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O'Gorman v. Pfeiffer

Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division

June 16, 1911

NELLIE O'GORMAN, Respondent,

Page 238

APPEAL by the defendant, Minnie Pfeiffer, from an order of the Supreme Court, made at the New York Special Term and entered in the office of the clerk of the county of New York on the 18th day of May, 1911, denying the defendant's motion to strike out certain allegations in the complaint as irrelevant or redundant or both.


Benjamin Scharps of counsel [Scharps & Scharps, attorneys], for the appellant.

Cornelius J. Earley, for the respondent.


The complaint alleges that the plaintiff was married to Joseph F. O'Gorman on the 20th day of February, 1895, and was his wife until his death, which occurred on the 13th of March, 1910; that in March, 1902, the defendant alienated the affections of the plaintiff's husband and induced and willfully and maliciously enticed him to desert plaintiff and harbored and detained him against the will of the plaintiff until his death, and willfully and maliciously debauched him, and she demands damages for $75,000.

The 4th and 5th allegations of the complaint are as follows: 'Fourth. That previous to the death of said Joseph F. O'Gorman, deceased, and by reason of the foregoing acts of the defendant, the said Joseph F. O'Gorman, because of the unlawful and undue influence exerted upon him by the said defendant, made and executed a last will and testament wherein and whereby he bequeathed and devised all his estate to the said defendant and made her the sole executrix thereof. Fifth. That said last will and testament has been duly admitted to probate and thereby the defendant has become possessed of and obtained title to the property of the said Joseph F. O'Gorman, deceased, of the value of about Fifty thousand ($50,000) dollars, subject to this plaintiff's dower rights therein.' The

Page 239

defendant made a motion for an order striking out the said allegations and from the order denying the said motion this appeal is taken.

In Bennett v. Bennett (116 N.Y. 584), cited with approval in Kujek v. Goldman (150 id. 176), Judge VANN said: 'The actual injury to the wife from the loss of consortium, which is the basis of the action, is the same as the actual injury to the husband from that cause. His right to the conjugal society of his wife is no greater than her right to the conjugal society of her husband. Marriage gives to each the same rights in that regard. Each is entitled to the comfort, companionship and affection of the other. The rights of the one and the obligations of the other spring from the marriage contract, are mutual in character and attach to the husband as husband and to the wife as wife. Any interference with these rights, whether of the husband or of the wife, is a violation not only of a natural right, but also of a legal right arising out of the marriage relation. It is a wrongful interference with that which the law both confers and protects.' And Judge BRADLEY, in the same case, said: 'This action is founded upon the disregard of the duties of the marital relation by the husband of the plaintiff, induced by the defendant, to the prejudice of the plaintiff. Marriage is a civil contract. (2 R. S. 138, ยง 1; Clayton v. Wardell, 4 N.Y. 230.) From such contract spring reciprocal duties of the parties to it, amongst which are those assumed by the husband, of her maintenance and his consortium, and thus to contribute to her comfort and enjoyment. To those means of her happiness, so far as practicable, she is entitled. As appeared by the verdict of the jury, the plaintiff's husband was induced by the defendant to essentially refuse to perform his marital undertaking or to regard her rights in that respect. And the damages arising from the denial to the plaintiffs [sic] of such rights result from a breach by the husband, so induced, of the contractual relation of marriage. But such contract is sui generis, and differs from all other contracts in so far that the nature of a recovery of damages in an action, founded upon its breach, is as in tort, and the action is deemed as for a personal injury, and, consequently, does not survive the party injured.'

In Kuhn v. Hemmann (43 A.D. 108) Mr. Justice BARRETT

Page 240

said: 'It is well settled that a wife may maintain an action against one who has enticed her husband from her or deprived her of the comfort of his society. * * * This action is not to recover damages sustained by the plaintiff as a result of the criminal conversation of her husband, * * * but for the loss of consortium. * * * The damages claimed are alleged to have been sustained by reason of the plaintiff's deprivation--resulting from the defendants' acts and inducements--of the 'comfort, society, aid, assistance, affection, support and maintenance' of her husband. Mere marital infidelity would not suffice to maintain such an action, for the marital infidelity alone did not cause the wrongs of which the plaintiff is now complaining.'

In Romaine v. Decker (11 A.D. 20) Mr. Justice CULLEN said: 'It is settled by authority that in this State a married woman may recover damages from another woman for enticing away her husband and ...

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