The nation’s premier trial verdict publication, Verdict Search, has chosen Morrow & Sheppard’s recent unanimous victory in Houston federal court as its “Featured Verdict.” After a two-day trial, a Houston federal jury found that our client, a widow, had been defrauded by her fiance out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of life insurance proceeds, and further that she was entitled to mental anguish damages and punitive damages. More facts regarding the case are below, as reported by Verdict Search. A link to the Verdict Search article may be found here.
In August 2014, plaintiff Julieta Olvera, 45, was dating Juan Mauricio Nelligan. The two had reconnected in July via the Internet after they had dated for about six months in 1987. In November 2013, Olvera’s husband died, leaving her widowed in Mexico with two children, ages 6 and 9. Following his death, Olvera received approximately $230,000 in death insurance benefits and other funds from the bank account and business of her late husband. Upon rekindling her relationship with Nelligan, she learned that in the intervening 20-plus years since they had dated, he had married, divorced, had two children of his own and he was a flight attendant who lived near Houston. He allegedly told her he lived in a home with several other flight attendants, and that his children lived with their mother. On Aug. 24, Nelligan flew to Olvera’s home in Mexico and allegedly confessed his love for her. He allegedly wanted to adopt her children and be their father, gave her an engagement ring and proposed. Olvera accepted. According to Olvera, Nelligan then asked her to deposit $150,000 into his bank account. Nelligan allegedly knew that Olvera had received money following her late husband’s death, and knew how much money she had in her bank account. Nelligan allegedly told her that the money would be used to financially qualify for a home loan to buy a home for the two of them and their children once they were married. He allegedly represented that Olvera could not and should not formally be a part of the home loan or purchase paperwork because she was a Mexican citizen, and that since they were to be married, everything purchased with her funds would be hers anyway. On Sept. 4, she deposited the money from her bank account in Mexico to Nelligan’s account in Houston, via wire transfer. On Oct. 17, Olvera deposited $58,013 into Nelligan’s bank account, after he requested the money and told her that the funds would be used to purchase a large van big enough to transport their new family of six. Olvera alleged that Nelligan bought a van for himself, but did not use the funds to purchase such a van for both their families, and never had the intent to do so, she claimed. From Oct. 24 to Oct. 26, Nelligan visited Olvera in Mexico. He allegedly told her that he needed an additional deposit of $35,947.04 to purchase their family’s home in The Woodlands. She wired the money to his account on Nov. 6. On Nov. 22, Olvera traveled to The Woodlands so that her children could visit their new city, meet Nelligan’s children and work toward finalizing the home purchase. On Nov. 29, Nelligan allegedly broke off his engagement with Olvera, but stated he wanted to continue seeing her. Olvera and her children returned to Mexico on Nov. 30. On Dec. 18, Nelligan visited Mexico. Olvera alleged that she demanded the return of her money because he called off the engagement, and they wouldn’t be living together. On Dec. 19, Nelligan allegedly crashed Olvera’s car into a pole while leaving a school event for her children, damaging the rear bumper. He alleged that he promised to pay for the damage, but never did. He also did not return her money. On Jan. 10, 2015, she again demanded that Nelligan return her money, but he refused. On Feb. 3, she again demanded that he return her money. He did not answer, and the same day he blocked her from his Facebook account. Olvera sued Nelligan on claims of fraud, money had and received, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, violating the Texas Theft Liability Act and conversion (the latter two claims were withdrawn). Olvera claimed that Nelligan had no intent to buy a house with her or to qualify for a loan to buy a house for their families; there was no reason why she could not be a part of the loan or purchase (other than it would ostensibly make it more difficult to steal her money); and these misrepresentations were knowingly false and were made maliciously and with the intent that Olvera rely on them, which she did. Olvera’s counsel presented multiple emails between her and Nelligan and between her family and friends, in addition to text messages and Facebook posts, to detail the couple’s relationship and what went on between them. Nelligan admitted taking the money, but claimed it was a gift, as evidenced by gift letters Olvera had signed in connection with his home loan. Nelligan maintained that Olvera was trying to use him to gain U.S. citizenship. Olvera admitted signing the letters, but argued she was tricked into doing so without understanding them.
After a two day trial and 75 minutes of deliberations, the jury sided 100% with our client, and awarded $243,960 in economic damages, $50,000 in mental anguish, and $60,000 in punitive damages.