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John L. Griffin, a long-deceased Kentucky businessman, and his wife, Rosellen, had 12 children. Plaintiffs are four of their daughters. Defendants are two of their sons, the Griffin estate, the Griffin trust, plus an entity they created called Martom Properties. The sisters learned of self-dealing by their brothers and believed that they had been cheated out of stock and real estate that they should have inherited. Plaintiffs filed suit. The district court ordered Defendants to pay roughly $584 million in wrongful profits disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the Plaintiffs. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, first finding that it had subject matter jurisdiction. The probate exception does not apply because Plaintiffs sought an in personam judgment against Defendants, not the probate or annulment of a will and did not “seek to reach a res in the custody of a state court.” Defendants’ conduct in managing the family business and their parents’ estates and trusts violated their fiduciary duties to Plaintiffs under Kentucky law. View "Holt v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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The Chancery Court found that Ronald Lampkin had breached his fiduciary duties to Limestone Products, Inc. (“Limestone”). Lampkin and James Oldrum Smith Jr. jointly owned and operated Limestone with a line of credit they each personally guaranteed. Upon Smith’s death and his estate’s refusal to guarantee the line of credit, Lampkin formed Delta Stone, a new corporation which operated on the same property, used the same facilities, and sold rock to the same clients to whom Limestone had sold. Lampkin sought a declaratory judgment against the estate that he was not violating his fiduciary duties to Limestone. The executors of the estate counterclaimed for lost profits and attorney’s fees. At the liability stage of the bifurcated trial, the chancellor determined that Lampkin had breached his fiduciary duty to Limestone by usurping a corporate opportunity. In the damages stage of the trial, the chancellor considered expert testimony, awarded damages, and denied the executors’ request for attorney’s fees, expert-witness fees, and punitive damages. The executors appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and found that the chancellor had abused his discretion in calculating the damages award. The Supreme Court remanded for the chancellor to re-evaluate damages. On remand, the chancellor reassessed the damages due to Limestone as a result of Lampkin’s breach of his fiduciary duties. The executors appeal again. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor’s judgment on every issue except for the calculation of lost assets. Concerning the calculation of lost assets, it reversed and rendered judgment for $64,363.50. View "Lane v. Lampkin" on Justia Law

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Catherine’s parents, Mary and Henry, settled an inter vivos trust with real estate as the trust property. The trust document included a standard spendthrift provision meant to shield the trust’s future benefits from the reach of beneficiaries and their creditors and directed the trustee to evenly divide all remaining principal among their three children at the time of the surviving spouse’s death. Any share belonging to a child who did not survive the surviving spouse by 60 days would go to the child’s successors. The trustee was given the discretion to delay the distribution for six months. Henry survived Mary and died in July 2012. Catherine and her husband filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy seven months later in February 2013. They claimed $30,000 for “Wife’s Father’s Estate” as property exempt from liquidation under 11 U.S.C. 522. The bankruptcy trustee objected, arguing that her father’s death gave Catherine an immediate and unconditional right to receive her interest in the trust property, which removed the interest from the purview of the trust’s spendthrift provision. The bankruptcy court, district court, and Seventh Circuit agreed. Catherine’s trust interest fully vested before the bankruptcy filing, so the property belongs to the bankruptcy estate. View "Carroll v. Takada" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought a statutory partition of a house and lot owned by Petitioners and Respondent. Respondent objected and brought her objections as a counterclaim in which Respondent requested a private sale of the property and alleged that she was entitled to money from her mother’s estate. The master’s final report issued finding that Respondent had not raised a cognizable defense or counterclaim regarding the statutory partition and that the court lacked jurisdiction over the probate issues. The Court of Chancery affirmed the report in all respects based upon its independent findings of fact and law, holding that the Master correctly recommended that Respondent’s claims be dismissed without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction. View "Collins v. Collins" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Appellants’ motion to recover attorney fees and costs incurred in this litigation. Three sisters filed claims, counterclaims, and cross-claims in this dispute over the numerous entities their parents formed to manage their significant holdings for the benefit of their daughters. The district court sorted out the claims after a bench trial. Appellants then filed a motion to recover costs and attorney fees. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, when this case is viewed as a whole, the district court could reasonably conclude that Appellants were not prevailing parties. View "Acorn v. Moncecchi" on Justia Law

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Under the law of the case doctrine, a party cannot on a second appeal relitigate issues which were resolved by the Supreme Court in the first appeal or which would have been resolved had they been properly presented in the first appeal. Scott and Steven Johnson appealed a district court judgment denying their application to restrain Sandra Mark, personal representative of Jeanne Johnson's estate, from selling farmland. They also appealed an order approving the estate's final report and account and payment of personal representative fees and attorney's fees from the estate. The law of the case doctrine applies when an appellate court has decided a legal question and remanded to the district court for further proceedings. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the district court followed its directions on remand by receiving additional testimony and making additional findings within the intended scope of the remand. The Court therefore concluded the district court did not clearly err in finding that Mark acted reasonably for the benefit of the interested persons, Scott Johnson, Stuart Johnson, and Mark, as residuary devisees under Jeanne Johnson's will. The evidence supported the finding, and the Court was not left with "a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made." With respect to Scott and Steven Johnson's arguments regarding the final report and account, the Supreme Court found the payment of fees related to their allegation that Mark breached her fiduciary duties in selling the farmland to Stuart Johnson. The Court previously held Mark had the power to sell the farmland. The Court therefore concluded the district court's decision approving the final report and account and approving the personal representative fees and attorney's fees was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. The court did not abuse its discretion in approving payment of the personal representative fees and attorney's fees from the estate. View "Estate of Johnson" on Justia Law

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This case concerned defects in the execution of two life insurance annuity polices that the decedent purchased through National Western Life Insurance Co. Plaintiffs, the decedent’s wife and children, sued National Western seeking a declaration that the policies were void and a return of the premiums paid by the decedent. National Western filed a motion to dismiss because Plaintiffs failed to join a necessary party - the decedent’s brother, who was named under both policies as the sole beneficiary - even though National Western had already paid him. The district court denied the motion, ruling that the beneficiary at issue was not “required to be joined if feasible” under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a). The court then granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs. The First Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court, holding that the sole beneficiary of the annuities was required to be joined if feasible under rule 19(a). The court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether it was equitable for the case to proceed without him. View "Maldonado-Vinas v. National Western Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Edward McElveny (McElveny) died intestate in 1991. In April 2013, McElveny’s grandson, Michael Phillips, filed an application with the Santa Fe County Probate Court (Probate Court) to be informally appointed personal representative (PR) of McElveny’s estate. In his application, Phillips noted that the Department of Taxation and Revenue had custody of approximately $70,000 (the Property) that belonged to McElveny and which the Department held as unclaimed property. Phillips asked the Probate Court to order the Department to release the Property to him as PR. The Probate Court granted Phillips’ request, appointed him PR, and ordered the Department to release the Property to him. Phillips then filed an unclaimed property claim with the Department. Phillips left the claim form blank and attached to the blank claim form a copy of the Probate Court’s order. In June 2013, the Department wrote to Phillips, acknowledged receipt of his claim, but informed Phillips that it was “incomplete.” Phillips responded by letter, protested that he had submitted all documentation the Department required to process and approve his claim. The Department did not reply and did not release the Property. In August 2013, the Probate Court transferred the case to the First Judicial District Court. Phillips filed a motion with the district court asking it to enforce the Probate Court’s order and to issue sanctions against the Department. The Department moved to dismiss the proceedings and argued that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because Phillips failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Phillips responded and claimed that the exhaustion doctrine was inapplicable because he was “not suing the Department, i.e.[,] not attempting to obtain subject matter jurisdiction over the Department for the purpose of stating a claim.” The New Mexico Supreme Court held that the administrative claim filing provisions of the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (UPA)were exclusive and mandatory and that individuals wishing to procure unclaimed property must exhaust the administrative remedies afforded them by the Act. Consequently, estate representatives like Phillips cannot circumvent the UPA’s claim filing provisions by invoking provisions of the Uniform Probate Code 11 (UPC). Although Phillips did not exhaust administrative remedies under the UPA, it the Court determined it was unnecessary to remand for further administrative proceedings, and ordered the Department to release to Phillips the unclaimed property in its custody that belonged to the estate. View "In re Estate of McElveny" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming Surrogate’s Court’s grant of summary judgment to Petitioners, holding that Petitioners’ claim against the decedent’s estate seeking to enforce an oral promise was barred by the statute of frauds. Surrogate’s Court concluded that promissory estoppel should be applied to Petitioners’ claim to remedy a potential injustice. The Appellate Division affirmed, concluding that the elements of promissory estoppel were met and that application of the statute of frauds would be unconscionable under the circumstances. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Petitioners could not invoke the doctrine of promissory estoppel because application of the statute of frauds would not inflict an unconscionable injury upon Petitioners. View "In re Hennel" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s dismissal of Son’s action to invalidate amendments to Settlor’s revocable trust to expressly disinherit Son as well as the dismissal of Son’s breach of fiduciary duty claim and request for an accounting. Following Settlor’s death, Son commenced this action to invalidate the amendments to Settlor’s revocable trust on the grounds that Settlor lacked capacity and was unduly influenced. Son also made a claim for breach of fiduciary duty and requested an accounting. The circuit court dismissed the petition, finding that Son’s claims were barred by S.D. Codified Laws 55-4-57(a)’s time limitations for commencing a judicial proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court correctly dismissed the lack of capacity and undue influence claims as untimely; (2) because Son did not commence an action against the trustee of the trust in her individual capacity, the circuit court did not err in dismissing the breach of fiduciary duty claim; and (3) the circuit court did not err in dismissing Son’s request for an accounting where Son had no standing to demand an accounting. View "In re Elizabeth A. Briggs Revocable Living Trust" on Justia Law