A high-priced diamond engagement ring was passed among Hall County jurors Tuesday as they prepared to decide if it was evidence of a binding contract.
In an unusual civil case, RoseMary Shell sued her ex-fiance, Wayne Gibbs, after he broke off their engagement in 2007.
The jilted bride-to-be claims Gibbs’ promise of marital bliss amounted to a contract, and that by leaving a good-paying job in Florida to move back to Gainesville to be with him, she suffered significant financial losses when he reneged on that promise.
She also claims to have suffered emotional pain and anguish.
"I don’t think there’s enough words to say how this has made me feel," Shell testified Tuesday in Hall County Superior Court. "It has embarrassed me. It has humiliated me. It has destroyed my self-esteem."Both Shell and Gibbs were divorced and had grown children during their on-again, off-again courtship, which lasted from 2001 to 2006. Gibbs took Shell on several skiing trips, made house payments for her and gave her $30,000 to pay off credit card debt, according to court testimony. But when he learned after proposing that she had even more debt — enough to eventually file for bankruptcy — he had "second thoughts" about getting married, he testified.
Gibbs left Shell a note in the couple’s bathroom expressing his misgivings about the engagement shortly before they were to get married in December 2006. He broke it off for good in March 2007.
Gibbs, a construction company owner, testified Tuesday that he didn’t feel a sense of obligation to Shell, who had trouble finding a job comparable to the human resources position she held in Pensacola, Fla. before leaving it to be with him.
"I did more than most men would do for a woman," he testified. "I don’t feel I owe her anything."
Shell’s lawyer, former Hall County District Attorney Lydia Sartain, called a witness to testify that Gibbs’ decision not to marry Shell cost her more than a broken heart.
A job placement professional testified that the job Shell left working for the Gannett newspaper company in Pensacola paid $81,000, plus a 15 percent annual bonus, plus benefits valued at between $35,000 and $40,000.
Shell now earns $31,000 a year working for North Georgia College & State University, she testified.
But Gibbs’ attorney, Hammond Law, questioned why Shell would leave her job almost immediately after the marriage proposal without finding other employment first, particularly since she knew that Gibbs was "squirrely" on the matter of long-term commitment.
"Wayne wanted me to come back then," Shell said. "He wanted a wedding before the holidays." She later noted, "He had never given me a ring and proposed to me before."
Shell still has the ring Gibbs gave her when he asked for her hand in marriage. On Tuesday, jurors examined it inside its rosewood jewel box as "Plaintiff’s Exhibit 2."
While the cost of the ring was not quoted in court Tuesday, a witness described it as being "on the high end" of engagement rings. Law noted that his client never asked to get the ring back and that Shell "still has a pretty valuable asset as a result of her engagement."
Jurors will hear closing arguments in the case this morning.