Despite Claim Of Ownership, Deed Trumps Alleged Oral Agreement
In September, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. won a jury trial in
Kings County Supreme Court before Justice Herbert Kramer which allowed our
client to keep her property despite a claim of ownership by her brother. We
represented a client who was the owner according to a filed deed; her brother
alleged that she had promised to convey the property to him and held it only as
In 1973, our client's father, a lawyer, bought a property in
Brooklyn with office space on the ground floor and two apartment floors
above. The father placed the property in
our client's name. The father practiced law in the building until 2001. From 1978, when he was admitted to the bar,
until 2001, when he was disbarred, the client's brother also practiced law
there and lived in the upstairs apartment.
The property was substantially renovated before the law office opened
and was kept in good condition at no cost to the client. The brother moved out
in 2001 and rented out the upstairs apartments and the commercial space. From
1973 to 2002, our client never made a mortgage, tax, water, electricity or
repair payment. In late 2002, client asserted her control over the premises by
evicting the tenants and negotiating leases with new tenants. The brother sued to impose a constructive
trust, alleging that father had intended the building be his and that his
sister was merely a "straw man" on the deed so that he could avoid losing his
assets in a divorce he was going through.
He said our client had agreed to this use of her name and promised to
sign over the deed any time he asked her to.
Another brother supported his claims and said their father had always
intended the house should belong to his brother and not his sister. The brother
claimed that he had supplied the down payment, paid off a purchase money
mortgage, paid taxes, maintenance and renovation bills; he produced witnesses
who confirmed portions of his testimony. The father had died before trial.
The legal issue was the existence of a constructive
trust. A constructive trust requires (1)
the existence of a confidential or fiduciary relationship; (2) a promise; (3) a
transfer in reliance thereon; (4) a breach of that promise; and, (5) unjust
enrichment. Family relations can establish
the first prong, i.e. the existence of a confidential relationship. The key
issue was establishing the credibility of our client and destroying the
credibility of the brother with respect to the existence of a promise, since
all the other issues flowed from that one.
The jury returned a verdict for our client after four hours
of deliberation. Colin Kaufman led the Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. legal team in
its victory at trial.