Saturday, May 26, 2012

This stuff cannot be made up.

The Illinois Supreme Court released an opinion yesterday dealing with abandonment of claims and fraudulent misrepresentation.  But that stuff is boring.  No one really cares about abandonment of claims and fraudulent misrepresentation.  That stuff doesn't sell newspapers (or blogs).

People want to read about scandal and intrigue.  People want to read about other people whose lives are more whacked out than their own.  Well, if that's what you like, then just keep reading because it's about to get weird in here.  (Plus, if you really do care about abandonment of claims and fraudulent misrepresentation, I'll address them briefly at the end.)

In 2005, a woman from Batavia, Illinois ("defendant") created an account in an online chatroom called the "Deadwood Boards," which was dedicated to the HBO television series Deadwood.  She created the account as a man named "Jesse James."  She began chatting as "Jesse" with other people, including a woman in California ("plaintiff").

"Jesse" eventually developed an online, romantic relationship with plaintiff.  They chatted on the Deadwood Boards, they exchanged personal emails, they sent each other handwritten letters, gifts, and personal photos.  They even spoke on the telephone, with defendant using a voice-altering device to disguise her female voice and sound more like "Jesse."

During this time, defendant also developed a relationship with plaintiff under her own name. She claimed to be a common friend of Jesse.  Defendant also developed a universe of approximately 20 other fictional online characters that were either related to or otherwise involved with Jesse, including an ex-wife, a son, his therapist, and various friends and family members.  These characters all communicated with plaintiff from separate and distinct email addresses.  They also sent photos, handwritten letters, and packages that were postmarked from different states and several foreign countries.

In response, plaintiff sent gifts and cash worth more than $10,000 to Jesse and the other fictional characters.  These fictional characters were really messing with plaintiff.  For instance, plaintiff, who thought she was dating Jesse, purchased tickets to actually fly and meet him.  Jesse, however, emailed and cancelled the plans.  Then, several of the fictional characters, including Jesse's therapist, contacted plaintiff to tell her that Jesse had attempted suicide.  This caused plaintiff to start seeing a therapist of her own, which eventually cost her more than $5,000.

After Jesse recovered from his suicide attempt, plaintiff wanted him to move in with her.  Jesse agreed to move to California.  Plaintiff spent nearly $1,000 preparing her house for Jesse to move in.  Shortly before he was supposed to move in, however, Jesse's "sister," Alice, informed plaintiff that Jesse had died from liver cancer.  This caused plaintiff to enter a deep depression.  She experienced headaches, exhaustion, inability to sleep, inability to concentrate at work, and she contracted a recurring infection known as multidrug resistant staphylococcus aureus ("MRSA") because her immune system was so weakened.

Defendant, posing as herself, then flew to California to help plaintiff grieve the loss of Jesse.  Plaintiff again spend nearly $1,000 readying her house for the visit.  While defendant was out there, some of plaintiff's actual friends discovered the fictional nature of the universe of characters created by defendant and confronted her.  She admitted everything on videotape.


Plaintiff then filed a seven-count complaint in Kane County, Illinois for fraud and other claims.    Following several motions to dismiss, six of the counts were eventually dismissed with prejudice.  Plaintiff filed a third amended complaint that only alleged fraudulent misrepresentation.  That count was also dismissed with prejudice.  Plaintiff appealed.  The appellate court reversed the dismissal of the third amended complaint.  Both sides filed petitions for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court took both appeals. Plaintiff was appealing the ruling that she had abandoned the first six counts when she filed a third amended complaint alleging only fraudulent misrepresentation.  Defendant was appealing the ruling that plaintiff had actually stated a case for fraudulent misrepresentation.


The Supreme Court held that "a party who files an amended pleading waives any objection to the trial court's ruling on the former complaints," and "where the amendment is complete in itself and does not refer to or adopt the prior pleading, the earlier pleading ceases to be part of the record for most purposes, being in effect abandoned and withdrawn."  

In this case, the plaintiff abandoned the first six counts when she filed the one-count, third amended complaint.  So, if you elect to replead after dismissal of several counts, you must refer to or adopt the dismissed counts or you will have abandoned them.


The history and origin of fraudulent misrepresentation lie in the common law action of deciet, "a very narrow tort that applies only to cases involving business or financial transactions between parties."  And while courts have, on rare occasions, have recognized claims for fraudulent misrepresentation in settings that are not, strictly speaking, "commercial" or "financial" in nature, they have never recognized fraudulent misrepresentation in a setting that is "purely personal" in nature.

In this case, plaintiff and defendant were not engaged in any kind of business dealings or bargaining and all misrepresentations were made in a purely personal relationship, so plaintiff's fraudulent misrepresentation count failed as well.

So, more than seven years after the relationship started, the plaintiff was left with nothing.

HERE is the opinion.  Don't believe everything you read online, people.  Later!!

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