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Melnick v. Press

October 1, 2010

GERALDINE MELNICK AND LONNIE SCHWIMMER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CARY PRESS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge

ORDER

A. Background

On October 30, 2009, plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment in this action. On December 28, 2009, defendant filed opposition to plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, and also filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' claim for imposition of a constructive trust on the property at 16 Nevada Avenue. On January 18, 2010, plaintiffs submitted the reply papers on their motion for summary judgment, and also submitted their opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss the constructive trust claim. Defendant submitted his reply papers on the motion to dismiss on February 1, 2010. On April 14, 2010, the Court issued its ruling from the bench, denying plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and denying defendant's motion to dismiss.

By motion dated April 28, 2010, defendant filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court's April 14, 2010 ruling denying defendant's motion to dismiss the constructive trust claim. Specifically, defendant argued that defendant Press was not unjustly enriched when he acquired the property at 16 Nevada Avenue, and that plaintiffs' claims for the imposition of a constructive trust are not equitable and are unenforceable as a matter of law because the conditions sought to be imposed by plaintiffs constitute a restraint on alienation and are void. On May 27, 2010, plaintiffs filed their opposition to defendant's motion for reconsideration. Defendant submitted a reply on June 4, 2010. The Court held a conference on June 10, 2010, at which the Court denied defendant's motion for reconsideration on the record. The case was set for trial to begin on September 20, 2010.

On July 20, 2010, defendant filed a letter with the Court expressing his intention to file a motion for partial summary judgment on the constructive trust issue. A briefing schedule was set down, and on July 29, 2010, defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Plaintiffs filed their opposition on August 30, 2010, and defendant filed a reply on September 7, 2010. This matter is fully submitted.

On September 20, 2010, the Court orally denied the defendant's motion, but stated that this written opinion would follow. For the reasons set forth on the record, in the Court's prior rulings, and below, the defendant's motion is denied.

B. Legal Standard

The standards for summary judgment are well settled. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate only if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Reiseck v. Universal Commc'ns of Miami, Inc., 591 F.3d 101, 104 (2d Cir. 2010). The moving party bears the burden of showing that he or she is entitled to summary judgment. See Huminski v. Corsones, 396 F.3d 53, 69 (2d Cir. 2005). The Court "is not to weigh the evidence but is instead required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party, and to eschew credibility assessments." Amnesty Am. v. Town of W. Hartford, 361 F.3d 113, 122 (2d Cir. 20004).

Once the moving party has met its burden, "the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Caldarola v. Calabrese, 298 F.3d 156, 160 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (emphasis in original)). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Thus, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere conclusory allegations or denials but must set forth "'concrete particulars'" showing that a trial is needed. R.G. Group, Inc. v. Horn & Hardart Co., 751 F.2d 69, 77 (2d Cir. 1984) (quoting SEC v. Research Automation Corp., 585 F.2d 31, 33 (2d Cir. 1978)).

C. Discussion

For a third time, now in the context of a motion for summary judgment, defendant argues that the Court must dismiss plaintiffs' claim for a constructive trust on the property at 16 Nevada Avenue. For a third time, the Court rejects this argument. Defendant's motion for summary judgment presents no new arguments than those presented in his motion to dismiss and his motion for reconsideration. Accordingly, the Court relies upon the reasoning stated on the record in its rulings on April 14, 2010 and July 22, 2010, but nonetheless proceeds to the merits of defendant's arguments.

Defendant insists that DePeyster v. Michael, 6 N.Y. 467, 1852 WL 5446 (N.Y. 1852) is controlling on its claim. DePeyster held that "where an estate in fee simple is granted, a condition that the grantee shall not alien the land is void." Id. at *18. Defendant argues that because defendant held a fee simple in 16 Nevada Avenue, to require him to transfer 50% of the ownership to Melnick is an unreasonable restraint on alienation and thus, is void. Defendant is incorrect.

DePeyster was a straightforward Court of Appeals case regarding restraints on alienation. DePeyster did not include a transfer made based upon a confidential relationship, nor a claim for the imposition of a constructive trust. Thus, as a threshold matter, DePeyster does not control the adjudication of the instant claim.

All of the cases cited by defendant involve written instruments that convey a fee simple and purport to restrict the subsequent transfer of land. The cases cited by defendant do not involve claims of an oral promise based upon a confidential relationship warranting the imposition of a constructive trust. By its very nature, a claim for constructive trust does not involve a written instrument evidencing a plaintiff's claim to ownership of the property. Accordingly, the Court has distinguished these cases on the ground that they revolve purely around the validity of restrictions on land ...


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