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Knapp v. Maron

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 22, 2015

MARC STEVEN KNAPP, Plaintiff,
v.
APRIL KNAPP MARON, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

NELSON S. ROMN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Marc Steven Knapp brings this action against Defendant April Knapp Maron alleging breach of agreement, unjust enrichment, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in connection with his purported right to a portion of the proceeds from the sale of his parents' house. Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs claims for breach of agreement and unjust enrichment. For the following reasons Defendant's motion is GRANTED, without prejudice to filing an amended complaint as to the breach of agreement claim.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs Amended Complaint ("AC") unless otherwise noted, and are accepted as true for the purposes of this motion.[1]

Plaintiff and Defendant are siblings. In 1953, their parents, Julia and George Knapp, purchased a house in Huntington Station, New York, where they lived until December 2012. Due to their failing health, Julia and George relocated to an assisted-living facility in Tuckahoe, New York, approximately three-quarters of a mile from Defendant's residence. Julia died in September 2013. George died in February 2014.

Plaintiff alleges that in 2003 George and Julia decided to gift their Huntington Station house to their three children - Marc, April, and Janet - as an estate planning measure. George and Julia would retain a life estate in the property and their three children would receive equal remainder interests. Nevertheless, because of Plaintiff's pending divorce from his wife, which included a dispute between Plaintiff's wife and Julia involving certain items of personal property, Julia became concerned that any action taken on the property might provide Plaintiff's wife with a claim against it, and decided to put the proposed title transfer on hold.

Before Plaintiff's divorce was finalized and Julia's personal property dispute with Plaintiff's wife was resolved, Plaintiff alleges that Julia proposed a new plan to re-title the Huntington Station house - George and Julia would retain a life estate as originally planned, but would leave the remainder interest only to Defendant and Plaintiff's sister, Janet, rather than to all three siblings. The transfer would be "contingent on the express understanding and agreement by all involved that, if and when the house was sold, [Plaintiff's sister] and [D]efendant would each pay [P]laintiff an amount equal to one sixth of the selling price of the house, " (AC ¶ 19), allaying any concerns Julia had with respect to Plaintiff's wife's potential claims against the property. In allegedly agreeing to what Plaintiff has defined as the "Sharing Agreement, " Janet and Defendant promised George, Julia, and Plaintiff to pay Plaintiff one-sixth of the selling price of the house when it was eventually sold. George and Julia re-titled the Huntington Station house in 2004, providing Janet and Defendant with remainder interests and excluding Plaintiff, purportedly in reliance on the promises made in the Sharing Agreement.

The Huntington Station house was sold in December 2013 for $229, 000. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has refused to honor the Sharing Agreement.

Defendant now moves to dismiss Count 1 and Count 2 of the Amended Complaint, arguing that Plaintiff's claims for breach of agreement and unjust enrichment are barred by the Statute of Frauds, codified at N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law § 5-703.

STANDARD ON A MOTION TO DISMISS

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must supply "factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In other words, the complaint must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Starr v. Sony BMG Music Entm't, 592 F.3d 314, 321 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In applying this standard, a court should accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, but should not credit "mere conclusory statements" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action." Id.

Moreover, "[i]n appropriate circumstances, affirmative defenses may be raised in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss may be granted if, drawing all reasonable inferences from the complaint in favor of plaintiff, defendant has a valid Statute of Frauds defense to plaintiff's claims." Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Scmetterer EURO RSCG Inc. v. Aegis Grp. PLC, 974 F.Supp. 270, 273 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) aff'd sub nom. Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro RSCG, Inc. v. Aegis Grp. PLC, 186 F.3d 135 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted).

" Pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than those drafted by lawyers, even following Twombly and Iqbal. " Thomas v. Westchester, No. 12-cv-6718 (CS), 2013 WL 3357171 (S.D.N.Y. July 3, 2013) (internal citations omitted). The court should read pro se complaints "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Kevilly v. New York, 410 F.Appx. 371, 374 (2d Cir. 2010) (summary order) (quoting Brownell v. Krom, 446 F.3d 305, 310 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009) ("even after Twombly, though, we remain obligated to construe a pro se complaint liberally."). "However, even pro se plaintiffs... cannot withstand a motion to dismiss unless their pleadings contain factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Jackson v. N.Y.S. Dep't of Labor, 709 F.Supp.2d 218, 224 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Dismissal is justified, therefore, where "the complaint lacks an allegation regarding an element necessary to ...


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