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Home / Top Legal News / N.C. man seeks to flag NFL lineman for interference … with marriage

N.C. man seeks to flag NFL lineman for interference … with marriage

Lawyers are the civilizing force of society, by which citizens can settle their disagreements through reasoned arguments rather than physical force—fortunately so for one Huntersville man, who has thrown down a legal challenge against the all-pro NFL defensive lineman that he accuses of seducing away his former wife.

Joshua Jeffords has sued Philadelphia Eagles player Fletcher Cox in Mecklenburg County Superior Court for alienation of affection, which is essentially a complaint of home-wrecking. The tort, which has been abolished in most states, limps on in North Carolina, a vestige of the days when a man’s wife was also his property.

North Carolina’s old-fashioned “heart balm torts” have snagged many an unwary lothario from other states. Jeffords’ complaint doesn’t allege that Cox ever set foot in North Carolina, nor raise claims for “criminal conversation,” (adultery, essentially) which often accompany alienation suits. Instead, he claims his wife met Cox earlier this year while she was in Pennsylvania, where the two dallied in an affair, and Cox continued wooing her via texts and Snapchat after she returned to North Carolina.

If true, that would be enough to give the Charlotte court jurisdiction to hear the case, said John Vermitsky of Morrow Porter Vermitsky & Taylor in Winston-Salem, an expert on alienation suits. Case law says that phone calls purposely directed towards North Carolina are enough to confer jurisdiction. (But, for the purposes of recovery, whether the alienation happened in North Carolina would be a question for the jury.)

A plaintiff suing for alienation of affection must also prove that genuine love and affection existed between the spouses before the interloper came along. The law is favorable to plaintiffs in this regard, as a marriage need not be perfect or blissful, but juries can and have rejected claims based on a failure to satisfy this requirement, which can also be a factor in the size of a jury’s award.

As such, a plaintiff’s allegations can sometimes cut both ways. For instance, Jeffords claims in his complaint that after discovering the communications between his wife and Cox, he asked his wife to stop following Cox on Instagram. She opted to block Jeffords instead.

“A jury can look at [a plaintiff’s allegations] and say, you’ve overproven your case. This was clearly a crappy marriage,” Vermitsky said.

As statutes require, Jeffords complaint merely says that he is seeking damages “in excess of” the statutory minimum, so it’s unclear how much money Jeffords is seeking, but he also listed a claim for punitive damages. Some North Carolina juries have awarded multi-million dollar verdicts in heart balm cases, and Cox, one of the NFL’s best players, recently signed a $103 million dollar contract extension. Vermitsky said that a jury could consider Cox’s personal wealth in calculating punitive damages.

“You get some big verdicts sometimes that way. People are willing to put themselves through a lot for a lot of money. I think [alienation of affection cases] are bad for marriages, but people are very motivated by the ability to get a large verdict,” Vermitsky said. “I hope he gets a good lawyer to defend him.”

Christopher Adkins and Sarah Bennett of Adkins Law in Huntersville represent Jeffords. Adkins said that Cox’s public notoriety did not factor into the decision to file the complaint, and the complaint still would have been filed regardless of who the defendant was. But Adkins did say that he hoped the substantial attention the suit has received in the national media would be a deterrent to other would-be cheaters.

“What he expressed to me is that his motivations for doing this are that he doesn’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Adkins said. “He wants it known, basically as a deterrent for other people who may be involved in this sort of thing, for them to know that there are consequences for their actions.”

Adkins directed Lawyers Weekly to the attorney he understood to be representing Cox in the case. That attorney, who is based in Atlanta, did not return a phone call seeking comment on the lawsuit.


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