The Simkin v. Blank case in New York has been a frequent topic on this blog. It was game over for Mr. Simkin today when the NY Court of Appeals ruled that this Madoff victim could not revise his divorce deal.
We first wrote when the case was filed. In this case, in June 2006, the parties agreed to evenly split the $5.4 million in an account they had with Madoff Securities. As a result, the husband gave the wife $2.7 million in cash, and retained the account. As a result of the alleged Madoff Ponzi scheme that has essentially rendered the account worthless, the husband filed suit seeking the $2.7 million that he paid the wife. The husband alleges that because the account turned out to be valueless, the spirit of the agreement was broken.
We next wrote when the trial court first ruled, dismissing the matter. I even participated in a podcast about this ruling. Acting New York State Supreme Court acting Justice Saralee Evans decided that the husband is stuck with his decision to keep the account instead of withdrawing his money before the December 2008 collapse of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. The Justice noted that while the husband claimed the Madoff account held no assets, he did not allege it had no value. Key to the decision was that in 2006 and "the several years after that plaintiff maintained this investment," the account "could have been redeemed for cash, presumably significantly in excess of its 2004 value." In addition, the Justice held that "An investor’s ability to redeem an account for value, was the assumption on which the parties relied in dividing their property and in doing so they made no mistake."
The next installment was about the Appellate Division’s decision which reversed the trial court decision and reinstated the Complaint. The Appellate Court found that dismissal was improper and the husband had the right to try to pursue both the issues of mutual mistake (i.e. there never really was an account) and that the wife was unjustly enriched. In coming to its decision, the majority of the court held:
The dissent states: “[a]t the time of the agreement, Steven had an account in his name with [Madoff].” Untrue. Steven never had an account in his name with Madoff; on Madoff’s own admission there were no accounts within which trades were made on behalf of investors.
The dissent then states, “Steven liquidated part of the account to fund his payments to Laura.” Untrue. In Madoff’s Ponzi scheme what appeared to Steven and Laura to be a partial liquidation of an account was simply a payment to Steven that came from funds deposited by a more recent “investor” in what the “investor” believed was his own account.
The dissent further observes, “[Steven] did not liquidate the rest of the Madoff account … and he continued to invest in it.” Untrue. There was no account which could be liquidated, as became apparent when Madoff received $7 billion worth of “liquidation” calls from investors in 2008. Nor was Steven “investing” in an account; his further contributions went directly to pay other “investors” in the scheme.