Oh, the perils of internet chat rooms. Paula Bonhomme made the acquaintance of a charming man called Jesse in one dedicated to some TV show they both followed. Jesse was, however, a fiction created by Donna St James, the defendant in Bonhomme v St James (SC Ill, 24 May 2012). An elaborate fiction, at that: St James not only created an entire persona for Jesse, but also a cast of friends and relations, all of whom corresponded with Bonhomme (some of them even sent her presents from foreign locations). St James also befriended Bonhomme online under her own identity. The relationship between Bonhomme and Jesse (if one can call it that) became romantic, to the point where Bonhomme bought herself a plane ticket to travel from California to Jesse’s ostensible home in Colorado. Jesse cancelled the meeting at the last minute, and Bonhomme was devastated to learn from Jesse’s ‘sister’ (another of St James’s fictions) that he had attempted suicide and then died of liver cancer. When St James herself visited Bonhomme, the latter’s friends sussed out the deception and exposed St James for what she was. Bonhomme sued St James for fraudulent misrepresentation, seeking the costs of her aborted Colorado trip, fees for therapy to deal with the sad news of Jesse’s death and expenses incurred in making her house ready for St James’s more than somewhat callous visit.
The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of Bonhomme’s claim, declining to extend the tort of fraudulent misrepresentation ‘beyond its traditional application in commercial and transactional settings’. This was a purely personal relationship, albeit one built on one party’s ‘relentless deceit’. There was no public interest in having the courts treat this as a case of fraudulent misrepresentation because there was no commercial, transactional or regulatory component to it. Purely personal deceit isn’t for the courts to regulate.