Occasionally a story will come along that must be written about, but poses a challenge to the writer in terms of writing about it in a way that will not creep out readers (or writer) excessively.
This is such a story.
Here we go. Two doctors, Richard Phillips and Sharon Irons, had an affair several years ago. In the course of this affair, Dr. Phillips presented Dr. Irons with . . . let’s call it a gift. It was a gift that he had given her on more than one occasion, and which, at the time, he was probably happy to give. Later, their affair ended.
Two years later, Dr. Irons sued Dr. Phillips claiming he was the father of her child. This came as some surprise to Dr. Phillips since, according to him, the gift had been given only in a manner that does not normally have such consequences. He surmised that Dr. Irons had retained his gift and put it to a use that he had not anticipated. And after being ordered to pay $800 a month in child support, he sued Dr. Irons.
The lawsuit alleged emotional distress resulting from what it called a “calculated, profound personal betrayal,” namely the alleged misuse of his gift. But the suit also asserted claims for fraud and theft. Given the nature of the gift, it would seem to be pushing the envelope a bit to claim that Dr. Phillips was defrauded into giving it, let alone that it was “stolen” from him. (The good news for lawyers here is that Dr. Phillips was representing himself.) And Dr. Irons defended in part by arguing precisely that — that Dr. Phillips had in fact made an unconditional “gift” to her. The trial court dismissed all the claims.
On Wednesday, an Illinois appellate court reversed in part. The court held that the emotional distress claims could go forward, because if Dr. Phillips’ story was true, then Dr. Irons had “deceitfully” used the gift “in an unorthodox, unanticipated manner yielding extreme consequences.” But it affirmed the dismissal of the fraud and theft claims, accepting the view that the “delivery” was “a gift — an absolute and irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a donee.” As the court also pointed out, “There was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request.”
Prenuptial agreements are bad enough. Now we need to draft up something to cover this, too?
I’ll update with the actual opinion when it’s available online. It may be a keeper.