Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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Brandon and Brandi Kelly married on April 20, 2015, and had a child on June 9, 2015. Brandon filed for divorce on May 30, 2017. This appeal primarily concerned their disputes regarding the division of property and attorney fees. Prior to marriage, Brandon and Brandi entered into a prenuptial agreement (“the PNA”) seeking to establish their rights to various items of property. Brandi and Brandon were represented by separate counsel during the negotiation and execution of the PNA. Before signing the PNA, Brandi reviewed Brandon’s 2014 tax return. Brandi’s attorney requested changes to the PNA’s definitions of separate and community property, which were made. Brandi expressly waived her right to review other financial documentation concerning Brandon’s assets and signed the PNA. During the pendency of the divorce action, and relevant to this appeal, Brandon filed four motions for partial summary judgment and Brandi filed two motions for partial summary judgment, each of which required interpretation of various provisions of the PNA. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed in part, and reversed in part, certain district court decisions with respect to the parties' PNA. The Supreme Court found the district court erred (1) in affirming the magistrate court’s decision that the PNA barred Brandi from requesting attorney fees for child custody, visitation and support matters; (2) in affirming the magistrate court’s summary judgment decision concluding that Brandon’s payments from EIRMC were his separate property; and (3) when it failed to vacate the award of attorney fees to Brandon for his contempt motions, but did not err when it affirmed the magistrate court’s other deductions from Brandi’s separate property award. View "Kelly v. Kelly" on Justia Law

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Daniel Hsu (Daniel) asked the Court of Appeal to reverse the trial court’s decision denying him need-based attorney fees under California Family Code section 2030. This case was a marriage dissolution proceeding between Daniel and Christine Nakamoto (Christine; together, the spouses). But the dispute at issue was between Daniel and his two siblings, Charleson Hsu (Chau) and Melissa Hsu See (Melissa). After their parents passed away, Daniel claimed Chau was concealing a portion of his inheritance. The siblings met to discuss Daniel’s claims and reached an agreement at the meeting, which Daniel documented on a two-page handwritten memorandum. Among other things, the Handwritten Agreement stated Daniel was to be paid $4 million. Several months later, the three siblings executed a formal Compromise Agreement for Structured Settlement. The Compromise Agreement contained many of the terms set forth in the Handwritten Agreement but did not mention the $4 million payment. The spouses claimed Daniel was never paid the $4 million, which would have been a community asset, and that it was still owed to Daniel under the Handwritten Agreement. Chau and Melissa argued the Handwritten Agreement was not a binding contract and that Daniel had already been paid $4 million through a separate transaction outside the Compromise Agreement. Chau, Melissa, and several business entities they owned (together, claimants) were involuntarily joined to this dissolution proceeding to settle this dispute. At trial, the primary question facing the lower court was whether the Handwritten Agreement or the Compromise Agreement was the enforceable contract. The court found in favor of claimants, ruling the Compromise Agreement was enforceable while the Handwritten Agreement was not. Meanwhile, over the course of Daniel’s litigation against claimants, the court awarded him $140,000 in attorney fees under section 2030. After the court issued a tentative ruling finding the Handwritten Agreement was not enforceable, Daniel requested an additional $50,000 for attorney fees incurred during trial plus another $30,000 to appeal. The court denied his request. The Court of Appeal found no error in the attorney fees ruling. View "Marriage of Nakamoto and Hsu" on Justia Law

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Brandy filed a probate petition seeking to be appointed the personal representative of her late husband’s (Scott) estate. The trial court denied her petition based on a premarital agreement that waived Brandy’s interests in her husband’s separate property. The court named his parents as co-administrators of the estate. The court of appeal held Brandy was entitled to introduce extrinsic evidence in support of her argument that she and her late husband mistakenly believed the premarital agreement would apply only in the event of divorce, rather than upon death. On remand, the trial court found that the mistake was a unilateral mistake on Brandy’s part and that she was not entitled to rescission. The court expressly found “there was insufficient evidence that Scott encouraged or fostered Brandy’s mistaken belief.”The court of appeal affirmed. Because Brandy failed to read the agreement and meet with her attorney to discuss it before signing it, she bore the risk of her mistake and is not entitled to rescission. View "Estate of Eskra" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Kathleen Moynihan and defendant Edward Lynch were involved in a long-term “marital-style relationship.” Anticipating the potential dissolution of that relationship, they signed and notarized a written agreement, without the assistance of counsel, that finalized the financial obligations each owed to the other. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review was the validity of that palimony agreement. In 2015, the parties parted ways, and Lynch refused to abide by their written agreement. Moynihan filed a complaint seeking enforcement of the written agreement and an alleged oral palimony agreement that she claimed the parties had entered before the Legislature in 2010 amended N.J.S.A. 25:1-5 to include subparagraph (h), which mandated that palimony agreements be reduced to writing and “made with the independent advice of counsel.” She challenged N.J.S.A. 25:1-5(h) on constitutional grounds and urged enforcement as a typical contract; alternatively, she sought enforcement of the agreement on equitable grounds. Lynch denied the existence of an oral palimony agreement and asserted that the written agreement was unenforceable because the parties did not receive the independent advice of counsel before entering it. The Supreme Court concluded the palimony agreement, as written and signed, without the attorney review requirement, was enforceable. That portion of N.J.S.A. 25:1-5(h), which imposed an attorney-review requirement to enforce a palimony agreement, contravenes Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution. The Court concluded the parties did not enter an oral palimony agreement. View "Moynihan v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court concluding that enforcement of the prenuptial agreement between the parties was not unconscionable, with one exception, holding that the trial court did not err in ruling that the occurrence of the unforeseen events did not render the enforcement of the entire agreement unconscionable at the time of the dissolution.In 2010, shortly before the parties' marriage they executed a prenuptial agreement. In 2016, Plaintiff brought this action seeking dissolution of the marriage and enforcement of the prenuptial agreement. Defendant filed a cross-claim, asserting that the agreement was unenforceable because it was unconscionable at the time of the dissolution under Conn. Gen. Stat. 46b-36g(a)(2). The trial court dissolved the marriage and enforced the terms of the prenuptial agreement with the exception of an attorney's fees provision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court properly allowed the parties the benefit of their agreed-upon, pre-marriage bargain. View "Grabe v. Hokin" on Justia Law

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Deborah Hillard and Holland Hillard Warr jointly petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus, raising numerous issues. The Court ordered answers and briefs on one issue raised by Warr: whether the circuit court erred in denying her summary-judgment motion on the counterclaim brought against her by her former husband, Rik Tozzi, which Warr claimed was barred by principles of res judicata. Warr specifically requested that the Supreme Court issue the writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to grant her summary-judgment motion. The Court denied the petition as to that issue. "Warr does not provide meaningful discussion of the precedent she cites or the other relevant precedent ... She has not established that the instant case is controlled by opinions holding that a former spouse was barred from pursuing a tort claim against the other former spouse based on conduct that occurred before a divorce. For example, she has not shown that the allegedly tortious acts and omissions surrounding the execution and delivery of the promissory note were fully litigated in the divorce action or that Tozzi's tort allegations were resolved by a settlement agreement entered in the divorce action or by the final divorce judgment." Because Warr did not demonstrate a clear legal right to a judgment in her favor on Tozzi's counterclaim based on principles of res judicata, the Supreme Court denied the petition. View "Ex parte Hillard and Warr." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her late husband, Grant Tinker, signed a premarital agreement (PMA) that in relevant part governed the ownership and testamentary disposition of their marital home. Respondents, Larry Ginsberg and his law firm, represented plaintiff in connection with the PMA and approved the PMA as to form on her behalf. Non-attorney Sidney Tessler, Tinker's longtime accountant and business manager, negotiated terms and approved the PMA as to form on Tinker's behalf. Plaintiff, the estate, and Tinker's children subsequently litigated plaintiff's and the children's claims, which were ultimately resolved in a global settlement.Plaintiff then filed suit against Ginsberg for legal malpractice in connection with the preparation and execution of the PMA, alleging that the PMA was unenforceable due to Ginsberg’s failure to ensure that Tinker signed a waiver of legal representation. The trial court granted Ginsberg's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Tinker ratified the PMA.The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that there is a triable issue of material fact as to the threshold issue of whether Tinker satisfied the requirements of Family Code section 1615 when he executed the PMA. The court explained that, if the factfinder determines that Tinker did not comply with section 1615, and the PMA was therefore not enforceable, the question becomes whether Tinker's subsequent amendments to his estate plan could ratify the PMA and thereby rectify the statutory violation. The court concluded that the trial court erred by concluding that they could and did. The court held that a premarital agreement that is not enforceable under section 1615 is void, not voidable, and accordingly cannot be ratified. Because none of the other grounds asserted in the summary judgment motion support the trial court's ruling, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings on plaintiff's malpractice claim. The court denied plaintiff's request for judicial notice as moot. View "Knapp v. Ginsberg" on Justia Law

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The petitioner in this appeal was attempting to enforce an oral agreement she entered into with her husband to exclude the couple’s retirement accounts and inheritances from being considered “marital property,” which was subject to equitable division in a dissolution proceeding. The district court found that an agreement existed, and that ruling wasn’t appealed. The issue this appeal presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether the agreement was valid despite being oral, and, alternatively, whether the parties’ partial performance could otherwise render the oral agreement valid. There were four statutory exceptions to the rule that property acquired during a marriage was generally considered "marital property." The only exception implicated here was property excluded from the marital estate by a "valid agreement" of the parties. Specifically, the issue was whether the parties' agreement to exclude their retirement accounts and inheritances from the marital estate had to be in writing and signed in order to be a "valid agreement." The Supreme Court held the parties' 2007 oral agreement was not a valid agreement because, at the time, Colorado statutory law required that all agreements between spouses be in writing and signed by both parties. Furthermore, the Court held the court of appeals correctly determined the parties’ conduct after entering into the oral agreement could not be treated as partial performance that satisfied the writing and signature requirements. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed and the case remanded with instructions to return the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "In re Marriage of Zander" on Justia Law

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In the summer of 2014, Mark and Jennifer Porcello sought to purchase property In Hayden Lake, Idaho. After making various pre-payments, the amount the couple was still short on a downpayment. Mark and Jennifer could not qualify for a conventional loan themselves. They hoped another property in Woodinville, Washington, owned by Mark’s parents, in which Mark and Jennifer claimed an interest, could be sold to assist in the purchase of the Hayden Lake property. In an effort to help Mark and Jennifer purchase the property, Mark’s parents, Annie and Tony Porcello, obtained financing through a non-conventional lender. "In the end, the transaction became quite complicated." Annie and Tony’s lawyer drafted a promissory note for Mark and Jennifer to sign which equaled the amount Annie and Tony borrowed. In turn, Mark signed a promissory note and deed of trust for the Hayden Lake house, in the same amount and with the same repayment terms as the loan undertaken by his parents. In mid-2016, Annie and Tony sought non-judicial foreclosure on the Hayden Lake property, claiming that the entire balance of the note was due and owing. By this time Mark and Jennifer had divorced; Jennifer still occupied the Hayden Lake home. In response to the foreclosure proceeding, Jennifer filed suit against her former in-laws seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction, arguing that any obligation under the note had been satisfied in full when the Woodinville property sold, notwithstanding the language of the note encumbering the Hayden Lake property. Annie and Tony filed a counter-claim against Jennifer and a third-party complaint against Mark. A district court granted Jennifer’s request for a declaratory judgment. However, by this time, Annie and Tony had died and their respective estates were substituted as parties. The district court denied the estates’ request for judicial foreclosure, and dismissed their third-party claims against Mark. The district court held that the Note and Deed of Trust were latently ambiguous because the amount of the Note was more than twice the amount Mark and Jennifer needed in order to purchase the Hayden Lake property. Because the district court concluded the note and deed of trust were ambiguous, it considered parol evidence to interpret them. Ultimately, the district court found the Note and Deed of Trust conveyed the Hayden Lake property to Jennifer and Mark “free and clear” upon the sale of the Woodinville property. Annie’s and Tony’s estates timely appealed. Finding that the district court erred in finding a latent ambiguity in the Note and Deed of Trust, and that the district court's interpretation of the Note and Deed of Trust was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Porcello v. Estates of Porcello" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved the enforceability of a premarital agreement between Julie Neustadt and Mark Colafranceschi. Before the two were married, they entered into a premarital agreement that required Neustadt to obtain a two-million-dollar life insurance policy naming Colafranceschi as the beneficiary. The agreement required Neustadt to keep the policy in force after termination of the marriage. During the divorce proceedings, Neustadt challenged the enforceability of this provision, arguing that the insurance clause was void as against public policy to the extent it applied after divorce. The magistrate court agreed that the contractual provision was void as against public policy. However, on appeal, the district court reversed, concluding the insurance clause did not violate any public policy in Idaho. Neustadt appealrf, arguing that the district court erred in finding the insurance clause valid and enforceable because, following the parties’ divorce, Colafranceschi had no insurable interest in Neustadt’s life. Colafranceschi also filed a cross-appeal, arguing: (1) the magistrate court erred in denying certain discovery requests; (2) the lower court erred by failing to address his objection to Neustadt’s motion in limine; and (3) the lower courts’ erred in their findings that Colafranceschi failed to prove he was fraudulently induced to sign the premarital agreement to get him to return to the couple’s marital home. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court decision in its entirety: (1) the Insurance Clause was not void as against public policy; (2) any error regarding discovery was forfeited; (3) there was no evidence that the magistrate court coerced Colafranceschi into withdrawing his extreme cruelty claim; and (4) substantial and competent evidence supported the magistrate court’s conclusions that Colafranceschi was not fraudulently induced regarding equity in the Osprey home. View "Neustadt v. Colafranceschi" on Justia Law