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Albinger v. Harris

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Albinger (Plaintiff) and Harris (Defendant) were engaged to be married. The engagement ended and Plaintiff sued Harris for the return of the engagement ring.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A gift given without condition is irrevocable. Montana law does not allow actions in contract law based upon a promise to marry, unless the promise was elicited through fraud or deceit. A plaintiff cannot recover an engagement ring by claiming it was a gift conditioned on marriage.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff and Defendant became engaged, with Plaintiff giving Defendant an engagement ring worth $29,000. Over the course of a long engagement, the couple repeatedly separated and reconciled. On each separation, Defendant returned the ring to Plaintiff, and upon reconciliation, Plaintiff gave the ring to Defendant. In the final argument, Plaintiff told Defendant to take her ring and other gifts he’d given her and to leave their home. Plaintiff later filed suit in order to recover the ring. The trial court found that the ring had been given in contemplation of marriage and that when the condition failed, Plaintiff was entitled to recover the ring. Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Is an engagement ring given with the condition of marriage?

    Held.

    (Nelson, J.) No. A gift given without condition is irrevocable. Montana law does not allow actions in contract law based upon a promise to marry, unless the promise was elicited through fraud or deceit. A plaintiff cannot recover an engagement ring by claiming it was a gift impliedly conditioned on marriage.  A gift is a voluntary transfer of personal property for no consideration. When the donor intends a gift, voluntarily delivers it, and the donee accepts the item, the gift is complete. Unless given with a condition, such gifts are irrevocable, unless when given in view of death. If engagement rings were given as consideration for the promise to marry, it would form a contract. In Montana, lawsuits over contracts based upon a promise to marry are not allowed. If an exception for engagement rings was made, it would be unfair to women because it would allow men to recover the rings and still prevent women from recovering any gifts they may give conditioned upon marriage. The legislature would have to change the law in order to have the courts recognize an engagement ring as impliedly conditioned upon marriage. Reversed.

    Dissent.

    (Trieweiler, J.) Gender equality was not raised by the parties and should not be used as a basis for the majority opinion without allowing the parties to address it. Also, the recovery of engagement rings is not included in the law’s prohibition governing contract actions made upon a promise to marry. Other gifts can be given in contemplation of marriage by either gender, so the law of conditional gifts should include more than just engagement rings. In this case, Defendant returned the ring on each separation, except for the last one, demonstrating both parties’ understanding that it was a conditional gift. When the condition went unfulfilled, Plaintiff was entitled to recover the gift.

    Discussion.

    In most jurisdictions, engagement rings are considered conditional gifts.


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