Sunday, August 14, 2011

“I DO OR I SUE” (Breach of Promise to Marry)

By Obiter07

You may have seen this just recently on the news with the headline “Malaysian groom sues runaway bride”.    A Malaysian man has filed suit against his fiancee “for £219,000 after she left him six hours before their wedding.”  He and his family “were distressed and embarrassed” when the bride “called off their June wedding at the last minute.”   The groom had invited 1,200 guests and was “seeking compensation for damages and defamation” from the bride and her father.

Just in case it happens to you, way back in 1964, the Philippine Supreme Court decided a similar case in Wassmer vs. Velez, G.R. No. L-20089, December 26, 1964. But in this case it was the bride and not the groom who was left behind. As aptly observed by the High Court the “facts that culminated in this case started with dreams and hopes, followed by appropriate planning and serious endeavors, but terminated in frustration and, what is worse, complete public humiliation.”  In appropriate dramatic fashion, the wedding was set for September 4 when the groom left this note for the bride-to-be:

“Dear ___
Will have to postpone wedding — My mother opposes it. Am leaving on the Convair today.
Please do not ask too many people about the reason why — That would only create a scandal.

A telegram followed reassuring her that nothing had changed and that he would be back soon.  He was not heard from again   The bride sued for damages and was awarded “with P2,000.00 as actual damages; P25,000.00 as moral and exemplary damages; P2,500.00 as attorney's fees; and the costs.”  The defendant had been declared in defaut when he failed to file an answer.

Later, defendant filed a petition to be relieved from the judgment. The court set the case for possible settlement but ultimately, the defendant’s counsel manifested that “chances of settling the case amicably were nil.”  The court denied the petition.  Defendant appealed to the Supreme Court.  The Court dismissed the appeal on the ground that a “petition for relief from judgment on grounds of fraud, accident, mistake or excusable negligence, must be duly supported by an affidavit of merits stating facts constituting a valid defense. (Sec. 3, Rule 38, Rules of Court.)  The defendant's affidavit that he has a good defense due to fortuitous events which stated “mere conclusions or opinions instead of facts” was not valid.

Defendant had contended that “the judgment is contrary to law” as "there is no provision of the Civil Code authorizing" an action for breach of promise to marry.” The Court agreed but stated that “the extent to which acts not contrary to law may be perpetrated with impunity, is not limitless for Article 21 of said Code provides that "any person who wilfully causes loss or injury to another in a manner that is contrary to morals, good customs or public policy shall compensate the latter for the damage." [underscoring supplied]

The Court adverted to the application for the license to contract marriage, how the wedding date was set, invitations printed and sent out, the trousseau and party dresses prepared and even the matrimonial bed with accessories having been purchased. Then after sending his note and subsequent telegram, defendant disappeared.  It found that “Surely this is not a case of mere breach of promise to marry. As stated, mere breach of promise to marry is not an actionable wrong. But to formally set a wedding and go through all the above-described preparation and publicity, only to walk out of it when the matrimony is about to be solemnized, is quite different. This is palpably and unjustifiably contrary to good customs for which defendant must be held answerable in damages in accordance with Article 21 aforesaid.”

This Court affirmed the judgment but modified the award of moral and exemplary damages to P15,000.00.

As the case and the news article shows, hell hath no fury like a man or woman scorned. And, under certain circumstances, if you fail to say “I do,” the other party can say “I sue.”


No comments: