Estate of Genecin ex rel. Genecin v. Genecin

Decision Date31 March 2005
Docket NumberNo. 3:01CV211 (MRK).,3:01CV211 (MRK).
Citation363 F.Supp.2d 306
PartiesESTATE OF Rita GENECIN, by Victor GENECIN, Personal Representative, Plaintiff, v. Paul GENECIN and Victor Genecin, in his individual capacity, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Connecticut

David T. Grudberg, New Haven, CT, for plaintiff.

Patrick M. Noonan, Guilford, CT, for Paul Genecfin, defendant.

Victor Genecin, New York City, pro se.


KRAVITZ, District Judge.

This lawsuit is the result of an unfortunate and bitter dispute between two brothers, Victor Genecin and Paul Genecin, over the rightful ownership of two assets — a lithograph and an individual retirement account — that once belonged to their mother, Rita Genecin, who is now deceased. Rita Genecin loved her sons very much and undoubtedly was very proud of them. Both are accomplished; one is a doctor and the other a lawyer. But the Court has no doubt that were she alive today, Rita Genecin would be deeply disappointed in her sons. For they have fought each other viciously over these assets when an amicable resolution was always evident, and in the process, they have leveled distressing allegations against each other — charging each other with fraud, falsifying documents and suborning perjury. Worse yet, in their headstrong battle over these assets, it appears that they may have expended more on legal fees than either could possibly hope to recover.

The court system itself did not fail this family. Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel, who has a well deserved reputation for being able to settle tough cases, plaintively urged the brothers "without Court intervention, ... [to] fashion a resolution that honors Rita's wishes," and he tried to help them toward that goal. Ruling on Mot. for Prejudgment Replevin [doc. # 43] at 2. This Court itself took the extraordinary action of ordering Paul and Victor to meet with each other, along with their lawyers, during the trial to discuss settlement, because, as the Court observed to them at the time, "you owe it to yourselves you owe it to your children, and you owe it most of all to the memories of your parents to roll up your sleeves and work as hard as you can to come up with solution that is not a vindication, that is not a victory, but ... that respects each other and your parents, and that is sensible." Tr. at 539. Yet, for their own reasons, Paul and Victor Genecin instead inexplicably chose to bring misery and calumny upon each other.

This self-destructive battle need not have happened. And, as the Court noted at trial, it should have been stopped long ago; not for Victor's and Paul's sake, but rather, for the sake of their children — cousins all — and most of all, because of the memory of their loving parents, Rita and Abraham Genecin. Inevitably, this Court's decision, like all judicial resolutions, will disappoint some. Yet, it remains the Court's fervent hope that Victor and Paul can somehow bring themselves to view this decision as marking the end of a tragic period in their lives and that they will seize the opportunity to stop the fighting and begin the healing process.


This matter was tried to the Court over the course of several days, and the parties also provided the Court with both pre-trial and post-trial briefing and argument.1 This Memorandum of Decision will serve as the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Rule 52 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However, rather than list all relevant facts in detail at the outset, the Court will briefly provide some background information and will provide additional findings of fact relevant to each disputed issue in the sections that follow.

Rita Genecin died suddenly and unexpectedly on or about August 5, 2000 in her home in Baltimore, Maryland, two years following the death of her husband Abraham. See Tr. at 359, 362. Rita Gencin is survived by her two sons — Victor, who resides in New York; and Paul, who resides in Connecticut. See Tr. at 359-60. Victor Genecin is the sole personal representative of the Estate of Rita Genecin ("the Estate"). See Tr. at 357-58. In her Will, Rita Genecin divided her residuary Estate as follows: 55% to Victor and 45% to Paul. See Tr. at 362.

Throughout her life, Rita Genecin loved art. She was an artist herself, and, along with her husband, was an avid collector of art. Over the years, Abrahamnd Rita Genecin made gifts to their sons of many of the works of art that the Genecins had collected. The most valuable of the art works Rita Genecin owned in the year preceding her death was an 1897 color lithograph by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec entitled Partie de campagne (Le chariot anglais) (the "Lautrec"), which has been appraised as having a value of $150,000. See PX 11 (portion of Rita's insurance policy); Tr. at 373-74. At the time of her death, the Lautrec was hanging in the home in which Rita Genecin lived in Maryland. See Tr. at 363-64. Immediately following her death, Paul brought all of the art from the Maryland home to Connecticut for safekeeping while the Estate was beginning its journey through the probate process. See Tr. at 370-71.

Thereafter, Paul informed his brother Victor, the Estate's personal representative, and others, including Rita Genecin's personal lawyer and financial advisors, that his mother had given him the Lautrec as Christmas gift during a visit that he and his family made to Rita's Maryland home in late December 1999, approximately six months before her death. See Def. Paul Genecin's Post-Trial Br. at 1; Tr. at 375-76 (Victor testified that he first heard of Paul's claim "in early September of 2000 and the person I heard from was Max E. Blumenthal."). Victor Genecin, as personal representative of the Estate, denied that his mother had made a legally valid gift of the Lautrec to Paul, and Victor brought this action on behalf of the Estate in Connecticut federal court to regain possession of the Lautrec for the Estate.2 See Compl. [doc. # 1] at 1. Sadly, in pursuing that claim on the Estate's behalf, Victor has also been compelled to deny the effectiveness of a gift of two lithographs by French artist Edouard Vuillard entitled Maternite and Avenue that his mother appears to have intended to give him in January 2000 in the same manner that she gave Paul the Lautrec. See Tr. at 295, 375; Compl. [doc. # 1] at 8, ¶ 39.

Also at issue is this action is the appropriate distribution of funds from an Individual Retirement Account with Charles Schwab & Company, Inc. ("the Schwab IRA") that was held in Rita Genecin's name at the time of her death. See Compl. [doc. # 1] at 18. Fueling the controversy over the Schwab IRA are three documents — an IRA application and two IRA beneficiary designations — that appear to have been signed and executed by Rita Genecin. See DX 607, DX 608, DX 610. In his individual capacity and principally invoking the IRA application, Victor Genecin argues that he is entitled to 60% of the Schwab IRA. See Post-Trial Mem. of Def. Victor Genecin at 2. Paul Genecin contends that the two IRA beneficiary designations signed by his mother require an even 50-50 division of the Schwab IRA. See Def. Paul Genecin's Post-Trial Br. at 1. Both seek a declaration of their respective rights, if any, in the Schwab IRA. The Estate takes no position on the matter. Nor has Schwab, which has maintained possession of the IRA funds during the pendency of this action. See Letter of 12/20/00, Ex. D to Compl. [doc. # 1] at 1 ("Given this discrepancy ... Schwab is unable to allocate the balance of the IRA without clarification from the parties.").


Before addressing the claims in this case — and heeding the Second Circuit's admonition that it "is the obligation of a court, on its own motion, to inquire as to subject matter jurisdiction and satisfy itself that such jurisdiction exists"the Court pauses to explain how a federal court in Connecticut has subject matter jurisdiction over this dispute between an Estate and two heirs. Da Silva v. Kinsho Int'l Corp., 229 F.3d 358, 361 (2d Cir.2000). Neither party has raised any objection to the Court's subject matter jurisdiction in this case. And, as the parties agree, the Court's subject matter jurisdiction in this case is based upon the fact that there is complete diversity of citizenship between the Estate,3 Paul and Victor, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332; Compl. [doc. # 1] at 1-2.

Nevertheless, given the subject matter of this case, the Court must sua sponte consider whether the so-called "probate exception" to diversity jurisdiction applies in this case. The probate exception arises because "the Supreme Court has held that `probate matters' are excepted from the scope of federal diversity jurisdiction, `the reason being that the equity jurisdiction conferred by the Judiciary Act of 1789... which is that of the English Court of Chancery in 1789, did not extend to probate matters.'" Moser v. Pollin, 294 F.3d 335, 340 (2d Cir.2002) (quoting Markham v. Allen, 326 U.S. 490, 494, 66 S.Ct. 296, 90 L.Ed. 256 (1946)).

The Second Circuit has described two situations when the probate exception applies. The probate exception applies when a "federal court sitting in diversity [is] being asked to directly probate a will or administer an estate." Moser, 294 F.3d at 340. However, as the Second Circuit has noted, this rarely occurs because "few practioners would be so misdirected as to seek, for example, letters testamentary or letters of administration from a federal judge." Id. This case is no exception. The second situation in which the probate exception applies is when a lawsuit is "probate-related" rather than "purely probate in character." Id. This second basis for the probate exception is implicated when the district court's adjudication would: "(1) `interfere with probate proceedings;' (2) `assume general jurisdiction of the probate;' or (3) ...

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