On March 19, 2014, William T. DelHagen of Murchison & Cumming, LLP, received not just one but six separate defense verdicts in a hotly contested battle between adjoining landowners in the pricey Los Angeles community of Bel Air. In 2009, British diamond heiress Zeta Graff filed suit against Ukranian-American businessman Alex Blyumkin and his construction contractor Newform Construction over a series of alleged transgressions during the construction of the new Blyumkin residence adjoining the Graff property. That case was settled in 2011, with a modest payment, but within four months Graff filed the second suit that went to trial this year on multiple claims of breach of contract, false promises, intentional infliction of emotional distress, trespass, private and public nuisance, negligence, and a claim for punitive damages.
At its core, plaintiff’s case contended that the defendants had never intended to live up to the prior settlement agreement and had continued with construction in violation of that agreement and certain construction rules. During the 21-day trial, Graff adorned her case with claims of obscene gestures, deliberate harassment, a trespassing mistress of one of the defendants, and claims of Russian mafia death threats against her, her family, and her dogs. She claimed the actions by defendants had not only caused her severe post-traumatic stress disorder, but had depressed the resale value of her award-winning house from $8 million to only $3 million. Defendants contended (and proved) that plaintiff was just plain nuts, and that they had fully complied with all the construction requirements of L.A. City, and reasonable construction practices.
Plaintiff had once offered to settle for $950,000, but asked for over $9 million in damages in final argument. After two days of deliberations, the jury rejected each of the six separate Special Verdicts request by plaintiff, as well as any claim for punitive damages.