Solon v. Slater

Citation204 Conn.App. 647,253 A.3d 503
Decision Date18 May 2021
Docket NumberAC 42931
CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Parties Linda Yoffe SOLON v. Joseph M. SLATER et al.

204 Conn.App. 647
253 A.3d 503

Linda Yoffe SOLON
v.
Joseph M. SLATER et al.

AC 42931

Appellate Court of Connecticut.

Argued January 7, 2021
Officially released May 18, 2021


Eric D. Grayson, for the appellant (plaintiff).

William N. Wright, with whom, on the brief, was John W. Cannavino, for the appellees (defendants).

Alvord, Elgo and Alexander, Js.

Opinion

ALVORD, J.

204 Conn.App. 648

This appeal arises out of an action by the plaintiff, Linda Yoffe Solon, in which

253 A.3d 506

she alleges that the defendants, Joseph M. Slater and Joshua Solon, tortiously interfered with (1) contractual relations regarding an antenuptial agreement executed by the plaintiff and her deceased husband, Michael Solon (decedent), and (2) the plaintiff's right of inheritance from the decedent's estate.1 On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in rendering summary judgment in favor

204 Conn.App. 649

of the defendants on the basis that her claims were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel by virtue of a prior decree of the Probate Court. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.2

The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. The plaintiff and the decedent first met in December, 2010. In May, 2013, they were married. At the time of the marriage, the decedent had two adult children from a previous marriage: a son, Joshua Solon, and a daughter, Carly Solon. Slater was both a longtime friend and attorney of the decedent.

On or about May 22, 2013, just prior to getting married, the plaintiff and the decedent executed an antenuptial agreement. The antenuptial agreement provided, inter alia, for the plaintiff to have a life estate interest in the real property located at 49 Alexandra Drive in Stamford (Stamford home). The antenuptial agreement further provided that the decedent's estate would be responsible for paying the mortgage, property taxes, utilities, and associated expenses and repairs at the Stamford home.

In November, 2013, approximately six months after the plaintiff's marriage to the decedent, the decedent was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The prognosis was that he had less than one year left to live. The decedent elected a surgical course of treatment. Prior to surgery, he met with Slater concerning the preparation of a last will and testament. On November 8, 2013,

204 Conn.App. 650

the decedent signed a last will and testament prepared by Slater (2013 will).

After undergoing the surgery, the decedent met with an estate planning attorney, Howard S. Tuthill III, concerning his estate plan. On February 6, 2014, Tuthill prepared a second will for the decedent (2014 will).

Shortly after the decedent's early November diagnosis, the plaintiff and the decedent discussed amending their antenuptial agreement. The plaintiff alleged that the decedent provided her with a handwritten note dated November 9, 2013 (November note), the day after the decedent executed the 2013 will, which purportedly memorialized the intended changes to the antenuptial agreement. The November note indicated: "I want to leave the house to [the plaintiff]—[the plaintiff] will get the 200k plus annuity[,] [the plaintiff] will get [the] ETrade acct[,] [the plaintiff] will get approx 90–110k dollars."

Thereafter, in early 2014, the decedent engaged Attorney Edward Nusbaum to represent him in negotiations pertaining to modifying the antenuptial agreement. The plaintiff was represented in the negotiations by Attorney Arnold Rutkin. Although

253 A.3d 507

Nusbaum and Rutkin discussed the proposal set forth in the November note,3

204 Conn.App. 651

the negotiations ultimately failed and the plaintiff and the decedent never amended their antenuptial agreement.

On March 13, 2014, the decedent left the Stamford home to reside at the home of his former wife, Lori Solon, on Long Island (Long Island home). The plaintiff characterized his departure as "essentially a kidnapping" by the defendants, such that the decedent was "forcibly removed" from the Stamford home, in the "complete control and custody" of the defendants, and "subject to undue influence and manipulation" by them. The defendants produced evidence to the effect that the decedent's departure from the Stamford home was volitional.

From March 13, 2014, until the date of his death, the decedent resided at the Long Island home. During that time, he communicated with the plaintiff on a few occasions by e-mail, text message, and telephone; these communications were primarily initiated by the plaintiff.4 The decedent died on April 19, 2014.

On or about June 4, 2014, Slater submitted an application to the Probate Court for the admission of the 2014 will.5 The plaintiff filed an objection to its admission, claiming that the decedent executed the 2014 will under the defendants’ undue influence6 and also that the decedent

204 Conn.App. 652

had lacked testamentary capacity to execute the documents.

On October 6, 2014, while the Probate Court proceedings were still pending, the plaintiff commenced an action in the Superior

253 A.3d 508

Court against the defendants, both individually and in Slater's fiduciary capacity as administrator of the decedent's estate (first action). Solon v. Slater , Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, Docket No. CV-14-6023538-S, 2015 WL 3651789 (May 12, 2015). Her complaint set forth the following five counts, all sounding in tort: (1) tortious interference with contractual relations; (2) tortious interference with right of inheritance; (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (5) negligence. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants, by way of manipulation, prevented the decedent from amending the antenuptial agreement or revising his will for the benefit of the plaintiff. As relief, the plaintiff sought the total value of the assets of the decedent's estate that were listed in the November note: $850,000, representing the value of the title to the Stamford home; $240,500, representing the proceeds of an annuity held by the decedent; $100,000 from an E-Trade account held by the decedent; $100,000 from the decedent's bank account; and $5,000,000, representing the decedent's 50 percent ownership interest in his family's business, B&F Electric Motors, Inc. (Solon estate assets).

The defendants moved to dismiss the first action on the ground that the Probate Court had not yet ruled on the admission of the 2014 will and, therefore, there was no justiciable controversy. By memorandum of decision dated May 12, 2015, the court, Heller , J ., dismissed the first action against the defendants for lack of subject

204 Conn.App. 653

matter jurisdiction. The court explained that the Solon estate assets were subject to the jurisdiction of the Probate Court: "All of the property that the plaintiff argues would have passed to her on the decedent's death, but for the defendants’ improper conduct, is presently subject to the jurisdiction of the Probate Court. ... [S]hould the Probate Court admit the February, 2014 will to probate over the plaintiff's objection, finding that the decedent was not subject to the defendants’ undue influence, the Probate Court's order will be a final judgment for res judicata purposes, if no appeal is taken, and the plaintiff's claims in this action will be barred."

On June 17, 2015, the Probate Court, Fox , J ., held an evidentiary hearing concerning the plaintiff's objections to the admission of the 2014 will. On August 20, 2015, the Probate Court issued a decree admitting the 2014 will to probate over the plaintiff's objections (Probate Court decree). The Probate Court first determined that "the will was properly executed in accordance with [General Statutes] § 45a-2517 and that there is insufficient evidence to show that the decedent did not have the testamentary capacity to make the subject will at the time of its execution in accordance with [General Statutes] § 45a-250."8 (Footnote added.) Next, the Probate Court determined that "there is insufficient evidence to show that the disposition of the decedent's estate in his [2014 will] was a result of undue influence." The plaintiff did not appeal the Probate Court decree.

In making its determination, the Probate Court considered the following evidence

253 A.3d 509

with respect to the decedent's

204 Conn.App. 654

estate planning. The decedent's 2014 will pours his residuary estate into a revocable trust, naming his children, Joshua Solon and Carly Solon, as the sole beneficiaries. The...

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2 cases
  • Solon v. Slater
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 3, 2023
    ...as a result of the defendants’ undue influence. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. See Solon v. Slater , 204 Conn. App. 647, 665, 253 A.3d 503 (2021).The issue before us is whether both of the plaintiff's tortious interference claims in her civil tort action are b......
  • Solon v. Slater
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 3, 2023
    ...will as a result of the defendants' undue influence. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. See Solon v. Slater, 204 Conn.App. 647, 665, 253 A.3d 503 (2021). The issue before us is whether both of the plaintiff's tortious interference claims in her civil tort action a......

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