New York has a rather bizarre case this week where Jordan Zeidman, 20, sued his own mother, Shirley Zeidman, 54, to recover $5,000 that his grandmother gave him as a bar mitzvah gift. Shirley Zeidman has now been found liable for conversion and unjust enrichment. It might not have been a bona fide but it was a baba fide transaction according to the court. The case is Zeidman v. Zeidman, CV-011924-14.
Jordan Zeidman’s mother and father had divorced in 1998 in what was a bitter break up. While their separation agreement requires both parents to contribute pro rata to their son’s college fund, Shirley Zeidman has made her contributions. He moved out of her home soon after his bar mitzvah due to their differences and they have (as you might have gathered) been estranged ever since.
Mr. Zeidman, now a Long Island student, says that his “Baba” — maternal grandmother Rachel Steinfeld — wanted him to have the money after his 2007 bar mitzvah. What is particularly interesting is that he says that Baba crashed his party with her daughter — Jordan’s mom. His mother had broken up with his father in a bitter divorce and was excluded from the bar mitzvah. Steinfeld reportedly told him about the gift in the synagogue, saying “I have $5,000 for you. Just like I gave to your brother and sister . . . I’m going to give it to your mom to hold for you.”
His mother however says that Baba never gave her the money. What is fascinating about the case is the key piece of evidence: a hand written note on a bank statement. Jordan Zeidman produced a bank document with statement of deposits into his college fund containing a handwritten note stating: “I owe Jordan $190.00 + $5,000 from Baba.”
However “Baba” Seinfeld said that neither gave $5,000 to Jordan Zeidman directly, nor gave it to his mother to hold for him. She did give $5,000 gifts to Jordan Zeidman’s brother and sister for their bar and bat mitzvahs. While Shirley Zeidman admitted that the handwriting might be hers, she said that she never got the money from her mother.
However, Nassau District Court Judge Scott Fairgrieve ruled that Shirley Zeidman is liable for both conversion and unjust enrichment for failing to transfer the gift to her son. Citing Gruen v. Gruen, 68 N.Y.2d 48, 505 N.Y.S.2d 849 (1986), he found that the son showed an intent to give an inter vivos gift in the form of an irrevocable transfer of ownership, an actual delivery of the property and an acceptance of the gift by the donee. That is surprising given the denial of the grandmother that she ever did give the money to the mother. Yet, the note would suggest that the money was given or guaranteed.
There is another interesting aspect of the case. Despite a three-year statute of limitation for conversion claims and a six-year limit for unjust enrichment claims, the statutes of limitation were extended because Jordan Zeidman was a minor when his mother deprived him of the gift.
An appeal will be taken by the mother in Zeidman v. Zeidman. Mazel tov to all parties.
Source: New York Law Journal