Tom Sarris, a founder and owner of the Orleans House restaurant in Arlington, died on July 12, 2014. He had one surviving son, Chris Sarris, who was the other owner of the Orleans House. The Sarris family sold property, including real property in 2003 and the restaurant business in 2007, netting approximately $16.7 million. The Sarrises placed the funds in CD accounts, which were titled in various ways between Tom and Chris Sarris, so that 83.33 percent of the assets would go to the other upon death outside of probate and 16.67 percent would go to the other through their mirror wills which were signed in 2007.
Plaintiff Chris Sarris filed suit to probate a will of his father, either a 1989 will or the 2007 will, that left all estate assets to Chris, and to declare invalid a later purported will dated March 18, 2014 (just months before Tom Sarris’ death) that left all assets to Mireille Curro, including the home in which Chris Sarris resided. Defendant Mireille Curro, who was unrelated to the Sarris family and was an employee of Tom and Chris Sarris’ company, filed a countermotion to probate the purported 2014 will. The value of the assets in the estate is approximately $5 million.
Plaintiff Chris Sarris later amended his complaint to add Michael Curro, Mireille’s husband, as a defendant and to assert claims for conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and conspiracy, based upon allegations of the Curros’ fraudulent scheme and undue influence over Tom Sarris. The tort claims primarily related to transactions outside of the will which made Mireille Curro either a joint holder with Tom Sarris or a payable-on-death beneficiary of Tom Sarris on multiple bank accounts totaling approximately $8.5 million. The case went to a 13-day trial over four weeks on the claims to probate the multiple wills, on all of the tort claims against Mireille Curro, and on conversion and conspiracy against Michael Curro.
Mireille Curro’s countermotion to probate the 2014 writing was tried in the first phase of the jury trial, which lasted 10 days. Chris Sarris presented evidence supporting defenses of lack of intent to sign the March 2014 document as and for a will, lack of testamentary intent, lack of testamentary capacity, undue influence, and fraud. The jury returned a verdict on March 17, 2016, after approximately three hours of deliberations, finding that the March 18, 2014 writing was not the last will and testament of Tom Sarris.
Phase two of the jury trial proceeded on Chris Sarris’ tort claims against the Curros. At the conclusion of plaintiff’s evidence, Michael Curro’s motion to strike was granted, and the case proceeded on the claims of conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud against Mireille Curro. After the close of evidence, the jury deliberated on March 24, 2016 for about four hours, and returned a verdict in favor of Chris Sarris against Mireille Curro for $7.61 million, plus $175,000 in punitive damages, and pre-judgment interest at the statutory rate. After the verdict, a stay preventing any further transfers of the remaining Sarris assets was ordered, and on the next day an order requiring such assets to be accounted for and transferred to the appointed Curator was entered.
The second verdict total of approximately $8.7 million (including pre-judgment interest from the date of death 7/12/14) is in addition to the approximate $5 million value of the Estate of Tom Sarris to which Chris Sarris is sole heir as a result of the first jury verdict.
A judgment order was entered on both jury verdicts on July 22, 2016. Post-trial motions for a new trial and for remittitur were heard and denied; however, the funds that were turned over to the curator will be a post-judgment credit on the verdict. Additionally, funds that Mireille Curro paid over to the IRS may also be a post-judgment credit, provided the IRS does not credit such funds to her benefit.
The remaining phase three, Chris Sarris’ motion to probate the 2007 will of Tom Sarris, was granted by an order of the Court. Both Curros had previously judicially admitted that they were not interested parties to either the 2007 or the 1989 wills of Tom Sarris, and as such phase three was not before the jury.[See also the story, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Aug. 8, 2016]. [16-T-125]
Type of action: Will contest & tort claims concerning assets outside the will
Injuries alleged: Probate – over $5M; Tort claims – over $8.5M
Name of case: Chris T. Sarris v. Mireille Curro, et al.
Court: Arlington County Circuit Court
Case no.: CL 14-1945, CL 14-1945-01
Tried before: Jury
Name of judge: Hon. Daniel S. Fiore II
Date resolved: July 22, 2016
Verdict or settlement: Verdict
Amount: approximately $5M in assets (Tort claims – $7.61M + $175,000 punitives + prejudgment interest from date of death 7/12/14)
Attorneys for plaintiff: David D. Hudgins and Debra S. Stafford, Alexandria; R. Peyton Mahaffey, Lawrence J. McClafferty, and Bethany B. Ingersoll, Fairfax
Attorneys for defendant: George O. Peterson, Tania M. L. Saylor, and Miriam R. Epstein, Fairfax; L. Steven Emmert, Virginia Beach; Thomas L. Appler and Andrew C. Hall, McLean
Plaintiff’s experts: Liza H. Gold, MD, Stuart A. Rosenberg, CPA/CFF, CVA
Defendant’s experts: Joanne G. Crantz, MD, Gideon Epstein, MFS