A Philadelphia jury has awarded a $2.5 million verdict to a man who alleged he was incorrectly portrayed by attorneys from Lentz, Cantor & Massey as being pertinent to a case surrounding the misuse of a family's assets through power of attorney.
Following a four-week trial, the jury returned the lump sum verdict Thursday in favor of Robert J. Kappe after two hours of deliberation in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge George W. Overton's courtroom.
In Kappe v. Lentz, Cantor & Massey, Kappe alleged that attorneys and co-defendants Andrew H. Dohan and Robert C.F. Willson, representing the interests of Boyd C. and Nelda Wynn Davis, wrongly included Kappe in an entrance of appearance for proceedings relating to Boyd Davis Jr., who was accused by Boyd Jr.'s sister of misusing his mother's assets through Boyd Jr.'s POA, according to Kappe's court papers.
Kappe was represented by Hugh J. Hutchison of Philadelphia-based Leonard, Sciolla, Hutchison, Leonard & Tinari.
"Kappe got badly mistreated in this … he was just blindsided by the whole thing. And the jury saw that this was a miscalculated strategy on the part of the defendants," Hutchison told TheLegal.
According to Kappe's court papers, Kappe was a close friend of the Davis family, and routinely provided them with assistance in household chores, organizing mail and in paying bills.
In 2001, Boyd and Nelda Davis executed a POA and nominated Boyd Jr. and Kappe as co-agents in case either of the Davises became unavailable, unable or unwilling to act as attorney-in-fact for one another. According to the court papers, Kappe understood that he was not required to exercise his POA authority or perform any of the related duties, nor did he.
In 2006, the Davises' daughter, Nelda Jane Helmstaedter, filed a guardianship petition to declare her mother incompetent and to have a guardian appointed to her, alleging that Boyd Jr. was converting his parents' assets for his own use while isolating the elder Davises from contact with other family members, Kappe's papers alleged.
Dohan and Willson were retained to represent the interests of Nelda Davis, and the attorneys contacted Kappe in 2007 to inform him that he was required to act on behalf of Nelda Davis as an alternate attorney-in-fact, according to the court papers.
Kappe advised Dohan and Willson that he had never exercised his authority under the POA and did not make decisions regarding the Davises' finances, according to the court papers. Kappe alleged that despite the attorneys' knowledge that he never acted as POA, they "repeatedly represented to the court and the parties that Kappe acted as co-agent with Boyd Jr. regarding the finances, assets and other personal interests of the Davises for many years," Kappe's papers said.
Dohan and Willson filed preliminary objections to Helmstaedter's claim, contending that Boyd Jr. and Kappe were already acting as agents pursuant to the POA, according to the court papers.
Dohan and Willson also asserted that Boyd Jr. and Kappe collectively discussed and agreed upon the way in which Nelda Davis' assets were to be distributed for her support as well as payment to Boyd Jr. for maintaining Nelda Davis' accounts, and that Kappe was "directly involved" in the management of Nelda Davis' finances, Kappe's papers alleged.
But Hutchison said that Dohan and Willson falsely included Kappe in this regard to lend credibility to Boyd Jr.'s alleged activities as Kappe was "known for his honesty and integrity."
According to the court papers, as the matter progressed, Dohan and Willson continued to involve Kappe in the case, despite Kappe's repeated claims that he had never used POA authority on behalf of Nelda Davis.
An April 2008 court order demanded that $500,000 be removed from Kappe's personal account and deposited into an account for Nelda Davis' use, Kappe's papers said, and ultimately Kappe negotiated a settlement whereby he was released from all litigation in exchange for payment of $350,000.
Kappe alleged in his papers that the defendants made him party to a litigation in which he had no interest, and as a result, had to file for bankruptcy and suffered humiliation and damage to his reputation.
The defendants contended that Kappe had no grounds to seek punitive damages because he "failed to allege any outrageous, reckless or malicious conduct" on their part, according to a memorandum to their preliminary objections.
"In light of [Kappe's] admitted acceptance of the power of attorney and his admitted role as Nelda Wynn Davis' agent, there is no factual basis to assert that [Kappe] should not have participated in the guardianship proceedings, or that his participation was initiated by the defendants in an outrageous or reckless manner," the memorandum said.
"Similarly the plaintiff has not provided support for the bald allegation that defendants breached a fiduciary duty by including him in a lawsuit seeking a guardianship of plaintiff's acknowledged principal, Nelda Wynn Davis, for whom he performed requested acts as a power of attorney."
Dohan and Willson did not return calls seeking comment.