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Chase v. Chase

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

August 21, 2018

JOHN F. CHASE, Plaintiff and Counterclaim Defendant
BRUCE G. CHASE, Defendant and Counterclaim Plaintiff and JANET CHASE, Counterclaim Plaintiff

          Plaintiff's Counsel: Gene Libby, Esq. Tyler Smith, Esq. Libby O'Brien Kingsley & Champion

          Defs' Counsel: Sheilah McLaughlin, Esq. Law Office of Sheilah McLaughlin


          A. M. Horton, Justice

         A bench trial on the counterclaim for unjust enrichment in this civil case was held July 11-12, 2018, after which the parties submitted post-hearing briefs, at which point the court took the case under advisement.

         Procedural Background

         This case originated with Plaintiff John Chase's complaint to enforce the provision of a promissory note given to him by Defendant Bruce Chase that required Bruce Chase to designate John Chase solely and irrevocably as the beneficiary of certain life insurance policies insuring Bruce Chase's life.

         In response to John Chase's complaint, Bruce Chase filed a counterclaim against John Chase, and was joined as a counterclaim plaintiff by Janet Chase, Bruce Chase's wife. See M.R. Civ. P. 20(a). Janet Chase and Bruce Chase's counterclaim alleged that John Chase was liable to them for breaching an oral contract, the details of which are set forth below. The counterclaim went through a couple of iterations, the most recent of which is captioned New Amended Counterclaim.

         John Chase moved for summary judgment in his favor on his complaint and on Bruce and Janet Chase's New Amended Counterclaim. Bruce and Janet Chase opposed John Chase's motion in all respects. In an order dated and docketed December 15, 2017, the court granted John Chase's motion for summary judgment as it related to his complaint, and granted his motion in part as it related to Bruce and Janet Chase's New Amended Counterclaim for breach of express contract. See Order on Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment (Dec. 15, 2017).

         The court denied John Chase's summary judgment motion to the extent Bruce and Janet Chase were pursuing a claim for restitution based on unjust enrichment and part performance of the alleged oral contract. It is those claims that went to trial in July 2018.

         Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

         Based on the entire record, the court makes and adopts the following findings of fact and conclusions of law, and renders judgment as set forth below.

         1. Plaintiff and Counterclaim Defendant John Chase and Defendant and Counterclaim Plaintiff Bruce Chase are brothers. John Chase is 53 years old; Bruce Chase is 66 years old. Counterclaim Plaintiff Janet Chase is Bruce Chase's wife.

          2. John Chase and Bruce Chase are both former police officers-John Chase having been with the Westbrook Police Department and Bruce Chase with the Portland Police Department.

         3. While still employed with the Westbrook police, John Chase began a construction business that eventually expanded to the point that he decided to leave police work and devote himself full-time to the business, which is now known as Chase Custom Homes and Finance, LLC ["Chase Custom Homes”]. John Chase owns and operates several other businesses, including one called Auto Shine Car Wash.

         4. At all relevant times, John Chase has owned a residential property in Naples, Maine. The property, known as Big Bear Point, consists of multiple acres and has several substantial residences and other buildings, as well as significant frontage on Long Lake. With limited exceptions, John Chase has resided at the Big Bear Point property in recent years.

         5. After leaving law enforcement, Bruce Chase became involved in the property repair and maintenance field. He owned and operated a property maintenance and handyman business in greater Portland for some years, until 2009. One of his commercial customers was the Infinity Federal Credit Union. At some point, Infinity retained a property management firm, Dirigo Management, to handle property maintenance, and Bruce Chase continued, either as a Dirigo employee or as an independent contractor.

          6. Bruce Chase encouraged the management at Infinity to use John Chase's construction business for construction and renovation project. However, John Chase had developed his own associations with Infinity management. Although Infinity hired John Chase's company to do well over a million dollars in construction work over the years, the evidence did not show that Bruce Chase's recommendations were the reason why John Chase's company got this business.

         7. In 2000, around the time Bruce and Janet Chase were married, Chase Custom Homes built and sold them a new home on a residential building lot at 25 Chase Hill Road in Westbrook. As a wedding gift to Bruce and Janet Chase, John Chase arranged for his company to sell the home to Bruce and Janet Chase at the company's cost for constructing the residence, and did not charge Bruce and Janet Chase for the cost of the lot. The price Bruce and Janet Chase paid for the property was substantially less than the property's market value at the time of the purchase, although the evidence was too conflicting for the court to set a value on the difference.

         8. To facilitate the closing, John Chase asked Bruce and Janet Chase to execute a durable power of attorney in favor of John Chase's attorney, Richard Abbondanza, Esq., and attorney Abbondanza handled the closing on behalf of Bruce and Janet Chase. The power of attorney apparently was still in effect as of the time of trial.

         9. After Dirigo Management took over responsibility for property management and maintenance at the Infinity Federal Credit Union, Bruce Chase became increasingly dissatisfied with his work, and he often shared his dissatisfaction with John Chase during their conversations.

         10. On New Year's Eve in 2009, John Chase and his wife at the time, Sherry Chase, and Bruce and Janet Chase all went to dinner at the DiMillo's restaurant in Portland. Over dinner, John and Sherry Chase made what Bruce and Janet Chase characterized as a "life-changing proposal." The parties agree that the proposal covered the following material terms:

● Bruce Chase would leave his property repair and maintenance business and Janet Chase would leave her job, which involved administrative work at Mercy Hospital. Janet Chase was working about 32 hours per week at an annual salary of $26, 000.
● Bruce and Janet Chase would sell their home on Chase Hill Road, so that they could move into a residence to be provided for them rent-free on the Big Bear Point property in Naples. In recognition of the rent-free living arrangement, the net proceeds of sale of Bruce and Janet Chase's home would be turned over to John and Sherry Chase to help defray their costs associated with the proposal.
● Bruce Chase would be responsible for maintenance of the Big Bear Point property at an annual salary of $65, 000 per year, which he told John was what he had been earning in his business.[1] Janet Chase would work on personal administrative tasks and projects for John and Sherry Chase at an annual salary of $26, 000, matching what she had been earning at her job with Mercy Hospital.
● John Chase would pay for Bruce and Janet Chase's health insurance coverage.
● Bruce and Janet Chase could stay at a Florida property owned by John Chase for periods over the winter. It does not appear there was any specific discussion about how often-or for how long-Bruce and Janet Chase could stay at the Florida property.

         11. Although the parties agree about the foregoing aspects of John and Sherry Chase's proposal, they disagree about the duration of what John and ...

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