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Reynolds v. Demas

United States District Court, D. Vermont

September 24, 2019

Jacqueline Reynolds, Plaintiff,
Elizabeth Demas, Esq., Bruce D. Baker, Esq., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER (DOCS. 30, 47, 54, 56, 57, & 65)

          John M. Conroy United States Magistrate Judge

         On January 9, 2019, proceeding pro se, Plaintiff Jacqueline Reynolds filed an Amended Complaint in the present civil action, alleging that Defendants Elizabeth Demas, Esq., and Bruce D. Baker, Esq., committed professional legal malpractice in multiple ways. (Doc. 3 at 11–25, ¶¶ 25–73.) The gravamen of these claims is that Attorneys Demas and Baker committed legal malpractice in their representation of Reynolds in a partition action brought against Jane Scanlon in Vermont Superior Court. (Id.) Reynolds seeks total damages in excess of $800, 000, including expenses, and 12% interest from 2006 to 2015. (Id. at 25–26, ¶¶ 75–76.)

         Presently before the Court is Demas and Baker’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 30) and several other pending motions submitted by both parties. (See Docs. 47, 54, 56, 57, 65.) Oral argument was held on September 16, 2019. For the reasons set forth below, Demas and Baker’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 30) is GRANTED, and Reynolds’s motions to extend time to retain an expert (Docs. 47, 65) are DENIED. Further, because the Court grants the Motion for Summary Judgment, the pending motions filed after the summary judgment motion are DENIED as moot. (Docs. 54, 56, 57.)

         Factual Background

         The material facts are primarily drawn from Reynolds’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 3), the documents Reynolds submitted with her Amended Complaint (Docs. 3-1–3-52), and the documents filed by Demas and Baker in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docs. 30-1–30-9.) They are undisputed unless otherwise indicated.

         I. Reynolds’s Loans to Jane Scanlon

         Reynolds met Jane Scanlon online sometime in February 2006. (Doc. 3 at 3, ¶ 13.) At the time, Reynolds lived in Texas and Scanlon lived in Vermont. (See Doc. 3-8 at 3, ¶¶ 13–14.) Apparently, after Reynolds and Scanlon met, Reynolds began traveling from Texas to stay with Scanlon in Vermont. (Id.)

         Approximately three months after they met, Reynolds allegedly loaned Scanlon $1, 000. (Doc. 3. at 3, ¶ 13.) About a month later, Reynolds and Scanlon discussed forming a joint business to rent the rooms of Scanlon’s house, located at 21 Messenger Street in St. Albans, Vermont. (Id. ¶ 14.) Scanlon conducted preliminary research to determine whether such a business would be a good investment. (Id.) Unbeknownst to Reynolds, however, the Franklin County Vermont Superior Court had previously issued an order on October 4, 2005 appointing an agent to sell the property at 21 Messenger Street and to apportion the proceeds between Scanlon and her ex-husband in accordance with their divorce decree. (Doc. 3-5.)

         According to Reynolds, it was not until several months later that Scanlon told Reynolds that Scanlon owed her ex-husband approximately $15, 000 and that the Franklin County Superior Court had ordered the sale of 21 Messenger Street to satisfy the debt. (Doc. 3 at 4, ¶ 16.) In August 2006 (Doc. 3-8 at 3, ¶ 15), to prevent the sale of 21 Messenger Street, Reynolds agreed to loan nearly $16, 600 to Scanlon to satisfy the debt, as well as the interest that had accrued and the fees due to the agent tasked with selling the property.[1] (Doc. 3 at 5–6, ¶¶ 16–17; see also Doc. 3-7.) Subsequently, Reynolds claims that she provided Scanlon with an additional check for $3, 500 in full satisfaction of the remaining claims against Scanlon. (Id.; see also Doc. 3-9.) In total, Reynolds asserts that she “loaned Ms. Scanlon over ($20, 000.00) regarding the divorce decree settlement of Ms. Scanlon and her former husband.” (Doc. 3 at 5–6, ¶ 17.) To secure this loan, Reynolds and Scanlon executed a promissory note for $22, 000 on August 8, 2006 (Promissory Note A). (See Doc. 3-11 at 5.) Under the terms of Promissory Note A, Scanlon agreed to a 7% interest rate on the loan, with the entire amount due on October 8, 2006. (Id.) If the funds were not available on October 8, Scanlon agreed to sell the property at 21 Messenger Street to pay the outstanding loan. (Id.)

         Apparently, sometime after Reynolds made these loans, she and Scanlon entered into a verbal business agreement to rent rooms at 21 Messenger Street. (Doc. 3 at 6–7, ¶ 18.) Reynolds agreed to provide money to repair and update the property for guests and Scanlon was designated to collect rental payments; Reynolds and Scanlon also decided to split the rental payments equally and to reinvest the rental payments into the property where required. (Id.) As part of their discussion, Scanlon also agreed to execute a quitclaim deed giving Reynolds a 50% interest in 21 Messenger Street. (Id.) Reynolds states that she fulfilled her monetary obligations under the agreement and, by December 2006, Scanlon had found a renter for 21 Messenger Street. (Id. at 8–9, ¶ 22.) On April 19, 2007, Scanlon fulfilled her portion of the agreement by executing a quitclaim deed providing Reynolds with a 50% interest in 21 Messenger Street. (Id.; see also Doc. 3-11 at 7–8.)

         At the same time that Reynolds and Scanlon were engaged in their business venture, Reynolds states that she provided Scanlon with two additional personal loans. First, on October 24, 2006, Reynolds loaned Scanlon $24, 500. (Doc. 3 at 7, ¶ 20.) Then, in approximately March 2007, Reynolds loaned Scanlon an additional $31, 500. (Id. at 7–8, ¶ 21.) Reynolds maintains that both payments were personal loans to Scanlon and were not financial contributions to the rental business at 21 Messenger Street. (Id. at 7–8, ¶¶ 20–21.) To secure payment for these loans, Reynolds and Scanlon signed a second promissory note (Promissory Note B) on April 19, 2007.[2] (Id. at 8, ¶ 21; see also Doc. 3-11 at 6.) Under the terms of Promissory Note B, Scanlon agreed to a 7% interest rate on the loan, with the entire amount due that fall, specifically on October 8, 2007. (See Doc. 3-11 at 6.) If the funds were not available on October 8, Scanlon again agreed to sell the property at 21 Messenger Street to pay the outstanding loan. (Id.)

         From summer 2008 to spring 2012, Reynolds apparently attempted to informally recover the amounts loaned to Scanlon, but Scanlon failed to repay the loans. (Doc. 3 at 9, ¶ 23.) Then, in May 2013, Reynolds contacted a realtor in Vermont to ask about the possibility of selling 21 Messenger Street, apparently so that she could recover the loan amounts and rental income. (Id. at 9–10, ¶ 24.) Ultimately, the realtor suggested that Reynolds contact Attorney Demas for advice regarding the possible sale of 21 Messenger Street and about the loan obligations owed by Scanlon. (Id.)

         II. Demas’s Representation of Reynolds

         In July 2013, Reynolds hired Attorney Demas to seek partition of 21 Messenger Street, to recover 50% of any unpaid rental income held by Scanlon, and to seek repayment of the outstanding loans provided to Scanlon. (Doc. 3 at 11–13, ¶ 27.) From the beginning, however, Attorney Demas recommended that Reynolds attempt to settle the case, because “the court process to quiet this title, or partition the property, could take years, would cost thousands of dollars, and may well end up with you back at the point of only owning half of the property.” (Doc. 3-52.)

         Subsequently, in October 2013, on behalf of Reynolds, Attorney Demas filed a complaint against Scanlon in the Franklin County Superior Court. (See Doc. 3-11.) In the complaint, Demas asked the superior court to partition the property at 21 Messenger Street so that Reynolds could recover $94, 625.20 purportedly owed by Scanlon and so that Reynolds could be awarded an undivided 50% interest in the property. (Id. at 1, ¶ 4.) With regard to the amount demanded, Demas alleged in the complaint that Reynolds advanced Scanlon a total of $101, 625.20 between February 2006 and March 2012 and that Reynolds had repaid only $7, 000 of that amount. (Id. at 1, ¶ 5.) For support, Demas attached Promissory Note A, alleging that the note reflected a debt of $35, 500, and Promissory Note B, which purportedly represented a debt of $66, 125.20. (Id. at 2, ¶¶ 6–7.) But the sums set forth in the attached promissory notes did not match the sums demanded in the complaint;[3]instead, as described in detail above, Promissory Note A secured a loan of $22, 000 and Promissory Note B secured a loan of $56, 000. (See Id . at 5–6.)

         After filing the complaint, Attorney Demas emailed Reynolds to let her know the next steps in the process. (See Doc. 3-26 at 4.) In her email, Demas expressed her hope that the complaint “would generate settlement discussions.” (Id.) Demas also explained that she would “try to get as much money for [Reynolds] as possible in court, and the judge can award as much as we can document [that Scanlon] borrowed.” (Id.)

         In December 2013, Scanlon filed an answer and counterclaim, alleging that both Promissory Note B and the quitclaim deed were frauds. (Doc. 3-8 at 1–2, ¶ 7; id. at 3–5, ¶¶ 19, 21–28.) With regard to Promissory Note A, Scanlon admitted that Reynolds advanced Scanlon $16, 000 to help finalize Scanlon’s divorce and that Scanlon subsequently executed Promissory Note A. (Id. at 3, ¶¶ 15–18.)

         On January 8, 2014, Attorney Demas forwarded the answer and counterclaim to Reynolds, noting that Scanlon’s allegations were “serious, ” and on February 10, 2014, she requested that Reynolds provide the original versions of the promissory notes to rebut the claims of fraud.[4] (See Doc. 3-27; Doc. 3-28.) Later that month, Reynolds provided Attorney Demas with the originals of the quitclaim deed and Promissory Note A, but did not produce an original version of Promissory Note B. (See Doc. 3-27; see also Doc. 30-1 at 5, ¶ 22.)

         Scheduling discovery and pretrial matters then became difficult for the parties. (See Doc. 3-42.) Eventually, in early November 2014, Demas and Scanlon’s attorney agreed to schedule depositions and to mediate the case. (Doc. 3-39.) To prepare for the depositions and mediation, a paralegal from Attorney Demas’s office offered to explain the process to Reynolds, but the extent of ...

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