Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
King v. King
Appellant Elkin King sued Appellee Forrest King, Jr., his former stepfather, in federal district court, alleging that Forrest had concealed, misused, and converted the proceeds of a wrongful death settlement that had been placed in an account for Appellant’s benefit when Appellant was a minor, and Forrest was the custodian. Appellant further alleged that Forrest’s actions had allowed Appellant’s mother, Peggy Fulford, to spend the funds remaining in the account after Appellant turned 18 years old. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Forrest. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment on the misuse claim and held that Appellant had forfeited his conversion claim. But as to the concealment claim, the Eleventh Circuit certified three questions to the Georgia Supreme Court, seeking clarification of the parameters of Georgia’s duty to disclose in a confidential relationship. The Supreme Court responded to the Eleventh Circuit’s certified questions: when a confidential relationship is also a fiduciary relationship, the fiduciary’s fraudulent breach of the duty to disclose can give rise to a breach-of-fiduciary-duty tort claim if that breach violates a fiduciary’s duty to act with the utmost good faith. "But whether a fiduciary has failed to act with the utmost good faith in a particular circumstance is a question of fact, not law." Accordingly, the Supreme Court answered the Eleventh Circuit’s first question and declined to answer the other two questions. View "King v. King" on Justia Law
Hall, et al. v. Davis Lawn Care Service, Inc., et al.
A conservator was appointed after the minor children’s grandmother had already brought a wrongful-death lawsuit on their behalf. The conservator tried in various ways to exercise his litigation powers, with the goal of dismissing the grandmother’s lawsuit and bringing a similar one in a different county. The conservator was eventually joined as an “involuntary plaintiff” in the grandmother’s lawsuit, and his further attempts to gain control of the litigation, in that court and others, were rejected. He appealed several rulings unfavorable to him, but the Court of Appeals concluded that he had forfeited his exclusive power under OCGA § 29-3-22 (a) (6) earlier in the case when he declined to join the grandmother’s case voluntarily and sought its dismissal. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari and held that a conservator who declines to join preexisting litigation voluntarily and seeks to have that litigation dismissed does not thereby forfeit his exclusive power to participate in that litigation after he is joined as a party under OCGA § 9-11- 19 (a). So the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ contrary holding, vacated the parts of the Court of Appeals’ opinion affected by it, and remanded the case to that court for further proceedings. View "Hall, et al. v. Davis Lawn Care Service, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Slosberg v. Giller, et al.
This case involved a contentious family dispute over the effect of an in terrorem clause in a trust instrument that was executed by David Slosberg (“David”), which said that if his son, Robert Slosberg (“Plaintiff”), or daughters, Suzanne Giller and Lynne Amy Seidner (“Defendants”), challenged the trust, they would forfeit any benefits they were to receive from it. After David died, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that Defendants unduly influenced David to create the trust that contained the in terrorem clause, and at a trial in June 2019, the jury agreed. The trial court accordingly entered an order ruling that the trust instrument was void. Defendants moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing, among other things, that the in terrorem clause contained in the trust instrument precluded Plaintiff from asserting the undue-influence claim in the first place. The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the in terrorem clause barred Plaintiff’s claim and resulted in his forfeiture of any benefits from the trust. The Georgia Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred by determining that the in terrorem clause barred Plaintiff’s undue-influence claim and resulted in forfeiture of the assets the trust instrument otherwise provided. That part of the Court of Appeals’ decision was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings at the trial court. View "Slosberg v. Giller, et al." on Justia Law
CL SNF, LLC et al. v. Fountain
Minnie Fountain, as guardian for her adult nephew, Leroy Wiggins, filed claims against Wiggins’s skilled nursing facility and its management: CL SNF, LLC d/b/a Clinch Healthcare Center (“CHC”); RWC Healthcare, LLC; PWW Healthcare, LLC; and Beacon Health Management, LLC (collectively, “Clinch”), after Wiggins allegedly was assaulted while in their care. Clinch moved to compel arbitration of the claims, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling based on a determination that neither the letters of guardianship issued by the probate court nor the provisions of the Georgia Code pertaining to guardians of adult wards gave Fountain the authority to enter into a pre-dispute arbitration agreement on Wiggins’s behalf. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Clinch’s petition for certiorari and reversed the Court of Appeals in CL SNF, LLC v. Fountain, 843 SE2d 605 (2020), because it concluded that the Guardianship Code granted a guardian authority to enter into a binding pre-dispute arbitration agreement where the exercise of such power was reasonably necessary to provide adequately for the ward’s support, care, health, and welfare. View "CL SNF, LLC et al. v. Fountain" on Justia Law
Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. v. A Tract of Land Being Known as 444 Lemon Street, et. al.
When Lillie Mae Bedford died in 1997, she left a residential property in Marietta, Georgia by testamentary devise to her daughter, Jennifer Hood. Although the Bedford estate never made and delivered a deed to Hood to perfect a conveyance of legal title, Hood lived on the property for some time after the death of her mother, and she paid the taxes associated with it. But beginning in 2009, the taxes on the property were unpaid, and in 2013, the property was sold to Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. at a tax sale. More than 12 months later, Crippen took steps to foreclose the statutory right of redemption, and Crippen gave Hood notice of foreclosure. Once the redemption period expired, Crippen petitioned for quiet title. Hood did not respond to the petition, but the Bedford estate appeared and moved to dismiss, asserting the estate was entitled to notice of the foreclosure, and had not been served with such notice. Crippen responded that the estate was not entitled to notice because the executor by his conduct had assented to the devise of the property, which by operation of law passed title to Hood notwithstanding that the estate had made and delivered no deed, and that the estate, therefore, no longer had any interest in the property. A special master of the trial court determined the estate was entitled to notice and dismissed the quiet title petition. Crippen appealed, but the Court of Appeals affirmed. Upon further appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "assent may be presumed from legatee’s possession of the property. ... Although Crippen would not have standing to move a probate court to prospectively compel the executor of the Bedford estate to give assent that has been so far withheld, Crippen has standing in this quiet title proceeding to establish that the executor previously assented to the devise to Hood under the old Probate Code." View "Crippen & Lawrence Investment Co., Inc. v. A Tract of Land Being Known as 444 Lemon Street, et. al." on Justia Law
Bowen v. Savoy
In 2016, Priscilla Savoy, individually and as executor of her mother’s estate, filed suit against her sisters Eleanor Bowen and Margaret Innocenti (collectively “defendants”) contending that they colluded to appropriate funds from their mother’s estate for their own use. The defendants were served with the summons and complaint on June 20 and 22, 2016. On July 20, 2016, the defendants filed in the trial court a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, which was supported by a sworn affidavit executed by Bowen denying the factual allegations raised in the complaint. When the defendants did not answer the complaint within 30 days of service, as required by OCGA § 9-11-12 (a), the case “automatically [became] in default,” OCGA 9-11-55 (a). The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to address the following question: To show a proper case for opening default under OCGA 9-11-55 (b), must the defendant provide a reasonable explanation for the failure to file a timely answer? The Court answered that question in the negative and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals which held to the contrary. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bowen v. Savoy" on Justia Law
In re Estate of Gladstone
This appeal stemmed from the Forsyth County, Georgia Probate Court’s finding that Emanuel Gladstone breached his fiduciary duty as conservator for his incapacitated wife, Jacqueline Gladstone. The court entered a judgment against Gladstone and his surety, Ohio Casualty Insurance Company, for $167,000 “on the settlement of accounts and as damages” and $150,000 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the probate court’s judgment. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Ohio Casualty’s petition for certiorari, and the Georgia Supreme Court directed the parties to address two questions: (1) whether the appellate court erred in holding that a conservator’s bond covered punitive damages even though such damages were not expressly provided for under OCGA 29-5-40 et seq. or under the provisions of the bond itself; and (2) if a conservator’s bond did cover punitive damages, did the Court of Appeals err in holding that because the probate court complied with OCGA 29-5-92 (b) (4) in imposing sanctions against the petitioner, compliance with the procedures for imposing punitive damages under OCGA 51-12-5.1 was not required. The Supreme Court answered the first question in the affirmative, rendering the second question moot. View "In re Estate of Gladstone" on Justia Law
Peterson v. Peterson
In consolidated actions, brothers-appellants Alex and David Peterson claimed, among other things, that their mother, appellee Mary Peterson, and their brother, appellee Calhoun Peterson, had breached their duties as executors of the will of Mary’s husband, Charles Hugh Peterson, and as trustees of a bypass trust created by that will. This appeal stemmed from the superior court’s grant of a motion for summary judgment filed by Mary. Of the many allegations of the complaints, the superior court specifically addressed two of them: one was Alex’s and David’s allegation that Mary and Calhoun, as trustees, had not properly considered the testator’s stated intention “to provide for the proper support and education of my descendants taking into account and consideration any other means of support they or any of them may have to the knowledge of the Trustees.” With regard to this issue, the superior court ruled against Alex and David for two reasons: (1) because Item 21 of the will provided that a decision of the majority of the trustees would be controlling only so long as Mary was one of the majority, Alex and David would be entitled to income under the bypass trust only if Mary approved it; and (2) because of the requirement that Mary be a part of the majority of executors or trustees for one of their decisions to control, because of the benefits granted to Mary under the trusts, and because of her power to appoint trust property, the primary purpose of the trusts was to support Mary, and there was thus “no requirement that income be provided to either [Alex or David].” The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that based on the facts of record, these conclusions did not warrant the grant of summary judgment to Mary. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Peterson v. Peterson" on Justia Law
Barnes v. Channel
In a feud between siblings over their aunt’s estate, the question presented for the Georgia Supreme Court's review was the propriety of the extensive relief granted by the trial court on a motion for an interlocutory injunction. Because most of the relief was not proper interlocutory relief, the Supreme Court vacated the disputed parts of the trial court’s order and remanded the case. View "Barnes v. Channel" on Justia Law
Meadows v. Beam
This case involved a dispute among the children of decedent Dorothy Rita Beam concerning the distribution of her estate. Decedent’s daughter, Dorothy Marian Meadows (“Marian”), filed a petition to probate Decedent’s 2014 will and codicil, and Marian’s siblings, John Beam, Jr., Margaret Beam, and Jayne Heggen (collectively, “Caveators”), filed a caveat alleging that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity to execute the will and codicil. After a trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Caveators, finding that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity and awarding attorney’s fees to Caveators. Marian appealed, arguing, among other things, the evidence did not support a finding that Decedent lacked testamentary capacity. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed and reversed. View "Meadows v. Beam" on Justia Law