Monday, September 25, 2023
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Scrutiny in Store for Lotto Winner Sued by Ex

(CN) - A man who wants half of a $1 million lottery jackpot from his ex-girlfriend will have his claims reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court, a state appeals court ruled.

Howard Browning and Lynn Anne Poirier lived together in a romantic relationship from 1991 to 2009. Browning built dog pens at her house, and the couple ran a business together raising and selling dogs.

Browning said that in 1993, the couple orally agreed to split any lottery winnings they would receive. Poirier won $1 million before taxes on the Fourth of July in 2007, but she refused to share the money with Browning.

He sued for breach of oral contract and unjust enrichment, and the trial court ruled in Poirier's favor.

After reviving some claims in March, the Daytona Beach-based Fifth District Court of Appeal agreed last week to rehear the case en banc and subbed in a new opinion. Citing the statute of frauds, the judges noted that an oral contract must be acted upon within one year.

"To suggest that these parties intended and agreed in 1993 that they would win the lottery, split the proceeds and dissolve their romantic relationship in the span of one year, and that they intended anything other than a long-term relationship is belied by Browning's own testimony and the testimony of his own witnesses," the judges wrote.

The unjust enrichment claim, however, should be allowed to proceed, according to the unsigned ruling.

"Browning alleged and testified that he gave Poirier the money to purchase the winning ticket with the implied understanding that they would share in the proceeds," the judges wrote. "Taking the evidence presented in the light most favorable to Browning, we do not believe the trial court property granted a directed verdict in favor of Poirier on that count."

In addition, the judges certified the following question to the Florida Supreme Court:

"Is an oral agreement to play the lottery and split the proceeds in the event a winning ticket is purchased unenforceable under the statute of frauds when: there is no time agreed for the complete performance of the agreement; the parties intended the agreement to extend for a period of one year and it did extend for a period of 14 years; and it clearly appears from the surrounding circumstances and the object to be accomplished that the oral agreement would last longer than one year?"

In a partial dissent, Chief Judge Vincent Torpy Jr. said Browning should prevail on both claims.

"The fact that the contractual relationship lasted more than a year is completely irrelevant. The contract was either valid or invalid on the day it was made," Torpy wrote. "Nor does the fact that the contract was between two romantically involved people bear on the legal issue, because that relationship was itself terminable-at-will."

Judge C. Alan Lawson delivered a special concurring opinion to rebut Torpy's dissent.

"It defies reason to suggest that the legislature intended this statute to apply to a fixed duration contract of one year and a day, but not to a contract that the parties fully expected and intended to last for years and decades based upon a hypothetical possibility, no matter how slight, that the contract might be performed in less than a year," Lawson wrote.

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