A split 6th Circuit panel has ruled that a Michigan woman can get to a jury on her pro se claim that when a jewelery store resized her wedding ring, the store pulled a switcheroo by replacing the ring’s big, expensive pink diamond with a considerably smaller, shinier, colorless stone.
Judge Richard Griffin, joined by visiting Judge Judith M. Barzilay, said that Victoria Harris’ deposition testimony, and affidavits of three witnesses were admissible evidence to support the claim. The majority overruled the federal district court’s conclusion that Harris needed an expert’s opinion to bolster her case.
Dissenting Judge Ralph B. Guy thinks Harris’ case lacks luster.
Guy said that even assuming Harris’ evidence is admissible, a rational jury could not find in her favor.
In Matsushita Electric Industries Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986), the Supreme Court stated that on appellate review a summary judgment should be upheld “[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” This is the quintessential example of such a case.
Although in my view plaintiff’s pro se claims are nothing short of preposterous, that is not the test. A “judge must ask himself not whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [plaintiff] on the evidence presented.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).
Guy noted that in Harris’ initial complaint to the store, and to the police, nothing was said about the original diamond’s color. More than two years later, Harris amended the police report to say that the original stone was pink.
And then there’s the allegations in the suit’s complaint. Guy was skeptical:
Although some leeway is given to pro se pleadings, the rambling lengthy narrative filed by plaintiff is long on emotion but short on plausibility. The allegation that a large national jeweler would have sold her a rare, pink 2.35 carat diamond for $395, which the complaint says is now worth something between $440,000 and $800,000 per carat, sets a tone for the complaint which makes what follows largely irrelevant.
To begin with, and certainly very damaging to plaintiff’s claims, is that her husband, who purchased the ring and saw it regularly for 29 years states that it looks like the same ring he originally purchased.
Second, the ring itself belies plaintiff’s claim. In her complaint she states; “I read the inscription [in the ring] many times 235 (carat # – her insertion) 14k (gold – her insertion) ‘Starfire’ the name of my pink diamond.”
Unfortunately for plaintiff the ring inscription is 235 — not 2.35 — and “Starfire” is descriptive of a diamond that “sparkled” and “glittered,” exactly the characteristics that plaintiff says her original diamond did not have.
More importantly, however, defendant’s expert, Martin Fuller, who examined plaintiff’s ring, provides the full and unrefuted provenance of the ring in question.”
Among Fuller’s findings:
- the diamond currently in Harris’ ring was cut manually, the standard process used in the 1970s when the ring was purchased
- diamonds are now cut by computer-driven machines and the diamond alleged substituted in the ring was not produced by the modern procedure
- the prongs on Harris’ ring could not have accommodated a 2.35 carat diamond
- the original diamond could not have been replaced without damaging other parts of the ring
- the “235” inscription is a style number
There’s more, said Guy. The affidavits of two of plaintiff’s witnesses, who swore that the original diamond was pink, are based on an alleged photograph of the ring, not the ring itself.
The third affiant was Harris’ bridesmaid, Easley. “What is significant about the Easley affidavit,” said Guy, “is what it does not say — particularly that she has seen the ring plaintiff now has and knows it is not the ring she had at her wedding.”
To top it all off, Harris apparently consulted with an expert of her own, decided not to use him, and later attempted to disqualify him.
Guy said that after considering what plaintiff and her witnesses claim, and the jewelery store’s expert testimony, the case should not go to a jury:
If a plaintiff’s complaint and a supporting witness’s affidavit state that the moon is made of green cheese and an affidavit by Neil Armstrong says that it is not, there has not been a fact question created that would make it error to grant a summary judgment.
The case is Harris v. J.B. Robinson Jewelers.