A 20-year-old man is entitled to $5,000 as an overdue bar mitzvah gift that he claimed his mother failed to deliver from his grandmother, a Nassau County court found.
Jordan Zeidman had sued his mother, Shirley Zeidman, over the gift from his maternal grandmother, Rachel Steinfeld, who had attended his October 2007 bar mitzvah. Steinfeld, who had not been invited, told Jordan Zeidman in front of his mother, who also had not been invited, that she would give him $5,000 “just like I gave to your brother and sister.”
According to Nassau District Court Judge Scott Fairgrieve’s decision in Zeidman v. Zeidman, CV-011924-14, Jordan Zeidman said he never received his grandmother’s gift. He had moved out of his mother’s house around the time of his bar mitzvah because of their “uneasy” relationship and said that the two had been estranged ever since.
After filing a small claims complaint against his mother, he submitted into evidence a bank document with statement of deposits into his college fund containing a handwritten note stating: “I owe Jordan $190.00 + $5,000 from Baba.”
Steinfeld is often referred to by relatives as “Baba,” which was confirmed by Steinfeld and both Jordan and Shirley Zeidman, according to court papers.
Steinfeld testified that she neither gave $5,000 to Jordan Zeidman directly, nor gave it to his mother to hold for him, but admitted giving $5,000 gifts to Jordan Zeidman’s brother and sister for their bar and bat mitzvahs.
Shirley Zeidman testified at a hearing that the handwriting on the note could be hers, but she denied receiving money from her mother to pass along to her son, who said he recognized his mother’s handwriting from when they lived together.
Fairgrieve ruled that Shirley Zeidman is liable for both conversion and unjust enrichment for failing to transfer the gift to her son. Citing Gruen v. Gruen, 68 N.Y.2d 48, 505 N.Y.S.2d 849 (1986), Fairgrieve wrote that the three elements necessary to establish an inter vivos gift are that there was an intent to make an irrevocable transfer of ownership, an actual delivery of the property and an acceptance of the gift by the donee.
The third element may be presumed if the purported gift is of significant value, which is the case in Zeidman, the judge wrote.
Fairgrieve said the evidence in the case shows that Steinfeld came to the bar mitzvah with the intention of giving a $5,000 gift to her grandson, and that the handwritten note on the bank document supports that the gift was made.
The note also proves that the plaintiff’s mother—who was considered a third party representing her son as a fiduciary agent—was liable for the gift, the judge wrote. He cited a Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court decision from 1956 in In re Gilligan’s Estate, 157 N.Y.S.2d 740, in which the court held that IOU slips in a decedent’s handwriting amounted to admissions of valid debts.
Steven Cohn, a Carle Place attorney who represented Jordan Zeidman, said in an interview that, with interest and court costs, the judgement against Shirley Zeidman should be about $12,000.
There is a three-year statute of limitation for conversion claims and a six-year limit for unjust enrichment claims (see Civil Practice Law and Rules §§214 and 213). But Cohn said the statutes of limitation were extended because Jordan Zeidman was a minor when his mother deprived him of the gift.
Jeffrey Schecter of Jeffrey S. Schecter & Associates in Garden City represented Shirley Zeidman. He said his client would seek an appeal of the ruling.
Schecter questioned why Steinfeld would give Jordan Zeidman a $5,000 gift—considering “the way her grandchild was treating her daughter”—noting that his client and her son were estranged at the time of his bar mitzvah and that neither Jordan Zeidman’s mother nor his maternal grandmother were invited to the event.
“I believe that the decision is not supported by the facts,” said Schecter, who added that he sees the dispute in Zeidman as part of a larger post-matrimonial battle between his client and her ex-husband, Andrew Zeidman.
Jordan Zeidman’s mother and father had divorced in 1998. Their separation agreement required both parties to contribute pro rata to their son’s college fund, but the decision states that Shirley Zeidman has not done so.
Cohn represents Andrew Zeidman in the post-matrimonial proceedings. He said the issue is not directly related with Jordan Zeidman’s case, but he said Andrew Zeidman was involved in bringing Jordan Zeidman’s case to court.
“If your kid is having emotional problems dealing with his mother, wouldn’t you work with your son?” Cohn asked.