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Crowe v. De Gioia

Decided: July 17, 1985.


On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Middlesex County.

Fritz, Gaulkin and Long. The opinion of the court was delivered by Long, J.A.D.


This is the second chapter in the "palimony" case of Rose Crowe and Sergio De Gioia. In an earlier decision (Crowe v. De Gioia, 90 N.J. 126 (1982)) the Supreme Court affirmed the proposition that an unmarried person is not entitled to alimony; approved the trial judge's grant of preliminary relief to Mrs. Crowe based upon traditional equitable principles, and established the Superior Court, Chancery Division as the appropriate forum in which to pursue a suit to enforce a "palimony" contract.

The case arose as a result of a complaint filed by Rose Crowe in the Superior Court, Chancery Division seeking enforcement of an alleged "palimony" agreement and pendente lite relief against De Gioia. De Gioia answered the complaint substantially denying Crowe's allegations and resisted the application for interim relief. Judge Garrenger granted Crowe's pendente lite application. This was the issue which took the matter to the Supreme Court, which affirmed that decision, noting at the same time that the award of counsel fees was limited by R. 4:42-9.

Thereafter, the case was tried before Judge Garrenger who found the existence of a "palimony" contract, granted an award of monetary damages in Crowe's favor, ordered De Gioia to transfer title to the residence in Perth Amboy in which they

lived to Crowe and denied her application for counsel fees. This appeal ensued. Here De Gioia claims that Judge Garrenger erred in concluding that a contract existed between himself and Crowe, in ordering the turnover of the house and in awarding of damages in an amount which De Gioia characterizes as excessive. Crowe attacks the damages calculation as insufficient, claims that she should have been awarded an equitable share of De Gioia's property and maintains that she was entitled to counsel fees. Because we believe that Judge Garrenger carefully and thoughtfully applied the proper legal principles to the facts here presented and that his conclusions are supported by the evidence, we affirm.

The facts which gave rise to the filing of the complaint are as follows: Crowe and De Gioia met in 1960. At that time Crowe was 38 years old and living in an apartment in Perth Amboy with her seven children. She was separated from her husband who had deserted the family in late 1955 or early 1956. De Gioia was single, 26 years of age and working as the night manager in a motel. At trial Crowe alleged that within a few weeks she and De Gioia were living together; that he provided her with financial support, and that they remained together until 1980 when he moved from the home which he purchased for them at 40 Lewis Street in Perth Amboy. She also claimed that she cared for De Gioia's personal needs and worked for him in his business and that she was his constant companion over the twenty years of their relationship. She maintained that De Gioia held her out as his wife and that they appeared together at many functions with both of their families. Crowe also alleged that when De Gioia announced that he was leaving he promised her a trust fund, the deed to the Lewis Street house, a new furnace, a summer home, a 185 acre farm in Maine, a half interest in another property in Maine, and the beneficial interest in a life insurance policy. In addition, she said that he promised her $300 per week in support.

De Gioia denied these claims and told a very different story. He testified that he never cohabited with Crowe or held her out

as his wife and asserted that he always kept a separate residence at the various motels he managed during the course of their relationship. He denied having provided Crowe with any financial support during the times that he did not see her and maintained that his purchase of the Lewis Street home in his own name reflected his intention to retain ownership of the home. He also denied that Crowe aided in his business and denied having promised Crowe anything upon the termination of their relationship.

The evidence established that from 1962-1969 De Gioia and Crowe spent their summers together managing the "Hollywood Hotel" in Rio Grande, New Jersey, that De Gioia apparently received most of his personal mail at the Lewis Street address, and that his drivers license and auto registration listed this as his residence. At the time of trial Crowe was 63 years old and claimed to be unskilled, unemployable and in poor health. De Gioia had, by then, married a younger woman.

Judge Garrenger concluded that Crowe and De Gioia cohabited together over the 20 years of their relationship and that De Gioia expressly promised to take care of Crowe for the rest of his life:

I believe Mr. De Gioia certainly intended to maintain relationship with Mrs. Crowe right up to and including 1980. Did he cohabit? Yes. I think he cohabited in the context of this case.

Mr. De Gioia, the very nature of his business makes it difficult for him to cohabit with anyone on a daily basis. He was forced to work nights much of the time. He admittedly maintained a residence or -- not a residence -- but a room at these hotels for his own convenience.

Many -- much of the time he spent with Mrs. Crowe was during the day, but that still doesn't mean he wasn't cohabiting. That's where he hung his hat most of the time during these twenty years.

We have some pictures also to substantiate that -- him in smoking jacket at the Lewis Street address. I have enough credible evidence to find that as much as this man was able to cohabit with anyone, he did in fact cohabit with her.

Do I find that there was an express promise rather than an implied promise, or no promise at all? I believe there was an express promise. I so find.

I think that it's quite clear that this woman did not spend twenty years of her life socializing with this man, cooking for him, being his sex partner, without some type of express promise being given to her.

I think it's very credible that she inquired as to what her future would be. She was totally dependent on Mr. De Gioia. and I do find he made an express promise.

What was that express promise? I don't think that Mr. De Gioia ever said to Mrs. Crowe that you were entitled to half of everything I have. I don't think that her testimony is even very strong on that particular point.

She really had little to do with his business affairs. I don't find that she was a help-mate in these business affairs. I don't really buy the "sewing sheets" argument.

She may have stopped by there once in a while to help. I don't think Mr. De Gioia ever intended to let her have half of everything, and I do so find, but I do find that Mr. De Gioia did in fact promise to take care of Mrs. De Gioia [ sic ] for the rest of his life, he promised.

And I think his actions showed, too, that he intended for her to have the 40 Lewis Street property. And I think he intended it to be in good condition. I think he certainly intended to provide for her medical needs, utilities, mortgage payments, so on and so forth.

Thereafter Judge Garrenger ordered the Lewis Street property transferred to Crowe and calculated a lump sum award for Crowe in the amount of $155,642.63. He reached this number by determining an annual support figure, multiplying it by Crowe's life expectancy and discounting the lump sum to present value.

Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 164 N.J. Super. 162 (Ch.Div.1978) aff'd 80 N.J. 378 (1979), the seminal palimony case in New Jersey, is the framework for determining the propriety of Judge Garrenger's actions. In Kozlowski, the ...

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