Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

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Irvin Shell, as administrator of the estate of Annie Ruth Peterson, deceased ("the estate"), appealed separate summary judgments entered in favor of Montgomery-municipal jail employees Terri Butcher and Shayla Payne, respectively, on the basis of State-agent immunity. Annie Peterson was arrested for driving under the influence "of any substance" and transported to the municipal jail. Peterson was not actually under the influence of an intoxicating substance at the time of her arrest; rather, she was suffering from a hemorrhagic stroke. She remained in jail overnight; when jail officers went to retrieve Peterson from her cell, she was weak, “drowsy” and appeared ill. This information was relayed to a jail nurse; the nurse in turn contacted a doctor, who instructed jail staff to transport Peterson to the emergency room. After the bonding process was complete, Peterson was released to a family member who transported Peterson to a local hospital where she was diagnosed with having suffered a stroke; she died three days later on April 16, 2013. The estate sued Butcher and Payne in their individual capacities, alleging that they had been negligent and wanton in failing to obtain medical care for Peterson in a timely manner. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the estate did not demonstrate the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of Butcher and Payne based on State-agent immunity. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgments were affirmed. View "Shell v. Butcher" on Justia Law

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Susan Turner appealed a probate court judgment admitting the will of Johnny B. Turner to probate and granting letters testamentary to Lana Rogers. Susan argued the probate court violated the "clearly mandatory language of Sections 43-8-190 and 43-8-198" when it did not transfer her will contest, which was commenced before the will was admitted to probate, to the circuit court. The Alabama Supreme Court found the probate court had no authority to do anything other than timely refer the contest to the circuit court once the contest was filed. The probate court’s judgment was vacated and the appeal dismissed. View "Turner v. Estate of Johnny B. Turner" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Bernard’s mother died, leaving a $3 million estate entirely to Bernard’s homeless, mentally ill sister, Joanne, who had lived in Denver. Bernard and his wife, Katherine are professors at Northwestern University School of Law. Bernard had himself appointed Joanne’s conservator and redirected the inheritance to himself. Bernard’s cousin, Wrigley, found Joanne in New York. Bernard and Wrigley each sought appointment as guardian of Joanne’s property in New York.Joanne’s guardian ad litem discovered that Bernard had diverted much of Joanne’s inheritance and hired Kerr, a forensic accountant, to investigate Bernard and Pinto, Joanne’s representative payee, who had withdrawn funds from her account. The Denver probate court suspended Bernard as Joanne’s conservator and ordered that Pinto provide a complete accounting, Wrigley allegedly made threats against Katherine. The Denver court entered a $4.5 million judgment against Bernard.Katherine wrote to the New York court on Northwestern University letterhead, alleging “misappropriation of Joanne’s assets by Pinto.” Wrigley then called the deans at Northwestern’ to complain about Katherine.Katherine sued Wrigley and Kerr, alleging defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court rejected Katherine’s attempt to fire her attorney and present her own closing argument and accused Katherine of “gamesmanship,” stating that it could not “trust [her] to follow the rules” based on her performance as a witness. Her attorney claimed to be physically ill and the judge then granted a continuance. Ultimately, the jury rejected Katherine’s claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the court’s evidentiary decisions, including overruling Katherine’s objections to closing arguments, and to jury instructions. View "Black v. Wrigley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the superior court granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee on the basis that Appellant failed to perfect her probate appeal under R.I. Gen. Laws 33-23-1, holding that Appellant perfected her probate appeal.Appellant, the surviving spouse of the decedent, filed a claim of appeal after the decedent's will, which named Appellee as executrix and left his law firm assets to her, was admitted to probate. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for Appellee, concluding that Appellant did not comply with the statutory requirements of section 33-23-1. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that there was competent evidence proving the existence of a disputed issue of material fact. View "Estate of John P. Garan" on Justia Law

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This case involved a wrongful-death claim filed by Michael Rondini ("Rondini"), as personal representative of the estate of Megan Rondini ("Megan"), to recover damages for the death of his daughter Megan, who committed suicide almost eight months after she was allegedly sexually assaulted while enrolled as a student at the University of Alabama. Rondini sued Megan's alleged assailant, Terry Bunn, Jr., in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Southern Division, claiming that Bunn's alleged sexual assault and false imprisonment of Megan proximately caused her death. After Bunn moved for summary judgment, the federal court certified a question to the Alabama Supreme Court on whether Rondini's wrongful-death claim was viable under Alabama law. Both Rondini and Bunn framed their arguments around the Alabama Supreme Court's decision in Gilmore v. Shell Oil Co., 613 So. 2d 1272 (Ala. 1993). The Alabama Supreme Court responded by stating suicide would not, as a matter of law, absolve an alleged assailant of liability. “The statement in Gilmore that suicide is unforeseeable as a matter of law, was made in the context of a negligence case and does not apply in an intentional-tort case involving an allegation of sexual assault. … traditional negligence concepts like foreseeability and proximate cause, which form the backbone of the negligence analysis in Gilmore, have a more limited application in intentional-tort cases.” The Court held that a wrongful-death action could be pursued against a defendant when there is substantial evidence both that defendant sexually assaulted the decedent and that the assault was a cause in fact of the decedent's later suicide. “In such cases, it is unnecessary to analyze whether the decedent's suicide was a foreseeable consequence of the sexual assault; liability may attach without regard to whether the defendant intended or could have reasonably foreseen that result.” View "Rondini v. Bunn" on Justia Law

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Respondent Ryanne Earley appealed a final divorce decree awarding petitioner Wm. Michael Earley part of her interest in an irrevocable life insurance trust established by her parents. She argued the trial court erred by classifying her interest in the trust as marital property subject to equitable division under RSA 458:16-a (Supp. 2020). Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s decision was contrary to RSA 564-B:5-502 (2019), it reversed in part, vacated the remainder of the property division determination, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of Wm. & Ryanne Earley" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's award of attorney fees to the Trust after the Trust successfully enforced the terms of a conservation easement. In this case, defendants owned land that is the subject of a conservation easement granted by previous owners in favor of the Trust and they intentionally violated the easement.The court rejected defendants' argument that, because the Trust's insurance policy covered its fees up to $500,000, the trial court was required to deduct that amount from the lodestar. Rather, the court concluded that the trial court was not required to reduce defendants' liability for attorney fees simply because the Trust had the foresight to purchase insurance. In any event, the court noted that the Trust will not receive a double recovery because, under the insurance policy, it must reimburse the insurer from any damage award. The court also rejected defendants' other challenges, concluding that the number of hours was not excessive; the lodestar was not disproportionate to the public benefit; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by adding a fee enhancement. View "The Sonoma Land Trust v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Wife Becky Baldauf, in both her personal capacity and as administrator of her deceased husband’s estate, appealed the superior court’s order dismissing her claims against the Vermont State Treasurer and the Vermont State Employees’ Retirement System (VSERS) (collectively, the State). Wife argued she was entitled to receive a retirement allowance on account of her husband’s death while in active service under 3 V.S.A. 465. She also argued the State failed to adequately inform husband about his retirement allowance before his death, and accordingly, husband’s estate was entitled to relief under breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligent misrepresentation theories. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Wife failed to state claims for which relief can be granted, and affirmed. View "Estate of Ronald Baldauf v. Vermont State Treasurer et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming a probate court ruling that a restriction on the transfer of devise property was a restraint on alienation and void, holding that the provision was a prohibited restraint on alienation and void.The testamentary provision in this case restricted the beneficiaries from selling or transferring the devised property outside their immediate family for a period of twenty years following the testator's death. The district court ultimately held that the restriction on the property was an invalid restraint on alienation and void. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the restriction was a restraint on alienation and that reasonable restraints on alienation are not allowed under Iowa law. View "Estate of Vera E. Cawiezell v. Coronelli" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the ruling of the district court finding that an amended pleading by the Estate of Francis O. Glaser related back to its original pleading and therefore permitted an additional conveyance to be set aside after the statute of limitations had lapsed, holding that the district court erred in concluding that the late amendment related back to the date of the original motion.The Estate in this case attempted to void a predate transfer of farm property by Glaser to a friend. In order to do so, at the close of the evidence, the Estate filed a motion to amend the original motion to set aside property conveyances that failed to mention the farm property. The district court permitted the late amendment and found that the amendment related back to the filing of the original motion. Therefore, the court concluded that the claim was not barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the challenged conveyances should be set aside. The Supreme Court held, like the court of appeals, that the late claim to set aside the farm property was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. View "Kindsfather v. Bowling" on Justia Law