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Coon v. Southwestern Vermont Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Vermont

August 7, 2014

Donald J. Coon, Plaintiff,
v.
Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, Shea Family Funeral Homes, Lon McClintock, Esq., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER (DOCS. 144, 147)

JOHN M. CONROY Magistrate Judge.

On June 25, 2013, Plaintiff Donald J. Coon, proceeding pro se , commenced this action against several Defendants, including Defendant Shea Family Funeral Homes ("Shea"). Mr. Coon's claims stem from the death of his mother, Joan Marie Hunt, while Ms. Hunt was a patient at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center ("SVMC"); from Shea's actions following Ms. Hunt's death; and from Attorney Lon McClintock's alleged breach of duties he owed to Mr. Coon during an investigation into Ms. Hunt's death. Motions to dismiss SVMC and Attorney McClintock as Defendants were granted by a prior Opinion and Order ( see Doc. 72). Familiarity with that Opinion and Order is presumed.

The remaining claims in this matter are against Shea only. They are: (1) common-law conversion by repossession of a grave stone installed by Shea; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress for grave desecration and the removal of the grave stone; and (3) breach of contract for overcharging for professional funeral services. Several motions are currently pending. The Court here addresses two motions related to the so-called "Surrogate Letter" (Doc. 144-1): Mr. Coon's Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions (Doc. 144) and Mr. Coon's Motion to Strike (Doc. 147).

All parties have consented to direct assignment to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (Docs. 4, 10, 11, 48.) For the reasons that follow, Mr. Coon's Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions (Doc. 144) is DENIED and his Motion to Strike (Doc. 147) is DENIED.

Background

Mr. Coon claims that in January 2010, his half-sister Joanne Becker murdered Ms. Hunt at SVMC. Mr. Coon also claims that after Ms. Hunt died, Ms. Becker hired Shea to cremate the remains before any autopsy could be performed. Shea performed services related to Ms. Hunt's burial and funeral, including the provision of a grave marker. Some time prior to April 2010, there was an unpaid balance of about $167 on the account. Mr. Coon gave Shea a check dated April 5, 2010 in the amount of $167 to cover the unpaid balance. Assuming that the check would be honored, Mark Shea signed a waiver of citation and consent to appointment of administrator for Mr. Coon. (Doc. 119-5, Shea Aff. ΒΆΒΆ 10-11.)

On April 14, 2010, Shea's bank informed Shea that the check was written on a closed account, and charged Shea additional fees. Shea accordingly increased the balance due to $192. Mr. Coon insists that he did not "scam" Shea or commit fraud or false pretenses. (Doc. 105-22 at 2.) According to Mr. Coon, he was in the process of getting new bank accounts together with his wife Riza Coon, which apparently was the reason why the April 5, 2010 check did not clear. ( See Doc. 128 at 3.)

At some point after April 14, 2010, Mark Shea wrote a letter directed to Surrogate's Court in Washington County, New York (the "Surrogate Letter"). The letter states as follows:

RE: JOAN MARIE HUNT
Dear Sirs-
I was asked to sign the enclosed by the son of Mrs. Hunt (Donald Coon), at the time he had given us a check for the remaining balance of her account. Since then the check has not cleared and we have incurred charges, therefore the estate of Mrs. Hunt owes our funeral home $192.00.
I feel that he had me sign the document under false pretenses as he knew the check would not clear.
We are submitting this as a claim against the estate ...

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