août 4. 2020

Woman’s “Misfortune” of $2M Lottery Win Prompts Lawsuits by Parents and Boyfriend

Lionel Nathaniel Cohen v Orly Elinor Assa-Eliahu et al, 2015 ONSC 4953 (CanLII)

Recently we looked at an older case that considered whether lottery winnings received at the end of a relationship constitute joint property.

In another lottery-win case, the court begins its judgment with this surprising description:

On the morning of June 23, 2013, Orly Elinor Assa-Eliahu enjoyed a loving relationship with her young son and her parents, Malca and Nisan Assa-Eliahu. She also had a close and comfortable attachment to her boyfriend, Lionel Nathaniel Cohen. On the evening of that same summer day, she had the misfortune of purchasing the $2 million winning ticket for an Ontario “Scratch and Win” lottery.

What started as a lucky break turned into a legal nightmare: Orly was sued by her (now former) boyfriend Lionel for a share of the winnings. She was also sued by her own parents, who claimed the entire $2 million win was actually theirs.

Orly had bought the winning scratch-and-win ticket on a whim. She was at the local convenience store buying cigarettes for her parents, using the debit card and PIN they had given her for that purpose. Lionel was there too, but he did not contribute to the cost of the lottery ticket. Orly scratched the ticket while sitting with him in the car outside the store, and realized it was a $2 million winner. She ran back in, and was the only one to sign the back of the ticket. The Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) authorities were called, and Orly was identified to them as the sole prize recipient. Meanwhile Lionel phoned Orly’s parents and told them “she’s got the winner.”

At the time of this win, Orly had been living with her parents and dating Lionel after meeting him on an internet dating site. The court noted that before the big win, Orly was “far more interested in marriage than Lionel”, but post-win Lionel “demonstrated a much keener interest in marriage to Orly at this time than he had shown before the lottery win.”

Indeed on a trip to Las Vegas shortly after (that Orly paid for) Lionel proposed marriage. Orly accepted. However, the relationship began to fray while on that very same getaway; Orly suspecting Lionel had cheated on her in the past and was flirting with other women on the trip. When they returned, Lionel refused to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. He and Orly broke up soon after.

Lionel then sued Orly for a share of the lottery winnings; Orly’s parents also sued her for the entire $2 million, relying on the fact that it had been purchased with their debit card.

The court rejected both claims.

Lionel had no right to any share of the win, since he had not contributed to its cost, there was nothing in writing, and he had no agreement with Orly to that effect. The court pointed out that Lionel was not even in the photo taken at the OLG offices to commemorate the lottery win. His credibility around various details was also lacking, and in the court’s words he tended to “exaggerate his devotion to Orly” in his evidence.

Similarly, the court found that the lottery winnings did not belong to Orly’s parents, even though they technically funded the small price of the ticket. The purchase had not been discussed or requested by the parents in advance. It was simply a modest add-on purchase, made by Orly with her parents’ card and their implicit permission. The court noted that when she received the funds from the OLG, Orly placed the entire proceeds in her own bank account, and her parents stood by while she spent the money as she saw fit. They also happily accepted $350,000 that Orly gave them to help pay off their mortgage. Tellingly, it apparently took another full year after that, before it occurred to them to claim the entire jackpot was actually theirs.

In dismissing the parents’ suit the court added, “Their claim was concocted, in my opinion, largely for the purpose of assisting in protecting the lottery winnings from any of Lionel’s claims.”

In the end, the court ruled that the $2 million lottery winnings belonged to Orly alone.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Lionel Nathaniel Cohen v. Orly Elinor Assa-Eliahu et al, 2015 ONSC 4953

[This post by Russell Alexander first appeared on FamilyLLB.com on August 4, 2020]