Once a plaintiff has introduced evidence to establish a “badge of fraud,” a prima facie case of fraudulent conveyance is established and the burden shifts to the defendant to establish that the transaction was not fraudulent. So held the Virginia Supreme Court, in reversing the Henrico County Circuit Court’s decision to strike the plaintiff’s evidence and enter judgment in favor of the defendant.
Fox Rest Associates, L.P. v. Anne B. Little involved a dispute between George B. Little, an attorney and the general partner of Fox Rest Apartments, and the limited partners of Fox Rest Apartments, arising out of an alleged sale of the apartments by the general partner without the consent or knowledge of the limited partners. After learning that the limited partners planned to sue him, Mr. Little made various transfers, including transfers into an account at SunTrust Bank held jointly with his wife. The limited partners filed a derivative action against Fox Rest for malpractice, double billing, and other claims. The limited partners obtained a judgment but were unable to collect approximately $856,400. They then proceeded to file a fraudulent conveyance action to attempt to set aside various transfers as fraudulent.
The trial court struck the limited partners’ evidence, finding that they had produced insufficient evidence of fraudulent intent. The Supreme Court, however, reversed. Under Virginia law, it pointed out, to survive a motion to strike, a plaintiff need only introduce evidence of “badges of fraud.” Badges (or presumptions) of fraud include:
(1) retention of an interest in the transferred property by the transferor; (2) transfer between family members for allegedly antecedent debt; (3) pursuit of the transferor or threat of litigation by his creditors at the time of the transfer; (4) lack of or gross inadequacy of consideration for the conveyance; (5) retention or possession of the property by transferor; and (6) fraudulent incurrence of indebtedness after the conveyance.
Here, the court found, the limited partners had proved the existence of several of these badges of fraud. First, Little maintained an interest in the funds deposited in the SunTrust account since it was a joint account. Second, the transfers were made after the dispute arose over his management of Fox Rest, the dispute that led to the derivative suit. Additionally, the Supreme Court found that it was fair to assume that Little’s wife knew of his fraudulent intent since she was aware of the problems between her husband and the limited partners and of the lawsuit. An accountant testified at trial that Mrs. Little received a minimum benefit of $940,000 from the challenged transfers. This, the court said, established a prima facie case of fraudulent conveyance.