Litigation between former fiancées over “engagement” rings and other “gifts” are a source of repeated, sanctimonious and acrimonious litigation worthy of a nationally televised segment before “Judge Judy”.
The law appears to consider engagement rings “a gift with strings attached.” The cantankerous suits are adjudicated pursuant to New York Civil Rights Law Section which provides that:
Nothing in this article contained shall be construed to bar a right of action for the recovery of a chattel, the return of money or securities, or the value thereof at the time of such transfer, or the rescission of a deed to real property when the sole consideration for the transfer of the chattel, money or securities or real property was a contemplated marriage which has not occurred, and the court may, if in its discretion justice so requires, (1) award the defendant a lien upon the chattel, securities or real property for monies expended in connection therewith or improvements made thereto, (2) deny judgment for the recovery of the chattel or securities or for rescission of the deed and award money damages in lieu thereof.
A recent appellate court decision encapsulated an “engagement” ring dispute. Jones v. Daniels, 2014 NY Slip Op 24034 (App. T. 1st Dept. February 6, 2014).
The Court summarized the facts:
Plaintiff instituted this small claims action against defendant, his former fiancé, to recover the value of a two-carat diamond ring that he gave to defendant. The trial evidence showed, and it is not seriously disputed, that plaintiff purchased the ring in February 2011 for the sum of $1,700; that the jeweler who sold the ring subsequently took it back and exchanged it for another similar ring because the “diamonds kept falling out” of the ring initially purchased; that the second ring was described as an engagement ring on the face page of an insurance policy identifying both parties as named insureds; and that defendant successively wore each of the rings on her left ring finger until plaintiff broke off the engagement in or about October 2012.
The applicable law:
Thus, the weight of the evidence compels the conclusion that both the initial and replacement diamonds were engagement rings given in contemplation of marriage…Notably, the trial court made no findings on this issue, instead basing its determination to dismiss the action on the sole stated ground that it was plaintiff who “terminated the relationship.” However, “Civil Rights Law §80-b is a no-fault’ statute, permitting the recovery of property given in contemplation of a marriage that does not take place, regardless of who is responsible for the failure of the marriage to go forward”.
And entered an Order based thereon:
Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of substantial justice consistent with substantive law principles (see CCA 1807). In the particular circumstances of this case, and consonant with the court’s authority to condition the entry of judgment upon appropriate terms (see CCA 1805[a]), we have stayed entry of the judgment so as to allow defendant to return the (replacement) ring to plaintiff.
Poupis v. Brown, 90 A.D. 3d 881, 935 N.Y.S. 2d 127 (2nd Dept. 2011), was “an action for the return of gifts made in contemplation of marriage.”
The Appellate Division summarized the facts and prior proceedings:
The plaintiff commenced this action against the defendant for the return of an engagement ring and an interest in real property located in West Islip (hereinafter the first West Islip property), which the plaintiff allegedly gave to the defendant in contemplation of a marriage that never occurred.
In opposition to the plaintiff’s prima facie showing of his entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on his causes of action pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 80-b…the defendant raised triable issues of fact as to whether the engagement ring and the interest in the first West Islip property were gifts given solely in contemplation of marriage…Accordingly, the Supreme Court properly denied that branch of the plaintiff’s motion which was for summary judgment on his causes of action pursuant to Civil Rights Law § 80-b. As there are triable issues of fact surrounding the conveyance of the interest in the first West Islip property to the defendant, the Supreme Court properly denied that branch of the plaintiff’s motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the defendant’s first counterclaim, which sought an order directing the sale of that property.
Supreme Court denied Poupis’ motion for summary judgment on the Civil Rights Law claim. The Second Department reversed because:
[T]he Supreme Court erred in denying that branch of the plaintiff’s motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the defendant’s second counterclaim, which sought to impose a constructive trust on a second parcel of real property, also located in West Islip. A constructive trust may be imposed ‘“[w]hen property has been acquired in such circumstances that the holder of the legal title may not in good conscience retain the beneficial interest”’…The four requirements for the imposition of a constructive trust are: (1) a confidential or fiduciary relationship, (2) a promise, (3) a transfer in reliance thereon, and (4) unjust enrichment[.]
Here, in opposition to the plaintiff’s prima facie showing of his entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the defendant’s second counterclaim…the defendant failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to the elements of a promise, a transfer in reliance thereon, and unjust enrichment[.]
Billittier v. Clark, 2014 NY Slip Op 50758(U) (Sup. Ct. Erie Co. March 31, 2014), arose out of “a bench trial of a replevin action brought by the Plaintiff pursuant to New York Civil Rights Law § 80-b to recover from the defendant, a 2.97 ct. diamond engagement ring, valued at $53,000.00 or, in the alternative, the fair market value of [the ring]”.
The court described the opposing contentions:
Plaintiff contends the ring was given to the Defendant solely in contemplation of marriage. The Defendant concedes that the ring was initially given to her in contemplation of marriage but contends its status changed upon the Plaintiff ending the engagement and then subsequently re-gifting it to her as an irrevocable inter vivos gift.
The testimony at the bench trial:
The credible testimony at the trial revealed that the Plaintiff proposed to the Defendant in April, 2011 after a brief courtship while they were vacationing together in Florida. He presented her with the ring and she accepted his proposal. The wedding date was set for September 15, 2012. Thereafter, the parties cohabited in the Plaintiff’s home and for the next year, the Plaintiff paid for the Defendant’s automobile and health insurance. In June, 2011, the Plaintiff took out a $53,000 insurance policy on the ring. In June, 2012, the Plaintiff asked the Defendant to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement on the advice of counsel as his assets were substantial relative to the Defendant who owned her own business. She initially refused, but later agreed to do so. The Plaintiff also allowed the insurance policy on the ring to expire in June, 2012.
From July 1, 2012 and thereafter, the only communication between the Plaintiff and the Defendant was in the form of text messages on three (3) separate dates. On July 1, 2012, the Plaintiff sent a text message to the Defendant ending their engagement. After the Defendant expressed her incredulity in a reply text message that the Plaintiff would end their engagement in a text message, the Plaintiff agreed in a reply text message to reimburse the Defendant for wedding related expenses she and her family incurred. He also wrote her instructions relative to moving out of his home. In particular, he wrote she got a $50,000 parting ring, enough for a down payment on a house. The Defendant accepted the parting ring and never relinquished possession.
The Plaintiff sent another text message to the Defendant on July 20, 2012 and expressed his anger over her taking what he referred to as personal shots at him and conspiring with both her and his family. He referred to their relationship as a boyfriend and girlfriend break-up and not the break-up of a 20 year marriage. In particular, he warned her that if she kept it up, he would take back the ring as well.
On July 31, 2012, the Plaintiff sent another text message to the Defendant to settle their personal property issues. This time he asked for the ring back because of debts and penalties he incurred in connection with withdrawals from his retirement account to reimburse the Defendant for wedding expenses. The Defendant, in a reply text message, reminded him he told her she could keep the ring. His reply text message was that he had changed his mind and felt she did not deserve the ring and advised her the law in New York State requires her to return it. He further wrote she was not the person he thought she was but was all about money. The Defendant moved out of the Plaintiff’s residence prior to receiving the last text message.
The history and development of Civil Rights Law Section 80-b:
Prior to 1965, the law in New York State, referred to as the so called heart balm statute, prohibited a former fiancee from suing to recover property given in contemplation of marriage. This law was adopted primarily to prevent acrimonious lovers scorned from suing each other based on alleged alienation of affections, criminal conversation, seduction and breach of contract to marry. The lawsuits were subject to grave abuses and caused financial damage and emotional injury to many persons who were innocent of any wrong doing and were merely the victims of circumstance…New York Civil Rights Law § 80-b became law in 1965 permitting erstwhile fiancees to recover chattel given in contemplation of marriage regardless of fault if no marriage occurs. The statute also allows for the recovery of real property and permits courts to award a lien to defendants for money expended in connection with the chattels or real property. There is a strong presumption that any gifts made during the engagement period are given solely in contemplation of marriage. This presumption is rebuttable, but clear and convincing proof is necessary to overcome it[.]
The state of the law nationwide and in New York:
Most of the reported decisions on this issue in New York and nationwide recognize the unique essence and purpose of an engagement ring as being given in contemplation of marriage, Tomko, Elaine, Rights in Respect of Engagement and Courtship Presents…Therefore, fairness requires its return to the donor when no marriage occurs regardless of who is responsible for such failure, …One common exception is where one of the parties is already married thus defeating the contemplation of a legal marriage since bigamy is illegal in New York and enforcement of § 80-b would be void as against public policy under those circumstances…The result holds true even where the donee is already married,… However, most of the reported decisions in New York reflect adherence to the legislative intent of § 80-b to restore the parties to their pre-engagement status by returning the engagement ring to its donor. This is true unless the once conditional gift is transformed into an ordinary gift, which is by definition irrevocable, that is, once given vests immediately and irrevocably in the donee, and the donor’s later acts cannot revoke or retract it …To make a valid inter vivos gift, there must exist the intent on the part of the donor to make a present transfer delivery of the gift, either actual or constructive to the donee, and acceptance by the done[.]
The burdens of proof and the testimony relating to the evidence:
In order to rebut the strong presumption that the ring was given solely in contemplation of marriage, the defendant must establish all the enumerated elements by clear and convincing evidence. That is, she must satisfy this Court that the totality of the evidence makes it highly probable that what she claims is actually what happened…The chronology of events is significant in the fact specific analysis of the unique facts and circumstances adduced at trial. The financial resources of the Plaintiff surpass those of the Defendant and the pre-nuptial agreement proposed by him was drafted after consulting his legal counsel. He had insured the ring for $53,000 in June, 2011 but let the policy lapse in June, 2012, evincing his donative intent…The Plaintiff ended their engagement in the July 1, 2012 text message and wrote that he was giving the Defendant a $50,000 parting ring along with agreeing to reimburse her and her family for wedding related expenses they incurred. The statement you get a $50,000 parting ring itself, made after the engagement was terminated again evinces the Plaintiff’s donative intent. Delivery was made if not actually, then constructively as the Defendant already had possession of the ring and no demand for its return had been made at that time. Acceptance by the Defendant was also established by her retention of the gift and the presumption that a thing of value to the donee is deemed accepted by her[.]
The next text message sent by the Plaintiff on July 20, 2012 is consistent with the previous text message in his acknowledgment that the ring had been re-gifted. He wrote that this is a boyfriend and girlfriend break-up and not the break-up of a 20 year marriage. In particular, he wrote that if the Defendant does not stop taking personal shots at him, he will take the ring back, again evincing his donative intent[.]
The final text message sent by the Plaintiff on July 31, 2012 is also telling on the issue of his donative intent. For the first time he demands the ring’s return, again evincing his previous donative intent, to help defray costs incurred by him for paying back the Defendant for wedding related expenses. He wrote he changed his mind, again evincing his previous donative intent, and she did not deserve the ring before opining she had to, by law, return the ring to him. The Plaintiff’s conduct and communications to the Defendant in the text messages is clearly consistent with a donative intent apart from and outside the marriage realm. His changing his mind is giver’s remorse rather than indignation based on his enforcement of his rights under § 80-b. Many gifts are given for reasons that sour with the passage of time. Unfortunately, gift law does not allow a donor to recover or revoke an inter vivos gift simply because his or her reasons for giving it have soured…Once a gift is given, it is irrevocable, that is, when an executed gift has been made an action to recover the item given ordinarily does not lie, …Finally, the Plaintiff’s performance of every other action referred to in the text messages is perhaps the most compelling indication of his donative intent. In fact, it was at trial, after months of reflection, that he first referred to what he wrote in the text messages regarding the ring as sarcasm[.]
And found that the ring was a valid gift from Billittier to Clark:
The rule of delivery is not inflexible, but is intended only to prevent fraudulent or mistaken claims, … The Plaintiff alleges no fraud or mistake here, Cohen v. Bayside Federal Savings and Loan, 62 Misc 2d 738 (Sup. Ct. Queens Cty., 1970). The Plaintiff at trial was not inconsistent with the text messages he sent, with the notable exception that he characterized his comment relative to the $50,000 parting ring as sarcasm akin to game show hosts assuaging losing contestants with the promise of a parting gift. Parting gifts on game shows usually pale in comparison to the grand prize sought in such contests, unlike here where the ring is at the heart of this lawsuit[.]
The Defendant has sustained her heavy burden by clear and convincing evidence. The text messages initiated by the Plaintiff have persuaded this Court that it is highly probable that a valid gift was given to her after the engagement was terminated. Therefore, under the totality of the circumstances, this Court grants judgment to the Defendant and against the Plaintiff.
Accordingly, the Defendant is awarded the 2.97 ct. diamond engagement ring or, in the alternative, the fair market value of it, without costs to either party.
Lipschultz v. Kiderman, 76 A.D. 3d 178, 905 N.Y.S.2d 247 (2d Dept. 2010), arose out of a strange and unique set of facts summarized by the Court:
This appeal involves the plaintiff’s request for the return of a six-carat diamond ring he allegedly gave to the defendant in contemplation of marriage. However, the defendant, the would-be bride, was legally married to another man at the time that the ring was given. The defendant nonetheless had obtained a “get,” or Jewish religious divorce, from that man. The plaintiff claims that, at the time he gave the defendant the ring in contemplation of marriage, and at the time the parties were the subject of an Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony, he was unaware that she was legally married to another. The issues presented on appeal are whether the plaintiff established that, at the time he gave the ring to the defendant, and at the time that the parties participated in the religious wedding ceremony, he was unaware of her legal marital status, and what impact his alleged understanding had on his entitlement to the return of the ring.
The undisputed facts:
It is undisputed that, on or about September 10, 2006 the plaintiff gave the defendant a six-carat diamond ring, which he purchased for the sum of $100,000. Thereafter, on September 20, 2006, the parties participated in an Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony as bride and groom. Prior to that ceremony, they executed a prenuptial agreement reciting, among other things, that the plaintiff would deposit the sum of $300,000 in a joint bank account to pay for their expenses, that the parties would retain their separate property, and that, in the event of a divorce sought by either party, the plaintiff would pay to the defendant a lump sum ranging from $525,000 to $3,000,000, depending upon the length of the marriage.
At the time of the religious wedding ceremony, the defendant was still legally married to another man, although she had obtained a “get” on July 30, 2002. She did not obtain a final judgment of civil divorce from her former husband until December 27, 2007. Prior to that date, however, the parties had separated and were no longer living as a couple.
The plaintiff commenced the instant action, sounding, inter alia, in replevin, to recover either the ring he had given to the defendant or its value, and to recover damages for fraud. The plaintiff alleged that he had purchased the ring as an engagement ring, he had given it to the defendant in contemplation of their valid and binding marriage, he had done so based on the defendant’s false assurances that she was divorced and free to marry him, and that the defendant had accepted the ring for that purpose. The plaintiff further alleged that he subsequently learned that the defendant was still married and that his marriage to her was, therefore, a nullity. He also alleged that the parties separated on September 13, 2007 and agreed not to solemnize their relationship in a civil marriage. The plaintiff further alleged that he had demanded the return of the ring, but that the defendant refused to return it. Accordingly, he sought a judgment directing the return of the ring or, in the alternative, a judgment in the sum of $150,000, representing its fair market value. The plaintiff also asserted a cause of action to recover damages for fraud in the sum of $200,000, claiming that he had deposited the sum of $150,000 into the defendant’s personal bank account, and had allowed her to use the sum of $50,000 from their joint bank account to purchase a new car because he believed they were lawfully married.
In her answer, the defendant admitted that, in August 2006, the parties agreed to marry, that the plaintiff gave her an “engagement ring,” that the parties entered into a prenuptial agreement and then participated in a religious wedding ceremony on September 20, 2006, and that the plaintiff thereafter deposited the sum of $300,000 in a joint bank account for their expenses and the sum of $150,000 in her separate bank account. However, as an affirmative defense, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff was fully aware at all relevant times that she had not obtained a civil divorce, and that the plaintiff did not care as long as she had obtained a religious divorce. Specifically, the defendant alleged:
“32. At all times herein the Plaintiff was fully aware that the Defendant was not civilly divorced from her former husband at the time Plaintiff religiously married the Defendant, but only wanted Defendant to obtain a religious divorce, which in the Jewish religion is called a ‘Get.’ Defendant did obtain a Get before her religious marriage to Plaintiff.
33. Plaintiff is a Hasidic Jew and his only concern was that Defendant received a Get from her prior marriage, because under Jewish law, a civil divorce is not sufficient to dissolve a Jewish marriage.”
The defendant further alleged that the plaintiff fraudulently induced her to enter into the religious marriage when he had no intention of honoring the lump-sum payment provision of their prenuptial agreement because he knew that she was still married to another man under civil law.
The summary judgment motion:
The plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the first cause of action, seeking the return of the ring or, in the alternative, on the second cause of action to recover damages representing the fair market value of the ring. In his supporting affidavit, the plaintiff averred that, both at the time when he gave the defendant the ring and when he participated in the religious wedding ceremony, he was unaware that the defendant was still legally married to another. He further claimed that the defendant had conceded in her answer that the ring was an ‘engagement ring,” and he insisted that the sole consideration for giving it to her was a binding marriage. Since he asserted that the religious ceremony in which he and the defendant participated was a legal nullity, he claimed that he was entitled to the return of the ring.
The plaintiff also argued that, under Civil Rights Law § 80-b, the law presumes that gifts given during an engagement period are in consideration of marriage, and the presumption can only be overcome by clear and convincing evidence. The plaintiff maintained that an award of summary judgment to him was appropriate, since the marriage was void from its inception, and that he was, therefore, entitled to the return of the ring.
In opposition to the plaintiff’s summary judgment motion, the defendant conceded that she previously had been married to nonparty Howard Nass, from whom she obtained a “get” on July 30, 2002. She further admitted that she did not obtain a judgment of civil divorce from him until December 27, 2007, long after the September 20, 2006 religious wedding ceremony. However, the defendant insisted that the plaintiff knew that her civil divorce was not concluded at the time of their engagement, that he nevertheless told her that he only cared that she obtain a religious divorce, and that they should get married anyway. She claimed that, even though the plaintiff was “absolutely aware” that her civil divorce had not been finalized, he gave her the ring, and she gave him a $25,000 Rolex watch. She further averred that the plaintiff actually came to court during her divorce proceedings to speak with her attorney and to sit in the courtroom audience to monitor the case during this period. The defendant additionally claimed that she and the plaintiff lived together and held themselves out as husband and wife following the religious wedding ceremony. Hence, she reasoned that, since the plaintiff knew she could not legally marry, his presentation of the ring to her was not in contemplation of a binding marriage, but was instead to induce her to participate in the religious ceremony, which she did. Accordingly, the defendant claimed that the plaintiff was not entitled to the return of the ring.
The Order of Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court granted that branch of the plaintiff’s motion which was for summary judgment on the first cause of action, and directed the defendant to return the ring to him. The Supreme Court observed, in part, as follows:
The parties dispute…whether or not the plaintiff knew that the defendant was not divorced at the time of their ‘marriage.” The plaintiff’s affidavits clearly state and unequivocally say that he did not. The Court has carefully reviewed the affidavit of the defendant in opposition, as well as that submitted by defendant’s matrimonial counsel. Both affidavits aver that not only did the plaintiff know about the lack of the civil divorce, he actively participated in it by attending court sessions and conferring with the defendant’s divorce attorney. However this Court notes, with some interest, that neither affidavit indicate[s] exactly when this participation took place, i.e. before or after September of 2006. This lack of specificity gives credence to the plaintiff’s position that he did not find out about the lack of divorce until after their ‘marriage.’”
The applicable law:
At the outset, since the defendant was still legally married to another man at the time of the religious wedding ceremony in which the parties participated, the parties’ attempt to marry was void from its inception…and such a marriage cannot be retroactively validated by estoppel, by mutual agreement, or by the parties’ conduct in holding themselves out as husband and wife[.]
New York’s former so-called “anti-heart balm” statute…abolished all causes of action to recover damages arising from breaches of contract to marry, including those to recover real and personal property given in contemplation of marriage. However, due to perceived abuses and potential for fraud, the Legislature subsequently enacted Civil Rights Law § 80-b to provide, in effect, that “a person, not under any impediment to marry, will no longer be denied the right to recover property given in contemplation of a marriage which has not occurred”…see Civil Rights Law § 80-b [“(n)othing in this article contained shall be construed to bar a right of action for the recovery of a chattel…when the sole consideration for the transfer of the chattel…was a contemplated marriage which has not occurred”]). Moreover, Civil Rights Law § 80-b is a “no-fault” statute, permitting the recovery of property given in contemplation of a marriage that does not take place, regardless of who is responsible for the failure of the marriage to go forward[.]
However, while, as a general matter, a party not under any impediment to marry may maintain an action to recover property, such as an engagement ring, given in contemplation of marriage where the contemplated marriage does not come to pass…the giving of such property with the knowledge of the existence of an impediment to a lawful marriage will preclude such recovery. Hence, in Lowe v. Quinn (27 NY2d 397 ), the plaintiff, a married man, gave the defendant an engagement ring upon her promise to wed him when and if he became free to do so, since he and his wife had been living apart for years and were contemplating a divorce. One month after receiving the ring, the defendant broke off the relationship and refused to return the ring. The plaintiff commenced an action to recover it, but the Court of Appeals made clear that overriding policy concerns regarding the validity of marriages barred such recovery:
An engagement ring ‘is in the nature of a pledge for the contract of marriage,’ and, under the common law, it was settled at least in a case where no impediment existed to a marriage that, if the recipient broke the ‘engagement,’ she was required, upon demand, to return the ring on the theory that it constituted a conditional gift. However, a different result is compelled where, as here, one of the parties is married. An agreement to marry under such circumstances is void as against public policy, and it is not saved or rendered valid by the fact that the married individual contemplated divorce and that the agreement was conditioned on procurement of the divorce. Based on such reasoning, the few courts which have had occasion to consider the question have held that a plaintiff may not recover the engagement ring or any other property he may have given the woman[.]
Applied the facts to the law:
Although the plaintiff in Lowe argued that Civil Rights Law § 80-b should be interpreted to permit the recovery of the ring even though he was married at the time he gave it to the defendant, the Court of Appeals flatly rejected the argument, noting that “[t]his statute…does not alter the settled principle denying a right of recovery where either of the parties to the proposed marriage is already married”.
In the years since the Lowe decision, the overwhelming majority of New York courts have continued to hold that where a party gives an engagement gift to another with knowledge that an impediment to a lawful marriage exists, whether the impediment is on the part of the donor or the recipient, no action will lie to compel a return of the property on the ground that the marriage did not take place[.]
The case of Shoenfeld v. Fontek (67 Misc 2d 481 ) is directly on point. In that case, the unmarried male plaintiff sought to recover property he gave to the married female defendant in contemplation of their marriage, which ultimately did not take place. The defendant argued that no recovery was permissible because she was already married, and an impediment to the marriage therefore existed. However, in line with Lowe v. Quinn and its progeny, the Supreme Court determined that the rule precluding recovery in such cases “is not intended to bar an action for the return of property by an innocent party, not aware of the other’s disability to contract a marriage at the time of the ‘engagement’” (id. at 482). Furthermore, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the rule that “[w]here both parties are aware at the time they agree to marry that one of them is still bound by a prior undissolved marriage, the bar of Lowe v. Quinn…is operative” (id.). Since the parties in the Shoenfeld case presented conflicting evidence as to whether the plaintiff was aware of the defendant’s existing marriage at the time of their agreement to marry, the Supreme Court held that the issue could not be resolved on a summary judgment motion
Here, the plaintiff established his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by averring in his affidavit that he gave the ring to the defendant in contemplation of their valid and binding marriage and that, unbeknownst to him, the defendant was still legally married to another man and could not validly marry him. However, contrary to the Supreme Court’s determination, the defendant raised a triable issue of fact by submitting her own affidavit and that of her matrimonial attorney, asserting that, at the time the plaintiff discussed marriage with the defendant and presented her with the ring, the plaintiff was well aware of her marital status, and even participated indirectly in her divorce proceedings. While the Supreme Court correctly observed that the opposing affidavits did not identify the precise dates of the plaintiff’s participation in the defendant’s divorce proceedings, the affidavits clearly alleged that the plaintiff knew of the defendant’s existing marriage before he gave the defendant the ring. The defendant further claimed in her affidavit that the plaintiff presented her with the ring not in contemplation of a legally valid civil marriage, but in contemplation of a religious wedding ceremony. She claimed that he was only concerned that the defendant obtain a religious divorce, and that he did not care about a civil divorce.
The conflicting affidavits presented a stark credibility question, which the Supreme Court summarily and impermissibly resolved in the plaintiff’s favor. “A court may not weigh the credibility of witnesses on a motion for summary judgment, ‘unless it clearly appears that the issues are not genuine, but feigned’”. Here, there is no basis to conclude that the issues presented are not genuine. Accordingly, in light of the existence of these triable issues of fact, the Supreme Court should have denied that branch of the plaintiff’s motion which was for summary judgment on the first cause of action and left for trial the resolution of issues of credibility[.]
And concluded that:
Since there remains a triable issue of fact as to whether the plaintiff knew of an impediment to the proposed marriage at the time he gave the defendant the diamond ring, the Supreme Court should have denied that branch of the plaintiff’s motion which was for summary judgment on the first cause of action.
The takeaway: “Engagement” rings may (or may not) be given in contemplation of marriage, and may (or may not) be recoverable by the giftor/donor, depending upon the facts, when the relationship comes to an unhappy end.