Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

back
Topic /161
Gilbert v. Barkes

Citation. Gilbert v. Barkes, 987 S.W.2d 772, 1999 Ky. LEXIS 38 (Ky. Mar. 25, 1999)

Brief Fact Summary. Appellee and appellant were engaged to be married, but the relationship broke down. Appellee sued under the common law action of Breach of Promise to Marry, and appellant moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted appellant’s motion, the court of appeals reversed.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. Breach of Promise to Marry is an outdated common law action that should no longer be permitted.

Facts. Ms. Barkes, appellee, and Dr. Gilbert, appellant, entered into a relationship resulting in appellant proposing to appellee. Appellee accepted the proposal, and upon appellant’s insistence took early retirement and sold her home, moving in with appellant. The parties’ relationship deteriorated and appellee moved out of appellant’s home. Appellee brought an action for Breach of Promise to Marry (BPM). The trial court granted appellant’s motion for summary judgment, the court of appeals reversed.

Issue. Should the cause of action for breach of promise to marry be abolished from Kentucky common law?

Held. BPM has become an anachronism that has outlived its usefulness and should be abolished.
BPM was historically based on the view that marriage was a property transaction, and the action is predicated on contract principles with damages having its roots in tort. Damages included compensatory damages for loss of the marriage, aggravated damages for seduction, and punitive damages for malicious conduct.

In support of abolishing the action, society’s views of marriage and women have changed dramatically. The action is based largely on sexism and paternalism, not in line with the fact that women now posses far more rights than their predecessors.

In support of retaining the action are arguments that the General Assembly has implicitly adopted the action by enacting a statute of limitations, that stare decisis requires the Court to retain the action, and that it still serves the purpose of remedying injury.

In balancing the relative arguments, BPM should be abolished. In the present case, appellee is precluded from recovery under any contractual theory. She has no direct wedding-related economic out-of-pocket expenses (wedding dresses, etc.). She cannot recover under any contractual theory because no wedding date was set and she cannot prove the parties’ final intent to enter into marriage. Finally, she cannot prove intentional infliction of emotional distress because the appellant’s conduct did not meet the reckless threshold and she did not prove severe emotional distress as needed.

Discussion. The Court stresses that its decision does not preclude the availability of other remedies, but only modifies the form the remedy may take.