Farmers & Merchants Trust Co. v. VanetikAnnotate this Case
Yuri Vanetik and his father, Anatoly (Tony), were involved with a number of interrelated companies in the business of oil exploration in Russia. Yuri approached his friend, Elliot Broidy, about investing in one of those companies, Terra Resources (Terra). Broidy agreed to invest $750,000, with the written agreement his investment would go only to efforts to start production on the oil wells. Farmers & Merchants Trust Company (F&M Trust) was the trustee and administrator of the simplified employee pension plan (SEP) for Broidy’s individual retirement account (IRA). F&M Trust acquired stock in Terra. Broidy later learned that his investment had not been used in connection with the oil wells - it had been used to pay off Yuri’s and Tony’s preexisting debts. Broidy and Tony orally agreed that Tony would pay back the $750,000, but Tony failed to do so. F&M Trust then sued Yuri and Tony for breach of written and oral contracts, and for fraud. F&M Trust also sued Richard Weed (the attorney for Yuri, Tony, and the oil exploration companies) for fraud. The jury found in favor of F&M Trust on all causes of action, and awarded compensatory and punitive damages against Yuri, Tony, and the Weed defendants. Judgment was entered against Yuri and Tony; the trial court granted judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) in favor of the Weed defendants. On appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded substantial evidence supported the jury’s verdict against Yuri and Tony on the claims for breach of written contract, breach of oral contract, and fraud. The jury’s special verdict findings on the contract and fraud claims neither resulted in inconsistent verdicts, nor required F&M Trust to make an election of remedies. However, F&M Trust failed to offer substantial evidence supporting the punitive damages awards against Tony and Yuri, so the Court reversed those punitive damage awards. The trial court properly granted JNOV in favor of the Weed defendants on the fraud causes of action.