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The elements of a claim for alienation of affection are: (1) wrongful conduct of a defendant; (2) loss of affection or consortium; and (3) a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the loss of affection or consortium. The essence of the action is malicious interference with the marriage relationship, and a loss of consortium is the actionable consequence of an action for alienation of affection. Consortium is a right growing out of the marital relationship, and includes the right of either spouse to the society, companionship, conjugal affection, and assistance of the other. A loss or impairment of any such elements will sustain an action for alienation of affection. However, if it appears there was no affection to alienate, recovery is precluded.
Donna Jones married Richard Jones in 1981. They have four children and settled in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Richard worked as a hospital administrator at Sioux Valley Hospital where Donna also worked as a nurse. In 1998, Donna and Todd Swanson, her former boyfriend, rekindled their previous relationship while both still married to their respective spouses. Swanson showered Donna with affection, and gifts. The relationship lasted until 1999. In 2000, Richard filed suit against Todd for alienation of affection. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Richard and awarded $450,000 in actual damages and $ 500,000 in punitive damages. Todd moved for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. The district court denied Todd's motions. Todd appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to prove the tort of alienation of affection. Todd further contended that the compensatory and punitive damages awards were unwarranted by the evidence and excessive.
The Court noted that the gravamen of an action for alienation was enticement, and in order to justify a recovery by a plaintiff in an action for alienation of affection, the evidence must be sufficient to show that the wife was induced to abandon the husband by some active and direct interference on the part of the defendant. In the case at bar, the Court held that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Donna harbored affection for Richard which was alienated as a result of Todd’s involvement. The Court noted that despite Donna's attempts to reconcile with Richard, Todd continued to pursue the relationship. Anent the issue on damages, the Court held that the evidence did not support the award of compensatory or punitive damages. In conclusion, the Court affirmed the decision on the condition that Richard accept a remittitur order on the verdict.