LoCascio v. Sharpe, — So.3d —-, 2009 WL 3448111 (Fla.App. 3 Dist. Oct 28, 2009)

3d DCA: “The slayer statute is not, as presently written, a forfeiture statute awarding all of a killer’s property to the estate of the victim. Nor does the pre-statutory equitable principle that ‘no one shall be permitted to profit by his own wrongdoing’ include any such forfeiture of the killer’s separate property.”

Silvia Locascio’s brutally beaten corpse was found in her home on October 30, 2001. Eventually her husband and brother-in-law were found guilty of her murder – based in large part on the testimony of the couple’s only son. Click here for more on the back story to this tragic case.

Eight years after his mother’s murder Edward J. LoCascio (Son) argued that under F.S. 732.802 (Florida’s “slayer statute“) his father had forfeited all property rights in the couple’s marital assets effective as of the date of the murder. The end-goal of this strategy was to claw back the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees father spent on his defense prior to his murder conviction.

I recently wrote about a Georgia case where that state’s slayer statue was also cited as the basis for clawing back attorney fees paid by a surviving widow who ultimately plead guilty to murdering her husband. The slayer-statute argument didn’t work in Georgia [click here], and according to the 3d DCA, it won’t work in Florida either.

[1] Does a Murdering Spouse Forfeit His 50% Share in Couple’s Home? NO

When a person murders his or her spouse, under Florida law the couple’s jointly-titled residence is deemed converted into tenants-in-common property. Result: murderer doesn’t inherit the couple’s house; instead the house is deemed owned 50/50 by the murderer and the deceased spouse’s estate. In the linked-to case Son argued that under Florida’s slayer statue his father’s 50% share of the couple’s residence was forfeited to his mother’s estate as of the date of her death. Both the trial-court judge and the 3d DCA rejected this argument:

The Son commenced two appeals to this Court. In case no. 3D08-1711, the Son argues that the marital residence (the decedent’s and murderer’s homestead) passed in full to him as the mother’s sole heir. The Son bases this argument on the phrase in subsection 732.802(1) [of Florida’s slayer statute] that “the estate of the decedent passes as if the killer had predeceased the decedent.” Had [his father] predeceased [his mother], the Son argues, then [his mother’s estate] would have been vested with sole title to the residence at the time of her death, and that exclusive title would then have passed to the Son under Florida’s law of intestate succession.

We have previously rejected this argument. In Capoccia v. Capoccia, 505 So.2d 624 (Fla. 3d DCA 1987), this Court reconciled subsections (1) and (2) of the statute, explaining that “the express language of subsection (2) does not call for the complete termination of the killer’s interest in the property but merely the termination of the right of survivorship.” Id. at 624-25. Subsection (2) states that the killing “effects a severance of the interest of the decedent,” codifying a prior equitable doctrine that the property in such a case is “treated as if it had been formerly held as a tenancy in common.” Id. at 624.

[2] Does a Murdering Spouse Forfeit 100% of All Marital Assets? NO

Son also argued that his father had forfeited 100% of his property rights in the couple’s marital assets effective as of the date of his mother’s death. Again Son lost at the trial-court level and before the 3d DCA. In the quoted-text below the focus on clawing back legal fees becomes clear.

In the second appeal, Case No. 3D09-118, the Son maintains that the then-personal representative, plaintiff in the civil lawsuit, was erroneously denied relief against Edward S. LoCascio’s property. Specifically, the personal representative sought a constructive trust over all marital property, including Edward S. LoCascio’s rights or interests in that property. Instead, the final judgment of constructive trust was limited to all assets of the decedent, including any such assets “titled or assigned in the name of the defendant Edward S. LoCascio.” The Son maintains that the significance of this alleged error-otherwise appearing moot because of the estate’s judgment liens in amounts tens of millions of dollars greater than the murderer’s known assets-is that the constructive trust over his father’s assets would relate back to the date of his mother’s death.FN6

[FN6.] During the years between the date of the murder and the entry of the judgment liens against Edward S. LoCascio for over $75,000,000, he apparently incurred substantial indebtedness to one or more law firms for his defense in the murder trial and representation in the probate and wrongful death cases.

The slayer statute is not, as presently written, a forfeiture statute awarding all of a killer’s property to the estate of the victim. Nor does the pre-statutory equitable principle that “no one shall be permitted to profit by his own wrongdoing” include any such forfeiture of the killer’s separate property. Capoccia, 505 So.2d at 624. Accordingly, we find no error in the limitation imposed by the trial judge in the final judgment of constructive trust against Edward S. LoCascio.