Man suing his ex for half of $1M prize gets a win in court

AP News
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Posted: May 28, 2015 5:33 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man is still trying to get half of his ex-girlfriend's $1 million lottery prize, eight years after he says she took the winning ticket and left him. He says she reneged on a long-ago promise that they'd split any winnings if either of them hit it big.

On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court agreed that if they were still romantically involved, any spoken agreement made years earlier was still valid.

Now a jury will have to decide if a pact was ever made and if the couple was still an item when Lynn Poirier's lucky number was drawn.

Howard Browning says he and Poirier agreed in 1993 to share any lottery money they might win. They loved playing the lottery, sometimes driving out of state to buy Powerball tickets when the jackpot grew big enough, since Florida didn't have the game at the time, according to his lawyer, Sean Sheppard.

"They were a big lottery couple. That's what they did," Sheppard said.

Then on July 2, 2007, Browning and Poirier walked into a gas station convenience store 20 miles northeast of Orlando and separately bought $20 tickets for the raffle.

Two days later, Poirier's number was drawn. She said nothing about winning and left the house she owned with no explanation, Sheppard said. About five weeks later, Poirier, then a 54-year-old special education teacher, went to the Florida Lottery headquarters and claimed the prize, saying she was going to use it to pay off her second mortgage and upgrade her collection of vintage cars.

That confirmed what Browning suspected. The raffle tickets were numbered sequentially and when Browning checked his, he realized it was one number away from a $1 million winner.

"He thought to himself 'She must have won and she split,'" Sheppard said. "A while later she shows up in a brand new car and tells him to get out."

The couple had lived together since 1991.

Poirier's lawyer, Mark Sessums, didn't return a call to his office, but he told the Supreme Court in December that the couple had broken up and Poirier was living with her mother when she bought the ticket.

Sheppard said the couple dined out together just before buying the lottery tickets and there's no dispute that they were in the store at the same time. He even gave her the money to buy the ticket after stopping at an ATM, he said.

The court was only ruling on the agreement, not whether Browning should get the money. A trial judge threw the case out before it could go to a jury, saying the agreement needed to be in writing if it were to continue beyond a year.

The Supreme Court ruled the law the judge cited doesn't apply in this case. A new trial will be scheduled.

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Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bsfarrington