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In the Matter of v. East Coast Jets

November 16, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF APPROVAL OF A SETTLEMENT REACHED IN THE MATTER OF KEVIN J. DAUL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF CHRISTOPHER J. DAUL, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
EAST COAST JETS, INC., DEFENDANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-7535-10.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 10, 2012

Before Judges Lihotz and Kennedy.

This appeal involves claims asserted by appellant Loribeth Pierson against the estate of Christopher J. Daul (decedent).

Decedent was killed on July 31, 2008, when his charter flight crashed at the Owatonna Degner Regional Airport in Minnesota. Following decedent's tragic death, Pierson pursued various efforts to establish her interest in decedent's estate arising from what she characterized as "a marriage-type relationship" with decedent. "[O]n behalf of all person[s] who are entitled to recover damages under any Survival or Wrongful Death law," the administrator of decedent's estate, Kevin J. Daul, settled an action filed in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, against defendant East Coast Jets, Inc., and four other corporate entities (the ECJ defendants). The Pennsylvania court allocated 100% of the settlement proceeds as compensation for the wrongful death claim, and 0% as compensation for the survival claim.

As we will explain in more detail later in this opinion, the Pennsylvania court directed the estate administrator to obtain approval of the allocation from the Law Division in New Jersey. The estate administrator filed an action for approval of the allocation. In that action, Pierson claimed an equitable interest in decedent's estate based upon her palimony claim, and therefore challenged the proposed allocation of the settlement proceeds paid by the ECJ defendants. Pierson maintained a portion of the settlement proceeds must be allocated as damages for the survivor action, payable to decedent's estate, to which she claimed entitlement. On December 22, 2010, the Law Division judge approved the proposed allocation, effectively rejecting Pierson's challenge.

The current matter involves Pierson's motion to vacate the December 22, 2010 order. She argued it is unjust to allow the ordered allocation to stand. The judge denied her application and Pierson appealed. We affirm.

To provide context to the issues presented on appeal, we review the various legal actions initiated by Pierson, which ultimately led to the order under review.

Pierson and decedent cohabited for more than four years prior to decedent's death. Pierson asserted she and decedent "discussed marriage" and "planned to set a date for a wedding" during an upcoming vacation scheduled for August 8, 2008. The couple last resided in Northfield.

On January 13, 2010, Pierson filed an action against decedent's estate in the Atlantic County Chancery Division, asserting her palimony claim and an equitable interest in the assets and income acquired during the course of her relationship with decedent, as well as those that accrued subsequent to his death, including proceeds from "wrongful death, survivorship or other type" actions.

Pierson's palimony complaint was dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. R. 4:6-2(e). The judge concluded the amendment to New Jersey's statute of frauds, adopted on July 18, 2009, and effective January 18, 2010, applied retroactively and, therefore, precluded Pierson's requested relief absent a written palimony agreement. See N.J.S.A. 25:1-5(h) (requiring palimony agreements to be in writing to be enforceable). Pierson appealed following denial of her motion for reconsideration. We reversed, concluding the statutory amendment did not apply to actions pending prior to the effective date of the statutory enactment. Pierson v. Estate of Daul, No. A-5997-09 (App. Div. Oct. 24, 2011) (slip op. at 3). Pierson's Chancery Division complaint was reinstated and trial was held on August 17, 2012. Final disposition has not been entered.

Decedent's estate initiated suit against the ECJ defendants in March 2010. Soon thereafter, Pierson filed a complaint against the ECJ defendants in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, and moved to consolidate her action with that initiated by decedent's estate. The request was denied on July 30, 2010. Thereafter, the ECJ defendants and the estate filed preliminary objections challenging Pierson's capacity to present her filed action. The court dismissed Pierson's complaint on August 25, 2010, concluding she lacked standing to sue. Pierson did not appeal this order. Pierson also sought to intervene in decedent's estate's litigation against the ECJ defendants. This motion was denied on August 17, 2010. No appeal was taken from the denial of this application.

On December 3, 2010, the Court of Common Pleas issued an order reflecting an agreement to settle all claims between decedent's estate and the ECJ defendants. The proposed settlement apportioned 100% of the agreed damage award to the resolution of the wrongful death claims, and no monies were allocated to the survivor action. ...


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