Judge tosses fraud claim in Mel Simon estate case

March 25, 2010

A Hamilton County judge has dismissed a fraud claim leveled by one of Melvin Simon's daughters in her lawsuit challenging the late developer’s estate plan.

Judge William J. Hughes of Hamilton Superior Court ruled that the plaintiff, Deborah Simon, failed to argue that her stepmother Bren committed fraud with “sufficient specificity.”

He said the general allegations contained in Deborah’s suit, filed in early January, didn’t comply with an Indiana trial rule requiring plaintiffs to provide enough information to enable defendants to prepare a proper defense.

In his March 19 order, the judge gave Deborah’s attorneys the opportunity to refile the claim with additional detail. An attorney representing Deborah, who is Bren’s stepdaughter, declined to comment.

The ruling is a setback for Deborah’s effort to throw out changes in the plan her billionaire father signed off on in February 2009, seven months before he died at age 82. But even if her attorneys fail to sway the judge to reconsider, the parties will continue to litigate Deborah’s other claims, which include undue influence and duress.

Deborah contends her father was suffering from dementia and didn’t understand what he was doing when he revised the plan, boosting the share of his fortune going directly to Bren from one-third to one-half.

The changes also wiped out a portion that was to go to Deborah and her siblings from Melvin’s first marriage—Cynthia Simon-Skjodt and David Simon, the chairman and CEO of Simon Property Group—and left charitable gifts stipulated in prior versions to Bren’s discretion.

Bren, 66, who married Melvin in 1972, contends the changes fully reflected his wishes.

Melvin Simon was one of Indiana’s richest men. Forbes magazine in March 2009 estimated his net worth at $1.3 billion. Shares of Simon Property, his principal holding, have zoomed higher since, perhaps pushing the value of his fortune past $2 billion.




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