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Levinson v. Lawrence

Appellate Court of Connecticut

January 26, 2016

JEFFREY R. LEVINSON
v.
KRISTA D. LAWRENCE ET AL

         Argued September 29, 2015

          Action, inter alia, to quiet title to certain real property, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, where the named defendant filed a counterclaim; thereafter, the court, Scholl, J., dismissed the matter as to the defendant Daniel P. Jones; subsequently, the matter was tried to the court; judgment for the named defendant as to the complaint and judgment in part for the named defendant as to the counterclaim, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court.

          Reversed in part; judgment directed.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff commenced this action alleging, inter alia, that he had an equitable interest in the subject residential property to which the defendant L held title. L filed a counterclaim alleging slander of title and seeking damages arising out of the plaintiff's failure to timely release certain notices of lis pendens that he had placed on the property. The plaintiff had given L approximately $60,000 so that she could satisfy a note and mortgage on the property executed as part of her divorce proceedings from her former husband. The plaintiff thereafter moved into the home with L and expended certain sums of money to make improvements to the property. Subsequently, the relationship between the plaintiff and L deteriorated and the plaintiff moved out of the home. He commenced the present action alleging that he was entitled to a one-half ownership interest in the property by virtue of a resulting trust, and that L had been unjustly enriched by his improvements to the property. The plaintiff filed two separate notices of lis pendens on the property and L's attorney sent letters demanding their release, alleging that they were invalid. During the course of the present litigation, the parties entered into a stipulation agreeing to release the notices of lis pendens. The matter was tried to the court, which rendered judgment in favor of L as to each of the plaintiff's claims, and awarded L certain damages on her counterclaim. On the plaintiff's appeal to this court, held :

         1. Contrary to the plaintiff's claim, the trial court did not err in finding that there was no equitable basis for imposing a resulting trust that entitled him to a one-half interest in the property by virtue of his having paid approximately $60,000 to L: although a resulting trust may arise by operation of law at the time of a conveyance when the purchase money for property is paid by one party and the legal title is taken in the name of another, the presumption of the existence of such a trust can be rebutted by proof that the parties did not intend to create such a trust, and here the trial court found that although L accepted the money from the plaintiff in order to pay the note held by former husband, she never intended that the plaintiff receive an ownership interest in the property, and that the plaintiff had made no attempt to formalize his claim until after the parties' relationship had ended; moreover, notwithstanding that the plaintiff had written the word " mortgage" on certain checks that he gave to L during their cohabitation, which was some evidence of his intent to claim an ownership interest in the property, it was not clearly erroneous for the trial court to have determined that the intent was not mutual and to credit L's contrary testimony.

         2. The plaintiff could not prevail on his claim that the trial court erred in denying his claim of unjust enrichment arising out of the improvements and renovations that he had made to the property; unjust enrichment is an equitable remedy and generally does not apply when one person has officiously conferred a benefit upon another, and it was not clearly erroneous for the trial court here to have determined that although L was enriched by the plaintiff's expenditures, she was not unjustly enriched, as most of the improvements were done at the plaintiff's insistence rather than L's request, and that the plaintiff willingly made the improvements to increase their comfort and enjoyment of the home with the expectation that the relationship would endure and not to secure or safeguard any claimed interest in the property.

         3. The court improperly awarded attorney's fees and damages to L on her counterclaim alleging slander of title, and improperly calculated those damages on the basis of the timing of the written demands made by L's attorney that the plaintiff release the notices of lis pendens: pursuant to statute (§ 52-325), a party is entitled to file a notice of lis pendens on the land records to warn all persons that the property is the subject matter of litigation and pursuant further to statute (§ 49-8), a property owner is entitled to certain damages when the party fails to timely release the notice of lis pendens when a court determines that the lis pendens was invalid or had become inoperative as a result of the resolution of the underlying controversy, and here the remedy provided by § 49-8 was unavailable to L because she had not filed an application with the trial court seeking to discharge the notices of lis pendens either challenging the existence of probable cause underlying the notices or claiming that they were invalid because they were not properly served, but instead relied on her attorney's letters demanding the release; moreover, to the extent that the stipulation agreeing to release the notices of lis pendens that the parties entered into during the course of the present action could be deemed to trigger the sixty day compliance period of § 49-8 (c), the plaintiff timely released the notices after the stipulation was executed.

         Jeffery R. Levinson, self-represented, the appellant (plaintiff).

         Alexa J. P. Lindauer, for the appellee (named defendant).

         Lavine, Beach and Sheldon, Js.

          OPINION

         BEACH, J.

          [162 Conn.App. 550] The plaintiff, Jeffrey R. Levinson, appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the defendant Krista D. Lawrence.[1] He claims that the court erred in finding (1) that a resulting trust had not been created, (2) that the defendant had not been unjustly enriched, and (3) in favor of the defendant on [162 Conn.App. 551] her counterclaim alleging slander of title. We disagree with the plaintiff's first two claims, but agree with the third, and we accordingly affirm in part, and reverse in part, the judgment of the trial court.

         The trial court made the following findings. " [The parties] have known each other since college. They had a relationship in 1990 and resumed it in 2002. It has always been a tumultuous one although the plaintiff has been generous with his money throughout the relationship. For example, in 2006 [the plaintiff] paid off [the defendant's] car loan of about $9000. [The defendant] bought the subject property with her [former] husband. They were divorced on March 10, 2003. As part of the divorce judgment, the property was quitclaimed to [the defendant] and she became obligated to execute a note to her [former] husband in the amount of $58,750 payable on February 4, 2007, unless certain other events occurred earlier. Interest on the note was to accrue from February 4, 2005 at the rate of 2 percent per year. A mortgage on the property was placed to secure the note. When the note became due, [the plaintiff] offered to give [the defendant] the money to pay her [former] husband the amount owed him on the note. [The defendant] agreed to accept the money as the easiest option for her. On February 16, 2007, [the defendant] gave [the plaintiff] a check for $61,123.50. Even though [the plaintiff] is a law school graduate, no documentation was prepared or executed by either party at that time evidencing the nature of the transaction. [The defendant] believed that it was a loan that she would repay when the house was sold, if the parties were no longer together. [The defendant] then gave her [former] husband a check in the same amount on February 17, 2007, to satisfy the note. [The defendant] claimed that she would never have agreed to give [the plaintiff] a portion of the house. The house had been a point of contention in her divorce.

          [162 Conn.App. 552] " In June, 2008, [the plaintiff] moved into the property with [the defendant]. Although he did not pay the utilities, which increased significantly after he moved in because he worked from home, he was, as [the defendant] described it, 'financially generous,' during their relationship. [The plaintiff] contributed to the expenses of the household and paid for certain work to be done on the house, which [the defendant] could not afford, such as painting, replacing windows, building a closet, remodeling a porch, which [the plaintiff] used as an office. He also purchased a piano as well as a new washer, dryer and dishwasher for the house, as well as contributed to the purchase of a couch and loveseat.

         " From June to December, 2008, the parties' relationship continued to be tumultuous even resulting in violence by [the plaintiff] against [the defendant]. In December, 2008, the parties broke up, but [the plaintiff] refused to move out of the property, creating an intolerable situation for [the defendant] and her daughter, who also lived in the property. In January, 2009, the parties went to counseling where [the plaintiff] presented [the defendant] with a multipage document entitled 'Agreement' in which he claimed to have made significant monetary contributions for improvements to the property during the period of the parties' cohabitation, and that stated that they had orally agreed, at the time [the plaintiff] made the $61,000 payment to [the defendant], that [the plaintiff] would be entitled to a 50 percent interest in the property. The Agreement also provided that [the plaintiff] would remove himself from the property within seventy-two hours of the execution of the Agreement. [The defendant] did not sign the Agreement. [The plaintiff] would not leave the property voluntarily so [the defendant] started eviction proceedings against him in February, 2009. There was another violent confrontation between the parties that month and [the plaintiff] was arrested and a protective order [162 Conn.App. 553] issued against him and he agreed to move out of the property.

         " In July, 2010, [the plaintiff] initiated a small claims action against [the defendant] alleging that she refused to return a bottle of wine, a computer, and a camera he claimed belonged to him. A judgment was entered in favor of [the defendant] on this claim.

         " [The plaintiff] initiated a civil complaint in Superior Court against [the defendant] in July, 2010, and placed a lis pendens on the property. That action was dismissed. In February, 2011, this action was [commenced]. In January and February, 2013, [the plaintiff] made complaints to the town of West Hartford regarding his claim that improvements to the property were made without the proper building permits even though he claimed he paid for them. [The plaintiff] has continued to harass [the defendant] by this and other actions such as coming into her place of employment, parking in front of her house, and contacting her real estate agent claiming that the house is not described properly in a listing."

         In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he was entitled to share in the ownership interest in the property by virtue of a resulting trust and that the defendant had been unjustly enriched by the plaintiff's expenditures, renovations, and improvements to the property. The defendant filed a counterclaim alleging, inter alia, slander of title. The court rendered judgment in favor of the defendant on all counts of the complaint ...


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