Dowdy v. Dowdy

Dowdy v. Dowdy, 182 So.3d 807 (Fla.2d DCA 2016)

This decision centered around whether the construction of a trust could support the issuance of a temporary injunction directing the trustee to deposit proceeds of a property sale into the court registry pending the court's decision on the construction petition.  

A husband and wife established a family trust which owned real estate.  Each had children from previous marriages.  Following the husband's death, the wife amended the trust to remove her husband's children as successor trustees and beneficiaries.  She then sold the trust property.  One of the husband's sons learned of the sale and filed a petition for construction of the original trust and a temporary injunction to compel preservation of the sale proceeds.  

To obtain a temporary injunction, the moving party must demonstrate (1) that he will suffer irreparable harm without an injunction, (2) that he has no adequate remedy at law, (3) that he enjoys a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, and (4) that an injunction would be in furtherance of the public interest.  The Court held that he was not entitled to a temporary injunction because he would not prevail on the merits in his underlying construction action.

The construction petition sought a determination of whether the son was appointed as successor trustee upon his father's death, based on the language in the trust which read, "In the event of the death of the Initial Trustees...."  The son argued that the phrase "death of each" meant the death of either of the initial trustees.  The wife argued that both trustees had to pass before the successor trustees would be appointed.  The Court, upon review of the trust document, found the wife to be correct for the following reasons.  First, the trust document also named one of the wife's daughters as successor trustee, and did not specify which of them would succeed a particular deceased initial trustee.  Second, elsewhere in the document the trust used the term "death of each of the trustees" in circumstances where it clearly meant after the death of both trustees.  Since there was nothing in the trust to suggest that the phrase "death of each" has a different meaning in one provision than it does in another, the Court felt that the son would lose his construction petition, and did not become successor trustee at his father's death, and therefore the wife had sole authority and discretion to sell the remaining trust property for her own benefit.

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