Albinger v. Harris

2002 MT 118, 310 Mont. 27, 48 P.3d 711



According to Montana law, a gift is a transfer of personal property made voluntarily and without consideration. Mont. Code Ann. § 70-3-101. The essential elements of an inter vivos gift are donative intent, voluntary delivery, and acceptance by the recipient. Such a gift, made without condition, becomes irrevocable upon acceptance. When clear and convincing evidence demonstrates the presence of the essential elements of donative intent and voluntary delivery and acceptance, the gift is complete and the Montana Supreme Court will not void the transfer when the giver experiences a change of heart.


Harris and Albinger met in June 1995, and began a troubled relationship that endured for the next three years, spiked by alcohol abuse, emotional turmoil and violence. Albinger presented Harris with a diamond ring and diamond earrings on December 14, 1995. The ring was purchased for $ 29,000. Days after accepting the ring, Harris returned it to Albinger and traveled to Kentucky for the holidays. Albinger immediately sent the ring back to Harris by mail. The couple set a tentative wedding date of June 27, 1997, but plans to marry were put on hold as Harris and Albinger separated and reconciled several times. Harris filed a case for pain, suffering, and emotional distress resulting from an assault and battery and its denial of reimbursement for telephone charges incurred by her. In return, Albinger sought the return or its equivalent of his engagement ring.


Should the engagement ring be returned?




The court held that the engagement ring was an unconditional, completed gift upon acceptance and remained in the woman's ownership and control. The gift was complete upon delivery and was not revocable. The fact that possession of the ring passed back and forth between the parties during the course of their relationship bore no relevance to the issue of its ownership. The facts of the case did not indicate re-gifting occurred. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that the man was not entitled to reimbursement for the telephone charges. The assessment of $ 2500 for damages for pain and suffering was not excessive and did not "shock the conscience" of the instant court.

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