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FIELDING v. BT ALEX BROWN

August 15, 2000

ANN FIELDING, PLAINTIFF,
V.
BT ALEX BROWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kessler, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Ann Fielding*fn1 brings this action against BT Alex Brown Corp. ("BT Alex Brown"), Delaware Charter & Guarantee Trust Co. ("Delaware Charter"), and Jayne Seebold, individually and on behalf of her children, Aaron and Rebecca Fielding, under D.C.Code §§ 19-113 and 19-303, and the common law of the District of Columbia. Plaintiff alleges that she was the common law wife of decedent Byron Fielding from May 1996 until his death in October 1997. She further alleges that the IRA Trust that decedent attempted to establish just prior to their alleged common law marriage was invalid, illusory, and fraudulent, and therefore the Trust's assets should be considered part of decedent's estate, of which Plaintiff is entitled to a statutory share.

This matter comes before the Court on the motions for summary judgment of Plaintiff and Defendant Jayne Seebold. Upon consideration of all the pleadings, the entire record herein, and the applicable case law, for the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [# 61] is granted in part and denied in part, and Seebold's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment [# 62] is denied.

I. Factual Background*fn2

Plaintiff and decedent married in August 1965. At no time during their marriage did they have children. At some point in 1983, after the two had been married for nearly thirty years, decedent developed a relationship with one of his co-workers, Jayne Seebold. Decedent fathered a child with Seebold in March 1984 (Aaron), while decedent was still married to Plaintiff.

In June 1984, decedent and Plaintiff were divorced. Shortly thereafter, decedent married Seebold and they had another child, Rebecca, several years later. In 1990, while Seebold was still married to decedent, Seebold developed a relationship with Gerald Furman. In November 1990, decedent and Seebold were divorced, with Seebold receiving custody of their two children and decedent having visitation rights.

In December 1992, decedent and Furman (Seebold's then-boyfriend) had an altercation relating to how Aaron and Rebecca should be raised, and decedent shot and seriously wounded Furman. Decedent was convicted and served approximately three and a half years in prison for his role in the offense. During his imprisonment, decedent developed a renewed, though not necessarily intimate, relationship with Plaintiff, his former wife of twenty-nine years. Plaintiff paid $10,000 in decedent's legal fees, and periodically loaned him hundreds of dollars.*fn3 Plaintiff alleges that decedent began referring to her as his "wife" and that he promised to marry her on her birthday, May 10, 1996.

Upon his release in April 1996, decedent began living with Plaintiff. At some point, they began using joint checking accounts and taking out joint automobile insurance policies. They slept in the same bedroom.*fn4 Plaintiff alleges that on her birthday, May 10, 1996, she and decedent were "married" in the common law sense of that term. They did not exchange rings, nor did they exchange vows in an official marriage ceremony.*fn5 However, according to Plaintiff, she and decedent held themselves out as a married couple, telling friends and neighbors that they were husband and wife.*fn6

Twenty-three days earlier — that is, 23 days before his alleged common law marriage to Plaintiff — decedent applied to establish a Rollover Individual Retirement Account ("IRA" or "R-IRA") Trust ("the Trust"), "rolling over" tax-deferred funds from a previous retirement account he maintained. Decedent named Delaware Charter as Trustee and designated Aaron and Rebecca Fielding, the children from his marriage to Seebold, as the Trust's beneficiaries. Lafayette Investments maintained the Trust account and BT Alex Brown served as the bank in which the Trust assets were deposited.

To establish the Trust funds, Decedent deposited into a BT Alex Brown bank account six checks, beginning April 22, 1996 and ending July 17, 1996. Two of these checks were deposited after the alleged common law marriage — on May 13 and July 17 in the amounts of $102,391 and $109,587, respectively.*fn7 The Trust assets totaled approximately $470,000 at the time of the Trust's formation and approximately $550,000 at the time of decedent's death. At no time did decedent inform Plaintiff of the Trust's existence, nor did he tell her of his substantial assets.

During the short duration of the alleged common law marriage (approximately 17 months), Plaintiff was employed, and decedent was not. Plaintiff provided financial support to decedent, paying some of his outstanding bills and charge accounts. Decedent died intestate in October 1997. Plaintiff paid for his funeral expenses, which amounted to approximately $1,400. In total, Plaintiff estimates that she spent many thousands of dollars on behalf of decedent during the alleged common law marriage.*fn8 Shortly after decedent's death, Plaintiff learned of the Trust which decedent had established, the assets of which were intended entirely for Aaron and Rebecca Fielding.

II. Standard of Review

Each party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In determining whether the parties have met this burden, a court must consider all factual inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. McKinney v. Dole, 765 F.2d 1129, 1135 (D.C.Cir. 1985). Once the moving party makes its initial showing, however, the nonmoving party must demonstrate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial" so that summary judgment is not appropriate in favor of the movant. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; McKinney, 765 F.2d at 1135. Moreover, "[i]n determining a motion for summary judgment, the court may assume that facts ...


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