JAMES WASNIEWSKI v. QUICK & REILLY, INC., SC 18160
Judicial District of New London
Contracts; Inter Vivos Gift; Brokerage Accounts; Whether a Brokerage Account Created by the Plaintiff's Father in the Plaintiff's Name Constituted a Valid Inter Vivos Gift; Whether the Plaintiff was the Intended Third Party Beneficiary of an Alleged Contract Between the Plaintiff's Father and the Defendant Brokerage Firm. On November 14, 1989, the plaintiff's father, John Wasniewski, opened an account with the defendant brokerage firm in the plaintiff's name and social security number. The plaintiff was unaware of the account during the entire period that it was in existence. On January 5, 2001, someone other than the plaintiff withdrew all the funds from the account and transferred them to a joint account in the name of the plaintiff's father and the plaintiff's brother. After learning what had transpired, the plaintiff brought this breach of contract action against the defendant. The trial court found that the plaintiff was the owner of the account from the time of its inception and that an implicit contract was created between the parties based on the relationship that exists between a broker and an account owner. Thereafter, the court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff, holding that the defendant breached this implicit contract when it transferred the funds to someone other than the plaintiff. On appeal, the defendant first claimed that the trial court's judgment should be reversed because the evidence was insufficient to establish a valid inter vivos gift. Specifically, the defendant argued that the evidence failed to establish the requisite intent and affirmative actions necessary to perfect a gift. The Appellate Court opined that the person under whose name funds are deposited in an account is presumed to have title to and control over the funds. The court also observed that, under Connecticut case law, a rebuttable presumption of donative intent exists when the grantee is the natural object of the grantor's bounty. Taking these principles into account, the Appellate Court (105 Conn. App. 379) rejected the defendant's claim, ruling that the trial court's determination that the plaintiff became the legal owner of the funds in the account once they were placed in his name and under his social security number was not clearly erroneous. The defendant next claimed that, even if there was a valid gift, a valid, enforceable contract was never created between the parties, and that the trial court's finding of a contractual relationship was unsupported by the evidence. The Appellate Court, however, upheld the trial court's finding that a valid enforceable contract existed between the parties. The court explained that the plaintiff's father, by virtue of the fact that he opened the account in the plaintiff's name using his social security number, demonstrated a clear intent that the rights of an owner would be created in the plaintiff and that the plaintiff was the intended third party beneficiary of the contract between the father and the defendant. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will review the Appellate Court's decision.