In 2012, onetime Buffalo Sabre Matthew Barnaby was living with a former beauty queen in his Clarence home and gave her a $50,000 diamond engagement ring and a Cadillac Escalade.
He seems to have lost all three.
But now he wants two of them back – the ring and the SUV.
Barnaby filed suit this week in State Supreme Court in Niagara County against Amber L. Lindke, of Lockport, a former Miss Buffalo and Miss Niagara County, charging that she refused to give him back the ring after the couple split in September.
Lindke’s attorney, George V.C. Muscato of Lockport, said he has the ring and plans to file a counterclaim against Barnaby demanding money that the former hockey player allegedly owes Lindke for building his new website, www.mattbarnabyhockey.com.
“This isn’t just about the ring. We have claims against Mr. Barnaby,” Muscato said.
The lawsuit also seeks to force Lindke, 25, to sign over to Barnaby the title to the 2008 Cadillac Escalade, which is in his possession. Barnaby had previously signed over the title to Lindke.
Muscato said Barnaby is not entitled to retake the Cadillac. “It was a gift,” the lawyer said. Asked how he can prove that, Muscato said, “My client has the title.”
The suit says Barnaby, 39, gave Lindke the title to the vehicle in January of last year, after his driver’s license was suspended because of a driving while intoxicated conviction.
The lawsuit says no money changed hands and that Barnaby continued to pay for insurance on the vehicle.
Barnaby had pleaded guilty Dec. 13, 2011, in Clarence Town Court to misdemeanor DWI, refusing to submit to a chemical test, operating with an unsafe tire and failing to notify the state Department of Motor Vehicles of a status change.
The plea came eight days after his arrest by an Erie County sheriff’s deputy, who found Barnaby driving a Porsche Cayenne with a missing tire down Main Street.
Barnaby was hit with fines and surcharges of $1,950 and was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, talking to youths about the perils of drunken driving. He lost his job as an ESPN hockey analyst after the DWI arrest. He now coaches local youth hockey.
The lawsuit claims that Barnaby viewed the Cadillac title switch as a temporary transaction so Lindke could drive him where he needed to go while he was without a driver’s license. He has since regained the license.
In a more recent case, Barnaby was arrested in May for pounding on the garage door of his ex-wife’s Getzville home. He received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.
Muscato declined to discuss how much money Barnaby allegedly owes Lindke for working on the website. “He paid some. We want the balance,” Muscato said.
Lindke, a graduate of Lockport High School and Canisius College, won the Miss Niagara County title in 2005 and was crowned Miss Buffalo in 2007. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and worked briefly for a TV station in Fort Myers, Fla. She now does marketing work in the medical field.
Lindke said she would not answer questions about her relationship with Barnaby, but she confirmed the account in court papers that she and Barnaby were living together in his home from January through September of last year.
She said Barnaby proposed to her and gave her the ring in June; the lawsuit says it happened in July. However, by fall the relationship was on the rocks, and Lindke said she moved out.
The lawsuit says Barnaby asked Lindke several times to give the ring back and sign over the SUV to him, but she refused.
Barnaby and his attorney, David H. Elibol, did not respond to requests to comment on the case.
State law seems to be on Barnaby’s side in the dispute over the ring. The state’s Civil Rights Law specifically allows lawsuits over unreturned engagement rings if the marriage never takes place.
Several State Supreme Court and Appellate Division rulings in engagement ring cases over the past decade have, in effect, established New York as a “no-fault engagement” state.
In other words, it doesn’t matter why an engagement goes bust or whether one party or the other did something wrong. The person who gave the ring is entitled to get it back, according to law review articles by Joanna L. Grossman, a Hofstra University law professor regarded as a leading authority on engagement law.
Muscato said that he and Elibol had been trying to settle the dispute between Barnaby and Lindke without success and that Elibol told him he would file a lawsuit. “Breaking up is sometimes hard to do,” Muscato said. “If they were married, this would be settled in the divorce. Since they weren’t married, we’re in court. ”