PALM BEACH COUNTY — A 93-year-old woman in Florida has partially won a property dispute against her real estate agents, according to an opinion from Florida's 4th District Court of Appeal.
Margaret Ann Trevarthen filed a complaint against Charles E. Wilson, a real estate sales associate for the broker firm Bob Jackson Inc. Trevarthen accused Wilson of exploitation and abuse when he allegedly used her money for his own benefit, including buying a condominium with the funds from a trust. She also filed the claim against the firm for “vicarious liability” and “direct liability,” saying that the company was at fault because it didn’t monitor how Wilson spent money earned from his commission.
Trevarthen said she met Wilson through another sales associate at the firm, according to court records. Wilson said he would help sell the condominium that she had at that time, Unit 704. As part of the agreement, she would give him some of the money made from the sale. She then gave him power of attorney so he could renovate the unit.
According to court records, “Wilson failed to consider (Trevarthen’s) cost basis when calculating his share of the proceeds.” Wilson and the firm still received a commission from that sale. Wilson allegedly then told Trevarthen to buy another condo, Unit 304. Wilson and the firm received a commission on that unit, as well. According to the claim, Wilson “convinced” Trevarthen to buy yet another condominium that he could repair and sell, which he and the firm also received a commission for. This time, Trevarthen lost money in the sale. She alleges that Wilson used her money to buy his own condominium under the name of a trust he had. The broker firm was the sales agent, and the owner, Bob Jackson, as well as the company, received a commission on this sale.
The company said there was wrongdoing when it came to working with Trevarthen and that Wilson’s actions were “outside the scope of his work on behalf of (the Brokerage Firm).”
Evidence submitted authenticated the firm’s statement that Jackson knew about Wilson being Trevarthen’s power of attorney. During the sale of Unit 304, Wilson took $300,000 from Trevarthen’s account and put it in the firm’s escrow. The company refused to accept it until a contract was made, and he gave Trevarthen the money back the following day. According to court documents, Wilson created the trust after Jackson advised him to and Jackson admitted that Wilson said he “was borrowing” money from Trevarthen. Jackson allegedly did not want to get involved.
The court allowed the firm’s motion for summary judgment.
The appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision for the vicarious liability count, which states, “A principal may not accept the benefits of a transaction negotiated by the agent and disavow the obligations in the same transaction.”
The court said the firm erred when it used its commission and Trevarthen’s money to buy real estate. But the firm confirmed the circuit court’s decision for summary judgment in the direct liability count because the firm was not responsible by contract to make sure Trevarthen wasn’t taken advantage of financially.