Florida Supreme Court: Oral Agreement to Share Lottery Winnings Not Barred by Statute of Frauds
The Florida Supreme Court recently considered the issue of whether an oral agreement to share the proceeds of lottery winnings is barred by the statute of frauds. In Browning v. Poirier, 40 Fla. L. Weekly S304 (Fla. May 28, 2015), the parties lived together in a romantic relationship. About two years into their relationship, the parties verbally agreed that they would each purchase lottery tickets and would equally share any winnings. Several years later, the girlfriend purchased a lottery ticket and won 1 million dollars. When her boyfriend requested his half of the proceeds, she refused to split the winnings.
The boyfriend filed suit, seeking to recover his alleged half of the winnings. The trial court ruled in the girlfriend’s favor, finding that the alleged oral agreement was barred by the statute of frauds. On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the alleged oral agreement was barred by the statute of frauds. Browning v. Poirier, 128 So. 3d 144 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013).
Florida’s statute of frauds, Section 725.01, Florida Statutes, provides, in pertinent part:
No action shall be brought . . . upon any agreement that is not to be performed within the space of 1 year from the making thereof . . . unless the agreement or promise upon which such action shall be brought, or some note or memorandum thereof shall be in writing and signed by the party to be charged therewith or by some other person by her or him thereunto lawfully authorized.
In other words, an agreement whereby performance will take 1 year or longer must be in writing in order to be enforceable. Florida courts have explained that “[t]he statute of frauds grew out of a purpose to intercept the frequency and success of actions based on nothing more than loose verbal statements or mere innuendos.” LynkUs Communications, Inc. v. WebMD Corp., 965 So. 2d 1161, 1165 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007) (quoting Yates v. Ball, 181 So. 341, 344 (Fla. 1938)).
In Browning, “[t]he issue . . . focuses on interpreting the one year performance provision of the statute of frauds for oral agreements of indefinite duration, where no time is fixed by the parties for the performance of their agreement.”
When . . . no definite time was fixed by the parties for the performance of their agreement, and there is nothing in its terms to show that it could not be performed within a year according to its intent and the understanding of the parties, it should not be construed as being within the statute of frauds.
The general rule so stated is subject to the qualifying rule that when no time is agreed on for the complete performance of the contract, if from the object to be accomplished by it and the surrounding circumstances, it clearly appears that the parties intended that it should extend for a longer period than a year, it is within the statute of frauds, though it cannot be said that there is any impossibility preventing its performance within a year.
“Stated otherwise, judging from the time the oral contract of indefinite duration is made, if the contract’s full performance is possible within one year from the inception of the contract, then it falls outside the statute of frauds.” Browning (citing Acoustic Innovations, Inc. v. Schafer, 976 So. 2d 1139, 1143 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008); Wilcox v. Lang Equities, Inc., 588 So. 2d 318, 320 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991); Gulf Solar, Inc. v. Westfall, 447 So. 2d 363, 366 (Fla. 2d DCA 1984).
Even though the oral agreement at issue was for an indefinite duration, the Court found that the agreement was capable of being performed in less than 1 year: “[f]or example, if Browning or Poirier purchased a winning lottery ticket and they split the proceeds before the expiration of one year, the agreement would have been fully performed before the expiration of one year. Alternatively, either Browning or Poirier could have ended the agreement at any time.”
Therefore, because the agreement was capable of being performed within 1 year, the Court reversed the Fifth District Court of Appeal, and held that the indefinite oral contract to split lottery winnings was not barred by the statute of frauds.
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