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In this family dispute concerning an inheritance from the mother of two sets of sisters the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court ruling that May Harris and Jody Mattena committed a variety of torts in relation to the inheritance and finding them liable for compensatory and punitive damages, holding that the trial court did not err in its rulings during the course of the proceeding. Specifically, the Court held (1) the Liability Reform Act's provision for apportionment of damages, Utah Code 78B-5-818(4)(a), is mandatory only upon a request by a party, and therefore, in absence of a request for apportionment, a trial court acts within its discretion in falling back on the default of joint and several liability; and (2) the provision in Utah Code 78B-8-201(2) providing that evidence of a party's wealth or financial condition shall be admissible only after a finding of liability for punitive damages has been made does not mandate bifurcation of a punitive damages trial in a case in which no party sought to introduce evidence of wealth or financial condition, and the introduction of such evidence is not required as a prerequisite to the availability of a punitive damages award. View "Biesele v. Mattena" on Justia Law

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In this dispute among siblings regarding amendments to an inter vivos trust and gifts of interest in a family limited partnership established by Augusta Hathaway the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court and vacated the grant of a new trial as to Plaintiff's breach of fiduciary duty claim, holding that the order granting a new trial was unnecessary. A jury found that Hathaway lacked the testamentary capacity to amend her trust and that Defendant Marion Louttit, Hathaway's daughter, had unduly influenced Hathaway, thereby causing Hathaway to execute challenged amendments and gifts. The jury further found that Louttit breached her fiduciary duty as trustee. After the jury's verdict, the trial justice granted Louttit's motion for new trial and judgment as a matter of law as to the fiduciary duty verdict because Plaintiff Wenda Branson, Hathaway's daughter, had failed to prove damages. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in all respects, holding (1) Branson's claims were not barred by the equitable doctrine of laches; (2) Louttit's motions for judgment as a matter of law and for new trial on the issue of undue influence was properly denied; and (3) the grant of a new trial on the issue of fiduciary duty is vacated as superfluous. View "Branson v. Louttit" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the county court denying the petition to remove a trustee filed by certain trust beneficiaries, holding that the beneficiaries failed to prove that the trustee's removal was not inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust. The trust beneficiaires in this case filed a petition to modify the trust to remove Elkhorn Valley Bank & Trust as trustee and approve Jennifer Lea Wilson as successor trustee. The county court issued a written order denying the petition to remove the Bank as trustee, determining that removal would be inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that removal was inconsistent with a material purpose of the trust, and therefore, the county court did not err in denying the beneficiaries' motion. View "In re Trust Created by Fenske" on Justia Law

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Johnston Land Company, LLC appealed dismissal of its claims against attorney Sara Sorenson and the law firm Ohnstad Twichell, P.C., and appealed the court’s decision with regard to Johnston paying their costs and attorney fees in the amount of $27,386.23. In March 2015 Sorenson, who represented beneficiaries of an estate, recorded an affidavit in Grand Forks County, North Dakota pertaining to the probate case stating certain property may be subject to future legal proceedings. In August 2017, Johnston filed a petition claiming Sorenson’s affidavit was a nonconsensual common law lien under N.D.C.C. ch. 35-35 and sought damages. In September 2017, shortly before the district court rendered its decision denying the petition, Sorenson filed a notice of lis pendens on the property on behalf of the beneficiaries in another action seeking to levy execution on the property. The district court concluded Sorenson’s March 2015 affidavit did not constitute a nonconsensual common law lien, and the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed in part. However, the Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded, finding when Sorenson filed the affidavit in 2015, there was no action affecting title to the property. After remand, Sorenson recorded a second affidavit, which referenced her March 2015 affidavit, the September 2017 notice of lis pendens, and stated “[t]he Notice of Lis Pendens supersedes the Affidavit.” Sorenson and the law firm then moved for summary judgment dismissing items “c” through “g” in Johnston’s petition and, for the first time, requested an award of attorney fees. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment. The court concluded items “c” through “g” were rendered moot by either its previous decision that Sorenson’s first affidavit was not a nonconsensual common law lien or Sorenson’s filing of the second affidavit and the notice of lis pendens. The court also ruled summary judgment was appropriate because Johnston failed to produce any evidence or legal theory to support recovery under items “c” through “g.” Relying on its earlier ruling that Sorenson’s first affidavit was not a nonconsensual common law lien, the court also awarded Sorenson and the law firm for its costs and attorney fees. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district did not err with respect to the grant of summary judgment, but reversed as to fees, finding request for costs and attorney fees came too late, and the court’s award exceeded the scope of our mandate “to rule on items ‘c’ through ‘g’ in Johnston’s petition.” View "Johnston Land Company, LLC v. Sorenson, et al." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals made permanent a preliminary order in mandamus it issued in this action filed by the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri (Curators) seeking to require the circuit court to transfer venue in the underlying action to Boone County, holding that there was no venue in the underlying action in St. Louis County. This writ arose from a declaratory action concerning a Decedent's last will and testament. Hillsdale College filed suit in St. Louis County challenging Curators' administration of the funds of Decedent's trust. Curators filed this petition seeking to transfer the matter to the probate division of the circuit court in Boone County, Curators' usual place of business records where pertaining to the trust were kept. The Court of Appeals granted the writ, holding that because the trust could be registered in Boone County, Boone County was the proper venue for this case. View "State ex rel. Board of Curators of University of Missouri v. Honorable Joseph L. Green" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the probate court's order denying plaintiffs' request, following the death of their daughter, that the remainder of their daughter's special needs trust be distributed to them rather than to the Department of Health Care Services as reimbursement for Medi-Cal payments for their daughter's medical care. The court held that the mandatory recovery rules for special needs trusts apply to the trust remainder; plaintiffs' interpretation of Probate Code section 3605 conflicts with federal law; the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' opinion letter supports the Department's position that section 3605 permits the Department to recover for the daughter's Medi-Cal expenses; public policy considerations weigh in favor of permitting reimbursement to the Department; and the trust itself requires reimbursement to the Department. The court also held that plaintiffs failed to show that the Department's claim impermissibly included services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Lanterman Act. View "Gonzalez v. City National Bank" on Justia Law

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Robert Feldman ("Feldman") and the law firm of Haddon, Morgan & Foreman petitioned for relief from a probate court order requiring the firm to provide information to the special administrator concerning its representation of Feldman in a criminal prosecution for the murder of his wife Stacy, and to deposit funds held in its client trust account into the registry of the court. In response to the assertion by the special administrator that Colorado’s “slayer statute” applied to the funds at issue as proceeds of the decedent’s life insurance policy, the probate court determined that if Feldman were later found, in the manner prescribed by the statute, to be the decedent’s killer, he would be ineligible to receive those proceeds. Against that eventuality, the probate court found that compelling the return of the unearned funds in the firm’s client trust account would be the only way to protect the children’s interests, and that the court’s equitable powers permitted it to do so. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the probate court abused its discretion by issuing its order without weighing the considerations inherent in preliminarily enjoining the law firm from expending further funds in the representation of Feldman. In addition, however, because the slayer statute expressly protected third parties who receive a payment in satisfaction of a legally enforceable obligation from being forced to return that payment or from liability for the amount of the payment, no finding of a reasonable likelihood of success in attempting to force the return of the insurance proceeds would have been possible. Given this resolution, the Supreme Court found the disclosures ordered by the probate court would not have served their intended purpose. View "In re Feldman" on Justia Law

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This case was an estate-administration case that was only partially before the Alabama Supreme Court. Perry Eugene Cox, Jr. ("Cox"), appealed a judgment made final by the Shelby Circuit Court ("the trial court") under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Specifically, the trial court held that Cox's counterclaim against his sisters, Jennie Jo Cox Parrish, Debra Cox McCurdy, and Shirley Cox Wise, as coexecutors of the estate of their father, Perry Eugene Cox, Sr., was time-barred by Alabama's nonclaims statute, 43-2-350, Ala. Code 1975. The trial court dismissed Cox's counterclaim and certified its judgment as final and appealable, and Cox appealed. Because the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying its dismissal of Cox's counterclaim under Rule 54(b), the Supreme Court determined no final judgment existed and the Court lacked jurisdiction to decide this appeal. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed. View "Cox, Jr. v. Parrish" on Justia Law

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Rice formed a trust for the benefit of his children in his home state, New York, and appointed a New York resident as the trustee. The trustee has “absolute discretion” to distribute the trust’s assets to the beneficiaries. In 1997, Rice’s daughter, Kaestner, moved to North Carolina. The trustee later divided Rice’s initial trust into three subtrusts. North Carolina assessed a tax of $1.3 million for tax years 2005-2008 on the Kaestner Trust under a law authorizing the state to tax any trust income that “is for the benefit of” a state resident. During that period, Kaestner had no right to and did not receive, any distributions. Nor did the Trust have a physical presence, make any direct investments, or hold any real property in North Carolina. The trustee paid the tax under protest and then sued, citing the Due Process Clause. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed state court decisions in favor of the trustee. The presence of in-state beneficiaries alone does not empower a state to tax trust income that has not been distributed to the beneficiaries where the beneficiaries have no right to demand that income and are uncertain to receive it. The Due Process Clause limits the states to imposing only taxes that “bea[r] fiscal relation to protection, opportunities and benefits given by the state.” When a state seeks to base its tax on the in-state residence of a trust beneficiary, due process demands a pragmatic inquiry into what the beneficiary controls or possesses and how that interest relates to the object of the tax. The residence of the beneficiaries in North Carolina alone does not supply the minimum connection necessary to sustain the tax. View "North Carolina Department of Revenue v. Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust" on Justia Law

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In this intrafamily dispute regarding farmland the Supreme Court affirmed the rulings of the district court denying substitute petitioners' petition for relief from elder abuse specifically seeking relief for the loss associated with certain real estate transactions, holding that the substitute petitioners failed to prove that their father was a vulnerable elder at the time of the challenged transactions. The substitute petitioners for their father filed this petition pursuant to Iowa Code 235F alleging that their brother and his son committed elder abuse against their father by unduly influencing the father to enter into below-mark-rate lease agreements to farm the father's land, to gift some of the land to the brother and his son, and to write a new will to reflect the gifted land. The district court concluded that the substitute petitioners failed to establish that their father was a "vulnerable elder" subject to "financial exploitation" within the meaning of chapter 235F. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the substitute petitioners filed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that their father was vulnerable elder at the time of the challenged transactions. View "Struve v. Struve" on Justia Law