Case Caption: Matthias Matthew v. Dermont A. P. HermanCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2009-0074Date: 05/15/2012Author: Cabret, Maria M. Citation: Summary:

In a common law tort suit for "alienation of affection" and "criminal conversation with a spouse" based on allegations that the defendant had an affair with the plaintiff's wife, the Superior Court erred by refusing to grant the defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and entering judgment upon a jury verdict for $125,000. The defendant successfully preserved his argument that the Virgin Islands should not recognize these "amatory torts" through both an oral motion to dismiss the complaint and a motion for a judgment as a matter of law at the close of all evidence. While these causes of action are found in Restatement of Torts, this Court possesses inherent power to shape the common law in the Virgin Islands, including the discretion to decline to follow Restatement provisions. The torts of alienation of affection and criminal conversation with a spouse, the so-called "amatory torts," have never been recognized in the Virgin Islands, and have been abolished in the vast majority of American jurisdictions, because they were originally founded on the idea that wives were property of their husbands, the torts have destructive effects on existing marriages, and it is not feasible adequately to value and address the harms caused by adulterous behavior. Former 5 V.I.C. § 856(2), an evidence rule that has since been repealed, concerned only the spousal testimonial privilege, and did not establish the elements of any tort or the damages available for the conduct addressed. That former legislative reference to these causes of action did not expressly establish the torts and did not affect the courts' common law authority to set out the elements, or even abolish, these torts. Therefore, the amatory torts of criminal conversation and alienation of affection are not recognized in the Virgin Islands, and the Superior Court's judgment is vacated and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion