SPRINGFIELD -- A Batavia woman can't be sued for creating more than 20 fake personalities online to foster an Internet relationship with a California woman who sent $10,000 worth of gifts to her phantom love, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled today.
The high court ruled 7-0 that Paula Bonhomme of California couldn't sue Janna St. James of Batavia because the two were involved in a personal relationship. Typically, the fraud Bonhomme was claiming is only relevant in business relationships.
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"When all is said and done, what lies beneath this case is two private persons engaged in a long-distance personal relationship," the opinion, written by Justice Robert Thomas of Glen Ellyn, said. "To be sure, it was a personal relationship built wholly on one party's relentless deceit, but it was a purely personal relationship nonetheless."
St. James created an online persona -- a firefighter named Jesse Jubilee James -- on an online community for the HBO series "Deadwood." Over 18 months, she created numerous other fictional characters to corroborate the story, leading Bonhomme to fall in love with the fake firefighter.
Eventually, St. James killed off the main character, having him "die of liver cancer."
Bonhomme discovered the hoax when St. James, who also was communicating with Bonhomme under another name, traveled to California for a visit and Bonhomme's friends -- who had grown suspicious -- confronted St. James.
Bonhomme sued, claiming emotional distress.
"Here, we have a slow, dripping hoax," her attorney Daliah Saper told justices when she argued the case earlier this year.
St. James' attorney argued the fraud Bonhomme was claiming is only legally acknowledged in business relationships. A ruling against them, she argued, could expand similar fraud claims into personal relationships and could raise a lot of questions.
"There is no aspect of business in the relationship," argued Phyllis Perko, an attorney based in West Dundee. "This is very simply a personal setting."
The justices agreed, so the case won't return to Kane County court where it originated.