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Appeals Court of Massachusetts.

Leilani HASKELL, individually and as personal representative,1 v. Nicole DEMORANVILLE.


Decided: April 28, 2021

By the Court (Wolohojian, Englander & Hand, JJ.2)


The plaintiff appeals from a judgment entered after trial dismissing her claims of fraud, larceny, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence. In essence, the plaintiff claims that the defendant (her younger half-sister) mishandled certain aspects of their intestate father's estate. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that judgment should not have entered against her. She contends that the trial judge misunderstood the facts, failed to credit the plaintiff's evidence, made legal errors, and reached an unjust result. She also argues that the defendant presented false testimony, did not “participate in good faith,” perjured herself, and committed fraud on the court. We affirm.

The pro se plaintiff's arguments are presented inadequately for appellate review. Her arguments are made without support to any case law, and without reference to -- or regard for -- the standard of review. See Gaffney v. Contributory Retirement Appeal Bd., 423 Mass. 1, 6 n.4 (1996) (conclusory statements in brief do not rise to level of appellate argument); Zora v. State Ethics Comm'n, 415 Mass. 640, 642 n.3 (1993) (“bald assertions of error, lacking legal argument and authority,” do not rise to level of appellate argument). In addition, her arguments are largely untethered to citation to the record. She has also failed to provide us with pertinent portions of the trial record, most notably the defendant's trial exhibits. See Kellogg v. Board of Registration in Med., 461 Mass. 1001, 1003 (2011) (where appellant “failed to support his claims of error with sufficient legal argument ․ and fails to cite to sufficient supporting authority ․ [the] submissions provide an insufficient basis” for appellate consideration); Everett v. 357 Corp., 453 Mass. 585, 604 n.26 (2009), quoting Chokel v. Genzyme Corp., 449 Mass. 272, 279 (2007) (“When a party fails to include a document in the record appendix, an appellate court is not required to look beyond that appendix to consider the missing document”). Although we are sensitive to the plaintiff's pro se status, pro se litigants are bound by the same rules and requirements as parties who are represented by counsel, see Brossard v. West Roxbury Div. of the Dist. Court Dep't, 417 Mass. 183, 184 (1994), and it was her responsibility to present the materials necessary to permit us to meaningfully review her claims on appeal. See Mass. R. A. P. 18, as appearing in 481 Mass. 1637 (2019).

In these circumstances, we see no reason to disturb the trial judge's detailed and careful findings of fact and rulings of law.3 The plaintiff has not shown that any of the findings are clearly erroneous, Dilanian v. Dilanian, 94 Mass. App. Ct. 505, 512 (2018) (“We review the trial judge's findings for clear error”), and, critically, those findings rest on the judge's credibility determinations. “Credibility determinations, of course, lie exclusively within the province of the fact finder -- here the trial judge -- who is free to believe one witness and disbelieve another.” Palmer v. Murphy, 42 Mass. App. Ct. 334, 343 (1997). “It was the trial judge who had the opportunity to see and hear the witnesses, and it is for him and not for us to assess their credibility and to weigh the evidence presented.” Adoption of Arnold, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 743, 750 (2001).

Judgment affirmed.


3.   The plaintiff has not shown error in the judge's legal conclusions that the Probate and Family Court does not have jurisdiction over the crime of larceny, G. L. c. 266, § 30, or to award damages for the tort of conversion. See G. L. c. 215, §§ 3, 6 (probate court jurisdiction). See Feener v. New England Tel. & Tel. Co., 20 Mass. App. Ct. 166, 169 (1985) (“like a claim for conversion or for breach of contract, the simple negligence claim, as such, was outside both the general and equity jurisdictions of the [probate] court”).

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