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Unidentified Paramour in Alienation of Affection

Beavers v. McMican, 2022-NCCOA-547.

Facts: Plaintiff David Beavers was married to Wife Alison Beavers in 2004. Plaintiff discovered that Wife had an affair when he found texts and photos on Wife’s phone, sent to a contact labeled “Bestie.” Wife eventually admitted that she had engaged in sexual acts with the person, referring to him as Dustin, a co-worker. Wife later admitted to having intercourse with a co-worker but did not provide a name. Plaintiff became wary of Dustin’s existence and thought that Wife was still concealing information regarding her affair. Plaintiff and Wife separated.

Three months later, Wife began a relationship with Defendant, who became the alleged paramour in the case. No direct evidence showed that Wife and Defendant had engaged in intercourse prior to Wife’s separation from Plaintiff. In December of 2018, Plaintiff sued Defendant for Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation. Defendant filed for summary judgment, claiming that there was insufficient evidence of elements of both heart-balm torts. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion. Plaintiff appealed.

Issue: Was it wrong of the trial court to grant Defendant’s motion for summary judgment?

Holding: Yes.

Rationale: If there is no genuine issue of material fact, taken in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, then summary judgment is appropriate. The elements for Alienation of Affection require that there was a marriage with love and affection between the spouses, which was alienated (destroyed) due to the malicious acts of the defendant. Defendant’s argument was based on the third element. A “malicious” act is loosely defined but includes an intentional conduct that would “probably” affect the marital relationship. The malice is presumed when a defendant engages in sexual intercourse with the spouse. Defendant primarily argued that the post-separation acts, his relationship with Wife after Wife had separated, cannot be corroborating evidence that he and Wife committed a malicious act pre-separation. However, the Court held that indeed, those post-separation acts can be evidence, and thus summary judgment is improper.

In holding so, the Court explained that actual evidence of adultery is seldom available; adultery is almost always proved by circumstantial evidence. Applied to the case at hand, Plaintiff’s facts are that Wife and a third-party paramour, whether it was Defendant or another person, had a sexual affair that destroyed Plaintiff and Wife’s happy marriage. There were facts that could lead a jury to think that this third party was Defendant. Defendant and Wife had a close relationship before Plaintiff and Wife separated. Wife and Defendant were coworkers. Wife and Defendant began dating shortly after Plaintiff and Wife separated. Essentially, a jury could find that Defendant was this third party “Bestie” or “Dustin.”

Lessons and notes: The identification of the third party in this case was in controversy. Defendant was implicitly arguing that because the evidence can’t directly establish that he was the paramour, the case should be found in his favor. However, the facts did not need to “directly” show that he was the paramour. In this case, there was enough evidence, given that he was a coworker and had a close relationship with Wife. This simply means that the question should be presented to a jury. They still must find that the paramour was Defendant. NOTE: this case also included a large and very important dissent, wherein a judge has directly put in question whether the heart-balm torts of Alienation of Affection and Criminal Conversation should remain the law of the State. One would expect that this case, or perhaps another, be appealed the State Supreme Court, and discussion of this issue is best reserved for when the high court decides the issue.