United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ELIZABETH G. RUCKELSHAUS, Plaintiff,
GERALD L. COWAN, KENT EMSWILLER, EMSWILLER, WILLIAMS, NOLAND & CLARK, A PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION, Defendants.
ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Patrick Hanlon United States District Judge.
Ruckelshaus sued Gerald Cowan, Kent Emswiller, and the law
firm Emswiller, Williams, Noland & Clark P.C. for
malpractice after they allegedly failed to carry out her
wishes when terminating her father's trust. Both parties
have moved for summary judgment. Dkt. 129; dkt. 137. Because
Ms. Ruckelshaus filed her complaint after the statute of
limitations elapsed, her claim is time-barred.
Defendants' motion is GRANTED, and Ms.
Ruckelshaus's motion is DENIED.
Facts and Background
Defendants have moved for summary judgment, the Court views
and recites the evidence in the light most favorable to Ms.
Ruckelshaus and draws all reasonable inferences in her favor.
Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir.
2009). Since Mr. Ruckelshaus has also moved for summary
judgment, the Court would normally interpret the evidence in
a light most favorable to Defendants when considering her
motion. See Family Mut. Ins. v. Williams, 832 F.3d
645, 648 (7th Cir. 2016). That's not necessary here,
however, because even when all evidence is interpreted in Ms.
Ruckelshaus's favor, Defendants are entitled to summary
Ruckelshaus's father, Conrad Ruckelshaus, created a trust
(the “Trust”) in which his two children, Thomas
and Elizabeth (“Ms. Ruckelshaus”), would each
receive income for life upon his death. Dkt. 124-4 at 3-5.
Under the terms of the Trust, the surviving sibling would
receive the deceased sibling's share of the Trust if the
deceased sibling had no children. Id. at 4.
1998, shortly after Conrad and his wife died, Thomas asked
Ms. Ruckelshaus if she would agree to modify the Trust. Dkt.
124-1 (Ruckelshaus Dep.) at 25:7-17, 29:10-13. Specifically,
Thomas wanted to leave his portion of the Trust to his wife,
Polly, after he died instead of letting it pass to Ms.
Ruckelshaus. Id. at 29:10-13, 32:2-8. Ms.
Ruckelshaus was sympathetic to Thomas's wishes, dkt. 1-1
¶ 10, so she orally agreed that if Thomas died before
Polly, Polly would get a “life estate” in his
interest in the Trust. Dkt. 124-1 at 33:22-34:4. Polly's
interest in the Trust funds would last only for her life-
once she died, any remaining funds from Thomas's
distribution would go to Ms. Ruckelshaus. Id. at
34:3-6; dkt. 1-1 ¶ 9; dkt. 107 ¶ 9.
December 1998, Ms. Ruckelshaus retained Kent Emswiller and
Gerald Cowan from Emswiller, Williams, Noland & Clark to
help her terminate or modify the Trust in a manner that would
accomplish this goal. Dkt. 124-1 at 54:19-55:3; dkt. 138 at
18 ¶ 6; dkt. 136-2. Defendants' retention letter
stated in relevant part: “[t]he purpose of this
engagement is to achieve the termination of your
father's, Conrad R. Ruckelshaus' Revocable
Trust.” Dkt. 124-6 at 8. The retention letter did not
mention creating a life estate for Polly or having any of
Thomas's portion of the Trust ever revert to Ms.
Ruckelshaus. Id. Ms. Ruckelshaus signed the letter.
Dkt. 124-1 at 45:3-11.
Emswiller and Mr. Cowan then prepared a Petition Requesting
Termination of Trust (the “Petition”) and a
Conditional Settlement Agreement (the
“Agreement”) that would terminate the Trust. Dkt.
124-6 at 10-33. The phrase “life estate” does not
appear in the Petition or the Agreement, and neither document
contains language that could be construed to have created a
life estate-only interest in Thomas's share of the Trust
funds for Polly. The Agreement did not place any restrictions
on how Thomas or Polly could spend the Trust funds, or how
the remaining Trust funds would be distributed upon their
deaths. Rather, the Agreement divided the proceeds of the
Trust between Thomas and Ms. Ruckelshaus (and a few other
beneficiaries) and stated in part that there were “no
other written or oral agreements among the parties concerning
the subject matter of the Conditional Settlement
Agreement.” Id. at 22.
March 29, 1999, Mr. Emswiller sent the Petition and the
Agreement to Ms. Ruckelshaus. Dkt. 124-2 at 7. She read both
documents and signed them. Dkt. 124-6 at 10-33; dkt. 124-1 at
49:11-13. On June 21, 2000, the probate court granted the
Petition. Dkt. 124-6 at 36. The next month, the Trust was
dissolved, giving Ms. Ruckelshaus and Thomas more than a
million dollars each without any restrictions or instructions
that would limit how each could use their respective shares
of the Trust funds. Dkt. 124-1 at 64:14-16, 65:12-16.
died on July 1, 2009. Id. at 55:13-16. There is no
designated evidence showing how Thomas spent his share of the
Trust over the nine years after the Trust's termination.
Dkt. 124-15 at 9-10. In October 2015, Polly died, leaving her
entire estate to her children. Dkt. 124-1 at 60:21-22,
62:19-21. There is no designated evidence showing how Polly
spent the remaining Trust funds (if any) over the six years
between Thomas's death and her death. Dkt. 124-15 at 10.
after Polly's death, Ms. Ruckelshaus learned that the
remainder of Thomas's portion of the Trust would not
revert back to her. Dkt. 124-1 at 61:9-62:2. In May 2017, Ms.
Ruckelshaus sued Defendants for malpractice, alleging that
they failed to carry out the request she made in 1998 that
the Agreement require Polly's interest in the Trust funds
revert back to her upon Polly's death. Dkt. 1-1 at 6-7.
have moved for summary judgment on all of Ms.
Ruckelshaus's claims. Dkt. 129. Ms. Ruckelshaus has moved
for partial summary judgment on Defendants' affirmative
defenses that Ms. Ruckelshaus's personal lawyer is liable
for the alleged errors and that Ms. Ruckelshaus released
Defendants from liability when she signed the Agreement. Dkt.
138 at 44-45.
judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party must inform the court of
the basis for its motion and specify evidence demonstrating
“the absence of a genuine issue of material
fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
323 (1986). Once the moving party meets this burden, the
nonmoving party must ...