Sweethearts Howard Browning and Lynn Anne Poirier lived together for 16 years. Every week, they bought lottery tickets, and, according to Browning, they had a long-standing agreement: Should one of them win, they'd split the jackpot.
One of them did win. Poirier, a special-education teacher, won $1 million in a Florida Lottery raffle July 4.
Then she disappeared, according to a lawsuit he filed. She didn't tell Browning that she had won. She simply didn't come home, and she wouldn't answer his phone calls. For a month and a half, she was out of touch.
Finally she reappeared and moved back into the rambling, century-old farmhouse that she owns and they share in Geneva in eastern Seminole County.
"Their romantic relationship has continued," according to the suit filed last week in state court in Sanford. But she has refused to give him a penny, the suit alleges.
Browning, an out-of-work mechanic, sued Poirier last week. He's demanding half of the money plus interest. The suit alleges the couple had an oral contract to share lottery winnings, and she broke it. Browning, 54, does not claim that he's entitled to the winnings because of their longtime romance.
"She was going to purchase some new teeth for Mr. Browning with all of the lottery money that she has won," said his attorney, William Rosenfelt of Bogin, Munns & Munns, P.A., an Orlando law firm. "She's now refused to do that."
Poirier, 54, would not answer questions about the dispute. During a brief phone conversation Thursday, she said she had no idea her live-in boyfriend had sued her.
Poirier claimed her prize a month after winning, according to the Florida Lottery. She planned to pay off a mortgage -- she paid off two, according to county land records -- and upgrade her collection of vintage cars, she told lottery officials. Next-door neighbor Elizabeth Viles said she would never have known Poirier had won a jackpot if she hadn't read it in the newspaper.
"They're not showy," she said. "They are private."
Do they appear to have a close, loving relationship?
"I wouldn't know," Viles said. "I've never seen the two of them standing side by side."
They've been neighbors for 12 years.
Poirier has taught at South Seminole Middle School for 27 years, according to Seminole County school personnel records. She has a doctorate in education, teaches learning-disabled sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders and is paid $76,000 a year.
Will she have to give up the cash?
Oral contracts are legally binding, said William A. Greenberg, a Fern Park attorney. The problem is proving that one existed, he said. Without anything in writing, Greenberg said, the case could become one of he-said, she-said.
And just because the couple lived together for 16 years, that does not automatically entitle Browning to half, said Longwood attorney Norman D. Levin. If they were married, it would be different, he said.
Marriage or no marriage, said Browning's attorney, "he loves her."
Dave Weber of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Rene Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-324-7294.