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Jadallah v. Town of Fairfax

Supreme Court of Vermont

March 23, 2018

Sulaiman J. Jadallah
Town of Fairfax, Stacy Wells, Gabriel Handy and Sidon Pantry, LLC

          On Appeal from Superior Court, Franklin Unit, Civil Division Michael J. Harris, J.

          Sulaiman J. Jadallah, Pro Se, Milton, Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Brian P. Monaghan and James F. Conway, III of Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC, Burlington, for Defendants-Appellees Town of Fairfax and Stacy Wells.

          Joseph D. Fallon, Hinesburg, for Defendants-Appellees Gabriel Handy and Sidon Pantry, LLC.

          PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Robinson, [1] Eaton and Carroll, JJ.

          SKOGLUND, J.

          1. Appellant, Sulaiman Jadallah, asks this Court to reverse a trial court's decision that: (1) denied appellant's request to vacate a settlement agreement between himself, appellee Gabriel Handy, and appellee Sidon Pantry, LLC under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b); and (2) granted summary judgment in favor of appellee Town of Fairfax and appellee Stacy Wells. For the reasons set out below, we affirm.

         ¶ 2. This appeal arises out of a seemingly complex factual background. In 1994, appellant began operating a restaurant situated on a parcel of real property that he owned. Nine years later in 2003, Handy loaned appellant money. To secure the loan, appellant executed a quitclaim deed for the real property to Handy (2003 Deed), which the parties agreed that Handy could record should appellant fail to repay Handy. Appellant repaid the loan to Handy's satisfaction, and thus, Handy did not record the 2003 Deed.

         ¶ 3. In 2007, appellant again experienced financial difficulty and sought a loan from Handy. Handy agreed to loan appellant money pursuant to terms laid out in a promissory note, which appellant signed. The loan was secured by a second quitclaim deed for the real property to Handy (2007 Deed). The promissory note and the 2007 Deed were signed by appellant and Handy and notarized by Wells on October 2, 2007. The 2007 Deed and promissory note provided that, if appellant failed to make timely repayment of the loan, Handy would be required to give notice to appellant and allow appellant fifteen days to cure the default. Upon appellant's failure to cure, Handy would record the 2007 Deed, which would transfer title of the property to Sidon Pantry, Handy's company.

         ¶ 4. Subsequently, appellant was incarcerated for an unrelated legal matter and failed to make payments to Handy, as required by the promissory note, and to the State of Vermont for rooms and meals taxes. As a result of appellant's default, Handy recorded the 2007 Deed and Wells signed the attestation stamp as to the fact and date of the recording on April 7, 2008. Handy filed the Vermont Property Transfer Tax Return (VPTTR) on the same day and paid the relevant transfer taxes and back room and meals taxes thereafter.

         ¶ 5. When appellant was released from prison in mid-April 2008, Handy told appellant that he had recorded the quitclaim deed. On April 30, 2008, a mortgagee of the property sent appellant a letter informing him that an unauthorized transfer of the property had occurred in violation with the mortgage's provisions. Further, on March 9, 2009, a letter from appellant's attorney for a bankruptcy proceeding informed Handy's attorney that a May 2008 title search revealed a transfer of the property by appellant to Handy. In 2010, Handy cleared title to the property by paying off the two mortgages encumbering the property. In 2014, appellant purported to grant an easement in the property to his son. The easement deed referenced the 2007 Deed as a "fraudulent deed" that did not actually convey the property to Handy and his company.

         ¶ 6. Appellant filed a complaint initiating this lawsuit on October 7, 2014. Appellant asserted an array of claims against the four appellees. The claims against all appellees included: slander of title, negligence, fraud, deceptive acts and practice, trespass, and conversion. Appellant also asserted a claim for breach of contract against Handy and Sidon Pantry and a claim for intentional interference with contractual relations against the Town of Fairfax and Wells. The Town and Wells filed a motion to dismiss these claims, which was denied.

         ¶ 7. Appellant and appellees Handy and Sidon Pantry entered into mediation, settled their dispute, and filed a stipulated dismissal order in March 2015. All parties were represented by independent counsel during the negotiations and signing of the settlement agreement. Prior to closing on the settlement, appellant's then-attorney requested additional language be added to the quitclaim deed to clarify and protect appellant's position. In the final settlement, appellant released any interest in the property to Handy and Sidon Pantry through a quitclaim deed (2015 Deed), each party dismissed all claims against the other, and all parties agreed that appellant's claims against the Town and Wells "shall not be affected by [the] Agreement." The trial court reviewed the settlement documents and entered an order dismissing the settled claims per the settlement. Further, the parties entered into a lease agreement, which stated that appellant could lease the premises with the right to purchase if all payments were made per the agreement. And, if appellant breached the lease agreement, Handy would have the right to foreclose and redeem the property. The case against the Town and Wells continued.

         ¶ 8. On March 4, 2016, appellant filed a motion for relief from judgment under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60, requesting that the court vacate the March 2015 settlement agreement on the basis that Handy and his attorney allegedly engaged in fraud when drafting and obtaining appellant's signature on the settlement documents. All four appellees opposed the motion for relief from judgment on several grounds. On August 16, 2016, the Town and Wells filed a motion for summary judgment on all causes of action. V.R.C.P. 56. The Town and Wells argued, among other things, that: (1) the statute of limitations on each of appellant's claims expired; (2) appellant, by signing the 2015 Deed and settlement agreement admitted the authenticity and legality of the 2007 Deed, thereby negating a necessary element of each of ...

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