Friday, May 13, 2016

Richard v. Richard

Richard v. Richard, ---So.3d --- (Fla. 3d DCA 2016)

This decision deals with the application of the relation back doctrine found in F.S. 733.601, and whether it would apply to validate a notice to creditors that was published one day prior to the appointment of the PR.  The Court interpreted the meaning and history behind F.S. 733.601 and ultimately found that the doctrine does apply to validate the earlier filed notice to creditors.

The probate court had held that the notice to creditors published the day before the order was entered appointing the personal representatives was a nullity, and that the relation back doctrine did not apply to validate the act of publication.  In doing so, it found that a statement of claim filed more than three months after the first publication date was a timely filed the claim.

The Court disagreed with the probate court regarding the application of the relation back doctrine.  F.S. 733.601, which codifies Florida common law on this issue, states as follows:

"The duties and powers of a personal representative commence upon appointment.  The powers of a personal representative relate back in time to give acts by the person appointed, occurring before the appointment and beneficial to the estate, the same effect as those occurring after appointment.  A personal representative may ratify and accept acts on behalf of the estate by others when the acts would have been proper for a personal representative."

The claimant argued that because F.S. 733.601 only says that the powers of a personal representative relate back, the duties of a personal representative, such as the duty to publish a notice to creditors, do not.  The Court disagreed.  It held that it is the acts of the person who is later appointed as personal representative of the estate which are ratified by the statute.  It found that if the statute read that the "powers and duties" related back, it would create unintended consequences for personal representatives who now had a duty to act on behalf of an estate without even being appointed as personal representative yet.  It further found that the publication of a notice to creditors can be viewed as both a duty and a power of the personal representative, such that it falls within the purview of F.S. 733.601.  As a result, it held that the relation back doctrine applied to the personal representative's act of publishing the early notice to creditors.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Woodward v. Woodward

Woodward v. Woodward, 192 So.3d 528 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016)

This decision deals with whether res judicata and laches barred a beneficiary's claim against a trustee.  The Court held that neither applied, since the beneficiary's two claims against the trustee did not contain identity of the causes of action, and because the beneficiary did not know about the trustee's actions until he was served with an accounting.

In 1996, the beneficiary of the Trust at issue filed suit against the trustee for breach of fiduciary duty, alleging that the trustee failed to account, improperly mortgaged real property and improperly paid expenses of the trust.  During the pendency of the action, the trustee transferred the Trust's assets to two new trusts and terminated the Trust at issue.  The trial court eventually dismissed this complaint.

In 2011, the trustee served an accounting for the Trust, and the two new trusts, on the beneficiary.  The accounting showed the termination of the Trust and the distribution to the two new trusts.  The beneficiary filed a new suit within 6 months of receipt of the accounting.  In this complaint, he sought removal of the trustee, an accounting, restoration of the assets, and other relief.  

The trial court held that the second lawsuit was barred by res judicata and laches.  The Court disagreed.  It held that the second lawsuit was not barred by res judicata, since res judicata requires that the original claim and the subsequent claim have identity of the causes of action.  Identity of the cause of action depends on whether the facts or evidence necessary to maintain the suit are the same in both actions.  Because the facts and events giving rise to the 1996 suit were different than those giving rise to the later suit, the Court held that res judicata does not apply.

The Court also found that laches did not bar the second action.  It held that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the beneficiary received the trust accounting, even though the Trustee argued that the beneficiary knew that he had terminated the trust more than four years (the statute of limitations period) before he filed his second action.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Hall v. Hall

Hall v. Hall, 190 So.3d 683 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016)

The Court took the opportunity in this decision to "reiterate a fundamental tenet of appellate advocacy."  Appellants attempted to appeal a probate court decision denying an undue influence claim and petition to revoke probate of a will and trust.  The probate court had heard the testimony of those present at the execution of the challenged documents and expert testimony regarding the decedent's medical records, and found that the challenged documents were properly executed, that they were prepared at the request of the decedent and that they were not procured by the appellee. Instead of simply PCAing the probate court's decision, the Court wrote this opinion, affirming the probate court's decision, and reminding appellants that in an appeal setting, the appellants are obligated to provide a statement of facts and to interpret the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining the conclusions of the finder of fact.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Giller v. Giller

Giller v. Giller, 190 So.3d 666 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016)

This case involved whether a personal representative has the right to bring a suit for declaratory action under F.S. 689.07(1), which deals with real estate deed and conveyances which add the words "trustee" or "as trustee" to the name of the grantee, or whether relief under that section is limited only to subsequent purchasers or others relying on the deed.

The personal representatives brought their declaratory action in the probate proceeding after learning of the existence of six parcels of real property titled in the name of the decedent "as trustee."  They sought a declaration from the probate court that the parcels were owned by the decedent in fee simple and that the properties became assets of the estate after his death.  Their brother argued that they lacked standing to sue under F.S. 689.07(1) because that section does not apply until after a subsequent conveyance of the property takes place.  

The trial court agreed with the brother and dismissed the declaratory action.  The Court reversed the dismissal, holding that F.S. 689.07(1) does not state that its application is limited to benefit "subsequent parties," nor does the case law support such a conclusion.  Because personal representatives are given the ability to bring an action on the estate's behalf and are charged with the obligation to take possession of the decedent's property for purposes of administration, the Court held that the personal representative's action for declaratory relief stated a legally sufficient cause of action under F.S. 689.07(1).

Monday, May 2, 2016

Genauer v. Downey & Downey, P.A.

Genauer v. Downey v. Downey, P.A., 190 So.3d 131 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016)

Does a trust beneficiary have the right to intervene in trust litigation already being defended by the trustee? In this decision, which involved a dispute about the right of an attorney for a former trustee to recover his fees from the trust, the Court ultimately held that the beneficiaries of the trust had a sufficient interest in the proceeding that they should have been given the right to intervene and participate.

The trial court had held that the beneficiaries had the right to intervene, but that because the successor trustee was defending the trust, the beneficiaries did not have status as a party and did not have the right to file any motions, answers, counterclaims, or engage in any discovery.  The Court held that the limitations placed on the rights of the beneficiaries to intervene were such that the trial court's order was a de facto denial of the right to intervene.

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.230 provides that, "Anyone claiming an interest in pending litigation may at any time be permitted to assert his right by intervention, but the intervention shall be in subordination to, and in recognition of, the propriety of the main proceeding, unless otherwise ordered by the court in its discretion."  In making a determination under Rule 1.230, a court must first determine whether the intervenor's purported interest entitles it to intervene.  If so, the court has the discretion to permit intervention after considering factors such as the derivation of the interest, the potential for conflicts or new issues and other relevant circumstances.  Once the court decides to permit intervention, it should decide the parameters of the intervention to the extent necessary to protect the interests of the parties.

The Court held that the trial court properly concluded that the beneficiaries of the trust had a direct and immediate interest in the litigation to support intervention.  However, because the trial court prohibited the beneficiaries from taking any direct action in the case, the Court held that the order was an abuse of the trial court's discretion and reversed the order.