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Fruzynski v. Radler

Decided: November 26, 1952.


Eastwood, Goldmann and Francis. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.c.c.


In this action respondent sought the following equitable relief: (1) the setting aside as to him of a conveyance of certain premises made by his deceased wife and himself to appellant; (2) an accounting of the rents and profits received from the premises, and (3) the establishment of his interest in certain savings accounts in the names of himself and his deceased wife. Appellant claimed that the deed represented a gift, that the bank accounts came to her either as gifts from her mother, respondent's wife, or under the mother's will, and she denied any right to an accounting. In addition, appellant brought into the case by her answer and separate defenses, and not by way of counterclaim, the issue of respondent's liability on certain notes held by her and for the payment of his deceased wife's funeral expenses. All of the issues were presented at the trial without objection, and accordingly we shall determine such of them as have been made the subject of appeal.

The trial court adjudged the conveyance to be invalid as to respondent, that the bank accounts belonged to him, and ordered an accounting of the proceeds of the property conveyed. Further, he found respondent liable to appellant

on three promissory notes totaling $4,700, and not liable on one note for $3,500. No disposition was made in the oral opinion or in the judgment with respect to the funeral bill.

The appeal attacks the judgment in all of its aspects except as to the disposition of one of the savings accounts, namely, that in the Fidelity Union Trust Company of Newark.

The record contains a maze of conflict and contradictions. The questions involved were in large measure factual and their resolution depended for the most part upon the credibility of the various witnesses. Therefore, weighty consideration must be given by this appellate tribunal to the conclusions of the trial court who saw and heard the respective protagonists and their supporters.

Respondent and his deceased wife were married in 1922; she died on March 14, 1951 at age 76 years; he was 18 years younger. She had been married previously and appellant is her daughter by the first marriage.

Respondent is a cooper by trade and has worked for the same employer for 39 years. His education was limited to four years of schooling in Poland, and he does not read English. Although his earnings do not seem to have been large, prior to his marriage in 1922 he had accumulated over $4,500 in a savings account and when married had just short of $4,000 therein.

Decedent also had some funds when married, the amount of which is in dispute. It is unquestioned that on her first husband's death she became owner of premises on South 13th Street, Newark, which she sold three years before her marriage for $8,000. Respondent claimed that her net proceeds were only $3,000 because of the existence of a $5,000 mortgage. Appellant asserted that in addition to these proceeds her mother had received some life insurance benefits and that she had some money in a building and loan association. Respondent said the insurance benefits were used to pay the funeral bill and then denied that his wife had assets in the

building and loan association when they were married. This conflict is typical of the many that existed at the trial on practically every material phase of the case.

Two weeks after the marriage respondent's savings account was closed out and the following day title was taken in their joint names to property on South 21st Street, Newark, New Jersey.

The decedent continued to work after 1922 and remained so engaged until around 1930. From that time until her death she remained at home with no source of income other than her husband's wages and rents from some properties she and her husband acquired.

In 1926 the 21st Street property was sold and with the sum realized plus some additional cash 68-70 Park Place, Irvington, was purchased in their joint names. This is the property, which was deeded to appellant by respondent and his wife on July 10, 1948 and which is involved in this action.

The record discloses that on April 23, 1932 Mr. and Mrs. Fruzynski loaned $5,000 to one Phillips and others and received in return a second mortgage covering premises at 138-142 Norwood Street, Newark, New Jersey. Subsequently they foreclosed this mortgage and on February 21, 1933 bought in at the sheriff's sale, subject to a first mortgage of $25,500.

It is plain from the record that the husband and wife were pooling their resources in large measure and acting jointly in their real estate operations. In this connection an element of the utmost significance in the determination of the case manifests itself. The deceased wife handled all of their business affairs; she gave the instructions and she was the "boss." She handled the bank accounts, collected the rents, paid the expenses, and deposited the balance. After 1930, although she had ceased working, she was able to make substantial deposits in five separate ...

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