If you or someone you love is a vulnerable elderly person and you or your loved one has suffered elder financial abuse or have been taken advantage of, our attorneys can help you pursue and understand your legal rights. Importantly, a recent Oregon Court of Appeals decision, Cruze v. Hudler, 246 Or. App. 649, --- P.3d ---- (2011), expanded Oregon elder abuse protections.
In the case, plaintiffs owned development property in Oregon, which was listed for sale. Defendant Hudler visited the plaintiffs' home in an effort to buy some of the property. During this visit, Hudler described a real estate business that he and defendant Markley owned. He represented that he was a successful real estate developer, and that Markley was an experienced lawyer. After a series of misrepresentations, the defendants convinced the plaintiffs to form a joint venture to develop plaintiffs' property. The plaintiffs then invested over $500,000 in their company, loaned over $3 million to another one of the defendants' companies, and provided another $160,000 in capital. According to plaintiffs, their investment was actually part of a fraudulent "Ponzi-like scheme" whereby Hudler and Markley operated businesses without profit, commingled funds of related companies, and raised new funds to repay earlier investors and hide the lack of profits.
After getting wind of the scheme, plaintiffs sued the defendants for common-law fraud, violations of Oregon securities law, a "joint liability" claim against Markley based on Hudler's conduct, and elder abuse. Although it denied Hudler's motion for summary judgment, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Markley on all of plaintiffs' claims, holding that he had not made any misrepresentations to the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs appealed this decision.
The Oregon Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in granting Markley-the lawyer-summary judgment. With respect to the elder abuse claim, the court determined that the record was "susceptible to competing inferences with regard to whether Markley made fraudulent misrepresentations to [the] plaintiffs." Under the financial elder abuse statute in Oregon, an action for elder abuse lies where "a person wrongfully takes or appropriates money or property of a vulnerable person, without regard to whether the person taking or appropriating the money or property has a fiduciary relationship with the vulnerable person." ORS 124.110(1)(a); see also Church v. Woods, 190 Or. App. 112, 118, 77 P.3d 1150 (2003) (conduct is "wrongful" under ORS 124.110 if it is carried out by improper means, including deceit and misrepresentation). As such, even though Markley had not made verbal misrepresentations to the plaintiffs, the court believed that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether or not he had violated the elder abuse statute.
As a result of this opinion, elder abuse victims in Oregon may have more grounds for asserting their legal rights, and recovering their lost assets. If you are or someone you love is vulnerable elderly person whose money or property has been wrongfully taken, please contact Chenoweth Law Group at 253-200-5991 to schedule a consultation.