On Thursday, April 30, 2009, after two days of deliberations, the jury in the trial of Bonfigli v. Strachan, Sonoma County Superior Court Case No. SCV-239528, returned a verdict in favor of the defense.
Defendant Michael D. Smith was represented by lead counsel Rachel Dollar of Smith Dollar PC. Heather Bussing second chaired the majority of the trial and was assisted by Allison Tussey, both of Smith Dollar PC. Defendant Alan Strachan was represented by Gordon Strachan of Strachan, Strachan & Simon, Park City, Utah. The plaintiffs, Joseph and Helen Bonfigli, were represented by lead counsel Michael G. Watters of O’Brien, Watters & Davis LLC. The trial was second chaired by Andrew G. Watters and Deirdre Taber Kingsbury.
The complaint was filed on October 16, 2006 and alleged that Alan Strachan and Michael D. Smith were the fiduciaries of the plaintiffs by virtue of a power of attorney executed in connection with an option agreement that the plaintiffs granted to Courtside Village LLC, a company of which Mssrs. Strachan and Smith were managers. It further alleged that Mr. Strachan had made misrepresentations to the Bonfiglis in connection with the sale and optioning of their property and sought to assign responsibility to Mr. Smith based on theories of agency and conspiracy. The complaint sought compensatory and punitive damages for intentional misrepresentation, concealment, false promise, breach of fiduciary duty, trespass and elder abuse.
Courtside Village LLC was one of the developers of Courtside Village, a 68-acre residential and multi-use development in Southwest Santa Rosa. In 1996, the plaintiffs sold 4.2 acres of undeveloped rural property to Courtside Village LLC and granted Courtside Village LLC an option to purchase their remaining 1.38 acre parcel. Along with the option, the plaintiffs granted Courtside Village LLC a power of attorney which allowed Courtside Village LLC to obtain development approvals, use the plaintiff’s property as security for financing and otherwise develop the property. In 2002, a lot line adjustment was obtained which changed the size of the plaintiffs’ property from 1.38 acres to .52 acres, leaving them with title to a tentative mapped building pad for a 33-unit condominium complex. Courtside Village LLC ultimately declared bankruptcy and the option to purchase the plaintiffs’ property was never exercised.
Trial commenced on January 9, 2009 but was suspended on January 12 due to a health issue of one of the parties. Motions were argued on four separate days between the suspension on January 12, 2009 and the resumption of trial on March 27, 2009. On April 23, 2009, after the close of evidence, Judge Robert Boyd directed verdict in favor of the defense on the causes of action for trespass and elder abuse. The claims for intentional misrepresentation, concealment, false promise and breach of fiduciary duty were submitted to the jury on April 29, 2009 and, on April 30, 2009, the jury rendered a verdict finding no liability on the part of either defendant.
Plaintiffs’ appraisal expert witness was Robin Erdmann. The defense expert witnesses were appraiser Howard Levy and developer Michael Ryan.