A jury will determine whether a Fresno doctor committed fraud when he allegedly faked his wife's death to induce a couple to buy the doctor's horse ranch at an inflated price, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Judge Alan Simpson also said a Fresno County Superior Court jury must determine whether Dr. Michael Weilert and his wife, Genevieve de Montremare, breached a contract with the buyers.
But the judge threw out a claim of negligence against Weilert and his wife, saying there is no proof that the defendants engaged in conduct that caused physical injury to a person or the property.
The ruling cleared the way for a civil trial, but a date for that trial has not yet been determined.
Simpson said the case is one of the most difficult he has had to preside over.
Filed in March 2009, the plaintiffs have written six amended complaints, and a court referee made sure both sides turned over any potential evidence.
At issue is a 15-acre ranch that Weilert and his wife sold to an Orange County couple for $2.3 million in 2008. Brian Gwartz and his wife, Cheryl Skigin, contend the doctor and his wife tricked them into paying too much for the property at 7292 Kings River Road in Parlier.
In court papers, they accused de Montremare of creating a phony identity as a geneticist and an expert breeder of Friesians. They say the doctor then faked his wife's death in 2007 to entice horse owners to buy the Parlier ranch.
Gwartz is an anesthesiologist and a competitive horse-carriage rider, and his wife is a lawyer.
The Weilerts, however, said in court papers they sold the ranch "as is" and that they told the buyers that they should investigate the property before they bought it.
Dr. Weilert, 60, is director of pathology and clinical laboratories for Community Regional Medical Centers and a founding member of Pathology Associates in Clovis.
In a sworn deposition, he acknowledges that he told friends that his wife -- now 48 -- had died in November 2007 after a long illness.
He said he did it to protect her privacy because she is gravely ill.
His wife grew up in Lindsay as Genevieve Sanders. She went to Fresno State and was once National Raisin Queen.
But in 1991, she petitioned the court to change her name to Genevieve Marie de Montremare and began telling her friends that she was from French royalty.
She also told them that her French family has been breeding horses for 1,000 years and that they owned properties throughout the world, the lawsuit said.
In selling the Parlier property, the Weilerts told friends that, based on de Montremare's specialized training and expertise, they were going to develop the ideal horse ranch, which would include relocating a covered riding arena, a barn and laboratory from their Clovis property, the lawsuit alleges.
The buyers contend that the Weilerts "cut corners on the construction of the new arena to save money," Simpson's ruling said.
Attorneys are discussing possible trial dates.