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Coudert v. Hokin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 19, 2014

DALE M. COUDERT, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD N. HOKIN, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

ANDREW L. CARTER, Jr., District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Dale Coudert and Defendant Richard Hokin were married for approximately ten years until their divorce. In 1984, Plaintiff purchased an apartment at 485 Park Avenue, New York, New York with funds provided by Defendant. After commencing litigation over the ownership of the apartment, in 1991, a New York state court imposed a constructive trust, whereby Plaintiff held title to the apartment as a life tenant with the remainder interest passing to the parties' children. Twenty years later, Plaintiff initiated this suit, alleging Defendant breached an agreement to pay the monthly maintenance and mortgage charges associated with the apartment. Defendant asserts he is entitled to enforce the constructive trust, as Plaintiff has encumbered the apartment and failed to pay the monthly charges. Defendant also seeks a declaration of his rights under several promissory notes that were purportedly executed by Plaintiff. Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment with respect to Defendant's second counterclaim and seeks leave to amend the operative Complaint.

II. Background

From approximately 1963 to 1973, Plaintiff and Defendant were married, during which time they had two daughters - Dana and Alexandra. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s L. R. 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 1, 2.) Following their divorce, the parties entered into a separation agreement on January 12, 1973. (Landrigan Decl. Ex. O.) The parties dispute what obligations were imposed by that agreement, including whether Defendant was required to pay monthly maintenance charges on Plaintiff's residence for the rest of her life. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s L. R. 56.1 Stat. ¶ 3.) The apartment occupied by the parties while they were married at 1012 Park Avenue was sold, and Plaintiff subsequently purchased shares in a cooperative corporation with rights to Apartment 7A at 485 Park Avenue using Defendant's funds. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.)

In 1988, Defendant commenced a state court action against Plaintiff, seeking a determination as to Plaintiff's rights in the apartment at 485 Park Avenue. (Id. ¶ 6.) The court imposed a constructive trust upon Plaintiff's legal title to the apartment, giving Plaintiff a life estate with the remainder interest to Dana and Alexandra. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff was permitted to encumber the property, so long as she obtained mortgage insurance with respect to any encumbrance, such that the mortgage would be fully redeemed in the event of her death. (Id.) The decision of the New York state court was encompassed in a November 18, 1991 order. (Id.; Landrigan Decl. Ex. A.)

Plaintiff filed the instant action in December of 2011, which was removed to this Court by Defendant, seeking monthly maintenance and mortgage charges associated with the apartment. (Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s L. R. 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 9, 10.) Defendant counterclaimed, alleging Plaintiff breached her fiduciary duties as the constructive trustee and requesting a declaration of his rights under several promissory notes supposedly executed by Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 13.) Dana and Alexandra filed an Intervenor Complaint against Plaintiff on July 3, 2012, including two counts for breach of fiduciary duty and injunctive relief. (Id. ¶ 11.) On March 26, 2013, Plaintiff entered into a contract to sell the apartment for $2.7 million. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff, Dana, and Alexandra reached an agreement regarding the distribution of the proceeds from the apartment, and the daughters consented to the sale. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19; May 23, 2013 Tr. at 4:1-16.) Dana and Alexandra subsequently dismissed the Intervenor Complaint against Plaintiff pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a) on August 6, 2013. (Dkt. No. 54.)

III. Discussion

Plaintiff moves for summary judgment with respect to Defendant's second counterclaim for breach of fiduciary duty as the constructive trustee. Plaintiff argues Dana and Alexandra are the beneficiaries of the constructive trust set up by the court, so they, not Defendant, have standing to challenge Plaintiff's management of the asset. In the alternative, Plaintiff claims the sale of the apartment renders Defendant's second counterclaim moot. Plaintiff also seeks leave to file a Second Amended Complaint based on alleged damages that are now ascertainable due to the sale of the apartment. Defendant claims, having funded the constructive trust, he has standing to ensure the terms by which it was created are enforced.

A. Standard of Review

A party moving for summary judgment has the burden of establishing there exists no genuine issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Ford v. Reynolds , 316 F.3d 351, 354 (2d Cir. 2003). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of fact is considered "genuine" when a reasonable finder of fact could render a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) ("Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'") (citation omitted).

In considering a summary judgment motion, "the court's responsibility is not to resolve disputed issues of fact but to assess whether there are any factual issues to be tried, while resolving ambiguities and drawing reasonable inferences against the moving party." Knight v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co. , 804 F.2d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 1986) (citing Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248). If the court recognizes any material issues of fact, summary judgment is improper, and the motion must be denied. Eastway Constr. Corp. v. City of N.Y. , 762 F.2d 243, 249 (2d Cir. 1985).

If the moving party discharges its burden of proof under Rule 56(c), the non-moving party must then "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The non-moving party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment "may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of his pleading." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 256. Indeed, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties" alone will not defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment, and "[i]f the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id . at 249-50. Rather, enough evidence must favor the non-moving party's case such that a jury could return a verdict in its favor. See Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd. , 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. ...


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