After a long and fiercely contested battle, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., recently prevailed at the Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department, resolving decades old issues involving a family’s proportionate ownership interests in a two-family Brooklyn house. The Court agreed with Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.’s arguments that the issues relating to the property were actually litigated or should have been raised years ago in the context of an estate proceeding in Florida and that the order of the Florida Court should be given full faith and credit in New York.
The case is a dispute between three brothers concerning their proportionate ownership interests in a two-family house located in Brooklyn, New York, which was co-owned by the brothers’ parents until the parents’ death.
After the parents’ marriage was annulled, each parent retained a fifty percent ownership interest in the property. There was no dispute that each brother was entitled to a third of their mother’s ownership interest.
However, in the early 1990s, the father, who’s property was placed into a trust, expressly transferred his entire interest in the property to our client and to our client’s wife after the couple stayed to manage the property and to take care of the parents while the other two brothers moved—one out of the state and one out of the country—effectively abandoning the property and the family. A deed was recorded memorializing the transfer.
The father died on May 17, 1997 and a probate and accounting proceeding was conducted before the Circuit Court of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Florida—the father’s domicile state at the time of his death. Because of the prior gift, the property was not listed as an estate asset. Our client’s brother issued written defenses and objections in the proceeding. After a full opportunity for all parties to be heard, the Florida Court overruled the objections.
In 2011, after a stalled New York Surrogate’s Court proceeding, the brother commenced the instant action in Supreme Court, Kings County, seeking declaration that the deed to our client is invalid and a declaration that—despite the father’s gift to our client—the brother is entitled to a third of the father’s interest in the property.
In the New York case, Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., interposed a counterclaim for adverse possession for the entire property and moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of, among other, res judicata and/or collateral estoppel and full faith and credit given to the order of a sister state (Florida).
Res judicata is a legal doctrine meant to preclude relitigation of claims that have been litigated or that could have been litigated in a prior action. Collateral estoppel prevents a party from relitigating a decided issue. The full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution dictates that a state must respect the judicial proceedings of a sister state.
By Order entered in July of 2012, the Supreme Court granted Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.’s motion and directed dismissal of those causes of action that sought to invalidate the deed and to declare the brother a one third owner of the father’s interest in the property. After the brother’s failed motion to reargue, an appeal ensued.
Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., opposed the brother’s argument that his objections in the Florida probate proceeding did not actually involve the house in question and that the issues relating to the New York property were not actually part of the Florida proceeding and could not have been raised at that time.
The Appellate Division agreed with Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C., and with the Supreme Court’s decision below and found that the brother’s claims in the instant action are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The Appellate Division’s decision justifies our client’s decades long battle for enforcement of his father’s wishes and helps to protect his interests in the property.
Jeffrey R. Metz and Vladimir Mironenko represented the firm at the Appellate Division and Christopher Halligan with Mr. Mironenko defended our client at the Supreme Court.