In the next six weeks, Springs visited Wildey in Chicago twice and Wildey visited Springs in Oregon twice. The couple also spent time together in Los Angeles, and often spoke on the telephone. On one of Springs' visits to Chicago, Springs bought Wildey a diamond engagement ring valued at more than $ 19,000. The couple set a wedding date of June 20, 1992, then later rescheduled the wedding to September 5, 1992. The engagement ended abruptly on April 27, 1992, when Springs wrote Wildey, informing her that he had decided not to marry her.
3. Procedural History
In late May and early June 1992, Wildey wrote back to Springs, announcing her intention to sue Springs for breaking the engagement. In October 1992, Wildey filed suit against Springs in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. Wildey claimed damages for Springs' breach of promise based on: (1) psychiatric costs; (2) lost income; and (3) pain and suffering. Springs removed the action to this court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. After a trial, the jury found for Wildey on all of her claims. The jury awarded Wildey $ 25,000 for medical costs, $ 60,000 for lost net business profits, and $ 93,000 for pain and suffering.
Springs raises a number of challenges to the jury verdict, and moves for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b), 59(a). Springs contends that Wildey's suit is barred under Florida law -- which, he claims, should have been applied in this case. Springs also argues that the suit is barred because Wildey did not meet the notice requirements of the promise act. Springs further asserts that he has established that he was justified in breaking the engagement. Finally, Springs moves to amend the judgment, seeking a reduction of the damages the jury awarded to Wildey. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e).
In a diversity suit, the court reviews a motion for judgment as a matter of law under the forum state's law. See Equity Capital Corp. v. Kreider Transport Service, Inc., 967 F.2d 249, 252 (7th Cir. 1992). Under Illinois law, the court may enter judgment notwithstanding the verdict only when all evidence and inferences drawn from the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, "so overwhelmingly favor the movant that no contrary verdict can stand." Id. The court reviews a motion for a new trial under federal law. Trzcinski v. American Casualty Co., 953 F.2d 307, 315 (7th Cir. 1992). The court may grant a new trial only if the verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence. Id.
1. Choice Of Law
a. Comity and unenforceable contracts
Springs challenges the jury verdict on choice of law grounds. Springs asserts that the controlling law is Florida's heart balm statute, which bars breach of promise actions. Illinois courts generally construe contracts according to the law of the state in which they were entered. See William J. Lemp Brewing Co. v. Ems Brewing Co., 164 F.2d 290, 293 (7th Cir. 1947), cert. denied, 333 U.S. 863, 92 L. Ed. 1142, 68 S. Ct. 745 (1948). If a contract is to be performed in a state other than the state in which the contract was entered, the law of the state of performance governs. Id. However, if a contract is void in the state in which it was entered, Illinois courts apply comity principles, and do not enforce the contract at all. See Frankel v. Allied Mills, Inc., 369 Ill. 578, 17 N.E.2d 570, 572 (1938); Olsen v. Celano, 234 Ill. App. 3d 1045, 600 N.E.2d 1257, 1260-61, 175 Ill. Dec. 799 (1992). Springs argues that in this case, the court must apply the comity analysis, and must refuse to enforce the agreement to marry.
Springs notes that the parties became engaged in Florida, a state in which an agreement to marry is not an enforceable contract. Under Florida's heart balm statute, "no contract to marry made or entered into" in Florida may give rise to an action for breach of promise. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 771.04.
The Florida statute is unequivocal and covers suits brought "either within or without" the state of Florida. Id. Thus, Springs argues, there is no enforceable agreement for the court to construe; under comity principles, the court may not enforce an agreement to marry that was entered in a state in which the agreement would not be enforceable. Springs concludes that Wildey's suit is barred.
Springs' position is bolstered by two decisions in which courts used a similar comity analysis. In Hutchins v. Day, 269 N.C. 607, 153 S.E.2d 132 (1967), the Supreme Court of North Carolina ruled that the defendant must be permitted to present evidence that the contract to marry was entered in California (which had abolished breach of promise actions). In so holding, the Hutchins court wrote that:
a party to a contract made in a State which denied recovery for its breach should not be allowed to recover in another State, although the breach occurred in the forum State . . . a contract unenforceable in the State where it is made should not be enforceable in the courts of this State.
Hutchins, 153 S.E.2d at 136. Similarly, in Greco v. Anderson, 615 S.W.2d 429 (Mo. 1980), the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a suit for breach of promise and seduction. In reaching its decision, the Greco court reasoned that the promises and seduction had occurred in Massachusetts, a state that does not support an action for breach of promise or seduction. See Greco, 615 S.W.2d at 432.
Both of these decisions would support Springs' position that the court must refuse to enforce the agreement because it would be unenforceable in Florida -- if the agreement indeed was entered in Florida. The parties have stipulated that Wildey and Springs became engaged in Florida, on March 9, 1992. See Pretrial Order P A.7. Springs contends that by becoming engaged in Florida, the parties made or entered a contract to marry in Florida. In response, Wildey concedes that the parties became engaged in Florida, but contends that the contract to marry was not consummated until the parties later purchased an engagement ring and set a wedding date in Illinois. Thus, Wildey maintains that there is a substantive difference between an engagement and an agreement to marry.
b. What is an agreement to marry?
As Wildey's response demonstrates, Springs' choice of law argument is premised on the legal position that an agreement to marry is identical to an engagement. The crux of Springs' argument is that he and Wildey entered a contract to marry at the moment that they became engaged. At this late stage of the case, the court cannot rule on the narrow legal question that Springs' argument raises. Springs properly should have raised this legal point via a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment. Instead, Springs waited until the middle of trial to raise the issue of the legal effect of the engagement. Before trial, Springs did not raise as a pure legal question whether an engagement is or is not an agreement to marry. At this juncture, it is impossible to separate out the legal question from the factual issues presented to the jury.
Because the court was not asked before trial to rule on the effect of the engagement, it is impossible to rule as a matter of law that the agreement to marry took place in Florida when the parties became engaged. The court may set aside a jury verdict only if "there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury" to have reached its verdict. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a) (emphasis added). Springs does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. Springs' motion to set aside the jury verdict on choice of law grounds amounts to an untimely motion to dismiss and cannot be granted as a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law or a Rule 59 motion for a new trial. The court's choice of law determination will not be disturbed.
2. Notice Under The Promise Act
Springs contends that Wildey's action fails because her written notice of suit did not state the date that Wildey and Springs had agreed to be married. Springs further argues that the court incorrectly instructed the jury on the standard of notice under the promise act.
Under the promise act, a plaintiff in a breach of promise suit must, within three months of the breach, notify the defendant in writing of her intention to file suit. See 740 ILCS 15/4. The written notice must contain the following four elements:
(1) the date upon which the promise or agreement to marry was made;
(2) the date upon which the wedding was to take place;