PC Law

I had a call yesterday with a question that required me to do some legal research: "If you give someone an engagement ring, and that person then breaks off the engagement, do you get the ring back?"

The answer astounded me. The answer, for all of you potential paramours, is no.

If that is not bad enough, the reasoning is based on avoiding gender bias:

Article II, Section 4 of the Montana Constitution recognizes and guarantees the individual dignity of each human being without regard to gender. This Court and the Montana State Bar have recognized the harm caused by gender bias and sexual stereotyping in the jurisprudence and courtroom of this state. In the Matter of the State Bar of Montana's Gender Fairness Steering Committee, No. 90-231 (1990) (Petition and Order); (Case omitted). In its Petition to the Supreme Court, the State Bar of Montana's Gender Fairness Steering Committee listed four forms of gender bias: a) denying rights or burdening people with responsibilities solely on the basis of gender; b) subjecting people to stereotypes about the proper behavior of men and women which ignore their individual situations; c) treating people differently on the basis of gender in situations in which gender should be irrelevant; and d) subjecting men or women as a group to a legal rule, policy, or practice which produces worse results for one group than the other.

The Montana Legislature made the social policy decision to relieve courts of the duty of regulating engagements by barring actions for breach of promise. While not explicitly denying access to the courts on the basis of gender, the “anti-heart balm” statutes closed courtrooms across the nation to female plaintiffs seeking damages for antenuptial pregnancy, ruined reputation, lost love and economic insecurity. During the mid-20th Century, some courts continued to entertain suits in equity for antenuptial property transfers. The jurisprudence that rose upon the implied conditional gift theory, based upon an engagement ring's symbolic associations with marriage, preserved a right of action narrowly tailored for ring givers seeking ring return. The bright-line rule of ring return on a no-fault basis, which Albinger urges this Court to adopt, sets forth as a matter of law “proper” post-engagement behavior in regard to this single gifted item. The proposed no-fault adjudication of a disputed engagement ring also ignores the particular circumstances of a couple's decision not to marry.

Conditional gift theory applied exclusively to engagement ring cases, carves an exception in the state's gift law for the benefit of predominately male plaintiffs. Montana's “anti-heart balm” statute bars all actions sounding in contract law that arise from mutual promise to marry, absent fraud or deceit, and bars all plaintiffs from recovering any share of expenses incurred in planning a canceled wedding. While antenuptial traditions vary by class, ethnicity, age and inclination, women often still assume the bulk of pre-wedding costs, such as non-returnable wedding gowns, moving costs, or non-refundable deposits for caterers, entertainment or reception halls. Consequently, the statutory “anti-heart balm” bar continues to have a disparate impact on women. If this Court were to fashion a special exception for engagement ring actions under gift law theories, we would perpetuate the gender bias attendant upon the Legislature's decision to remove from our courts all actions for breach of antenuptial promises.

No, I don't make this sh*t up. And, once again, I find myself agreeing with the "liberal" Justice Trieweiler:
Gender discrimination is a bad thing. I am glad the majority is against it. However, I regret that the majority has taken this opportunity to declare their good intentions because gender equity has about as much to do with this case as banking law. Furthermore, the parties in the District Court will be as surprised to hear about the basis on which this appeal has been resolved as I was when I read the proposed pinion. Principles of gender equity were never argued or even raised by the parties at any stage in the proceeding and the District Court had no opportunity to consider the relevance (or irrelevance) of Constitutional theory to any of the simple issues which were presented in the District Court.
Read the whole thing before you head to the jeweler.


Anonymous said...

Stare Decisis

WolfPack said...

Is our state supreme court really that daffy? Summary: "I'm not sure if he's guilty of this but I'm sure he's guilty of something else"

Unorabby said...

If an ex-spouse provides wine for toasting for his daughter and after the wedding decides that he wants to charge the other party for the remainder of the wine - is this legal? Doesn't this fall under gifts and contributions for a family wedding as the ex-spouse is the father of the bride and now being spiteful wants to charge the mother of the bride - it was his generous gester in the first place to provide this as his gift to his daughter. Please Advise