The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from the decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court to uphold the alienation of affection tort and to award a man $750,000 to be paid by his wife’s lover. Sandra Valentine (yes, Valentine) was accused by her husband of having an affair with her wealthy businessman, Jerry Fitch, and having a baby with him. After divorcing Valentine, Johnny Valentine sued Fitch and won. In its ruling, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected calls to reject the tort of alienation of affection as antiquated.
Sandra Valentine’s relationship with Jerry Fitch, a wealth realtor, began in 1997. Johnny Valentine allegedly discovered that it was Fitch who was the father of their daughter in 1999.Like roughly six other states enforced an alienation of affection tort. Fitch asked the state supreme court to declare the tort as outdated and based on “medieval notions” about marriage.
It is a case that has resonated with many on both a family and class basis. It pitted Johnny Valentine, a plumber, against Fitch, a wealthy businessman with extensive interests in real estate, oil, and other areas. He is worth around $22 million.
Valentine and Sandra Day were married on February 12, 1993. In 1995, the couple had a son. Sandra admitted that her adulterous affair with Fitch began in late 1997. Fitch admitted that he knew Sandra was married to Valentine and, according to the Supreme Court, “testified at his deposition that he did not care if his affair with Sandra might affect her marriage to Valentine.” Sandra repeatedly denied an affair, even after she showed up with a gift new Jeep Cherokee purchased with money from Fitch. Sandra later became Sandra Fitch after her divorce from Johnny Fitch.
Valentine testified that Sandra came home with a new Jeep Cherokee and he had no idea where she obtained the funds to purchase it.Notably, in the divorce decree was entered on November 23, 1999, the court found that “[t]he evidence presented in open [c]ourt clearly establishes that [Valentine] is entitled to a divorce on the grounds of adultery.”The state has always enforced this tort despite claims that it is outmoded. In Camp v. Roberts, 462 So.2d 726, 727 (Miss. 1985), the Court held “[w]here a husband is wrongfully deprived of his rights to the ‘services and companionship and consortium of his wife,’ he has a cause of action ‘against one who has interfered with his [her] domestic relations.'” Id. at 727. This tort is also recognized in Illinois, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. For example, North Carolina juries awarded $2 million to one cuckolded spouse in a 2001 Greensboro case and $1.2 million in a 1997 case.
In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that
“in the interest of protecting the marriage relationship and providing a remedy for intentional conduct which causes a loss of consortium, this Court declines the invitation to abolish the common law tort of alienation of affections in Mississippi. Alienation of affections is the only available avenue to provide redress for a spouse who has suffered loss and injury to his or her marital relationship against the third party who, through persuasion, enticement, or inducement, caused or contributed to the abandonment of the marriage and/or the loss of affections by active interference.”
By refusing review, the verdict for Valentine stands and his former wife or her lover/new husband will pay $750,000 for their affair. The refusal of review was little surprise since this is the ultimate state issue.
For the Valentine story, click here