Williams v. Ormsby – A Much Needed Victory?

by Featured Guest on June 6, 2012

By Meistergedanken

In a significant decision that attracted a minimal amount of attention in the media, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in February that affection in and of itself is insufficient to meet the legal requirement of “consideration” necessary to constitute a contract.

I imagine that contract law varies from state to state; in Ohio (where I reside) one must meet three requirements for a legal contract. You must have an offer, an acceptance and consideration. In this context, “consideration” describes a transaction of sorts whereby one party gains a benefit or right from the other party while incurring a debt, taking on an obligation or gaining a responsibility.

The particulars of the case of Williams v. Ormsby (Slip Opinion No. 2012-Ohio-690) are these: in 2004 Amber Williams (already a divorcee) and Frederick Ormsby formed a romantic relationship and by May of that year Mr. Ormsby had moved into his girlfriend’s house. By July they were engaged. In a development that will surprise no one here, Ormsby took over the responsibility of the finances of the couple; he paid the property taxes as well as the entire mortgage for the house. For her part, Williams transferred the title of the property over to her fiancé.

Then, things took a turn for the worse. The relationship went bust and the wedding was called off. Ormsby and Williams drew up a contract to the effect that the house would be sold, with the first $324,000 of the net proceeds (essentially the amount he paid into the house) of the sale going to Ormsby. Anything above that amount would go to Ms. Williams.

Then things took a turn towards crazy. Weeks after the aforementioned agreement was signed, the two decided that there were still mutual romantic feelings. They engaged the services of a couples counselor and resumed their relationship. However, Ms. Williams stipulated an additional condition – she refused to resume their engagement or move back into the house unless Ormsby gave her a 50% stake in the property. Ormsby dutifully complied with her demand and a second contract was drawn up to that effect. I can’t help but think that at some point Amber Williams happened to catch the film Intolerable Cruelty (which came out in 2003) on cable, and picked up some devious ideas. Anyone see where this is headed?

The relationship soured again, and by 2007 the couple were sufficiently estranged that they were living in separate portions of the house, and in 2008 they filed lawsuits against each other. Williams demanded the second contract be honored, while Ormsby only accepted the first contract that made him the sole owner.

This is where it gets interesting. A county court ruled in 2009 that the second contract was invalid because Ms. Williams hadn’t given up anything in return for the financial benefit of half the property. There was no “consideration”. In 2010 an appeals court disagreed – claiming that the love and affection Williams showered upon her beloved at the time in fact fulfilled her side of the bargain. Then, it was off to the state Supreme Court.

The court overturned the appeals court ruling, deciding by a convincing 5 – 1 vote (one justice did not vote for some reason) that “gratuitous promises are not enforceable as contracts because there is no consideration.” A gift, on the other hand, requires no such condition – but unlike contracts the regulation of gifts does not fall within the purview of the court system (as far as I know). The ruling further stated that “The evidence demonstrates that the only consideration offered by Amber Williams for the June 2005 agreement was her resumption of a romantic relationship with Frederick Ormsby. There is no detriment to Amber…only benefit.” And the quote that delivers the coup de grace, “We hold that merely moving into a home with another while engaging in a romantic relationship is not consideration for the formation of a contract.”

When asked by the court if Ms. Williams had given up “anything of value” that merited consideration for the contract, she replied, “I didn’t pay him anything, no. I thought what was of value was the fact that we were sharing all sorts of things. He had my love.” Ah, chutzpah. This pattern has been identified here before, of course. His love (they were “sharing”, after all) accounts for nothing, while hers was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars!

I am not going to claim that this ruling marks a historic turning point for men, or even a monumental decision, but it is nonetheless of great importance. In effect, an [unmarried] cohabitating woman can no longer legally claim that she is entitled to half your stuff because she was intimate with you, shared her feelings and occasionally boiled you an egg for breakfast. As more couples choose to cohabitate rather than marry, this ruling may provide men desperately needed protection from would-be asset-strippers (my least favorite kind of stripper, BTW).

An epilogue to this tale: it is of considerable interest to note that of the seven justices on the Supreme Court, six are Republicans and the remaining one is a Democrat. The judge that was in the minority, Justice Paul Pfeifer, is a Republican – although he has often aligned with Democrats on the court over the course of his tenure. He dissented on the grounds that the second contract was worded exactly the same way as the first, was between the same parties and concerned the same property, so the second contract should be as valid, even though the “valuable consideration” it mentioned has completely unstated specifics. In this sense he seems to be at least attempting to adhere to a strict interpretation of the law, and as such is hardly an activist judge, merely a misguided one.

To those who consistently and tediously assert that there is no discernible difference between Democrats and Republicans (of which some of the latter are balking at expanded provisions of the VAWA proposed by the former at the moment I write this during the month of April) I ask: do you or anyone here believe that this same ruling could have been issued, in say, California or Massachusetts? If nothing else, it behooves men to elect a political party that will not appoint judges that are inherently hostile to men’s interests; even indifference is preferable to the creeping horrors of liberal activism in America’s courtrooms.

Full opinion at:

http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/rod/docs/pdf/0/2012/2012-ohio-690.pdf

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