Justia Arkansas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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Appellee, as special administrator of the estate of Rufus Owens and on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Owens, filed a lawsuit against Pine Hills Health and Rehabilitation, LLC and others for injuries Owens sustained during his care and treatment at Pine Hills. Appellants moved to dismiss the complaint and compel arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement. Appellee argued that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable because there was no evidence of mutual assent where the agreement was signed by Appellee as the "responsible party" but did not bear the signature of a representative of Pine Hills. The circuit court denied the motion to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no objective evidence of mutual assent, and therefore, the arbitration agreement was unenforceable. View "Pine Hills Health & Rehab., LLC v. Matthews" on Justia Law

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After Decedent died, Decedent’s will was admitted to probate, and all of Decedent’s property was devised to his sister. Appellant petitioned to inherit from Decedent’s estate, claiming that she was the pretermitted child of Decedent and that she was entitled to receive all of his estate as his sole heir. The circuit court dismissed Appellant’s petition for failing to file her claim against the Estate and failing to establish her paternity within the 180-day period required under Ark. Code Ann. 28-9-209(d). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in dismissing Appellant’s petition due to her failure to satisfy the statutory requirements. View "Bell v. McDonald" on Justia Law

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J.B. Hunt was a judgment creditor of Robert and Frieda Thornton, who were the trustees and life beneficiaries of five trusts, each of which provided that quarterly distributions be made to the Thorntons until their deaths. J.B. Hunt commenced an action to attach the Thorntons’ interest in future distributions from the trusts and to apply them to the satisfaction of J.B. Hunt’s judgment. The circuit court dismissed the case for failure to state a claim, determining that a creditor may not claim a quarterly distribution until the date it becomes due. On appeal, J.B. Hunt asserted that Ark. Code Ann. 28-73-501 provides that a creditor may reach future distributions from a trust. Appellees argued that although attachments of future distributions may be authorized by section 28-73-501 in some situations, it was not permissible in this case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that J.B. Hunt’s complaint improperly sought the Thorntons’ uncertain future distributions from the trusts, and the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing it. View "J.B. Hunt v. Thornton" on Justia Law

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Decedent was a resident of Searcy Healthcare Center (SHC) from January 7 to January 29. On January 8, Decedent executed a written arbitration agreement with SHC that was binding on Decedent's children, personal representatives, and administrators of Decedent's estate. Decedent died on February 12. The next year, Appellee filed a nursing-home-malpractice action against SHC as administrator of Decedent's estate and on behalf of the statutory wrongful-death beneficiaries. The circuit court denied SHC's motion to compel arbitration against the wrongful-death beneficiaries, concluding that Decedent had not extinguished the substantive rights of the wrongful-death beneficiaries by signing the arbitration agreement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred as a matter of law in finding that the wrongful-death beneficiaries were not bound by the arbitration agreement executed by Decedent. Remanded. View "Searcy Healthcare Ctr., LLC v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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Bobbie Troup, in her capacity as the administrator of the estate of Easter Dawkins, filed suit alleging medical malpractice and wrongful death against Petitioners. During the trial proceedings, Troup filed a petition requesting that Petitioners be required to pay for the cost of five expert witnesses who had appeared to testify on her behalf on the scheduled trial date but did not testify because the circuit court had granted a motion for continuance made by Petitioners. The circuit court entered an order directing Petitioner to pay Troup for expert-witness costs associated with the continuance of the trial. Petitioners petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition or, in the alternative, a writ of certiorari, against the circuit court, contending that the court exceeded its authority and abused its discretion in ordering them pay the expert-witness costs of Troup. The Supreme Court denied the petitions, as Petitioners had an adequate remedy in the form of an appeal. View "Moore v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law

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After L.C. died, the probate court appointed his son, Bobby, as special personal representative of L.C.'s estate for the limited purpose of investigating and prosecuting all claims relating to nursing home abuse. On behalf of the estate, Bobby subsequently sued Appellees in a wrongful-death action. During the wrongful-death action proceedings, it was revealed that Bobby was a convicted felon who was not qualified to serve as a special personal representative by law. Bobby filed a motion to substitute his brother Ronnie as special personal representative, which the trial court granted. The probate court, however, later vacated its order appointing Bobby, finding the order was invalid from its inception. At issue on appeal was whether Bobby's acts prior to his removal, including his motion to substitute Ronnie, remained valid. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Bobby's acts as a special personal representative were valid until the date of his removal as special personal representative; and (2) accordingly, the probate court erred by finding that the order of appointment was void ab initio. Remanded. View "Taylor v. MCSA, LLC" on Justia Law

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L.C. was a nursing home patient when he died. Bobby, L.C.'s son and the special personal representative of L.C.'s estate, filed suit against several nursing home defendants for negligence and medical malpractice. After it was discovered during a deposition that Bobby was a convicted felon and not qualified to serve as special personal representative, the circuit court dismissed with prejudice the complaints against the defendants, concluding that Bobby lacked the authority to act on behalf of the estate because of his disqualification as a felon and that the complaints he filed were nullities. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in ruling that the actions of Bobby were invalid and that the complaints filed by Bobby were nullities. Remanded. View "Taylor v. MCSA, LLC" on Justia Law

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Blair Stautzenberger served as the guardian of his mother's estate. After her death, two of Blair's siblings, Duane and Michael Stautzenberger, challenged Blair's management of the estate. The trial court disallowed $85,747 of the expenditures that Blair had made, found that Blair's failure to act as a reasonably prudent investor cost the estate $201,587, and made Blair personally liable for Duane and Michael's attorney fees. The court later entered a modified order that made Blair personally liable for the disallowed expenditures, investment losses, and attorney fees. Blair appealed, arguing that the trial court (1) exceeded its authority when it found him personally liable for certain expenditures in the modified order where the original order assigned him no personal liability, and (2) improperly disallowed expenses that contributed to the care and maintenance of his mother. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, holding that the trial court (1) did not err in entering the modified order, as it was within the court's authority to amend the original order; and (2) clearly erred in finding that many of the expenditures made by Blair were improper. View "Stautzenberger v. Stautzenberger" on Justia Law

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Appellant Diane Ausman, the administrator of the Estate of Daniel Ausman, filed a complaint on August 24, 2009 against a geriatric center and doctor, alleging, among other claims, medical negligence and negligence. Shortly after the suit was filed, Appellant passed away. The attorneys representing Appellant did not learn of her death until May 2011. As a result, the attorneys filed a motion for a continuance of the trial, which was scheduled to begin on July 11, 2011. The parties disputed whether the one-year statute of limitations found in Ark. Code Ann. 16-62-108 was applicable where a special administrator of an estate dies during the pendency of litigation or whether the matter was simply governed by Ark. R. Civ. P. 25's requirement for substitution of parties. The circuit court dismissed the case with prejudice, finding that the Estate improperly failed to revive the action within one year from the date of Appellant's death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Estate's failure to move for substitution within one year from the time of Appellant's death prevented the revivor of the action. View "Ausman v. Hiram Shaddox Geriatric Ctr." on Justia Law

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Trustee filed a petition to construe an inter vivos trust, taking the position that the interests of the deceased beneficiaries lapsed because they predeceased the surviving settlor and that Appellants, descendants of the settlor's stepsons, were not entitled to share in the remainder of the trust. The circuit court concluded that a beneficiary's interest lapses if the beneficiary predeceases the settlor under the common law, and therefore, Appellants could not share in the trust because their fathers' interests lapsed when they predeceased the surviving settlor. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the interest of a beneficiary to an inter vivos trust vests at the time the trust is created, and thus the beneficial interest does not lapse when the beneficiary predeceases the settlor; and (2) therefore, the interests of the deceased beneficiaries did not lapse. Remanded. View "Tait v. Cmty. First Trust Co." on Justia Law