Tyranski v. Piggins

Decision Date20 February 1973
Docket NumberNo. 1,Docket No. 11388,1
Citation44 Mich.App. 570,205 N.W.2d 595
PartiesHelen TYRANSKI, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Frederic F. PIGGINS, Ancillary Administrator with Will Annexed of the Estate of Alfred P. Lattavo, and Estate of Alfred P. Lattavo, Defendant-Appellant
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Carroll C. Grigsby, Piggins, Grigsby & Erickson, Detroit, for defendant-appellant.

Charest & Clancy, Livonia, for plaintiff-appellee.

Before LEVIN, P.J., and BRONSON and VanVALKENBURG, * JJ.

LEVIN, Presiding Judge.

The plaintiff, Mrs. Helen Tyranski, commenced this action in January, 1970, claiming that she was entitled to a house located on Blue Skies Avenue, Livonia, Michigan, which was held in the name of Alfred P. Lattavo. Mr. Lattavo had died in October, 1969.

At the conclusion of the trial, the judge, who sat without a jury, found that Mrs. Tyranski was entitled to the house and its furnishings. A judgment was entered for specific performance of an oral agreement the judge found Lattavo had made with Mrs. Tyranski to convey the house to her.

The defendant, the ancillary administrator of Lattavo's estate, does not, on appeal, dispute the claimed oral agreement. He contends that the judge should have refused to enforce the agreement because of the meretricious relationship of the parties. We affirm.

Lattavo, who traveled frequently in connection with his trucking business, met Mrs. Tyranski in 1963, while she was working as a cocktail waitress. They were attracted to one another and shortly thereafter began living together in Mrs. Tyranski's rented Detroit home, and later in an apartment. After they had been living together for nearly four years, Lattavo had the Blue Skies house built. There is evidence that tends to show that $10,000 of the required funds was contributed by Mrs. Tyranski. Mrs. Tyranski decorated the house and selected the furniture. They lived together in the Blue Skies home from 1967 until Lattavo's death.

Lattavo had married Rosella Lattavo in 1941. He made trips to their home in Canton throughout the period of his relationship with Mrs. Tyranski, though by 1967 he spent only a few days a month in Canton. The rest of the time he spent in Livonia.

Mrs. Tyranski is a married woman and the mother of two children. She has been separated from her husband for many years, but never secured a divorce. Lattavo acted as a father to her children, and gave away her daughter, Laura, in marriage. While Lattavo was in Michigan, he and Mrs. Tyranski lived together as man and wife, and at least one mutual friend testified that she knew Mrs. Tyranski as 'Mrs. Lattavo'.

Rosella Lattavo testified that she did not learn about Mrs. Tyranski or the Blue Skies house until she went to an attorney to file for a divorce and had her husband investigated in August, 1969.

The issue is whether Mrs. Tyranski's claim under the agreement is defeated by the meretricious relationship.

While the parties illicitly cohabited over a period of years, that does not render all agreements between them illegal. Professor Corbin and the drafters of the Restatement of Contracts both write that while bargains in whole or in part in consideration of an illicit relationship are unenforceable, agreements between parties to such a relationship with respect to money or property will be enforced if the agreement is independent of the illicit relationship. 1

Neither these authorities nor the large body of case law in other jurisdictions--there is no Michigan authority dealing with this precise issue--articulate a guideline for determining when the consideration will be regarded as 'independent', and when it is so coupled with the meretricious acts that the agreement will not be enforced. A pattern does, however, emerge upon reading the cases.

Neither party to a meretricious relationship acquires, by reason of cohabitation alone, rights in the property accumulations of the other during the period of the relationship. 2 But where there is an express agreement to accumulate or transfer property following a relationship of some permanence and an additional consideration in the form of either money or of services, the courts tend to find an independent consideration.

Thus, a plaintiff who can show an actual contribution of money, pursuant to an agreement to pool assets and share accumulations, will usually prevail. 3 Services, such as cooking meals, laundering clothes, 'caring' for the decedent through sickness, have been found to be adequate and independent considerations in cases where there was an express agreement. 4

An express agreement to convey the Blue Skies house was established by testimony at the trial. There was also evidence that Mrs. Tyranski had 'changed the tenor of her life' in performance of the agreement so as to make reasonable the inference that there was such an agreement. See In re Cramer's Estate, 296 Mich. 44, 49, 295 N.W. 553 (1941).

Mrs. Tyranski cleaned the house, did the marketing, cooked the food, did Mr. Lattavo's personal laundry, and acted as his hostess. She cared for him when he was sick, especially during the last year and a half of his life when his condition required greater attention and care. There was also the evidence of the $10,000 claimed to have been contributed by Mrs. Tyranski to Lattavo in April or May of 1967. 5

It has been said that 'equity does not demand that its suitors shall have led blameless lives.' Loughran v. Loughran, 292 U.S. 216, 229, 54 S.Ct. 684, 689, 78 L.Ed. 1219, 1227 (1934). The Michigan case law is in accord. In Burns v. Stevens, 236 Mich. 447, 452--453, 210 N.W. 483, 485 (1926), the plaintiff (the man) and the defendant (the woman) lived together for three years. They made a $1,000 down payment on a cottage. They signed a land contract 'jointly'. After the man tried of the woman, he brought suit claiming the cottage was his property and that her name was put on the contract to secure repayment to her of $400 she had advanced. He sought to have her interest in the contract declared to be a mortgage. In upholding the trial court's determination in his favor, the Michigan Supreme Court said:

'(T)he rule that if the parties to a suit are In pari delicto a court of equity will leave them where they have placed themselves should not be here applied. * * * The question to be determined in this case * * * is whether the party acquired an interest in the property or a security for the money advanced. The manner in which they were then living is immaterial to the issue except in its bearing upon the weight to be given to their testimony. The doors of courts are not closed to people who lead immoral lives when contracts between them untainted with illegality or fraud are involved.' (Emphasis supplied.)

There are no other Michigan cases concerning the kind of factual situation with which we are now confronted. The defendant relies on Michigan precedent holding that a contract founded on an act prohibited by a penal statute is unenforceable (Silver v. A.O.C. Corp., 31 Mich.App. 147, 187 N.W.2d 532 (1971)) 6 and asserts that the agreement relied on by Mrs. Tyranski is founded on acts violative of M.C.L.A. § 750.335; M.S.A. § 28.567, making it a crime to engage in lewd and lascivious cohabitation.

In Silver, the plaintiff sought to recover for electrical work he performed at a time when he was not a duly licensed electrical contractor. Enforcement of the bargain would have subverted the legislative purpose. 7

Silver could not recover except on the strength of a contract to perform work which he was not licensed to perform. Contrariwise, Mrs. Tyranski was able to establish the contract to transfer the Blue Skies house to her without reference to her sexual relationship with Mr. Lattavo. 8

Where a meretricious relationship has already been entered upon, to penalize one of the parties by striking down their otherwise lawful promises, will not undo the relationship, nor is it likely to discourage others from entering upon such relationships. It appears on examination of the cases that the courts have, on various theories, allotted to the woman a share of the property in cases thought to be meritorious. 9 We are persuaded, as was the trial judge, that this is such a case.

Affirmed. Costs to plaintiff.

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21 cases
  • Marvin v. Marvin
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • December 27, 1976
    ...his proposed distinction would justify denial of enforcement to contracts supported by such consideration. (See Tyranski v. Piggins (1973) 44 Mich.App. 570, 205 N.W.2d 595, 597.)6 Although not cited by defendant, the only California precedent which supports his position is Heaps v. Toy (194......
  • Watts v. Watts
    • United States
    • Wisconsin Supreme Court
    • May 11, 1987
    ...will not undo the parties' relationship and may not discourage others from entering into such relationships. Tyranski v. Piggins, 44 Mich.App. 570, 577, 205 N.W.2d 595 (1973). A harsh, per se rule that the contract and property rights of unmarried cohabiting parties will not be recognized m......
  • Boland v. Catalano
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • February 17, 1987
    ...states, this has not caused contemporary courts to consider cohabitation contracts unenforceable. For example, in Tyranski v. Piggins, [44 Mich.App. 570, 205 N.W.2d 595 (1973) ], even though 'lewd and lascivious cohabitation' was a crime, the court held that the cohabitation relationship di......
  • Thomas v. LaRosa, 19629
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • November 9, 1990
    ...a contract between cohabiting or romantically attached partners can be separated from the personal part. In Tyranski v. Piggins, 44 Mich.App. 570, 573, 205 N.W.2d 595, 596 (1973), a Michigan appeals court While the parties illicitly cohabited over a period of years, that does not render all......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Legal and Tax Status of Persons in Connecticut Civil Unions and Other Unmarried Cohabitants
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 78, 2004
    • Invalid date
    ...parties may enter into a Quebec civil union. This is not permitted in Vermont or Connecticut (supra, note 1). 48 Tyranski v. Piggins, 44 Mich. App. 570, 205 N.W.2d 595 (1973). 49 Carlson v. Olson, 256 N.W.2d 249 (Minn. 1977). 50 See, e.g., In re Estate of Thornton, 81 Wash. 2d 72,499 P.2d 8......
  • § 1.02 Disputes Between Cohabitants
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Divorce, Separation and the Distribution of Property Title CHAPTER 1 Disputes Between Unmarried People
    • Invalid date
    ...Fam. L.Q. 93 (1984). [9] See, e.g.: Maryland: Donovan v. Scuderi, 51 Md. App. 217, 443 A.2d 121 (1982). Michigan: Tyranski v. Piggins, 44 Mich. App. 570, 205 N.W.2d 595 (1973). New York: Donnell v. Stogel, 161 A.D.2d 93, 560 N.Y.S.2d 200 (1990). Wyoming: Kinnison v. Kinnison, 627 P.2d 594 (......
  • § 1.03 Dating Claims
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Divorce, Separation and the Distribution of Property Title CHAPTER 1 Disputes Between Unmarried People
    • Invalid date
    ...--------Notes:[154] See, e.g.: Indiana: Glasgo v. Glasgo, 410 N.E.2d 1325 (Ind. App. 1980). Michigan: Tyranski v. Piggins, 44 Mich. App. 570, 205 N.W.2d 595 (1973). [155] Adams v. Jensen-Thomas, 18 Wash. App. 757, 571 P.2d 958 (1977).[156] Id., 571 P.2d at 961, 963. See also: California: Ta......

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