A spurned lover no longer can sue a fiance for breaking a promise to marry, but a Utah Supreme Court ruling Tuesday makes it clear there are still legal avenues left for avenging some wounds to the heart.
Ranay Stout Jackson will take one of those other avenues in her lawsuit against former fiance Scott William Brown. Jackson sued Brown for breach of a promise to marry and emotional distress after Brown broke off the couple's engagement on their wedding day.The two met in May 1993 and got engaged three months later. They planned to marry Nov. 11, 1993. Early that morning, Brown went to Jackson's house and told her he couldn't go through with the marriage.
Jackson later learned that Brown was married to someone else during their entire courtship and was never free to marry her.
She sued, using as one of her claims the old legal doctrine that allows one to sue for breach of a promise to marry.
There have only been three cases in Utah that cited the doctrine, said Greg Hadley, attorney for Jackson. "But I'm a romantic, so I put it in."
The last time the doctrine was used, 50 years ago, it was upheld. But this week, the high court decided it was time to retire that particular cause of action.
"It is certainly the policy of the state to uphold marriage vows. However, we see no benefit in discouraging or penalizing persons who realize, before making these vows, that for whatever reason, they are unprepared to take such an important step. . . . An earnest decision by one party in a wedding engagement to cancel marriage plans should not be discouraged, let alone legally penalized. . . . We now abolish the cause of action in this state."
"We are thrilled," said Richard Hackwell, attorney for Brown. The breach-of-promise-to-marry law allowed spurned lovers to sue for embarrassment and humiliation, he said.
The law was intended for a time when marriage was primarily an economic arrangement and not a romantic one and jilted lovers needed compensation for economic damage, the ruling says.
But today's fiances suffer emotionally from broken engagements, not financially, Durham noted. Fiances who do suffer economic damage may sue their intended for breach of contract. They don't need a specific breach-of-promise-to-marry law.
Jilted lovers can also still sue for that emotional damage if there is evidence that the other person intended to inflict that distress.
In Jackson's case, such evidence exists, Durham wrote. "For instance, Brown has conceded that during the period in question, he was already married; at no time during his relationship with Jackson was he able, legally, to marry her," Durham wrote. "Yet he proposed, scheduled a ceremony, acquired a license, and apparently offered every appearance of going through with the wedding."
Brown's emotional distress was not intentional, Hackwell said. Brown intends to fight out in court the remaining claim in Jackson's suit.
"The game's still afoot," Hackwell said.