Tort Law

Appeals Court OKs Lawsuit Over Woman's Alleged Web Deception Drama Involving 20 Fictional Personas

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Extending the scope of a tort claim that has traditionally been asserted in a business setting, an Illinois appellate court has given the green light to a lawsuit over an alleged multiyear Internet-based deception in which the plaintiff says she was tricked into seeming romance and friendship with individuals who either did not exist or were not who they seemed to be.

Plaintiff Paula Bonhomme of California can pursue a fraudulent misrepresentation case against a suburban Chicago woman, Janna St. James, for allegedly orchestrating a complex Internet drama that involved more than 20 fictitious characters, the Illinois Court of Appeals’ Second District held in a written opinion (PDF) last month.

To persuade Bonhomme that her fictional characters were real, St. James used a mechanical device to change her voice over the telephone and sent e-mail and mail from a variety of addresses and locations, the opinion says. A defense attorney for St. James argued, in essence, that she wasn’t responsible for creating fiction online.

In recognizing the cause of action, the court points to costs incurred by Bonhomme, who says she needed therapy to recover from being deceived and paid for gifts and interstate travel, among other expenses, in connection with what she thought was a friendship with St. James and a romance with a purported friend of St. James who, in fact, didn’t exist.

However, Bonhomme herself hopes, by filing the litigation, to depose St. James and find out why she did what she did, her attorney tells the Chicago Tribune.

The appeals court notes in its opinion that other counts originally filed by Bonhomme in a defamation and invasion of privacy suit against St. James were not preserved for appeal due to an apparent procedural error on the plaintiff’s part.

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