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Zartman v. Zartman

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 18, 2019

Paul Zartman and Brenda Cameron, Individually; Brenda Cameron as Successor Trustee of the William G. Zartman, Jr. Revocable Trust; and Paul Zartman as Successor Co-Trustee of the Marilyn M. Zartman Revocable Trust, Appellants-Plaintiffs,
v.
William G. Zartman, III, Individually and as Successor Co-Trustee of the Marilyn M. Zartman Revocable Trust; Kim Zartman; W K Zartman Farms, LLC; and William G. Zartman, III and Kim R. Zartman, Member Managers of W K Zartman Farms, LLC, Appellees-Defendants.

          Appeal from the Miami Circuit Court The Honorable Timothy P. Spahr, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 52C01-1601-PL-28

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS John Johnston Johnston & Johnston, PC Wabash, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES Jeffry G. Price Peru, Indiana

          SHEPARD, SENIOR JUDGE.

         [¶1] The common law "best evidence rule" has been formalized through the modern Rules of Evidence employed by both state and federal courts. The series of provisions starting at Rule 1001 cover problems like the one in this case, which turns on the language used in a trust document not presently possessed by either party.

         [¶2] After reviewing such caselaw as exists and a number of respected treatises, we conclude that the trial court wrongly applied Evidence Rule 1008 in the course of a summary judgment proceeding. We remand with directions that the court reconsider that ruling.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] William G. Zartman, Jr. and Marilyn M. Zartman were married and had three children: Brenda, Paul, and William III. William Jr. and Marilyn owned a farm consisting of about 303 acres straddling the Miami and Fulton County line. William Jr. operated the farm, and in later years William III worked the farm with his father.

         [¶4] In 1980, William Jr. and Marilyn established the William G. Zartman, Jr. Revocable Trust and the Marilyn M. Zartman Revocable Trust. In 1993, they both executed a "First Amendment" to their trusts. By 2003, each trust held one-quarter of the farm, and the remaining half of the farm had been transferred to William III. Subsequently, William Jr.'s trust also transferred its one-quarter interest to William III.

         [¶5] Marilyn died in August 2004, and William Jr. died in February 2010. Thereafter, William III, as a trustee of Marilyn's trust, transferred to himself the one-quarter of the farm held by her trust.

         [¶6] Paul and Brenda first initiated litigation against William III in Florida after the death of William Jr., who was a resident of Florida when he died. The Florida court determined that William III had "persistent[ly] fail[ed] to administer the Trust effectively" and that he had committed "a serious breach of trust." Appellants' App. Vol. 4, p. 134. Due to such mismanagement of William Jr.'s trust, the Florida court removed William III as trustee. It also declared that it had no jurisdiction over Indiana real estate. For all that appears, the Florida litigation is ongoing.

         [¶7] Here in Indiana, Paul and Brenda filed suit in 2016 against William III, seeking among other things to set aside William III's conveyance to himself of the one-quarter interest in the farm held by Marilyn's trust and to recover lost income from that land. Paul and Brenda moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied their motion on grounds that the content of Marilyn's trust documents was required to be determined by a jury. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of William III.

         Issue

         [¶8] Paul and Brenda present four issues for our review, one of which is potentially dispositive: whether the trial court ...


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