Family Law

Ga. Business Owner Ordered to Pay $150K for Broken Engagement

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RoseMary Shell wasn’t actually left at the altar. Instead, the middle-aged woman came home one day in late 2006, shortly before she was to get married, and discovered a note from her fiance, along with a check for $5,000, in the bathroom of their home. It said he was having second thoughts.

So did she, eventually suing her fiance, construction company owner Wayne Gibbs, for breach of contract after he ended the relationship for good—and winning a $150,000 jury award last week that made international news. Shell, who is now 46, testified that she took a $50,000 annual salary cut when she quit her job in Pensacola, Fla., to live with Gibbs in Gainesville, Ga., reported the Gainesville Times.

The newspaper also provided a copy of the lawsuit (PDF), which was filed in Hall County, Ga.

“Gibbs took Shell on several skiing trips, made house payments for her and gave her $30,000 to pay off credit card debt, according to court testimony,” the newspaper reported last week while the trial was still ongoing. “But when he learned after proposing that she had even more debt—enough to eventually file for bankruptcy—he had ‘second thoughts’ about getting married, he testified.”

Shell, however, disputed that account. Gibbs knew she owed $42,000, she told the Today’s Meredith Vieira on Friday, after the verdict. “We discussed my debts before I left Florida. We discussed my debts when I came back from Florida. He had a list. He knew exactly what I owed. That’s all just kind of a smokescreen.”

One of the jurors, Delita Smith, says the award was based on a year of Shell’s former salary, according to another Gainesville Times article.

“We really debated quite extensively whether to bring the case,” says Lydia Sartain, Shell’s attorney, who was concerned about the “conservative” jury they might get in Georgia. “But we just felt so strongly that in this case he had told her to quit her job and she relied on his promise,” she told Today. “He came to her in Florida and moved her back into his house, took steps above and beyond the usual ‘Will you marry me, let’s plan a wedding’ and then somebody backs out.”

In a written statement provided to the Today show, Hammond Law, the attorney representing Gibbs, says his client intends to appeal. The verdict, Gibbs feels, doesn’t conform with the evidence, Law explains, plus there are significant legal issues including “whether or not breach of promise to marry is a viable action under Georgia law in 2008.”

A similar suit was filed Friday by another woman, who contends she spent a significant amount of money to remodel her fiance’s home before he jilted her, the Gainesville Times reports in a third news story. Again, the newspaper provides a link to the Hall County complaint (PDF) in that case.

Additional coverage:

CBC News: “Love ‘em and leave ‘em? In Georgia, it’ll cost you”

The Sun: “Old, new, borrowed, sued”

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