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Lipin v. Hunt

March 17, 2008

JOAN C. LIPIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID E. HUNT AND DANSKE BANK, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pro se plaintiff Joan C. Lipin ("Plaintiff") is the daughter of Dr. Theodore Lipin ("Dr. Lipin"). Dr. Lipin died in Stockholm, Sweden on October 6, 2005. This action is one of several involving Plaintiff in which she asserts ownership of properties once owned by Dr. Lipin that have been claimed as assets of Dr. Lipin's estate, including an antique coin collection kept in a safe deposit box in Denmark and real property located at 302 Hio Ridge Shores South, in Bridgton, Maine (the "Moose Pond Property"). Defendant David E. Hunt ("Hunt") is the attorney representing Evelyn Ellis, the Special Administrator of Dr. Lipin's estate appointed by the Cumberland County Probate Court in Maine. (Am. Compl. ¶ 48; Mem. of Law in Support of Def. Hunt's Mot. to Dismiss ("Hunt Br.") 3 & n.3.) Hunt is a domiciliary of Maine. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) Defendant Danske Bank is a bank organized under the laws of Denmark. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) Danske Bank maintains offices and a banking facility in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 6.) In this action, Plaintiff contends that Danske Bank improperly blocked her access to a safe deposit box located in Copenhagen, Denmark to which she was a "joint signatory," granted access to the safe deposit box to Swedish attorney Ulf Bergquist ("Bergquist")*fn1 , and participated in the conversion of her property by Bergquist. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 24--26, 38--41; Def. Danske Bank A/S's Mot. to Dismiss the Am. Compl. ("Danske Bank Br.") 3.) The safe deposit box contained, among other things, Dr. Lipin's coin collection, to which Plaintiff alleges she has a right of immediate possession. Plaintiff asserts claims against Hunt based on his filing of a "false and fraudulent" tax return on behalf of Dr. Lipin's estate that, inter alia, lists the Moose Pond Property as an asset of the estate. She also asserts claims against Hunt for various actions taken against her in the probate proceedings in Maine and in other related litigation. For example, Plaintiff alleges claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 for Hunt's violation of her Constitutional rights by maliciously pursuing sanctions against her in the Maine proceedings and by initiating an action to evict her from the Moose Pond Property. Plaintiff asserts all causes of action against each defendant, alleging that Hunt and Danske Bank acted as part of one or more conspiracies to deprive her of property that she owned, to injure her person and her reputation, and to violate her Constitutional rights. (See, e.g., Am. Compl. ¶¶ 18, 20, 30, 36, 38, 40, 41, 46, 47, 66, 77, 79--84, 86, 88, 100, 101, 103.)

Related litigation

Plaintiff's alleged ownership of the coin collection and the Moose Pond Property has been the subject of related litigation in state, federal, and Swedish courts.

In probate proceedings in Maine, Plaintiff has sought to admit to probate Dr. Lipin's unsigned 1989 will, every page of which bears the word "VOID" and Dr. Lipin's initials. (Hunt Br. 3; Apr. 6, 2007 Decl. of Howard Chen ("Chen Decl.") Ex. 4 (Pet. for Formal Probate of Will or Appointment of Personal Representative or Both, In re Estate of Lipin, No. 05-1642 (Cumberland Co. Probate Ct. Nov. 21, 2005)).)

Plaintiff also filed an action in Maine Superior Court asserting seven causes of action against Dr. Lipin's estate, her sister, her brother, her brother's ex-wife, and Ms. Ellis seeking, inter alia, injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and a constructive trust on the estate based on her alleged rights to the coin collection and the Moose Pond Property. (See Chen Decl. Ex. 3 (2nd Am. Compl., Lipin v. Estate of Lipin, No. 05-145 (Me. Super. filed Jan. 10, 2007)). In a recent decision, the Maine court granted summary judgment for defendants and dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims against all defendants, including her claims that she was the rightful owner of the coin collection and the Moose Pond Property. Notably, in dismissing Plaintiff's breach of contract claim against the estate, the court held that there was no contract between Plaintiff and Dr. Lipin regarding transfer of either the coin collection or the Moose Pond Property, that Dr. Lipin had not made an inter vivos gift of the coin collection to Plaintiff,*fn2 that Dr. Lipin retained title to the Moose Pond Property at the time of his death, and that Plaintiff never recorded a deed indicating her ownership of the Moose Pond Property. See Lipin v. Estate of Lipin, No. RE-05-145, slip op. at 2--3, 7--9 (Me. Super. Oct. 23, 2007).

Plaintiff filed another action in the District of Maine asserting many of the same causes of action that are asserted in this action against persons including Ms. Ellis, Ms. Ellis's attorney, and Judge Joseph Mazziotti, the judge presiding over the probate of Dr. Lipin's estate. Lipin v. Ellis, No. 07-92-P-S, 2007 WL 2198876, slip op. at *1 (D. Me. July 26, 2007). A magistrate judge for the District of Maine has recommended dismissal with prejudice of all Plaintiff's claims against all defendants, finding, inter alia, that Dr. Lipin held title to the Moose Pond Property at the time of his death. Id. at *10--11.

Plaintiff also filed an action in New York state court against Bergquist. This action was removed by Bergquist to federal court and is now pending before this Court. See Am. Compl., Lipin v. Bergquist, 07 Civ. 7833 (S.D.N.Y. filed Dec. 3, 2007). In her Amended Complaint against Bergquist, Plaintiff alleges, inter alia, that Bergquist participated in the theft and sale of her father's coin collection and has conspired with Hunt and various others to steal Plaintiff's property (including the coin collection and the Moose Pond Property) and launder it through Dr. Lipin's estate to be extracted as legal fees. As discussed infra, the Bergquist Amended Complaint also purports to assert claims against Hunt and Danske Bank. Finally, according to defendants, Plaintiff has also participated unsuccessfully in proceedings in Sweden concerning Dr. Lipin's Swedish estate, in which Plaintiff challenged Bergquist's appointment as administrator and asked the Swedish court to rule on the ownership of the coin collection. (See Danske Bank Br. 4; Mem. of Law in Support of Def. Hunt's Mot. for Sanctions ("Hunt Mot. for Sanctions Br.") 6.)

Defendants Hunt and Danske Bank have each filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Both parties move for dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In addition, Hunt asserts lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), and Danske Bank asserts improper venue under Rule 12(b)(3). Hunt has also filed a motion for sanctions against Plaintiff pursuant to Rule 11.

PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains 109 paragraphs charging defendants with liability for dozens of civil and criminal wrongs perpetrated as part of one or more alleged conspiracies involving defendants and many others. For purposes of a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint, but need not credit "legal conclusions, deductions or opinions couched as factual allegations." See, e.g., In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007). The Court interprets the Amended Complaint as stating the following relevant facts and allegations:

Ownership of the coin collection and the Moose Pond Property Plaintiff was the "favorite child" of Dr. Lipin. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) During his lifetime, Dr. Lipin assembled a large collection of "antique coins," dating back to approximately 79 A.D., with an estimated value in excess of $1,600,000. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 12, 14.) Plaintiff alleges she "received and accepted" the coin collection as an inter vivos gift on February 3, 1990, and has at all times since been the owner, entitled to immediate possession. (Am. Compl. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff's claim of ownership is based on a letter dated February 3, 1990 and signed by Dr. Lipin which states, "This is to attest that as of this date my entire numismatic collection, valued at $8,500, has been given as a gift to my daughter, Joan Lipin, who resides at 45 East 89 Street, New York, NY." (Am. Compl. ¶ 21, Ex. A.) Plaintiff does not allege that the note was ever delivered to or received by Plaintiff before Dr. Lipin's death, not does she allege that she ever took possession of the coin collection.

Plaintiff asserts ownership of the Moose Pond Property based on her "sole, continuous, and exclusive possession" since around 1984 when Dr. Lipin gave her a key to the cabin and told her she should consider herself the owner. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 98, 101.) At the same time, Plaintiff alleges that she is the "recorded title holder, deeded tax payer, and insured property holder [of the Moose Pond Property], as shown by the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds." (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 101.)

However, Defendants have provided two deeds recorded in the Cumberland County Deed Registry that appear to describe the Moose Pond Property. (Chen Decl. Ex. 1.) These deeds indicate that Dr. Lipin was the recorded owner of the Moose Pond Property. Furthermore, Plaintiff acknowledges that Dr. Lipin is the recorded title owner in a "Notice of Lis Pendens" and "Notice of Statement of Claim to be Recorded as Same as Deed" filed by Plaintiff in the deed registry (Chen Decl. Ex. 2), and in the Second Amended Complaint filed in Lipin v. Estate of Lipin (Chen Decl. Ex. 3).

Access to the Danske Bank safe deposit box in Copenhagen

Plaintiff alleges that she was a "joint signatory of more than one safe deposit box" at a Danske Bank facility in Copenhagen (Am. Compl. ¶ 4) and "maintained continuous and uninterrupted signatory power" at the time of her father's death (Am. Compl. ¶ 28).

Plaintiff alleges that Bergquist "fraudulently induced" her to make arrangements to travel to the Danske Bank offices in Copenhagen in order to examine the coins. (Am. Compl. ¶ 30.) When Plaintiff arrived at the Danske Bank offices, she was informed that Bergquist had instructed Danske Bank to bar her from accessing the safe deposit box. (Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff alleges that Danske Bank then refused to allow her to access the safe deposit box or to photograph and/or make a record of the coins and other property in the box. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 37, 39) Danske Bank subsequently harassed, coercively interrogated, humiliated, and falsely imprisoned Plaintiff by "coercing her to surrender" her passport in order to photograph it. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36, 39.)

Plaintiff further alleges that Hunt and Bergquist "fraudulently induced" Evelyn Ellis, the special administrator of Dr. Lipin's estate, to write a letter to Bergquist on November 18, 2005 stating that Ms. Ellis was the executrix of Dr. Lipin's American will and would cooperate with Bergquist. (Am. Compl. ¶ 26.) This document was fraudulent because Ms. Ellis was not the "executrix" of Dr. Lipin's estate, as she claimed. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.) Using this letter, Bergquist induced Danske Bank to allow him to access Dr. Lipin's safe deposit box and take possession of the coins. (Am. Compl. ¶ 28.)*fn3 Since then, defendants have refused to return the property (Am. Compl. ¶ 46) or to reveal its location to Plaintiff (Am. Compl. ¶ 47). Plaintiff believes that some or all of the most valuable coins and other properties have been stolen, and that Danske Bank's liability insurance is inadequate to cover Plaintiff's losses. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43, 44.) According to Plaintiff, Danske Bank's actions constituted gross negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of duty as a bailee, and breach of the warranty of fitness, safety, and security. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38, 41, 43, 44.)

The "False and Fraudulent" Tax Returns

In July 2006, Hunt prepared and filed a United States tax return on behalf of Dr. Lipin's estate. (Am. Compl. ¶ 46.) Plaintiff alleges that this return was "false and fraudulent" because, for example, it lists the Moose Pond Property as estate property (Am. Compl. ¶ 53), it does not list plaintiff as the "joint depositor" of the Danske Bank safe deposit box (Am. Compl. ¶ 71), it lists the estate rather than Plaintiff as the beneficiary of various insurance policies held by Dr. Lipin (Am. Compl. ¶ 58),*fn4 and it lists various savings bonds as estate property (Am. Compl. ¶ 64) although Hunt knew that these savings bonds had been reissued by the Treasury Department in Plaintiff's name (Am. Compl. ¶ 65).*fn5

Hunt allegedly filed a second "false and fraudulent" tax return around January 2007 and paid taxes on behalf of the estate using funds that belonged to Plaintiff. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 73--74.) Hunt engaged in "fraudulent concealment" by failing to send Plaintiff a copy of this tax return with the letter informing her that the return had been filed. (Am. Compl. ¶ 75.)

Hunt also allegedly conspired with five others to generate an Appraisal Report for the Moose Pond Property while "falsely and fraudulently informing the appraiser" that the "Current Owner" and "Occupant" was the estate of Dr. Lipin. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 100--02.)

The Maine Legal Proceedings

Plaintiff alleges that Hunt participated in a conspiracy with numerous others, including Bergquist and Maine Probate Judge Joseph Mazziotti, to approve the theft of Plaintiff's property and the transfer of this property to the estate of Dr. Lipin. (Am. Compl. ¶ 77--80.) Plaintiff characterizes the conspiracy as one to deprive Plaintiff of her right to equal protection under the law in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1986. (Am. Compl. ¶ 79.) Plaintiff bases this claim on the conspirators' "selective enforcement of claims for sanctions" against Plaintiff while ignoring the sanctionable conduct of other attorneys. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 81, 82.) Plaintiff claims that the conspirators engaged in such conduct in retaliation for her refusal to ...


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