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Maestranzi v. O'Brien

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Essex

July 22, 2016

Maureen A. Maestranzi
v.
Michael J. O'Brien No. 134491

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO VACATE DEFAULT JUDGMENT

          Paul D. Wilson, Justice of the Superior Court.

         In this 2002 lawsuit, Plaintiff Maestranzi sued her brother, Defendant O'Brien, accusing him of failure to pay Plaintiff her one-half share of the rents he received from real estate that they jointly owned but O'Brien managed. In 2003, the court entered a default judgment in this case in the amount of $276, 500 plus interest and costs. Plaintiff collected nothing from her brother during his lifetime, so, after his death, she filed a claim with his probate estate (the " Estate").

         By then there was a substantial competing claimant, however. For the last several years of his life, O'Brien had been cared for in a rehabilitation center or nursing home, partly at the expense of MassHealth, the state's Medicaid program. MassHealth therefore filed a claim with his probate Estate for the return of the amounts it had expended on his behalf.

         The Estate was not large enough to pay both claims. Therefore O'Brien's personal representative moved to substitute the Estate for O'Brien as the Defendant in this case, and MassHealth moved intervene as well. Both the Estate and MassHealth contend that the default judgment was improperly entered, and so a motion to vacate the default judgment is now pending before the court.

         I have held two hearings on this matter. After the first hearing, and after a careful review of the substantial court file, I decided four preliminary motions. Specifically, I allowed Plaintiff's motion to substitute the Estate for O'Brien as the Defendant; denied two motions to strike factual materials from the record, one filed by each party; and ruled that Plaintiff's motion to strike MassHealth's Rule 36 Request for Admissions was moot.

         Having cleared away that underbrush, and having carefully reviewed the lengthy briefs and the voluminous factual materials submitted by the parties, I held the second hearing on July 20, 2016, at which the parties argued the merits of the motion to vacate the default judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will allow Defendant's motion, and will vacate the default judgment.

         Background

         The following facts are drawn from the factual materials submitted by the parties, or from the court's docket, or both. All of these facts are undisputed.

         1. The Parties

         Plaintiff and O'Brien, sister and brother, jointly owned a parcel of real estate at 44 and 46 Central Street in Manchester (the " Property"). The Property contained three apartments and a small house. The Property came with floats at which boats could be moored. Until October 2002, O'Brien lived in the house on the Property, and managed the apartments. The parties did not get along.

         In October 2002, O'Brien suffered a severe stroke. For the rest of his life, he lived in a rehabilitation facility or nursing home or some other medical institution.

         2. The Complaint

         On December 9, 2002, about two months after O'Brien's stroke, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against O'Brien. The complaint consisted of four paragraphs. The first two paragraphs identified the parties and their residential addresses; for O'Brien, Plaintiff listed the Property as his address, even though he was then in a medical facility (and, as it turned out, would be for the rest of his life). The third paragraph identified the Property and alleged that Plaintiff and O'Brien owned it as tenants in commons.

         The fourth and final paragraph of the complaint concerned damages. In its entirety, that paragraph said: " The Defendant owes the Plaintiff the sum of $276, 500 for contribution of rents the Defendant has received and not accounted to the Plaintiff as shown on the statement hereto attached and marked 'B.'"

         Exhibit B to the Complaint was headed " Rents Never Received by Maureen Maestranzi @ 44 Central Street, Manchester, Mass." Below this heading was a three-column chart containing 18 entries. The first 16 entries were calculations of rental income, beginning with:

1977-1983

7 years @ $1, 000/month

$84, 000

         and ending with:

2002

12 months @ $1, 750/month

$21, 000


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