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Mials v. Millington

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

April 26, 2017

Ilene Mials, et al., respondents,
v.
Leila Doreen Millington, defendant, Zsa Zsa Z. Millington Harewood, et al., appellants. Index No. 17567/12

          Zsa Zsa Z. Millington Harewood, Bordentown, New Jersey, appellant pro se.

          Ricardo Harewood, Bordentown, New Jersey, appellant pro se.

          Patrick J. Hayes, Brooklyn, NY, for respondents.

          CHERYL E. CHAMBERS, J.P., L. PRISCILLA HALL, JOSEPH J. MALTESE, VALERIE BRATHWAITE NELSON, JJ.

          DECISION & ORDER

         Appeals from an order of the Supreme Court, Kings County (Sylvia G. Ash, J.), dated November 19, 2014. The order, insofar as appealed from (1) by the defendant Zsa Zsa Z. Millington Harewood, denied that branch of her motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the seventh and eighth causes of action insofar as asserted against her, and (2) by the defendant Ricardo Harewood, denied that branch of his motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the seventh cause of action insofar as asserted against him and granted the plaintiffs' cross motion for leave to amend the complaint.

         ORDERED that the order is modified, on the law, by deleting the provision thereof denying those branches of the separate motions of the defendants Zsa Zsa Z. Millington Harewood and Ricardo Harewood which were for summary judgment dismissing the seventh cause of action insofar as asserted against each of them, and substituting therefor a provision granting those branches of the motions; as so modified, the order is affirmed insofar as appealed from, without costs or disbursements.

         On December 8, 2004, the plaintiff Toni Mials (hereinafter Toni) purportedly executed a deed transferring title to two properties to her mother, the plaintiff Ilene Mials (hereinafter Ilene), and Ilene's friend, the defendant Leila Doreen Millington (hereinafter Leila). In February 2005, Ilene purportedly executed a durable power of attorney naming Leila and Leila's daughter, the defendant Zsa Zsa Z. Millington Harewood (hereinafter Zsa Zsa), as her attorneys-in-fact.

         In August 2012, the plaintiffs commenced this action against, among others, Zsa Zsa and her husband, Ricardo Harewood (hereinafter Ricardo), seeking, inter alia, to recover damages for conversion and breach of fiduciary duty. In the seventh cause of action, which sought to recover damages for conversion, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants converted money received from tenants at the subject properties to which the plaintiffs were entitled by depositing that money into their bank accounts. In the eighth cause of action, which sought to recover damages for breach of fiduciary duty, the plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that Zsa Zsa owed a fiduciary duty by virtue of the durable power of attorney and that she breached that duty.

         Ricardo and Zsa Zsa (hereinafter together the appellants) separately moved, inter alia, for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against each of them. The plaintiffs cross-moved for leave to amend the complaint, among other things, to add a cause of action to recover damages for fraud and to set aside the deed dated December 8, 2004, alleging that Toni's signature on the deed was forged. In the order appealed from, the Supreme Court denied those branches of the appellants' motions which were for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against each of them, and granted the plaintiffs' cross motion for leave to amend the complaint.

         The appellants established their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the seventh cause of action, alleging conversion, insofar as asserted against each of them, by submitting deposition testimony from the plaintiffs, who acknowledged that they were not aware of the appellants collecting any rent money from tenants at the subject properties (see Fulton v Hankin & Mazel, PLLC, 132 A.D.3d 806, 809). In opposition, the plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact based on either their attorney's conclusory and unsubstantiated assertion that the appellants collected rent (see Coccia v Liotti, 101 A.D.3d 664, 666; Matter of Coviello, 78 A.D.3d 696, 698), or Ilene's assertion that rent was collected by unidentified parties (see Seabury v County of Dutchess, 38 A.D.3d 752, 753; Thomson v Rubenstein, 31 A.D.3d 434, 436). Further, contrary to the plaintiffs' contention, summary judgment was not premature with respect to the seventh cause of action (see Reale v Tsoukas, 146 A.D.3d 833, 835). Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have granted those branches of the appellants' separate motions which were for summary judgment dismissing the seventh cause of action insofar as asserted against each of them.

         However, the Supreme Court properly denied that branch of Zsa Zsa's motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the eighth cause of action, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, insofar as asserted against her. In opposition to Zsa Zsa's prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing that cause of action, the plaintiffs raised triable issues of fact as to whether Zsa Zsa breached her fiduciary duty (see Nesenoff v Dinerstein & Lesser, 5 A.D.3d 746, 747-748), which was owed by virtue of the durable power of attorney (see Matter of Ferrara, 7 N.Y.3d 244, 254; Matter of Culbreth, 48 A.D.3d 564).

         Furthermore, the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in granting the plaintiffs' cross motion for leave to amend the complaint. "In the absence of prejudice or surprise to the opposing party, leave to amend a pleading should be freely granted unless the proposed amendment is palpably insufficient or patently devoid of merit" (Markowits v Friedman, 144 A.D.3d 993, 995; see CPLR 3025[b]). Here, the proposed amended complaint set forth allegations that are not palpably insufficient or patently devoid of merit (see Mahler v North Shore Camp, LLC, 145 A.D.3d 678, 679). Further, in opposing the plaintiff's cross motion, Ricardo made no showing of prejudice or surprise as a result of the allegations in the proposed amended complaint (see AFBT-II, LLC v Country Vil. on Mooney Pond, Inc., 21 A.D.3d 972, 973). Accordingly, the court providently exercised its discretion in granting the plaintiffs' cross motion for leave to amend the complaint.

         To the extent Zsa Zsa raises arguments on appeal regarding those branches of her motion which were pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1), (5), and (7) to dismiss the eighth cause of action insofar as asserted against her, those branches of her motion remain pending and undecided (see Bibbo v Arvanitakis, 145 A.D.3d 656, 657; B ...


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