What: Sensual masseuse who was allegedly paid for sex relies on instant-messaging transcripts when suing ex-customer for $1.5 million.
When: California Court of Appeal, Second District, rules on April 9.
Outcome: Masseuse is awarded $610 in damages.
What happened, according to court documents:
In late 2004, Nieme Goines was in the business of providing "sensual massage" services to male clients she found on the Internet. One of her clients was allegedly Peter Wilkes, an executive at a film production company in the Los Angeles area. (Other than that side business, Goines was unemployed and admits that she was in "desperate" financial circumstances.)
Goines claims that her new client promised to help her with her career, "take care of her financially," buy her a car, pay for her dental work and move her into a house in Pacific Palisades. Most of those alleged promises were not met, though Goines does acknowledge that she received gifts totaling more than $13,000 from Wilkes.
She sued. Her lawsuit, filed in August 2005, demanded a whopping $500,000 for emotional distress, $500,000 for promissory estoppel (which generally prohibits false promises) and $500,000 for punitive damages. It rests largely on an a string of alleged instant-message and e-mail conversations.
In one e-mail, Wilkes promised "2000 dollars to start a checking account this week and 500-1000 dollars to start a savings account this week" and in another a few months later, he suggested giving Goines "$2,000-$3,000 a week to help with bills, other expense, car rentals, (and) getting nice stuff like clothes." Others pledged to take care of Goines' rent and to pay the past-due bill for her dental work in January.
Sex apparently was a key component of this relationship. One exchange talked about Goines coming over to Wilkes' house in exchange for money. Another had Wilkes arguing that the $13,000 he had already handed over should have "gotten (him) 90 massage sessions." Goines once told Wilkes to find someone else to "pamper" his sexual organs.
After the sensual masseuse's male friend and roommate, Sam Killebrew, called Wilkes, he replied in an e-mail message that Killebrew had engaged in "threats." Wilkes also warned Goines that she could face charges of extortion and blackmail.
One problem in evaluating the truth of the lawsuit's allegations is that Wilkes never responded to it. Judge Victor H. Person of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County entered a default judgment against Wilkes for $610, which was the total of the dentist's bill he wrote a bounced check to cover, and Goines appealed.
California's Court of Appeal, Second District, upheld the verdict. It noted that courts will not enforce contracts based on the "moral and illicit consideration of meretricious sexual services."
Excerpts from the appeals court's opinion:
The e-mails and instant messages contain numerous examples of instances where sexual matters and money were connected. In one, respondent stated that appellant's demands "sound too much like pay for play" and asked whether giving her a car, money and a Valentine's Day gift would put her "in the mood." He said that the $13,000 he had given her should have "gotten (him) 90 massage sessions."
In one of the instant-message exchanges, respondent asked appellant if she would consider coming to his house if he gave her money. In another, he asked if he could go to her apartment that night; she replied, "i'm so broke, i can't find the 100 you gave me ... down to five dollars ... can you help me out?"
Later in that same exchange, he said: "let me know if u want to meet at 9 or not, whether i bring money or not." Appellant responded that respondent was treating her like a "prostitute" but said nothing that could be interpreted as encouragement to visit without bringing money.
In another instant-message exchange, respondent said he was coming over that night, and appellant suggested that he "(b)ring something to make my life easy...." Later, respondent complained there had been "no sex since 2 days after i gave u the money," and she reminded him, "You said you'd give me money everytime you come here."
The court, after reviewing the declarations and documentary evidence, requested a prove-up hearing. Appellant was the only witness.
Her testimony at the hearing was in accordance with the complaint and her declaration: respondent promised to open bank accounts for her, provide specific sums of money per week, move her into his home, buy her a car, expensive clothes and jewelry, and assist her in getting out of debt and into a job. He specifically promised to take care of the January dental bill.
At one point, he wrote a check to the oral surgeon, which failed to clear his account. Appellant testified that respondent referred to her as his fiancee and denied that he paid her for sex.
In response to questioning by the court, appellant admitted that she had been a sensual masseuse for three or four months, had only four clients and earned at most $800 to $900 per month. She conceded that she could return to that occupation by placing an Internet advertisement.
In addition, since the break up, she had taken computer tutorials and was working in Web design and photo retouch and restoration. The roommate she had acquired during her relationship with respondent was paying all or most of the rent on her apartment.
In its order, the court found true many of the facts attested to by appellant, including that respondent made promises of financial support and career assistance. It also found that appellant stopped performing massage services, gathered her clothing to move into his home and arranged for a friend to move into her apartment.
Appellant's contention that the court exhibited "unfair bias" by making findings that highlighted the sexual nature of the parties' relationship represents a misapprehension about the court's role in resolving a claim by a party against a former romantic partner.
Where a plaintiff claims to have entered into a contract with a former romantic partner, under which the partner promised to provide monetary support or other financial benefits, the trial court is required to examine the nature of the parties' relationship to determine whether "sexual services form an inseparable part of the consideration for the agreement."
This is because a contract between nonmarried parties is unenforceable to the extent that it is based on "the immoral and illicit consideration of meretricious sexual services."