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The Italian Supreme Court has handed down judgment on several occasions in relation to the revocation of gifts on account of the ingratitude of the donee.

We will attempt in this article, albeit briefly, to outline the main features thereof, analyzing in particular the judgments which recently have been handed down by the Italian Supreme Court.

We must, first of all, recall article 801 of the Italian Civil Code, according to which an action for revocation for ingratitude cannot be brought in the event that the donee has committed one of the acts provided for under article 463 nos. 1, 2 and 3 or has committed serious defamation against the donor or has willfully caused economic the latter to suffer economic losses or has unduly refused to pay alimony due under articles 433, 435 and 436.

A gift may be only revoked in those cases provided for under article 801 of the Italian Civil Code.

In relation thereto, we must point out how the case law of the Italian Supreme Court has dealt with cases of serious defamation being committed against the donee. In particular, it has confirmed a constant body of case law to the effect that any act or conduct of the donee which seriously harms the donor’s reputation constitutes serious defamation of the latter (Italian Supreme Court Judgment. No. 7487 dated 2011, in which the donee’s ingratitude was excluded in a situation in which the latter had invited his father to leave the house which had been purchased with gifts in money given to him by his father and mother).

The tort of serious defamation provided for under article 801 of the Italian Civil Code has a much wider scope than the offence of criminal defamation provided for under article 594 of the Italian Criminal Code. (it must be pointed out, moreover, that article 801 of the Italian Criminal Code does not require criminal proceedings to be commenced beforehand).

Italian Supreme Court judgment no. 23545 dated November 10, 2011 held that the donee’s refusal to assist the donor, who had been completely neglected, did not constitute serious defamation pursuant to article 801 of the Italian Civil Code. In particular, there is no provision of law which specifically provides for the donor to be maintained by the donee (with the exception of those situations in which the donee is already obliged to maintain the donor on account of being a relation or an in-law),

In Italian Supreme Court judgment no.22936 dated 4 November 2011, instead, the tort of serious defamation was held to have been committed in the case of a woman who had betrayed and then abandoned her husband. The Supreme Court judges held, in relation thereto, that the adulterous relationship was tantamount to the abandonment of the husband, since the latter had been left alone and needing assistance, whereas the wife was economically capable of assisting him.

This does not mean that any conjugal infidelity is to be considered serious defamation but only that infidelity which, on account of the manner in which it is committed – causes serious harm to the donor’s reputation – and which, as such, is to be construed as infringing the prohibition set forth in article 801 of the Italian Civil Code (cfr. Italian Supreme Court, judgment no.14093 of 2008, which held serious defamation to have been committed by the wife who had maintained for a long time an extramarital relationship, lying continuously and then abandoning the family despite there being children, thus revealing a level of ingratitude towards the donor which was morally repugnant).

The above-described judgments show how the revocation of a gift on account of the serious defamation of the donor will depend upon the latter’s reputation being seriously harmed (to be assessed on a case by case basis by the judge).

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