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Home / Case Digests / Appellate Division, Fourth Dept. / Fourth Department — Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Estate of Sonnelitter v. Estate of White, et al.

Fourth Department — Breach of Fiduciary Duty: Estate of Sonnelitter v. Estate of White, et al.

Appellate Division, Fourth Department

Breach of Fiduciary Duty

Fraud — Appreciation Damages

Estate of Sonnelitter v. Estate of White, et al.
CA 12-00176
Appealed from Supreme Court, Niagara County

Background: The plaintiff’s mother was advised by her accountant to establish a trust for the purpose of more readily qualifying her for Medicaid, should the need arise for her to enter a nursing home. The only asset in the trust was a condominium owned by the decedent in Florida. The accountant became the trustee after the plaintiff had declined to take on the role. While the decedent was still alive, the accountant sold the condominium to a business associate. The plaintiff commenced an action alleging that the property was sold below market value with the intent of obtaining the property for himself. The plaintiff appealed from the dismissal of his action for fraud, unjust enrichment, and denial of appreciation damages.

Ruling: The Appellate Division affirmed. The fraud claim was premised on a conspiracy by the defendants to defraud the decedent by making it appear that the condominium was sold in an arm’s length transaction. The trial court properly made a credibility determination over the conflicting, circumstantial evidence on the issue that there was no scheme. As the plaintiff was successful in his breach of contract action, his unjust enrichment action was duplicative. Finally, appreciation damages are only available when a trustee sells property he was duty-bound to retain. There was no duty to retain the decedent’s condominium.

Corey Hogan of Hogan Willig for the plaintiffs-appellants-respondents; John J. Keenan of the Keenan Law Center for the defendant-respondent-appellant; Lawrence C. Brown for the defendants-respondents