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Estate of Curran

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

March 27, 2015

ESTATE OF THOMAS P. CURRAN, SR., Plaintiff
v.
HELEN CURRAN, Defendant

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Joyce A. Wheeler Justice, Superior Court

This matter is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. This is one of several cases that resulted from Thomas Curran, Sr. and Helen Curran's divorce in 1988. This case concerns property located on Chebeague Island in Maine. Other cases involving these parties have been filed in New York and New Hampshire. This court stayed the Maine action after defendant filed her motion for summary judgment in 2010 to allow the New York court to rule on the enforceability of the separation agreement.[1] The parties have reached a settlement agreement in the New York case and now ask this court to rule on the motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, defendant's motion is granted.

FACTS

The following facts are presented in a light most favorable to plaintiff as the non-moving party. Thomas Curran, Sr. and Helen Curran married in Portland, Maine on January 29, 1955. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶1.) They had four children: Thomas Curran Jr., Kevin Curran, Pamela Curran and Stephanie Curran. (Def.'s Supp. S.MrF. ¶ 2.) Thomas Sr. and Helen primarily lived in New York during their marriage, but they owned a summer home on Chebeague Island in Maine as joint tenants. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 9.)

In 1988, Thomas Sr. and Helen divorced in New York. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 4.) The couple's divorce was controlled by a separation agreement dated March 8, 1988 and divorce judgment dated April 24, 1988. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 3-4.) The divorce judgment explicitly states that the separation agreement would survive and not be merged with the divorce judgment. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 5.) The separation agreement states that the provisions of the agreement would be incorporated into the judgment but be deemed to survive the judgment. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 5, as qualified by PL's Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 5.)

Under the separation agreement, Helen and Thomas Sr. were to sell the Chebeague Island property "as quickly as reasonably possible." (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 6, 22.) The agreement required Thomas Sr. to pay all of the expenses for the property, including maintenance and repairs, until the house sold. (PL's Add. S.M.F. ¶ 4.) For whatever reason, the property was never sold. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 7, as qualified by PL's Opp. S.M.F. 7.) Thomas Sr. died in January 2008, and Kevin Curran was appointed the executor of his estate. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 8, 10.)

After Helen and Thomas Sr.'s divorce, Kevin Curran told his father to seek legal action to force a sale of the Chebeague Island property. (PL's Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 24; Def.'s Supp. S.M.F.¶ 25.) On March 22, 1992, Thomas Sr.'s attorney, Paul Eric Rudder, sent a letter to Helen threatening legal action if she did not sell the New York properties and comply with her other obligations under the separation agreement. (Def.'s Supp. S.MF.¶ 27, as qualified by PL's Opp. S.M.F.¶ 27.) On July 24, 1992, Thomas Sr. sent a letter to Helen informing her that he would stop making payments for utilities and taxes on the properties. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 26, as qualified by PL's Opp. S.M.F.¶ 26.) Despite Thomas Sr.'s threat, he continued to make maintenance payments on the properties up until his death, which totaled approximately $160, 000. (Def.'s Supp. S.M.F. ¶¶ 15, 30; PL's Opp. S.M.F. ¶¶15, 30.)

Plaintiff filed a two-count complaint on April 17, 2009. Count I seeks enforcement of Helen Curran and Thomas Curran, Sr.'s separation agreement and divorce judgment. Count II seeks equitable partition and sale of the property.

DISCUSSION

1. Summary Tudgment Standard

"Summary judgment is appropriate if the record reflects that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Dussault v. RRE Coach Lantern Holdings, LLC, 2014 ME 8, ¶12, 86 A.3d 52 (quoting F.R. Carroll, Inc. v. TD Bank, N.A., 2010 ME 115, ¶ 8, 8 A.3d 646). "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case, and there is a genuine issue when there is sufficient evidence for a fact-finder to choose between competing versions of the fact." Mcllroy v. Gibson's Apple Orchard, 2012 ME 59, ¶ 7, 43 A.3d 948 (quoting N. E. Ins. Co. v. Young, 2011 ME 89, ¶ 17, 26 A.3d 794). "Even when one party's version of the facts appears more credible and persuasive to the court, any genuine factual dispute must be resolved through fact-finding, regardless of the nonmoving party's likelihood of success." Lewis v. Concord Gen. Mut. Ins. Co., 2014 ME 34, ¶ 10, 87 A.3d 732. If facts are undisputed but nevertheless capable of supporting conflicting, plausible inferences, "the choice between those inferences is not for the court on summary judgment." Id.

1. Maine Property Law

Thomas Sr. and Helen Curran owned the Chebeague Island property as joint tenants. "[W]here a settlement agreement and a divorce judgment provide for a future sale or disposition of the real estate and are silent on the parties' intentions as to whether the property remains in joint tenancy pending the disposition, it should not be presumed that the parties intended an immediate severance of the joint tenancy." In re Estate of Gordan, 2004 ME 23, ¶ 14, 842 A.2d 1270.

Because they held the property as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, when Thomas Sr. died in 2008, Helen Curran became the sole owner of the Chebeague Island property. Irvin L. Young Found., Inc. v. Damrell, 511 A.2d 1069, 1070 (Me. 1986). Plaintiff does not dispute that title to the property passed to Helen, but contends that Thomas Sr.'s estate has an interest in the property by virtue of the separation ...


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