United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
SCANDINAVIAN SHIP SUPPLY CO. and JOSEPHINE JANSSON, Plaintiffs,
JANE BLUMENFELD, Defendant.
MITCHELL S. GOLDBERG, District Judge.
This case involves a dispute over the validity of a note and mortgage and allegations that these documents were fraudulently procured. Presently before me is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Defendant essentially argues that Plaintiffs have failed to identify sufficient facts to establish fraud. After careful review of the record, and for the reasons stated below, I agree with Defendant and will grant the motion in its entirety.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise indicated:
Scandinavian Ship Supply Company, Inc. ("SSSC") was a marine supply and ship chandlery business which was owned and operated out of the property in question, 121-120 Christian Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ("Christian Street Property"). According to Plaintiffs, Bengt Jansson (deceased) and his wife, Josephine Jansson, owned and operated SSSC.
Jack Blumenfeld, the deceased husband of Defendant Jane Blumenfeld, and Bengt Jansson had a long standing personal and professional relationship which spanned several decades. The parties dispute the quality of this relationship. According to Defendant, Jack Blumenfeld and Bengt Jansson were close friends for many years with Bengt Jansson turning to Jack Blumenfeld for assistance regarding the financial affairs of SSSC. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, contend that Bengt Jansson and Jack Blumenfeld had been estranged for approximately twenty-five years as a result of Jack Blumenfeld's "ongoing fraudulent behavior" with respect to his involvement in the Jansson family's financial affairs.
The parties do agree that Jack Blumenfeld performed development services in connection with SSSC's efforts to enhance the value of the Christian Street Property. However, the parties dispute the extent and value of those activities as well as whether Bengt Jansson authorized Jack Blumenfeld to undertake those activities.
On November 3, 2009, Bengt Jansson signed a promissory note payable to Jack Blumenfeld in the amount of $300, 000 and a mortgage on the Christian Street Property securing the note.
On April 5, 2012, SSSC filed an initial complaint against Jack Blumenfeld alleging that he fraudulently induced Bengt Jansson into signing the mortgage and note or, in the alternative, that he forged Bengt Jansson's signature. However, at a subsequent hearing before me on "Plaintiffs' Motion for an Order to Prevent Dissipation of Assets by Defendant, " Plaintiffs conceded that they could not prove that Bengt Jansson's signature was a forgery.
On June 30, 2012, Bengt Jansson died. On August 5, 2012, Jack Blumenfeld died. On August 15, 2012, SSSC and Josephine Jansson filed an amended complaint against the Estate of Jack Blumenfeld raising essentially the same allegations pled in the original complaint - that the note and mortgage were procured through fraud. On October 10, 2013, an Order was entered granting Plaintiffs' motion to substitute Jack Blumenfeld's wife, Jane Blumenfeld, as the party defendant. On November 30, 2012, SSSC sold the Christian Street Property for $1, 610, 000.00. Upon selling the property, Plaintiffs placed $400, 000 in an escrow account pending the resolution of this case.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." A dispute is "genuine" if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Galena v. Leone, 638 F.3d 186, 196 (3d Cir. 2011). However, "unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations or mere suspicions" are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. Schaar v. Lehigh Valley Health Servs., Inc., 732 F.Supp.2d 490, 493 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (citing Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 461 (3d Cir. 1989)).
The movant "always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the moving party's initial Celotex burden can be met by showing that the non-moving party has "fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case." Id. at 322.
After the moving party has met its initial burden, summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut the moving party's claim by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations..., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials" that show a genuine issue of material fact or by "showing ...