Judge Excuses Citibank from Art Buchwald Suit
WASHINGTON (CN) - Citibank can't be held liable for a third party's alleged duping of a dying Art Buchwald and raiding of a line of credit taken out on the late Washington Post columnist's summer home, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins' ruling comes after having already dismissed the case once, this time striking Joel Buchwald's motion to file an amended complaint.
"While Buchwald's plight remains regrettable, he has pointed to no error in this Court's previous determination that tolling the statute of limitations for a negligence claim against Citibank would not be appropriate," the judge writes.
Joel Buchwald sued Citibank in Superior Court claiming the bank allowed Starr to dupe his dying father into signing a power of attorney, which Starr used to pull equity out of Buchwald's summer home.
Buchwald claimed that in the 1980s his father retained the firms of Starr and Company and Starr Investment Advisors, which managed finances for several celebrities and entertainers, to provide financial advisory and other financial services.
Citibank was the only defendant listed in the complaint.
Art Buchwald suffered a stroke in 2000 that was followed by years of health problems. In 2005 his failing kidneys required him to go on dialysis and an embolism led to the amputation of his leg.
"The decline in Buchwald's health was a matter of public record. This was due in part to his celebrity. But it was also due to the fact that Buchwald chose to directly and publicly confront his own mortality by incorporating it as a central theme of his writings and media appearances," Joel Buchwald said in the complaint. "He confronted his impending death as he had addressed other matters - everything from the most mundane aspects of everyday life to the great issues of our time - with his unique insight and humor."
Buchwald said Kenneth I. Starr and his employees took advantage of his father's rapidly declining health by tricking him into signing over a power of attorney to one of Starr's employees.
According to the complaint, Starr and company used the power of attorney to obtain a home equity line of credit against Buchwald's Martha's Vineyard summer home and embezzled funds advanced by the lender.
Joel Buchwald says Starr used his father's "illegible" signature, which "should have raised suspicion," to secure a loan from Citibank, and that the bank approved the loan before Starr's office got the power of attorney.
He claimed that Citibank paid a $50,000 advance on the line of credit, but the estate never saw any of the money. He also claims the bank paid another $50,000 after his dad died in 2007.
"This Court held a hearing on Citibank's motion to dismiss on April 29, 2013, and granted the motion from the bench," states Judge Wilkins. "The Court found that Buchwald's claim rested upon a theory of negligence that had never been extended to a third party not implicated in the wrongdoing."
Judge Wilkins also ruled that the case be dismissed without leave to amend, prompting his recent ruling that Joel Buchwald's motion to amend his complaint be dismissed."This is a frustrating case," Wilkins concluded. "Art Buchwald put his trust in Starr, and Starr and his team allegedly violated that trust and stole money from him. But that does not mean that Buchwald's ability to seek redress for that wrong is limitless."