Trials & Litigation

Man can sue for return of engagement ring, Virginia Supreme Court rules


engagement ring

A $26,000 engagement ring was a conditional gift and a man who broke off his engagement is entitled to its return, the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled.

The court said in a Dec. 15 decision (PDF) that the lawsuit by Ethan Dockendorf was not barred by the state’s heart balm statute, which bars suits for breach of a promise to marry, report Bloomberg News and the Legal Profession Blog.

Dockendorf had brought an action in detinue seeking return of the ring against his one-time fiancée, Julia McGrath, after he broke off the relationship in September 2013, the court said.

The Virginia Supreme Court said Dockendorf’s detinue action differs from a suit for breach of a promise to marry. Detinue actions are intended to recover specific personal property and damages for its detention. Breach of promise to marry suits, on the other hand, were intended to compensate a plaintiff “for the loss and humiliation of a broken engagement,” the court said.

A majority of other courts have also held that heart balm statutes don’t foreclose actions for recovery of property, according to the decision.


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