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Minieri v. Knittel

Other Lower Courts

June 1, 2001

Joanne Minieri, Plaintiff,
v.
Marta Knittel, Defendant.

COUNSEL

Wallman, Gasman & McKnight, New York City (Elaine McKnight of counsel), for plaintiff.

Lance Grossman for defendant.

OPINION

Richard F. Braun, J.

This is an action for reformation of title documents and to

Page 299

impress a constructive trust, in relation to two pieces of real property, a motor vehicle, and securities and bank accounts. Defendant counterclaimed for partition of the real estate, an accounting, and damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and conversion. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on her complaint and to dismiss the counterclaims. Defendant cross-moved for summary judgment on her first, second, and third counterclaims, and for leave to discontinue her sixth counterclaim for conversion, pursuant to CPLR 3217 (b). By stipulation, the sixth counterclaim and the corresponding branch of the cross motion for a discontinuance of that counterclaim were withdrawn.

Plaintiff and defendant met in September 1996 and in October of that year began living together in plaintiff's home. They had a loving relationship as domestic partners, although they never registered with the City Clerk as such partners, pursuant to Administrative Code of the City of New York ยง 3-241. In September 1999, their domestic partnership relationship ended, and plaintiff and defendant no longer reside together.

In or about November 1996, plaintiff opened a joint checking account and a joint money market account at Republic National Bank for defendant and her, to which plaintiff made most but not all of the contributions. On July 28, 1997, plaintiff purchased a condominium apartment in Manhattan with her funds and credit. Title to the condo unit was placed in the names of both plaintiff and defendant. On April 3, 1998, plaintiff and defendant opened a joint account at Solomon Smith Barney with plaintiff's funds. On October 23, 1998, plaintiff bought a house in East Hampton with her own funds and credit. Again, title was put in both plaintiff's and defendant's names. On February 8, 1999, plaintiff transferred funds from her account at Prudential Securities Incorporated (Prudential) to a joint account for both her and defendant. In or about March 1999, plaintiff bought a 1999 Ford Explorer, with no financial contribution from defendant, and plaintiff and defendant also took joint title thereof.

Plaintiff claims that the titles were stated the way that they were so as to protect defendant in case something happened to plaintiff, because defendant had few assets as compared to plaintiff and a much smaller income than plaintiff. Plaintiff further contends that they agreed that plaintiff would own the joint assets, that defendant had nominal joint title thereto in constructive trust for plaintiff, and that defendant would

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convey the assets to plaintiff upon her request. No such agreement was ever put in writing. Defendant specifically and adamantly disputes that there was any such agreement, or any promise or representation to those effects. Defendant contends that plaintiff took over $400,000 out of the Solomon Smith Barney and Prudential accounts without defendant's consent, and wants an accounting from plaintiff of the funds.

Plaintiff executed a deed, dated November 19, 1999, as to the Manhattan condominium, severing the joint tenancy with defendant and filed the deed with the County Clerk in New York County. Plaintiff also executed such a deed of the same date for the East Hampton property, which she filed with the County Clerk for Suffolk County. Defendant did not execute those deeds.

This dispute typifies the legal difficulties in relation to property which lesbian and gay couples face. Because New York State does not afford them a legal right to marry, they must use contractual, statutory, common law, and equitable vehicles to protect their interests in property. Here, the failure of plaintiff and defendant to have executed any documents specifying any changes that would occur in their respective rights to the properties at issue in the event of a dissolution of the relationship of plaintiff and defendant (admittedly ...


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