Question: Can a former spouse keep money given to her by her ex-husband that was stolen from his employer?
Stephen McAninch stole over $4 million from his employer during and after his marriage to Connie Landers by the use of a phony corporation. The scheme unraveled when an outside auditor requested confirmation that the work had been actually performed. On October 30, 2009, McAninch committed suicide. On April 29, 2011, the employer sued Landers claiming unjust enrichment. After a bench trial, the court found in favor of employer and directed Landers to pay Wabash $836,685 for her share of the stolen funds, plus four years of prejudgment interest of $200,804, for a total of $1,037,489. The court granted employer an equitable lien on Landers’ home. This appeal followed.
To prevail on a claim of unjust enrichment, a plaintiff must establish that a measurable benefit has been conferred on the defendant under circumstances in which the defendant’s retention of the benefit without payment would be unjust. Principles of equity prohibit unjust enrichment in cases where a party accepts the requested benefits provided by another despite having the opportunity to decline those benefits. Here, the court determined that employer was entitled to a constructive trust and/or an equitable lien of $836,685, which represented funds stolen by McAninch during the marriage and payments McAninch gave Landers pursuant to their divorce agreement. Landers argues that there is insufficient evidence to support the court’s conclusion that she received funds that McAninch had been stolen. Specifically, she says there is no evidence that she benefited from the stolen funds during the marriage. Furthermore, she says McAninch could have used lawfully-earned money to cover all of his payments and transfers to her pursuant to the divorce decree. However, during Landers and McAninch’s divorce negotiations, she estimated his income at “approximately $150,000.00 per year,” thereby indicating she was well aware that he had provided the family with money above and beyond his salary. Thus, there is evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that Landers benefitted from funds McAninch had stolen during the marriage. Further, McAninch started buying lots of personal toys and spent nearly $40,000 on a boat and accessories as well as a new vehicle. The parties negotiated a divorce agreement through which Landers retained the house, which was valued at the time of trial at $391,000, and a vehicle. In addition, McAninch agreed to pay Landers $20,000; monthly payments of $3250 for 60 months; transfer $30,000 of his pension to Landers; pay their son’s college expenses and 20% of his stepson’s college costs; pay child support for their son in an amount well above what the Indiana Child Support Guidelines; and paid Landers’ educational expenses. McAninch’s salary from Wabash in 1998 was $71,713, and it is difficult to conclude that he could have afforded to pay Landers $20,000 at the time the divorce agreement was approved, plus begin monthly child support and spousal maintenance payments, using only his legitimate income. Similarly, McAninch’s subsequent spousal maintenance and child support obligations were quite large in comparison with his legitimate income.
Based upon this evidence, the trial court appropriately determined that the funds McAninch paid to Landers pursuant to the divorce decree, including equity in the home, were stolen from his employer because McAninch had already spent his own legitimately-earned money on a boat, a vehicle, and other expenditures. For the reasons stated above, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
983 N.E.2d 1169 (Ind.App. 2013)