed a two-count replevin action against defendant Alison Curry after their romantic relationship ended. Count 1 sought the recovery of an engagement ring and Count 2 sought to recover other items of personal property, including a plasma television and audio equipment.

The record showed that the plaintiff proposed marriage to the defendant in late April 2000 and at that time, he gave her a ring he purchased specifically for the proposal. The defendant accepted the proposal, the two became engaged and some months later the plaintiff moved into the defendant’s residence. On Nov. 16, 2005, the parties’ relationship ended after the defendant accused the plaintiff of infidelity and ordered him to leave her home.

The trial court in April 2007 granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on Count 1. The trial court said that the appropriate analytical framework for the case lay in contract principles and that “fault” was not a consideration in the determination as to whether the plaintiff was entitled to the return of the ring.

The appeals court affirmed. The court said that replevin is a strict statutory proceeding and that the statute must be followed precisely. The primary purpose of the replevin statute is to test the right of possession of personal property and place the successful party in possession of the property, the appeals court said.

In this case, the appeals court said that the evidence showed that the plaintiff was entitled to possession of the ring because there was no dispute that the plaintiff alone purchased the ring or that he gave the ring to the defendant for the explicit purpose of proposing marriage.

“Thus it is undisputed that the ring was a give in contemplation of marriage. Gifts given in contemplation of marriage are deemed conditional on the subsequent marriage of the parties and the party who fails to perform on the condition of the give has no right to property acquired under such pretenses,” the appeals court said.

“Given that the parties in this case did not marry and that defendant intended to terminate the engagement when she ordered plaintiff to leave her home, clearly the condition attached to the gift of the engagement ring was not fulfilled. The record reflects that plaintiff established his right of possession,” the appeals court said.

In addition, the appeals court said that the plaintiff established that the defendant wrongfully detained the ring and that her continued possession of the ring constituted wrongful detention for purposes of the replevin statute. The appeals court rejected the defendant’s contention that because the plaintiff breached his promise of fidelity and caused the engagement breakup, she was entitled to keep the ring.

James B. Carroll v. Alison E. Curry, No. 2-07-0812. Justice Susan F. Hutchinson wrote the court’s opinion with Presiding Justice Kathryn E. Zenoff and Justice Donald C. Hudson concurring. Released June 26.”

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