March 29, 2016.
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 09 C 7399 - Amy
J. St. Eve, Judge.
Flaum, Easterbrook, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.
fall of 2004, Jonathan Arnold and Leticia Villarreal
exchanged marriage vows in California in a ceremony
solemnized by a priest and a rabbi. But they failed to file
their marriage license with the county recorder within 10
days of the ceremony as required by California law. Shortly
before the license expired, the county recorder sent a letter
informing them that the license had not yet been filed and
reminding them that they needed to file it to complete the
legal process. The couple did nothing and the license expired
they were not legally married, the couple remained together
for about three years, had a child, and purchased a condo in
California. By the summer of 2007, their relationship had
deteriorated, and they separately filed for divorce-she in
California, he in Illinois. The divorce proceedings were
terminated when they stipulated that they were never married.
then sued Villarreal in federal court in Chicago on various
fraud theories. He claimed that she tricked him into
believing the two were legally married to induce him to give
her gifts, including the California condo. The district court
entered summary judgment for Villarreal, characterizing the
suit as "frivolous." Frivolous is an apt
description. First, the undisputed facts show that Villarreal
told Arnold early on that she suspected they weren't
legally married. Indeed, she insisted that they get a new
marriage license and do the whole thing over. They obtained a
new license but did nothing further.
even if we accept that at some point along the way Villarreal
lulled Arnold with reassurances that they were legally
married, Arnold was not justified in relying on her
representations. He knew, because the county recorder had
told them in writing, that the marriage license had not been
filed as required by California law. Accordingly, we affirm
the district court's judgment. We also grant
Villarreal's motion for sanctions against Arnold for
filing a frivolous appeal.
and Villarreal met in 2003. In January 2004 Arnold proposed
marriage and Villarreal accepted. On October 1, 2004, the
couple applied for and received a marriage license from the
Los Angeles County recorder's office. The license was
valid through December 30, 2004. On November 21 they held a
wedding ceremony in the picturesque resort town of Dana
Point. Father Erwin Castro, one of two clergymen who
participated in the ceremony (the other was a rabbi), signed
the couple's marriage license but failed to complete and
file it. He did not fill in the date and location of the
ceremony; he did not obtain a witness's signature; and he
failed to perform his statutory duty to return the completed
license to the county recorder within 10 days of the
ceremony. See Cal. Fam. Code § 359(e)
(requiring the person solemnizing the marriage to return the
license to the county recorder "within 10 days after the
ceremony"). Arnold accuses Villarreal of taking the
marriage license away from Castro. Villarreal disputes this,
but the key fact is undisputed: the completed marriage
license was never filed with the recorder's office.
December 27 the couple received a letter from the
recorder's office informing them that their license had
not yet been returned for filing and would expire on December
30. The letter urged them to immediately address the matter
and reminded them that filing a completed license was
essential to protect their "marital and property
rights." The couple took no action in response to the
mid-2005 as the couple anticipated the birth of their first
child, Villarreal grew uneasy about the validity of their
marriage and told Arnold that she thought their failure to
file the marriage license meant that they weren't legally
married. Arnold dismissed her concerns. Nevertheless, in an
attempt to appease her, Arnold agreed to a do-over. In August
2005 they applied for and received another marriage license.
Remarkably, they again failed to follow through, and a
completed marriage license was never filed.
gave birth to their baby on August 21, 2005. About eight
months later Arnold signed a power of attorney in favor of
Villarreal, which she used to obtain financing and purchase a
California condominium in both their names. The loan and
purchase documents refer to the pair as a married couple.
Arnold later transferred his interest in the condo to
Villarreal. He claims he gave her the condo-as well as other
gifts-only because he believed they were married.
nearly three years, the couple's relationship began to
disintegrate and they separated. In the summer of 2007, they
filed separate divorce petitions-Arnold in Illinois and
Villarreal in California. They eventually stipulated that