Judge Rejects Bid to Enforce Promise to Pay After Breakup

, New York Law Journal

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ALBANY - Since a man's promise to pay a woman friend $500,000 after their relationship soured is not a binding contract, the woman must pay his attorney's fees and her lawyer must pay a $2,500 sanction for the frivolous pursuit of the claim, a judge determined.

Acting Rockland County Supreme Court Justice Victor Alfieri Jr. (See Profile) agreed with plaintiff Youcheng Wu that the letter drafted by his one-time friend Jian Xu and signed by Wu in August 2012 did not represent a valid contract.

Wu's letter apologized to Xu for hurting her and promised to pay her $500,000 in the future, according to the court.

Alfieri noted in Wu v. Xu, 031636/2013, that Wu made two payments totaling $47,020 to the woman in August and September 2012, but commenced an action in March 2013 for a judgment declaring his letter to be unenforceable and void as a matter of law. That same month, Wu received a letter from the woman's attorney, David Lira of Giuttari & Mertz, stating that Wu's promise was legally binding and threatening legal action if he did not comply with its terms.

Alfieri, in a ruling favorable to Wu, cited a 1906 New York Court of Appeals decision in Platt v. Elias, 186 NY 374, holding that courts should not countenance agreements such as the one between Xu and Wu.

"Generally, contracts tending to impair familial relationships are found to be against public policy," Alfieri wrote from New City. "Although the August 2012 letter is not an express agreement to marry or to encourage a divorce, it does involve the institution of marriage and the well-being of the familiar relationship of Plaintiff and his wife to the extent that this Court finds is against public policy."

"As such," Alfieri added, "the Court finds that the letter is not a valid, enforceable contract."

Alfieri noted that Wu was not seeking the return of the $47,020 he had already paid Xu, just a declaration that his promise did not constitute a binding contract.

In addition, Alfieri imposed a $2,500 sanction on attorney Lira for pressing the case.

First, Alfieri wrote, the letter asserting the binding nature of the contract and threatening legal action on Xu's part was "frivolous" under 22 NYCRR §130-1.1(a) because it was "completely without merit and cannot be supported by a reasonable argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law."

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