Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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The City of Warrior ("Warrior") and the Town of Trafford ("Trafford") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying their motions for a summary judgment in this tort action filed by plaintiff James Griffin, as the personal representative of the estate of James R. Olvey, and to enter a summary judgment in Warrior's and Trafford's favor on the basis of immunity. A Warrior police officer saw a cehicle operated by Donald Wright run a red light. Though the officer tried to stop Wright's vehicle, Wright sped away and the officer pursued. A Trafford officer joined in pursuit. When Wright entered the interstate to avoid the police chase, the officers stopped their pursuit. Approximately three quarters of a mile from where the officers ceased their pursuit, Wright's vehicle collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Olvey in a southbound lane. Olvey died as a result of the collision. When Wright was apprehended at the collision scene, a syringe was found hanging from his right arm. Subsequent testing revealed that, at the time of the collision, he was under the influence of both marijuana and cocaine. Wright was subsequently criminally indicted in connection with Olvey's death. Griffin, as the personal representative of Olvey's estate, later sued, among others, the two officers and their respective Town employers, alleging among other things, that Olvey died as the result of the allegedly unskillful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of the officers in pursuing Wright while carrying out duties. As to each municipality, Griffin further alleged, based on a theory of respondeat superior, that they were vicariously liable for the purported wrongful conduct of the officers. After review, the Supreme Court determined Warrior and Trafford demonstrated a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to enter a summary judgment in favor of each on Griffin's claims against them. View "Ex parte City of Warrior and Town of Trafford." on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on the six-month time limit set forth in Subsection 2210(b) of Pennsylvania’s Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code. The surviving spouse here timely filed her election to take against the will, but, several years later, petitioned to revoke her election in an attempt to reclaim her testate share. The parties disputed whether a survivor who sought to revoke a statutory election against the will must do so within the six-month period specified in Subsection 2210(b), even though it speaks only to the time for filing the election, not to the revocation of a prior election. The Supreme Court concluded that the widow here was not permitted to revoke her election after the expiration of Section 2210’s six-month time limit. View "In Re: Est. of C. Jabbour" on Justia Law

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Appellant Marie Yammine, as former wife and primary beneficiary of a two million dollar life insurance policy issued by Respondent ReliaStar Life Insurance Company to her former husband, Dr. Jean Bernard, appealed a declaratory judgment finding the contingent beneficiary, Appellee Roland Ghoussoub, was entitled to the policy's death benefit. Dr. Bernard died after the trial court granted the parties' divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues. The trial court declared Yammine and Bernard were divorced and that 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) operated to revoke her beneficiary designation to the death benefits. Whether Oklahoma's revocation-upon-divorce statute, 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A), applied when one party dies after the granting of the divorce but prior to final judgment on all issues, was a matter of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The Court concluded Section 178(A) required a final judgment on all issues, and that the trial court erred by interpreting 15 O.S.2011 § 178(A) to revoke Yammine's beneficiary designation in Bernard's life insurance policy based on an order granting divorce when the final judgment on all issues remained pending at husband's death. The trial court's declaratory judgment was reversed, and this case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ghoussoub v. Yammine" on Justia Law

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Born in 1967, Carroll was raised by a single mother near Albert Barber's property. Albert’s younger sister was Arlene. Albert died in 1998. . In 2000, Arlene informed the Geauga County Probate Court that she had lost Albert’s will and possessed only an unsigned copy. She filed an application to probate the will. The court found that all interested parties were given appropriate notice and admitted the will. The court distributed most of the estate— land worth $232,000 and slightly over $30,000 in other assets—to Arlene under the will.Carroll claims that in 2018, Arlene told her that Albert was Carroll’s father. Carrol sued, claiming that Arlene submitted an invalid version of Albert’s will to an Ohio probate court and that she should have inherited Albert’s estate. The district court concluded that she lacked standing and that the probate exception to federal jurisdiction barred it from hearing her claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, citing her lack of standing. Carroll has not plausibly pleaded that the Barbers’ misconduct injured her, that they left her any worse off. Even given an opportunity to contest Albert’s will, Carroll would not have been eligible to contest Albert’s will under Ohio law when he died. View "Carroll v. Hill" on Justia Law

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Central to this case was a dispute between two daughters and a stepdaughter of the testatrix, Jacquelin Stevenson, who died in 2007. She was survived by six children: four from her marriage to Thomas Stevenson, a son by a former marriage, and a stepdaughter. The testatrix's two sons by Stevenson, Thomas and Daniel, stole millions from the estate while co-trustees from 1996 to 2006, thereby forfeiting any rights they had to take under their mother's will and leaving Jacquelin and Kathleen as the personal representatives. The theft by Thomas and Daniel left the estate with insufficient monies remaining to fund specific bequests of $400,000 each to the two stepchildren of the marriage. Further, the bequest of a Lake Summit property to the two sons failed, sending it to the residuary, and because no amendment by codicil preceded the testatrix's demise, after acquired properties passed through the residuary as well. The residuary clause provided that "[a]ll the rest, residue and remainder of my property and estate . . . I give, devise and bequeath to Kathleen S. Turner, Jacquelin S. Bennett, Thomas C. Stevenson, III, Daniel R. Stevenson, James Kelly King, and Genevieve S. Felder in equal shares." The probate court, the circuit court, and the court of appeals all interpreted this to mean in equal ownership interests rather than equal monetary values. Just as the language of the residuary clause was relevant to the resolution of this dispute, so was section 10 of the will, which set forth the powers of the personal representatives and expressly stated the testatrix's intention to give broad discretion and flexibility to her personal representatives. The probate judge, the circuit court, and the court of appeals all determined the broad powers did not govern distributions of the residual estate. Also, the court of appeals affirmed the probate court's finding that the personal representatives' conduct constituted a breach of fiduciary duty. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the court of appeals erred and reversed. View "Bennett v. Estate of James Kelly King" on Justia Law

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Collins filed an application for informal probate of the decedent's will. The submitted will disinherited the decedent’s children, devised most of the estate to Collins, and appointed Collins as personal representative. The will was dated January 27, 2021; the decedent died on January 31. The county court granted Collins’ application, The children objected, alleging that the decedent lacked testamentary capacity and the decedent was under undue influence when he executed the 2021 will. They offered for formal probate a will, executed in 2002, under which they were to inherit the residue of the decedent’s estate. They sought an order restraining Collins from acting as personal representative.Before the court ruled on the requests, the children filed a notice of transfer to the district court. The county court found that the children’s petition commenced a formal testacy proceeding and that their notice of transfer effectuated a transfer of jurisdiction so that it lacked jurisdiction to rule on the requests for a special administrator and a restraining order. The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed. The fact that a district court has obtained, via the transfer of the will contest, “jurisdiction over the proceeding on the contest” does not divest the county court of its original jurisdiction in probate to protect the estate during the pendency of that will contest by considering the merits of a petition for a special administrator and request for a restraining order on the personal representative. View "In re Estate of Anderson" on Justia Law

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Frankie Ware died in 2011, survived by his wife, Carolyn Ware, and their three children, Dana Ware, Angela Ware Mohr, and Richard Ware. Richard was married to Melisa Ware. Carolyn was appointed executor of Frankie’s estate. At the time of his death, Frankie owned 25 percent of four different family corporations. Carolyn owned another 25 percent of each, and Richard owned 50 percent of each. Frankie’s will placed the majority of Frankie’s assets, including his shares in the four family corporations, into two testamentary trusts for which Carolyn, Richard, Angela, and Dana were appointed trustees. The primary beneficiary of both trusts was Carolyn, but one trust allowed potential, limited distributions to Richard, Angela, and Dana. Prolonged litigation between Carolyn and Richard ensued over disagreements regarding how to dispose of Frankie’s shares in the four corporations and how to manage the four corporations. Richard eventually filed for dissolution of the four corporations. The trial court ultimately consolidated the estate case with the corporate dissolution case, and denied Angela and Dana’s motions to join/intervene in both cases. It also appointed a corporate receiver (Derek Henderson) in the dissolution case by agreed order that also authorized dissolution. The chancery court ultimately ordered that the shares be offered for sale to the corporations, and it approved the dissolution and sale of the corporations. Angela and Dana appealed the trial court’s denial of their attempts to join or intervene in the two cases. Carolyn appeals a multitude of issues surrounding the trial court’s decisions regarding the corporations and shares. Richard cross-appealed the trial court’s net asset value determination date and methodology. The Receiver argued the trial court’s judgment should have been affirmed on all issues. In the estate case, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the chancery court’s determination that the estate had to offer the shares to the corporation prior to transferring them to the trusts; the corporations filed their breach of contract claim after the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Court affirmed the chancery court’s denial of Angela and Dana’s motions to intervene, and it affirmed the chancery court’s decision in the dissolution case. The Court reversed the judgment to the extent that it allowed the corporations to purchase shares from the estate. The cases were remanded to the chancery court for a determination of how to distribute the money from the corporate sales, in which the estate held 25 percent of the corporate shares. View "In The Matter of The Estate of Frankie Don Ware" on Justia Law

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Susan Hoff ("Susan") and Eliot Hoff ("Eliot") were mother and son and the purported beneficiaries under a will executed by Susan Bibb Kidd ("Kidd"), Susan's mother. Probate was initiated in 2011. In 2020, Eliot filed a "Verified Petition for Removal Pursuant to Ala. Code 12-11-41," in which he asserted, among other things, that he was an heir of Kidd and that the estate could be better administered in the circuit court. Although Eliot's signature appeared on his petition, the signature was not notarized or signed under oath. While Eliot's petition was pending, Susan filed her own verified petition for removal that was sworn to under oath and notarized. The circuit court granted Susan's removal petition. Later that same day, however, the circuit court entered an order in which it vacated its previous order granting Susan's removal petition, directed Susan to serve notice of her removal petition to all interested parties, and indicated that it would set the matter for a hearing. After reconsideration was denied, Susan appealed, and the case was transferred to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed when Susan failed to respond to a show-cause order. In 2021, Susan moved the circuit court seeking an order removing the administration of the estate. On October 18, 2021, the circuit court entered an order dismissing Susan's removal petition without prejudice, "[f]or failure to comply with th[e] Court's Orders of November 16, 2020, June 8, 2021 and September 1, 2021." On October 21, 2021, Susan and Eliot each filed a notice of appeal to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals; that court again transferred the appeals to the Supreme Court based on a lack of appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court ultimately found that because Eliot (eventually)filed a sworn removal petition that included a statement regarding his standing to bring the removal petition as an heir of Kidd and a statement that, in his opinion, the estate would be better administered in the circuit court, Eliot's removal petition satisfied the requirements of 12-11-41. Accordingly, the circuit court was required to enter an order of removal. The circuit court's order "denying" Eliot's removal petition was reversed. The Supreme Court did not reach Susan's appeal because its decision to grant Eliot's removal petition effectively awarded Susan the relief she sought. View "Hoff v. The Estate of Susan Bibb Kidd" on Justia Law

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Dennis Henderson and James Henderson, individually and as co-trustees of the Rose Henderson Peterson Mineral Trust, appealed a district court judgment in which the court determined they paid themselves an unreasonable amount of compensation from the Trust for their duties as trustees. The court ordered the Trustees return a portion of the compensation and that all parties’ attorney fees be paid with Trust funds. On appeal, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the questions presented in this case were not barred by the law of the case doctrine or res judicata. Furthermore, the Court determined that additional findings were required concerning application of an exculpatory provision in the Trust as well as the issue of whether the doctrine of laches applies. The Court retained jurisdiction but remanded for additional findings. View "Matter of Rose Henderson Peterson Mineral Trust" on Justia Law

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Petitioner David Apostoloff appealed a circuit court order dismissing his petition to validate a purported amendment to the Omega Trust. He contended the court erred in dismissing his petition by finding the grantor did not substantially comply with the terms of the trust regarding amendments, and that there was not clear and convincing evidence that the grantor intended to amend his trust. Taking all of the facts alleged in the petition as true, and applying them against the applicable law, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the allegations constituted a basis for legal relief. Thus, petitioner has sufficiently pled his case to survive a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the circuit court’s order was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "In re The Omega Trust" on Justia Law