In business litigation in Connecticut, attorneys many times seek to impose a constructive trust over assets or income connected to wrong doing, breach of fiduciary duty, or fraud by business partners or agents. In a decision to be officially released on November 23, 2010, the Appellate Court upheld a trial court’s imposition of a constructive trust over certain assets of a business. The case is Trevorrow v. Marcuccio, and you can download it here.
A constructive trust is not a real trust. Rather, it is a judicially created trust and thus the term "constructive." It arises when one party unjustly holds title or rights to property, such as assets or profits of a business partnership or corporation. The wrongdoing may involve simply retaining property, misappropriating property, or converting the property into another form. The trust is imposed against the wrongdoer who will be deemed to hold title of the property for the benefit of the innocent party. In Trevorrow, the Appellate Court stated:
the issue raised by a claim for a constructive trust is, in essence, whether a party has committed actual or constructive fraud or whether he or she has been unjustly enriched
Typically, you see attorneys seeking constructive trusts in cases involving fraud, duress, breach of fiduciary duty, or some type of commission of a wrong. However, the Trevorrow court clarified that the equitable remedy of a constructive trust is not only available in cases of actual or constructive fraud, but it is also available in cases where one party has been unjustly enriched at the expense of another even without a finding of wrong doing.
In short, in Trevorrow, there was no finding of fraud or unethical conduct. Rather, the court simply found that one person in the business relationship would have been unjustly enriched if permitted to keep the property. The Trevorrow case also serves as reminder that the trial court’s enjoy discretionary equitable powers to impose constructive trusts if proper facts are present.