Appellate Court Upholds Dismissal of Fraud Case Against Clients

MIAMI, Fla. January 21, 2016 – The Third District Court of Appeal for the state of Florida last week issued its opinion in support of Heller Waldman’s clients in the case of a daughter who claimed her deceased mother and two siblings defrauded her of her share of the proceeds of three life insurance policies, totaling millions of dollars.

“This is a significant ruling,” said Glen H. Waldman, managing partner of Heller Waldman. “No fraud was committed, no agreements were breached, and no conversion occurred. We are pleased that, in making its ruling, the Third District Court of Appeal has made it quite clear that our clients can proceed without the distraction of a significant claim hanging over their heads.” The parties had waited over 14 months for this ruling.

In 2012, Waldman, partner Eleanor T. Barnett and attorney Michael A. Azre successfully defended the mother’s estate and won a final summary judgment on all claims of fraud, fraud in the inducement, conversion, and breach of contract.

In that case, the plaintiff argued that a trust set up by her father was used to purchase the life insurance policies that were to be paid upon her mother’s death to her and her two siblings. But, as the result of a dispute, her mother canceled the policies without letting the plaintiff know. When her father died, the plaintiff sought her inheritance from a number of trusts and interests in Dialysis Centers nationwide that her father had established. The plaintiff was not receiving information about these assets nor was she allowed to participate in decisions regarding their disposition. As a result, she instituted a number of lawsuits in both Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

Subsequently, the parties entered into settlement negotiations. One of the items that was involved in the settlement was a 1/3rd interest in these insurance policies, which had already been cancelled by the mother of the 3 siblings. None of the three siblings received a penny from the cancelled policies. During the settlement negotiations neither the plaintiff nor her lawyer investigated the existence of the policies or inquired as to whether they were still in place. More importantly, as discovered in the lawsuit, the daughter had sent her lawyer an e-mail prior to the institution of the litigation where she had told him that she did not trust her siblings and he should investigate the existence of the policies. Notwithstanding, the status of the life insurance policies was never investigated. Ultimately she entered into the Settlement Agreement, executed releases and received the other items set forth in the settlement agreement.
When her mother died almost a decade later, she expected to receive proceeds from the policies, made a demand for her share and was told that the policies no longer existed. She then commenced this lawsuit against her mother’s estate and her siblings as trustees, arguing that she and her attorneys had been duped when she signed the settlement agreement into believing the life insurance policies were still active. The circuit court judge, however, agreed with Heller Waldman’s arguments that the plaintiff and her attorneys had an obligation to confirm the policies were still in existence when she entered into a settlement agreement with her then-living mother, that no representations had been made in the settlement negotiations that she could rely on, and because of her distrust and agreement to settle the first set of lawsuits, knowing full well that she had not received the information that she was seeking about various financial issues (including the trust in question), her claims were barred by the statute of limitations and by the release that she willingly signed to end the underlying lawsuits.

The plaintiff immediately appealed to the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

Using the standard set forth by Columbus Hotel Corp. v. Hotel Management Co., 116 Fla. 464 (Fla. 1934), the appellate court in a 14 page opinion agreed with the Miami-Dade Circuit Court ruling, writing in its ruling, “A plaintiff may not rely on statements made by litigation adversaries to establish fraud claims.” The court felt it unnecessary to review the other three bases for the entry of the judgment in favor of the siblings.

 With this judgment, the decades-old saga finally comes to an end.
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