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H.S. v. W.P.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

December 29, 2016

H.S., Appellant-Petitioner,
W.P., Appellee-Respondent

         Appeal from the Tippecanoe Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No. 79C01-1512-GU-130 The Honorable Thomas H. Busch, Judge

          Attorney for Appellant Robert H. Little Brookston, Indiana, Derek R. Molter Jenny R. Buchheit Ice Miller LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee John K. Morris Morris Law Office Lafayette, Indiana Karl L. Mulvaney Nana Quay-Smith Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          Baker, Judge.

         [¶1] H.S. (Granddaughter) appeals the judgment of the trial court, which dismissed her guardianship petition regarding W.P. (Grandfather). The trial court found that Granddaughter's petition was precluded by the doctrine of res judicata because a previous case filed by J.C.P.-her uncle and Grandfather's son- under the trust code was dismissed with prejudice. The trial court also found that Granddaughter's petition violated a local court rule. We find that there is no evidence that Granddaughter influenced J.C.P.'s decision to dismiss his own case and that, therefore, the doctrine of res judicata cannot be fairly applied to preclude her petition. Moreover, Granddaughter did not violate the local court rule. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions to vacate the order dismissing her case and for further proceedings.


         [¶2] In 1996, Grandfather and M.P. (Grandmother) (collectively, Grandparents) established a trust of which they were settlors, trustees, and primary beneficiaries. Their three sons-M.L.P., W.K.P., and J.C.P.-were the residual beneficiaries, and M.L.P. and J.C.P. were set to be the successor trustees. In July 2014, Grandfather amended the trust to make M.L.P. the sole successor trustee.

         [¶3] On August 27, 2014, J.C.P. filed a petition requesting that Grandfather and M.L.P. be replaced by a corporate trustee. Granddaughter, who is the daughter of W.K.P. and a contingent beneficiary of the trust, was notified and summonsed as an interested party, but did not join the lawsuit as a party. J.C.P. also requested an accounting of the trust and a preliminary injunction, alleging that M.L.P. and M.L.P.'s wife were exercising undue influence over Grandparents and were self-dealing out of trust assets. Shortly thereafter, Grandmother passed away, making M.L.P. a co-trustee with Grandfather.

         [¶4] After hearing testimony, the trial court on October 6, 2014, granted J.C.P.'s motion for a preliminary injunction. The trial court noted that Grandfather suffered from dementia, and it stated, "During the course of the hearing in this matter, [Grandfather] became irrational and disoriented and stormed around the courtroom yelling and left the courtroom and had to be restrained by a deputy." Appellant's App. p. 48. Moreover, he "confused his children's names, was unsure who or when people contacted him, exhibited confusion about his affairs and total reliance on [M.L.P.] and his attorney." Id. at 49. After finding that M.L.P. was using Grandfather's confusion to sow discord in the family, the trial court concluded that J.C.P. had made the requisite showings to establish a reasonable likelihood of successfully proving that M.L.P. was exercising undue influence over Grandfather and was using this influence to gift himself trust resources. Grandfather and M.L.P. appealed this order, but we remanded before issuing any opinion so that more evidence could be taken on the matter.

         [¶5] The trial court set a trial for June 23, 2015. Although Granddaughter did not join the case as a party, she did provide deposition testimony. A week before the trial, however, J.C.P. filed a motion to dismiss his own case, citing the emotional and financial toll the case was having on the family, and contending that he would not be able to attend the trial. After a hearing on the motion, the trial court dismissed the case, ordering J.C.P. to pay attorney fees. There is no evidence in the record that Granddaughter had notice of this motion or the hearing, which she did not attend.[1]

         [¶6] On December 4, 2015, Granddaughter filed a petition to establish a guardianship over Grandfather. She alleged that Grandfather was "an incapacitated person [] incapable of managing his business and property because of, inter alia, the undue influence of others." Appellant's App. p. 12. W.K.P. and J.C.P. consented to the guardianship, but M.L.P. did not. On December 15, Grandfather filed a motion to dismiss Granddaughter's petition, and M.L.P. joined Grandfather's motion to dismiss.

         [¶7] After holding a hearing and receiving briefs on the issue, the trial court granted Grandfather's motion to dismiss on March 9, 2016. First, it found that Granddaughter's claims were res judicata, based on the earlier probate case that was dismissed with prejudice, and that "[a] contrary finding would permit each of the persons interested in replacing a trustee or removing a person from control of his own assets to come to court in succession to litigate the identical claim." Appellant's App. p. 9. Second, the trial court found that Granddaughter's petition failed to comply with a local court rule because her guardianship petition did not include a doctor's report. Granddaughter now appeals.

         Discussion ...

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