Court Ordered $50,000 in Counsel Fees After 24 Day Bench Trial

Soskina v. Estate of Turyan, New Jersey Superior Court App. Div., Docket No. A-3116-14T3 (Oct. 3, 2016).

Inna Soskina filed a complaint against the Estate of Alexander Turyan seeking palimony and other monetary relief.  The complaint named the decedent’s brother, Edward, and decedent’s daughter, Anna as co-executors of the estate.

After a twenty-four day bench trial, the trial court denied the palimony claim, but granted other relief.  The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s findings noting that the legal conclusions on issues of liability and damages were “unassailable.” Id. at *3.

The trial court found Soskina was entitled to about $94,000 representing the return of her $20,000 loan to the decedent to buy a Florida condominium, plus 20% of the net profit from the sale of the condo.  In addition, the court found Soskina was entitled to $300,000, which the decedent directed one of his debtors- his business associate – to pay Soskina directly.  The decedent made this direction on his deathbed, repeated it orally in front of multiple witnesses, and it was memorialized in writing.  Yet, instead of paying Soskina $300,000, the trial court found that Edward and Anna unlawfully converted the money to their own use.  Notably, the trial court ordered Edward and Anna to pay Soskina about $50,000 in counsel fees.

On appeal Edward contended that the trial court abused its discretion and Soskina’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The Appellate Division found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s evidentiary rulings or in the award of counsel fees.  Moreover, the court affirmed the trial court’s factual findings and credibility determinations.  The trial court appropriately found no written documentation to support Edward’s contention that a $29,000 check from decedent to Soskina, which she never cashed, was intended as a settlement of her claims concerning the condo.  Furthermore, there was no documentation to support Edward’s contention that the $359,000 paid from the decedent’s business associate to Edward was for a new business investment.

As to Edward’s contention that Soskina’s claim is barred by the statute of limitation, the appeals court found the argument was not raised in the trial court; nonetheless, it was without merit.