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Jaffer v. Hirji

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

April 4, 2018

Latifa Jaffer, Ahmed M. Hirji, Shehzad Hirji, and Hussein Jaffer, Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellants,
v.
Naushad M. Hirji and Sabira Hirji, Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. No. 14-CV-2127 - Kenneth M. Karas, District Judge.

         Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellants, Latifa Jaffer, Ahmed M. Hirji, Shehzad Hirji, and Hussein Jaffer appeal from the May 18, 2017 judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Karas, J.) granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants-Counter-Claimants-Appellees. We vacate and remand that judgment.

          Costantino Fragale, Esq., Maker, Fragale & Di Costanzo, LLP, Rye, NY, for Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants- Appellants.

          Andrew D. Brodnick, Esq., Rye Brook, NY, for Defendants-Counter- Claimants-Appellees.

          Before: Leval, Calabresi, Cabranes, Circuit Judges.

          Calabresi, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiffs-Counter-Defendants-Appellants Latifa Jaffer, Ahmed M. Hirji, Shehzad Hirji, and Hussein Jaffer (jointly, "Plaintiffs") appeal from the October 27, 2015 order and May 18, 2017 judgment of the District Court in favor of Defendants-Counter- Claimants-Appellees Naushad M. Hirji and Sabira Hirji (jointly, "Defendants"). Plaintiffs argue that the District Court erred by granting judgment on the pleadings against their adverse possession claim and by granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Plaintiffs' constructive trust claim. Upon review, we agree with the District Court with respect to the adverse possession claim and affirm that ruling. With regard to the constructive trust claim, we disagree with the District Court and vacate and remand that ruling. We assume the parties' familiarity with the underlying facts, the procedural history of the case, and the issues on appeal.

         BACKGROUND

         This case involves an intra-family dispute over who owns a residential house in Hartsdale, New York ("the Property"). In 1982, the now-deceased Mohamed Hirji ("Mohamed") purchased the Property, and put the title in the names of two of his sons: Plaintiff Ahmed Hirji ("Ahmed") and non-party Mustafa Hirji. According to the attorney who represented Mohamed at the purchase, Mohamed intended the Property to be "a place that the family could reside in." App. at 58.

         In 1989, Plaintiff Ahmed and Mustafa transferred the title to their father Mohamed and their brother, Defendant Naushad Hirji ("Naushad"), as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. Mohamed and Defendant Naushad paid no consideration. Mohamed died in 1998, and his interest in the Property devolved to Defendant Naushad. In 2001, Defendant Naushad deeded the Property to himself and his wife, Defendant Sabira Hirji. Defendants currently possess title to the Property, but live in Tanzania. Defendant Naushad testified that he never spoke to the attorney who prepared the deeds in 1989 and 2001. During this whole period, Defendant Naushad visited the Property only once and never hired anyone to inspect it.

         Plaintiffs Ahmed, Shehzad Hirji (son of Ahmed), Latifa Jaffer (daughter of Mohamed, sister of Ahmed), and Hussein Jaffer (husband of Latifa) now reside at the Property, where they all (except Shehzad) have lived since 1984. Between 1984 and 2013, Plaintiffs maintained and made capital improvements on the Property, paid all subject property taxes, and never remitted rent payments to Defendants.

         In January 2014, Defendants issued a Notice of Termination to Plaintiffs requiring them to vacate the Property on or before February 28, 2014. Three days before they were required to vacate, Plaintiffs commenced the instant litigation. In their amended complaint, Plaintiffs claimed that (1) Defendant Naushad holds the legal title to the Property in constructive trust for the benefit of the Plaintiffs, and (2) Plaintiffs acquired title to the Property by adverse possession.

         The District Court granted judgment on the pleadings against the adverse possession claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The District Court subsequently granted summary judgment to Defendants ...


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