In breach of fiduciary case against attorney accused of improper eviction, judge orders prejudgment remedy.
A judge has ordered a prejudgment remedy against an attorney accused of mishandling the estate of a Connecticut woman and improperly evicting two of her daughter’s from the family home. Connecticut Attorney Thomas Drew, whose law firm website says he focuses on estate planning and administration as well as elder law, has denied wrongdoing. But a Judge Robert Genuario has nevertheless awarded an $18,000 prejudgment remedy to Connie Grant, who sued Drew in Stamford Superior Court in 2014, claiming that the lawyer’s actions left her “homeless and destitute.”
In his May ruling, Genuario noted that courts are authorized to issue prejudgment remedies, that is, to essentially freeze a portion of a defendant’s assets, when it finds that the plaintiffs have shown probable cause that they will ultimately prevail in the case.
Genuario issued the decision on the prejudgment remedy following a hearing. “The plaintiff’s testimony provides sufficient basis to conclude by the applicable standard that the defendant
breached his fiduciary duty in evicting the plaintiff from the decedent’s former home,” Genuario wrote.
Grant is one of four siblings who are equal beneficiaries under the last will and testament of her mother, Julia Grant, who died in January 2011, according to the lawsuit. It asserts that Julia Grant’s estate was “solvent and financially liquid” at the time of her death.
Drew served as executor and attorney for the estate until late 2012. “At the time Drew was removed as executor, the estate was no longer solvent as a result of his waste and mismanagement,” Grant’s lawsuit claims.
It alleges the attorney wrongfully evicted Grant and her sister from the family house on Oakland Terrace in Darien, which was Grant’s longtime home and which she partly owned. It also claims Drew “wasted the estate’s assets” and “repeatedly favored the interests” of one of the siblings, Jordan Grant, who wanted the house to be sold. The lawsuit further alleges that Drew spent the estate’s money on the eviction proceedings and unnecessarily spent $31,000 on improvements to the house, with the work done by Jordan Grant’s company.
Ultimately, after Drew’s removal as executor, a court-appointed administrator sold the house, and the sale was finalized in early 2014 for $603,000. The four siblings each got $105,000, which the lawsuit alleges is “far less than they could and should have received had the estate been managed with due fiduciary care.”
According to Genuario, the eviction was not a necessary component of Drew’s estate administration, as the estate was not insolvent at the time. “The plaintiff has sustained her burden of proof that she has incurred damages to the extent of being required to expend dollars on alternative living arrangements at a time when she was entitled to remain in the residence from which she was evicted,” the judge wrote.
However, Genuario stated that Grant has not sustained her burden of proof with regard to claims of emotional distress, loss of home business income, or a reduction in the proceeds she would have otherwise received from the sale of the house. Grant also claimed she lost personal belongings after they were put in storage and later auctioned off because she couldn’t pay the storage fee.
“The court finds her claim for loss of personal property to be only partially credible since it was apparently based on the value of new replacement items without regard for the condition or age of the actual lost property,” Genuario wrote.
The case is scheduled for trial in July.
Stamford attorneys Harold McGuire, and his son, Daniel McGuire, are representing Grant.
“A prejudgment remedy is one of the standard weapons in the plaintiff’s arsenal,” said Harold McGuire. “The unusual thing in this case is the defendant is an attorney who is being sued for his actions as executor of an estate. We are seeking punitive damages for egregious and outrageous conduct. The impact of these actions disabled [my client] for a couple of years. She was left homeless and destitute.”
Daniel McGuire called Genuario’s decision a “good one,” though he would have liked the dollar figure to be higher.
“It is a statement that even attorneys will be held accountable,” Daniel McGuire said. “It is not a big case for us, but we are doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do.”
Another Stamford attorney, Mark Gregory, is representing Drew. He said that he and his client are pleased that Genuario, in his written decision, rejected “almost all of the plaintiff’s damages claims.” He added: “We disagree with and deny the material allegations and [Grant’s] legal theories, and we are looking forward to the trial.”
Gregory submitted an answer to the court in May, in which Drew denies any wrongdoing. He claimed that any improvements made to the house were for the benefit of all beneficiaries. He also asserts that any claims are barred by the statute of limitations, and any actions Drew took as executor were approved by the Probate Court and Housing Court.
Originally posted by Michell Tuccitto Sullo on the Connecticut Law Tribune website.
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