Legal dispute over engagement ring is complicated by text message - The Buffalo News

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Legal dispute over engagement ring is complicated by text message

The restaurateur and nail technician met at a golf tournament in 2009, started dating the following summer and then became engaged during a Florida vacation on Easter Sunday in 2011.

Louis J. Billittier Jr. gave Christa M. Clark a diamond necklace and diamond and sapphire earrings, among other gifts, and took her on trips during their time together.

“Everything was always over the top,” Clark said of the Chef’s Restaurant co-owner during her testimony last week in State Supreme Court.

They are in court now after breaking off their engagement, fighting over the engagement ring he gave her.

The white gold engagement ring featured a 2.97-carat diamond, with a retail replacement value pegged at $49,000.

But after Billittier, 54, called off the wedding in 2012, he asked her to return the ring.

She said no.

Clark, 38, said a text message from him breaking off their engagement called the ring “a $50,000 parting ring.”

“Enough for a down payment on a house,” his text said.

While established law sides with would-be grooms – they have a legal right to claim the ring back if there is no marriage, even if the groom calls off the wedding – the text message Billittier sent to Clark complicates this ring dispute.

Last week both sides appeared in court for a civil trial before State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia.

Clark recalled his marriage proposal.

“He gave a little speech,” she testified. “He said I had passed all the tests with his family, and then he pulled out the ring and asked me to marry him.”

Afterward, she moved into his home on Old Lakeview Road in Hamburg. He paid her cellphone, car and health insurance bills through the restaurant, she said.

But 14 months after his proposal, Billittier called off the wedding because he said Clark refused to sign a prenuptial agreement.

His attorneys and business advisers had urged him to seek such an agreement because of the difference in their ages and his significant business interests.

He sued her last year to get the ring back.

Richard T. Sullivan, Billittier’s attorney, said the text message is not relevant to his client’s intent. What is relevant is that the ring was given in contemplation of marriage, and because the marriage did not occur, the ring must be returned, Sullivan told the judge.

Beverly S. Braun, Clark’s attorney, said his text message meant the ring was no longer a gift in contemplation of marriage but an outright gift not contingent on marriage. So Clark should be allowed to keep the ring, Braun told the judge.

The judge gave the attorneys until Wednesday to submit written arguments before he makes his ruling.

Billittier and Clark were the only two to testify at the trial.

Each testified as the other sat in the courtroom and listened. Billittier sat in the second row, while Clark sat off to his right in the row in front of him.

The last time the two spoke to each other was on June 30, 2012.

“Yes. He would never speak to me again,” she said when the judge asked her if that was the last time the two spoke.

Billittier broke off the engagement in the text message on July 1, 2012. He reimbursed her about $9,500 for her wedding-related and other expenses, she said.

Clark’s lawyer asked her if she believed he gave her the ring.

“Yes,” Clark said.

She also testified about other gifts Billittier gave her and the trips they took, which he paid for.

On cross-examination, Sullivan asked Clark how she responded to Billittier’s July 1 text message ending the engagement.

She said she texted Billittier.

“You’re doing this through a text message? I’m not even worth a conversation?” she wrote.

The day before the July 1 text, Clark said, she and Billittier had their last phone conversation and discussed whether they were going to break up. She said they had discussed the prenuptial agreement the week before.

Clark said Billittier did not ask her to return the other jewelry he gave her – only the engagement ring.

Braun asked Clark about Billittier’s comment that the “parting ring” was enough for a down payment on a house.

“Were you expected to move out of his house?” the attorney asked.

“Yes,” Clark said.

She said she moved out July 15, 2012.

Billittier lavished money on the people he loved, Clark said.

He paid for a $60,000 addition to a house for a woman he dated for 10 years before she died of cancer.

He also gave money to other women.

“He was always paying for things for everyone – tickets, dinners,” Clark said.

During his time on the witness stand, Billittier testified he did not intend for Clark to keep the ring, since he called off the wedding planned for Sept. 15, 2012.

His attorney asked him about the “parting ring” text.

“I was being sarcastic, like a game show host – you get a parting gift,” Billittier said.

On cross-examination, Clark’s attorney asked Billittier if his sarcastic comment amounted to something like this for her client: “I was engaged to Lou Billittier, and all I got was this ring.”

Braun withdrew the question after Sullivan objected.

Braun questioned Billittier about a text he sent Clark on July 20, 2012.

“Keep it up, and I will take back the ring as well,” he texted her.

“What did you mean when you said, ‘Keep it up,’ ” Braun asked.

“I don’t remember what I was referring to,” Billittier said.

In another text to Clark on July 31, 2012, he again asked Clark to return the ring.

“You by law have to give it back,” he texted. “You’re nowhere near the person I thought you were. You don’t deserve it.”


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