ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

50 Cent Not Gonna Give a Dime

As reported in today's New York Law Journal, a New York trial court recently granted summary judgment to rapper "50 Cent" in a breach of contract action brought by his ex-girlfriend (and mother of his child). The ex claimed that 50 Cent orally promised to take care of her for the rest of her life when he "made it big" in the entertainment industry. She also argued, among other things, for quantum meruit. Here's a little taste:

According to plaintiff's affidavit, the parties entered into an express oral agreement "on or about September of 1996" wherein in exchange for plaintiff "providing the defendant homemaking and domestic services while we lived together, the defendant would devote his time to becoming a successful recording artist and share with me equally all his earnings from that success." Plaintiff's affidavit provides as follows:
I agreed to continue to live with him, maintain his home, perform homemaking and domestic services for him as well as support him mentally, emotionally and financially to the best of my abilities. I also agreed to accompany him to social and other events . . . .Defendant agreed that he would vigorously pursue a professional recording career with the understanding that our combined efforts could result in the accumulation of substantial wealth and assets that we would divide and share equally.
Plaintiff admitted that she was in love with defendant when they entered into this agreement in September 1996 (EBT, p. 206), after all, "He was a corner crack dealer parolee. He didn't have anything . . . .So I was going to be with him whether he was 50 Cent, with a hundred million dollars, or Curtis Jackson, working for sanitation, making $50,000 a year. I would have been with him, because I loved him. It wasn't about him saying that he would give me everything he had. It's when you love a person, you don't - it's not about the monetary. If you're a prostitute, then it's a monetary thing. We were two people in love with each other."

While statements such as these demonstrate loving devotion and loyalty, these same statements undermine plaintiff's breach of contract and quantum meruit claims for half of defendant's wealth.

"As to personal services between unmarried persons living together or unmarried persons whose actions flow out of mutual friendship and reciprocal regard, there is very little difference" (Trimmer v. Van Bomel, 107 Misc 2d 201 [Sup. Ct. New York County 1980]). "An implied contract to compensate for those things which are ordinarily done by one person for another as a matter of regard and affection should not, under these well established principles, be recognized in this state" (Id.).

Such a claim in the context of a cohabiting relationship is against New York's public policy (as evidenced by the 1933 abolition of common-law marriages) Soderholm v. Kosty, 177 Misc 2d 403, 676 NYS2d 850 [N.Y. Just. Ct. 1998] citing Morone v. Morone, 50 NY2d 481, 488, 429 NYS2d 592, supra).

Suits involving "unmarried persons living together who thereafter seek financial recovery frequently run afoul of the theory that a contract founded upon an agreement to live together as man and wife will not be enforced (Civ. Rts. Law, s 80-a)" (Trimmer v. Van Bomel, 107 Misc 2d 201, supra). The Court recognizes that services rendered by one paramour for the other which are non-sexual in nature and do not arise directly from such a relationship, may be deemed separable, and form the basis for compensation (Id., citing Matter of Gordon, 8 NY2d 71, 202 NYS.2d 1; 6A Corbin on Contracts, s 1476, p. 622; 15 Williston on Contracts, ยง1745; Restatement of Contracts s 589). However, this is not such a case.

Here, the purported agreement was made when plaintiff and defendant were living together, albeit sporadically, as lovers, and by its terms, required the defendant to support plaintiff for the rest of his and her life, even if the parties broke up and ceased cohabitating. The services for which plaintiff seeks compensation arise out of the nature of the relationship of the parties to one another. The services involved - to devote time and attention to the defendant, to act as companion, to accompany him to social events and perform household duties - are of a nature which would ordinarily be exchanged without expectation of pay (see Trimmer v. Van Bomel, supra citing Rubinsteen v. Klevin, 261 F 921, Robinson v. Munn, 238 NY 40, 43; Matter of Adams, 1 AD2d 259, 149 NYS2d 849, aff'd 2 NY2d 796, 159 NYS2d 698; Matter of Basten, 204 Misc 937, 126 NYS2d 459; Matter of Mulderig, 196 Misc 527, 91 NYS2d 895).

As Judge Meyer noted in Morone v. Morone (50 NY2d 481, 488, 429 NYS2d 592,488, 429 NYS2d 592 [1980]):

As a matter of human experience personal services will frequently be rendered by two people . . . because they value each other's company, or because they find it a convenient or rewarding thing to do. For courts to attempt through hindsight to sort out the intentions of the parties and affix jural significance to conduct carried out within an essentially private and generally noncontractual relationship runs too great a risk of error . . . .There is, therefore, substantially greater risk of emotion-laden afterthought, not to mention fraud, in attempting to ascertain by implication what services, if any, were rendered gratuitously and what compensation, if any, the parties intended to be paid.
Providing loving care and assistance to her boyfriend and the father of their son before and after he was shot and seriously injured, does not transform her relationship to a one founded upon contract. To conclude otherwise would transform the parties' personal, yet informal relationship to that of a marriage.

In any event, even assuming the purported oral agreement is recognized in New York, as the party seeking to enforce a contract, plaintiff bears the burden to establish that a binding agreement was made and to prove the terms of the contract (Allied Sheet Metal Works, Inc. v. Kerby Saunders, Inc., 206 AD2d 166, 619 NYS2d 260 [1st Dept 1994]). This plaintiff failed to do.

Before a court will impose a contractual obligation, it must ascertain that a contract was made and that its terms are definite (Charles Hyman, Inc. v. Olsen Indus., Inc., 227 AD2d 270, 642 NYS2d 306 [1st Dept 1996] citing Cobble Hill Nursing Home v. Henry & Warren Corp., 74 NY2d 475, 482, 548 NYS2d 920, cert. denied 498 US 816, 111 SCt 58]). Here, it is clear that the alleged oral agreement to "take care of" plaintiff for the rest of her life, contains no specifics as to the manner in which defendant was obligated to "take care of" the plaintiff, and, assuming this included the tender of monies to plaintiff, no specifics as to the frequency and amount of payments.

Therefore, the alleged oral agreement to take care of plaintiff for the rest of her life in exchange for her promise to perform household duties and take care of the parties' children is unenforceable. And consequently, any claims based on such oral agreement, including specific performance of same, an accounting of all of defendant's assets, mandamus relief, and declaratory relief, lack merit, and are dismissed.

Tompkins v. Jackson, 104745/2008, (New York County Supreme Court, decided February 3, 2009) (Edmead, J.).

[Meredith R. Miller]

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