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Ruffini v. Forgione

A-4722-05T5 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2007) (Unpublished)

CONTRACTS; TERMINATION; REINSTATEMENT — The “meeting of the minds” requisite for the formation of a contract between cohabitants to pay living expenses may be interpreted or modified when one cohabitating party repeatedly moves in and out of the shared premises; thus, the agreement must therefore be reestablished for it to remain enforceable.

A romantically involved man and a woman lived together in a house owned by the woman. The man verbally agreed to pay the woman $200 per week to help with joint living expenses. From 2002 to 2004, the man made sporadic payments to the woman. The woman testified that she would receive payments for a few weeks, then not get payments for a few months, then receive payments for a few weeks again. The woman also testified that when the man missed payments, he would promise to make up the missed payments. The man testified that he and the woman had an “up and down relationship,” in which he frequently moved out and moved back in with the woman. The man testified that he never promised to pay rent, although he admitted to promising to assist the woman in purchasing groceries and paying bills. The man claimed that he fulfilled this obligation frequently bringing dinner to the woman and by contributing “his fair share” to the cohabitants’ living expenses.

The lower court rejected the woman’s claim for damages based on the man’s alleged promise to pay joint expenses. It reasoned that although it found the woman’s testimony credible, the man’s agreement to pay living expenses did not survive the man’s repeated moving in and out of the house. A result of such conduct there was no “meeting of the minds” with respect to an ongoing obligation on the man’s part. In other words, even though there was at one time an agreement on the man’s part to pay weekly living expenses, that agreement was modified or abandoned based upon the conduct of the parties.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, concluding that the lower court’s findings were supported by the record. The Court held that the lower court could have reasonably reached its conclusion that based upon that parties’ stormy relationship, any short-term agreement by the man to pay a weekly sum toward expenses did not survive the parties’ repeated break-ups and reconciliations. The Court therefore upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the woman’s claim for contract damages based on the man’s promise to pay household expenses.

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