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Second District affirms denial of man's bid for noneconomic damages against ex-wife's lover

By Andrew Thomason | Oct 29, 2013

Divorcees in Illinois can’t sue their former spouses’ lovers for monetary awards over mental anguish, sorrow, humiliation and shame, an appeals panel held.

In an Oct. 24 opinion, a panel of the Second District Appellate Court affirmed Boone County Circuit Judge Brendan Maher’s ruling that upheld the constitutionality of two state laws that explicitly prohibit certain noneconomic compensatory damages.

In 2008, Dean Murphy’s wife, Dawn Murphy, started attending a gym where she hired Dan Colson as a personal trainer. Dawn Murphy and Colson went on to have an affair in December of that year, the opinion states.

Less than a year after the affair began, Dawn Murphy filed for a divorce, which was made official in Sept. 2010.

Dean Murphy then filed a lawsuit against Colson for alienation of affection, criminal conversation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

He sought a litany of damages from Colson relating to the divorce, including damages for the loss of value to two of his dental practices, payments to Dawn prescribed in the divorce case, the loss of Dawn’s business referrals to Dean’s practice, residential rental expenses during the divorce, loss of consortium, loss of society, mental anguish, injured feelings, defamation and injury to Dean’s good name and character, dishonor to his family, shame, humiliation, sorrow and mortification.

He also sought a declaration that the exclusion of noneconomic compensatory damages for things like mental anguish, injured feelings, shame, humiliation, sorrow and mortification under the Alienation of Affections and the Criminal Conversation acts is unconstitutional.

Murphy filed for partial summary judgment, asking that the statutory exclusion be deemed unconstitutional, which the trial court denied. Colson then asked for a partial summary judgment, asking that the statutory exclusion be found constitutional, which the court granted.

On appeal, Murphy argued that the statutory exclusion of noneconomic compensatory damages is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers clause of Illinois’ Constitution; is special legislation that denies him his right to equal protection; and denies him his rights to complete remedy, a jury trial and due process.

The appeals panel only considered Murphy’s first two claims because of a lack of argument regarding the other three, the opinion notes.

Murphy claimed on appeal that the 2010 malpractice case, Lebron v. Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, implicitly overruled other Illinois Supreme Court cases, specifically the 1960 case of Siegall v. Solomon, that have maintained the constitutionality of the exclusions of compensatory damages in the Alienation of Affections Act and Criminal Conversation Act.

The court in Lebron invalidated a statue capping noneconomic damages in medical malpractice actions under the separation of powers clause, determining that the cap was unconstitutional because it limited a court’s ability to exercise a remittitur on a jury’s award.

“Here, such judicial authority is not at issue. In the face of the exclusion, the jury would not have been able to assess in the first place the noneconomic damages enumerated” in the Alienation of Affections Act and Criminal Conversation Act, Justice Ann Jorgensen wrote in the panel’s opinion.

Jorgensen was joined on the panel by Justices Donald Hudson and Joseph Birkett.

Additionally, the panel held that Lebron did not overrule Siegall because it expressly distinguished itself from that case.

The “Supreme Court was presented with its prior ruling in Siegall and expressly stated that its invalidation of the medical malpractice damages cap did not undermine its precedents,” therefore invalidating Murphy’s argument, Jorgensen wrote.

The appeals panel also rejected Murphy’s special legislation argument, though not as strongly.

The Illinois Constitution prohibits special legislation that creates classifications that arbitrarily discriminate in favor a select group. To prove a violation of the special legislation clause, one must show that the statutory classification discriminates in favor of one group while excluding others in a similar situation, and that the classification is arbitrary.

Murphy argued, and the court agreed, that the Alienation of Affections Act reasoning for excluding damages --that sorrow and humiliation are susceptible to being used for blackmail-- is weak.

“Still, the weakness of one stated rationale is not enough to rebut the presumption of constitutionality, nor is it enough to break from the authority of the Supreme Court,” Jorgensen wrote.

The appeals panel also disagreed that Murphy was discriminated against when compared to other similarly situated individuals, saying he failed to prove he was discriminated against when compared to the treatment of others.


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