Leave me at the altar and I’m not going to kill you (á la the recent, so-called “angry women killers” in the Gatti and McNair cases). No, I’m going to get you where it really hurts. I’m going to sue your ass (or at least try to).
So by now maybe you’ve heard of how San Antonio Spurs player Richard Jefferson (formerly of the NJ Nets) notified his bride-to-be 2 HOURS before their wedding that he wasn’t coming. Although the wedding party made the best out of a bad situation, they partied and charged up his Black African American Express Card, I’m sure fiancée Kesha Ni’Cole Nichols was not a happy camper. Being the litigious recent law graduate that I am, I read this story and immediately thought about how I would find some remedy in the courts for this. It’s just not right. When I took a course called economics of divorce, we talked about whether a person could claim for a broken engagement but didn’t get around to being left at the altar. While in most places you cannot sue for a broken engagement, I think taking the “promise to marry” up to the point where all of HIS friends and family are waiting at the wedding location takes the agreement to an almost finalized place. Here are the three ways I would try and go Judge Mathis on his ass:
1. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)
The tort of IIED has four elements which must all be proven in a court of law in order to recover any damages/$: (1) the defendant must act intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant’s conduct must be extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct must be the cause (4) of severe emotional distress. First, it’s clear that this was intentional. He called up and said something to the effct, “Yo, I’m not coming. Yall got my black card. Just ball out without me and tell shorty I’m sorry. Peace.” I don’t know. What I do know is that he didn’t miss his wedding because he was kidnapped. Granted, the intentional mindstate most likely applies to whether he intended to cause her emotional distress (we don’t know enough to determine), not intention to skip the wedding (clearly). However, with enough investigating, I could probably make a case that he did this shit on purpose. The second element is a bit of an issue because extreme and outrageous could mean one thing or another. Usually, the conduct must be so outrageous and so extreme as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as utterly intolerable in a civilized society. Uhh, okay. I don’t know if it rises to that bad of an offense but a skilled litigator could sure make a case out of it. The rest are easy. He was unquestionably the cause and emotional distress could be felt in the shame and embarrasment she must have felt. This is ALL over Twitter, blogs (hello!) and the news. Folks are already calling her names, saying she was probably a gold digger anyway and she looks like a stripper, etc. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel some kind of way about that. Yeah, I’m at least getting this IIED claim heard.
2. Promissory Estoppel or Detrimental Reliance
Unlike IIED, this is more of a contract issue. The doctrine of promissory estoppel allows recovery when (1) a promise was made; (2) reliance on the promise was reasonable; (3) the promisee relied on the promise his or her detriment (some harm was suffered). When Jefferson proposed to Nichols in 2007, they basically had a promise to marry. Now had Jefferson broke off the engagement a week or a few months after no one would really bat an eye. These things happen. But these two were engaged for TWO YEARS! I think that’s enough time to rely on and expect that you will get married, especially when you’re all dressed in your wedding gown and everyone you care about is waiting. She showed up, which evidences her reliance and she suffered a detriment – being jilted and subsequently ridiculed in the innanets. The only problem with promissory estoppel is that the remedy is usually forcing performance of the contract. For example, you rely on a contractor to build your home and you tell other competitors to back off, contractor A has it under control. They do half the job and then bail, leaving you with half a crib and no one else available to do the work. The court would likely compel contractor A to finish what he started. In this case, no court in the world could make Jefferson marry Nichols, making this claim just so-so.
3. Breach of Contract
Again, another contract defense based on the idea that an engagement or promise to marry is, in fact, a contract. To recover, one must show that (1) the parties had a valid, existing contract to marry and (2) there was a breach, or lack of any legally justifiable reason/failure to perform the promise. So here, Jefferson and Nichols must have had a clear intent to marry for the marriage agreement to be binding in the first place. I think a public engagement that lasted two years is intent. The breach is there. Homeboy didn’t even show up and he had no legally justified reason (competency, fraud, voidable marriage etc). The remedies for breach of contract can be pretty sweet (for Nichols, not Jefferson). One could get damages to compensate for injury to their feelings or reputation (check). There’s also the possibility to recover for financial loss but I doubt she contributed anything to the $2Million wedding costs so skip that. Finally, some courts might award compensation for loss of what she COULD have gotten had the marriage gone ahead. Bonus!
What’s the lesson here? A jilted bride (or groom) doesn’t need to get angry and they don’t need to kill you. All they need to do is get a good attorney. As a lesson to break up with someone the right way, take the story of RoseMary Shell who was awarded $150,000 after being left at the altar. Furthermore, don’t go around promising to marry a virgin just to get the cookies. You could be sued for seduction as well as for breach of promise!
FYI, lawsuits for leaving someone at the altar only fly in some states. Georgia gives the greenlight, treating a broken engagement like a breach of contract. It’s a no go in New York according to New York Civil Rights Law, Article 8 . The article reads, in part, “The rights of action to recover sums of money as damages for alienation of affections, criminal conversation, seduction, or breach of contract to marry are abolished…No contract to marry made or entered into in this state shall operate to give rise, either within or without this state, to any cause or right of action for its breach.”
UPDATE: Jefferson said he’s giving Nichols a “‘six-figure’ settlement so she can start a new life.” Guess he read my post got smart and decided that it’d be better handle this outside of the courtroom.