A 93-year-old North Little Rock widow won a significant -- but possibly temporary -- court victory Wednesday in her efforts to get her $60,000 in life savings back from an unlicensed builder who authorities say cheated her out of her money and her home of almost 50 years.
Judge Tim Fox ruled that Marcus Andrew Dupree, the son of a Jacksonville construction company owner, can be required to pay any damages assessed against the now-defunct building company he operated, Northstar Consultants Inc.
The question of how much damages Dupree might have to pay is to be decided by a Pulaski County jury next month.
Dupree was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the matter two years ago and is representing himself in Gretchen Madison's lawsuit against him and Northstar. Madison filed suit in 2013.
State regulators revoked Northstar's contractor license for misconduct over the construction project that led to Madison losing her money and her home. Dupree handled the construction under Northstar's license.
Northstar never responded to the lawsuit and was found to be in default two years ago, a ruling that now opens Dupree up to a judgment of at least $520,000, court filings show.
Dupree cursed and stormed out of the courtroom after Fox explained that because Dupree had failed to respond to a motion by Madison to force him to share liability with Northstar, the judge was granting her request.
"This is all bull****!" the 40-year-old Jacksonville man shouted. "They've basically destroyed all of the evidence! Do whatever you want to!"
His outburst came after Fox explained to him that the court rules regarding responding to summary judgment motions like Madison's are "strict and mandatory" in requiring the judge to grant her request.
Fox also had rejected Dupree's petition to dismiss the lawsuit because Madison had the house he built for her torn down in July 2013. Dupree had complained that, by demolishing the house, Madison destroyed vital evidence that kept him from having his own experts examine the property to prepare his defense.
Fox said he was denying Dupree's dismissal request because the builder missed a court-ordered deadline on such motions. The pleading was filed last month.
Despite the judge's rulings, Madison's attorney, Jordan Tinsley, said he was concerned that Madison might never get any money from Dupree because he's in bankruptcy proceedings.
Dupree could be allowed to discharge any debt he owes Madison through those proceedings, which began in January, Tinsley said. Dupree filed for bankruptcy protection just before the lawsuit went to trial.
In his Chapter 13 petition to reorganize his finances while under bankruptcy court protection, he reported having $193,271 in assets, almost all of that coming from his home. He reported debts of $850,567, with $210,000 of that amount being his home mortgage. Dupree also reported earning $5,740 per month with monthly expenses of $4,339.
Madison paid Dupree and Northstar about $60,000 in 2012 after he promised to replace her 900-square-foot home with a 1,216-square-foot residence in three months. What Dupree delivered was described as a "heap" and a "pile of junk" by Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley in the contractor's criminal proceedings.
Jegley charged Dupree with felony theft, but a jury acquitted him in October 2015. His trial attorney argued that there was no evidence a crime had been committed and that Dupree had built her a house but had been fired and barred from the property before he could finish it to her satisfaction.
Madison's money came from an insurance settlement she received after water damage to the home caused a black mold infestation that made the house unlivable. The widowed mother of five had lived in the house for 49 years but was forced to move into a trailer on the property.
Madison said she had met Dupree through her daughter after he had done some remodeling work on the woman's garage. Describing Dupree as "well-mannered and soft-spoken," Madison testified at his trial that she treated him like one of her children, even giving him presents of a crocheted centerpiece and homemade jelly and chow-chow relish when he got married.
Madison reached a settlement of at least $40,000 last December with Du̶p̶r̶e̶e̶'̶s̶ ̶m̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶,̶ ̶J̶o̶y̶ ̶K̶i̶n̶m̶a̶n̶,̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ his former Northstar partner, Robert Andrew Walker, and Walker's mother, Joy Kinman.* Kinman operates Dave Kinman Construction. Her husband, for whom the company was named, started it in 1973 and died in 2011 at age 66.
The settlement amount wasn't disclosed at the time, but Kinman and Walker subsequently sued their original attorney, Roy "Keith" Vaughan, alleging malpractice over his handling of the litigation. Last month, they were awarded $69,132 in damages at 10 percent annual interest by Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen after Vaughan, 67, failed to respond to the lawsuit.
Court filings show that $40,000 of the award is owed to Madison, with the remainder representing Kinman and Walker's $332 in expenses in suing Vaughan, the $25,000 in legal fees the pair incrurred, and a $3,800 retainer that Kinman paid to Vaughan.
Metro on 11/09/2017
*CORRECTION: Joy Kinman is the mother of Robert A. Walker. Kinman was incorrectly identified as the mother of Walker’s former business partner in a previous version of this article.
Print Headline: For widow who lost savings, home, court opens path to builder's wallet