The first text message left Christa M. Clark incredulous. Her fiance of 14 months broke off their engagement.
“Your doing this through a text message????” she replied.
But his next text messages to the would-be bride put her in a good legal position.
They were all a State Supreme Court judge needed to let her keep the four-prong diamond engagement ring, valued at $53,000, even though her ex-fiance wanted it back.
Louis J. Billittier Jr. sued the 38-year-old woman when she refused to return the ring after their July 2012 breakup. Both sides presented their arguments in a civil trial in November.
State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia this week awarded her the white gold, 2.97-carat diamond ring or the fair market value of it. The judge based his ruling on Billittier’s text messages to Clark in July 2012.
The state’s established law normally sides with would-be grooms. They have a legal right to claim the ring back if there is no marriage, even if the groom calls off the wedding.
But after sending the text message on July 1 breaking off the engagement, Billittier also sent a follow-up text message. The 55-year-old Chef’s Restaurant co-owner wrote the words making it one of the most expensive text messages he will ever send: “Plus you get a $50,000 parting ring. Enough for a down payment on a house.”
Buscaglia called Billittier’s description of the ring as a “parting ring” an indication the ring had become a gift that no longer involved a contract for marriage.
Then on July 20, Billittier sent a text message threatening to take back the ring if Clark kept taking personal shots at him.
“Keep it up, and I will take back the ring as well,” he texted her.
Buscaglia called that text message further proof “the ring had been re-gifted.”
The final text message from him on July 31 demanded the ring’s return.
“You by law have to give it back,” Billittier texted. “You’re nowhere near the person I thought you were. You don’t deserve it.”
The message also connected the ring to the $9,500 in reimbursements he paid Clark for her wedding expenses.
The judge said the message offered further evidence he had given her the ring as a gift.
“For the first time he demands the ring’s return, again evincing his previous donative intent, to help defray costs incurred by him paying back the defendant for wedding-related expenses,” Buscaglia said in his ruling.
Billittier’s text shows he changed his mind about Clark keeping the ring, the judge said.
Changing his mind was “giver’s remorse,” Buscaglia said.
“Many gifts are given for reasons that sour with the passage of time,” Buscaglia said.
But gift law does not allow a donor to recover or revoke a gift simply because the reasons for giving it turn sour.
“Once a gift is given, it is irrevocable,” Buscaglia said.
Attorney Richard T. Sullivan, who represents Billittier, declined to comment.
Beverley S. Braun, Clark’s attorney, also declined to comment.
“The decision speaks for itself,” she said.
At the civil trial, Sullivan told the judge that the text message calling the ring “a $50,000 parting ring” is not relevant to Billittier’s intent. The ring was given in contemplation of marriage, and because the marriage did not occur, the ring must be returned, Sullivan told the judge.
But Braun, Clark’s attorney, said his text message meant the ring was no longer a gift in contemplation of marriage but an outright gift not contingent on marriage. The judge agreed with Braun’s contention that Clark should be allowed to keep the ring.
“The text messages … have persuaded this court that it is highly probable that a valid gift was given to her after the engagement was terminated,” Buscaglia said.
The restaurateur and nail technician met at a golf tournament in 2009, started dating the following summer and then became engaged during a Florida vacation on Easter Sunday in 2011.
Billittier called off the wedding because he said Clark refused to sign a prenuptial agreement.
After the breakup, she moved out of his home on Old Lakeview Road in Hamburg. At the trial, Clark said Billittier did not ask her to return the other jewelry he gave her – a diamond necklace and diamond and sapphire earrings, among other gifts.
During his time on the witness stand last fall, Billittier testified that he did not intend for Clark to keep the ring, since he called off the wedding planned for Sept. 15, 2012.
His attorney asked him about the “parting ring” text.
“I was being sarcastic, like a game show host – you get a parting gift,” Billittier said.
The judge wasn’t convinced.
“Parting gifts on game shows usually pale in comparison to the grand prize sought in such contests, unlike here where the ring is at the heart of this lawsuit,” Buscaglia said.