Solon v. Slater

Docket NumberSC 20597
Decision Date03 January 2023
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court



No. SC 20597

Supreme Court of Connecticut

January 3, 2023 [*]

Argued September 8, 2022

Procedural History

Action to recover damages for, inter alia, tortious interference with contractual relations, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, where the court, Povodator, J., granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment with respect to certain counts of the complaint; thereafter, the plaintiff withdrew the remaining counts of the complaint, and the court, Povodator, J., rendered judgment for the defendants, from which the plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, Alvord, Elgo and Alexander, Js., which affirmed the trial court's judgment, and the plaintiff, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Reversed in part; further proceedings.

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

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

Robinson, C. J., and McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Ecker and Keller, Js.




This appeal requires us to decide the scope of the preclusive effect, in a subsequent tort action in the Superior Court, of an unappealed Probate Court decree admitting a will to probate. The plaintiff, Linda Yoffe Solon, filed the present lawsuit against the defendants, Joseph M. Slater and Joshua Solon, alleging that they tortiously interfered with her contractual relations and right of inheritance by exercising undue influence over her husband, Michael Solon (decedent), with respect to two different legal instruments, a proposed amendment to an antenuptial agreement and a testamentary will. The trial court rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendants, concluding in pertinent part that both of the plaintiff's tortious interference claims were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel because the Probate Court previously had admitted the decedent's will to probate after rejecting the plaintiffs claim that the decedent executed the 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 are barred by either the doctrine of collateral estoppel, as the courts below concluded, or the doctrine of res judicata, which the defendants have raised as an alternative ground for affirmance. We conclude that neither preclusion doctrine bars the plaintiff from litigating her tortious interference with contractual relations claim, which relates to the proposed amended antenuptial agreement, because the Probate Court did not actually or necessarily determine whether the defendants tortiously interfered with that contract and the plaintiff lacked an opportunity to litigate her claim in the Probate Court. We arrive at a different conclusion with respect to the plaintiffs tortious interference with her right of inheritance claim because the Probate Court actually and necessarily determined that the defendants had not tortiously interfered with the execution, alteration, or revocation of the will admitted to probate, and the plaintiff therefore is collaterally estopped from relitigating that claim. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court in part and remand the case for further proceedings on the plaintiffs tortious interference with contractual relations claim.



The Appellate Court opinion sets forth the following facts and procedural history. "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 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 plaintiffs 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 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 Nusbaum and Rut-kin discussed the proposal set forth in the November note, 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 [he shared with the plaintiff] 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 [email], text message, and telephone; these communications were primarily initiated by the plaintiff. 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. The plaintiff [objected] to its admission, claiming that the decedent executed the 2014 will under the defendants' undue influence and also that the decedent had lacked the testamentary capacity to execute the documents.

"On October 6, 2014, while the Probate Court proceedings were . . . pending, the plaintiff commenced an action in the Superior 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 Stam-ford-Norwalk, Docket No. CV-14-6023538-S (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 [the] 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; [and] $100,000 from the decedent's bank account . . . ." (Footnotes omitted.) Solon v. Slater, supra, 204 Conn.App. 649-52. Additionally, the plaintiff sought "$5,000,000, representing the decedent's 50 percent ownership interest in his family's business, B&F Electric Motors, Inc. . . .'[1] Id., 652.

"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, [that] 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 matter jurisdiction. The court explained that the Solon . . . assets were subject to the jurisdiction of the Probate Court: 'All of the property that the plaintiff argues would have passed to her [upon] 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 . . . 2014 will to probate over the plaintiffs 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...

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