Richard v. Robinson, 031020 RISUP, KC-2011-378

Docket Nº:C. A. KC-2011-378
Opinion Judge:LANPHEAR, J.
Attorney:For Plaintiff: Thomas L. Mirza, Esq. R. Andrew Pelletier, Esq. For Defendant: Steven A. Robinson, Esq. Michael K. Robinson, Esq.
Case Date:March 10, 2020
Court:Superior Court of Rhode Island




C. A. No. KC-2011-378

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Kent

March 10, 2020

For Plaintiff: Thomas L. Mirza, Esq. R. Andrew Pelletier, Esq.

For Defendant: Steven A. Robinson, Esq. Michael K. Robinson, Esq.



This case is before the Court posttrial on Defendant Steven A. Robinson's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law.

I. Facts

For purposes of this motion, the Court makes the following findings of fact. In 2003, Plaintiff Gerald Richard and his wife Deborah agreed to divorce. Together they met with a mediator in an effort to finalize the financial terms of their divorce. They came to an agreement on the terms, which was contained in a draft, unsigned Memorandum of Understanding. Tr. Ex. 1. Mr. Richard wanted to move out of their home but needed monies upfront to relocate. The couple agreed that he would sign a quitclaim deed to Deborah, Deborah would refinance the home, and provide him with the $20, 000 he requested. In fact, this agreement was written onto the mediator's draft Memorandum of Understanding. Id. at 3. On July 26, 2004, Mr. Richard executed the deed to Jennifer. Tr. Ex. 2. Mr. Robinson did not prepare the deed and testified he knew nothing of the deed. It was notarized by another attorney.

Attorney Robinson was retained by Mr. Richard to represent him in the divorce. He was shown the mediator's unsigned memorandum, apparently to use as a guide. In early July 2004, Mr. Richard met with Mr. Robinson, and Mr. Robinson described the various forms that would need to be completed. In drafting the Property Settlement Agreement for the divorce, Mr. Robinson indicated that Deborah would pay $60, 000 to Mr. Richard upon the occurrence of any one of three events.[1] One of the three events which would require the prompt payment of $60, 000 was the sale of the home. Mr. Richard took the various forms provided by Mr. Robinson to obtain the required information and then returned them to Mr. Robinson's office. The forms were finalized by Mr. Robinson and submitted to the Rhode Island Family Court on July 27, 2004. Mr. Robinson was not familiar with the separate agreement that Deborah would own the home and then mortgage the property to raise money for Mr. Richard. [Frankly, Mr. Richard was attempting to minimize expenses by handling some of the transactions on his own.]

The Property Settlement Agreement was signed on August 31 and September 2, 2004 and filed with the Family Court shortly thereafter by Mr. Robinson. At that time, it was Mr. Robinson's understanding that the property was valued at about $460, 000, an outstanding mortgage on the property was valued at $234, 000, and the equity remaining in the property was about $226, 000. The agreement specifically and clearly stated that Deborah would "refinance . . . and pay . . . $20, 000" in the future (although she had already done so) and would then pay $60, 000 to Mr. Richard upon one of the three events. Tr. Ex. 3 at 3-4. At a hearing before the Family Court in October 2004, Mr. Richard testified that he had read and understood the Property Settlement Agreement. Clearly, by November 1, 2004 Mr. Richard knew that his name had been removed from the title to the property.

Mr. Richard was familiar with the acquisition and financing of real estate. He had signed several deeds and mortgages before. When he deeded the home to Deborah he realized and knew that the property would belong to Deborah alone, and she could borrow by using the property as security, without his signature. Mr. Richard also knew the Property Settlement Agreement was not recorded when he gave Deborah the quitclaim deed. He received the $20, 000 while his divorce was still pending; knew that he did not sign any of the loan papers; knew that Deborah had applied for the loan individually; and knew the property was deeded to Deborah alone. No bank had contacted him before this payment so Deborah's ability to borrow without his prior knowledge was clear. Mr. Richard realized that Deborah could then borrow money without his knowledge or consent, using the property as collateral. He knew, and should have known from his real estate experience, that he was exposed to this risk in September 2004 at the latest.

After the divorce was complete, Deborah again refinanced the home in 2006, removing another $45, 000 in equity. Effectively, with the decline in the value of the market, this ended almost any security which Mr. Richard may have had in the property, as he had no recorded interest. Hence, Mr. Richard was harmed in September 2006 when Deborah's mortgage was taken out.2

At some point, Mr. Richard learned that Deborah's property was being sold. He then recorded the Property Settlement Agreement. In 2010, he filed a motion to recover the $60, 000 from the Rhode Island Family Court. As the money was due under the express terms of the Property Settlement Agreement, the Family Court ordered Deborah to pay the $60, 000 within thirty days. In the interim, Deborah then filed for bankruptcy. After the bankruptcy, Mr. Richard received $11, 999, leaving an unsatisfied debt of $48, 001.

With Deborah being judgment proof...

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