On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Bergen County, Docket No. C-268-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Telephonically argued February 24, 2012 -
Before Judges Messano, Yannotti and Kennedy.
Defendant Mark Casagrande (Mark)*fn1 appeals from Chancery Division orders enforcing a settlement agreement, precluding him from raising additional claims against any party named in the underlying litigation and distributing funds and awarding counsel fees. Mark claims that the settlement agreement was unenforceable because there was no "meeting of the minds" on its terms; it was unconscionable and violated public policy; it was infected with conflicts of interest between counsel and parties; it involved a trust and that plaintiff, a trustee as well as a beneficiary, was in a conflict of interest; and it was the result of a mediation that "veered dramatically" from the order directing the parties to proceed to mediation. We are not persuaded and affirm.
Frank and Roberta Casagrande were married in 1974, and had three children: Mark, Sabrina and Cristina. All the children were adults at the time of the litigation we describe hereinafter. During the marriage, Frank purchased a life insurance policy from Sentry Life Insurance Company (Sentry) in the face amount of $1.7 million. Roberta was the primary beneficiary under the policy, and the children were named as contingent beneficiaries. Further, Frank purchased a life insurance policy from Guardian Insurance Company (Guardian) in the face amount of $1 million, with Roberta named as the primary beneficiary.
On March 10, 1995, the marriage was ended by a divorce judgment which incorporated a matrimonial settlement agreement that the parties had earlier executed. The agreement, among other things, required Frank to maintain life insurance in the amount of $175,000 in favor of Roberta and $250,000 in favor of each daughter. The policy for Roberta would be maintained until the termination of Frank's alimony obligation, at which point the $175,000 policy would be transferred "in favor of the children" until their emancipation.
On September 6, 2000, Frank created "The Frank O. Casagrande 2000 Trust" (the Trust). The Trust named Rosemary Dapuzzo (Rosemary) as the trustee, and provided, in part, that if Frank was obligated under the divorce judgment to maintain life insurance for Roberta or his children, the trustee shall hold such portion of the Trust in a separate fund and, upon Frank's death, make distribution as required under the divorce judgment. The trustee was empowered to obtain life insurance on anyone in which a trust beneficiary had an "insurable interest" and to "have all rights as an owner" of such policies.
It was expected that life insurance policies would be the primary assets in the Trust, and in October 2001, Frank transferred ownership of the Sentry policy to the Trust. However, he failed to change the designated beneficiary of the policy, which still listed Roberta as the primary beneficiary and the three children as the contingent beneficiaries.
In 2002, Frank married Rosemary and they later had a child together. In 2007, Frank executed a will which expressly excluded Mark, Sabrina and Cristina as his "lineal descendents" thereunder. Despite this language, the will provided a bequest to Mark of $10,000; to Sabrina of $25,000; and to Cristina of $150,000. The bequests were each followed by a provision stating that, "[i]n no other respects shall [such child] share in any portion of my estate." Rosemary was named executrix under the will. Mark, who had had a strained relationship with Frank, knew his father planned to disinherit him.
On June 13, 2008, Frank died. Rosemary learned that the beneficiary named in the Sentry policy had not been changed and so in July 2008, she filed an order to show cause and a verified complaint on behalf of herself and the Trust seeking reformation of the Sentry policy to conform it to the "terms, intent and agreements" of the marital settlement agreement, the Trust and the will. The defendants named in the suit were Roberta, Mark, Sabrina, Cristina and Sentry.
Mark engaged counsel and answered the complaint denying that Rosemary was entitled to relief. He also asserted a counterclaim seeking to disqualify Rosemary as trustee due to her alleged "self interest" and "animus" toward him, Roberta and Sabrina. He also sought a declaration that, by operation of law, he and his sisters became the primary beneficiaries under the Sentry policy.
Roberta and Sabrina also engaged counsel and filed an answer denying the relief sought by plaintiffs. They asserted a counterclaim for a declaration that Roberta was the prime beneficiary of the Sentry policy or, alternatively, the children were the prime beneficiaries by operation of law. They also asserted a claim for the life insurance sums they alleged were owed to them under the marital settlement agreement, as well as a claim to disqualify Rosemary. Additionally, they filed a third-party complaint against ...