Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Witham v. Steffan

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 6, 2019

James Witham, Appellant-Petitioner,
v.
Michael G. Steffan, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Gerald W. Rogers, et. al., Appellees-Respondents

          Appeal from the Lake Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No. 45C01-1807-TR-21 The Honorable Marissa McDermott, Judge, The Honorable Jewell Harris, Jr., Probate Commissioner Judge

          Attorney for Appellant Douglas K. Walker Highland, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellees Steven J. Scott Benjamin T. Ballou Hodges and Davis, P.C. Merrillville, Indiana

          Baker, Judge.

         [¶1] James Witham brings this interlocutory appeal of the trial court's order granting the collective Appellees' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Witham argues that the trial court erred because his petition to contest a will was not wrongfully filed and that even if it was wrongfully filed, his case should have been transferred rather than dismissed with prejudice. We find that the trial court should have treated the matter as a motion to dismiss for incorrect venue and transferred it to the appropriate court. Accordingly, we reverse and remand with instructions.[1]

         Facts

         [¶2] On December 2, 2017, Gerald Rogers, Witham's cousin, committed suicide. Rogers left behind a will, with Michael Steffan as personal representative of Rogers's estate. On February 2, 2018, Steffan submitted all of Rogers's testamentary documents, including the will, for probate to the Lake County Superior Court (the Superior Court) in Hammond, which assumed jurisdiction over the matter.

         [¶3] Then, on May 1, 2018, Witham filed a petition to docket trust and contest will in the Lake County Circuit Court (the Circuit Court) in Crown Point. On June 13, 2018, Steffan filed a motion to dismiss Witham's petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Steffan contended that Witham had erroneously filed his petition in the Circuit Court when the Superior Court already had subject matter jurisdiction over the probate matter. Steffan argued that because Witham had failed to file his petition in the proper court, Witham could not attain any relief pursuant to Indiana Code section 29-1-7-17, thereby warranting dismissal.

         [¶4] On July 24, 2018, the Circuit Court transferred this action to the Superior Court Probate Commissioner to resolve the matter. Following a hearing, the trial court dismissed Witham's petition with prejudice because he had failed to file in the Superior Court. Witham now brings this interlocutory appeal.

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶5] Witham's sole argument on appeal is that the trial court erred when it granted Steffan's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Witham contends that his petition to contest will was not wrongfully filed and that even if he had filed his petition in the incorrect court, transfer of his case was the proper remedy.

         [¶6] "The standard of review on appeal of a trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss for the failure to state a claim is de novo and requires no deference to the trial court's decision." Lei Shi v. Cecilia Yi, 921 N.E.2d 31, 36 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010). A Trial Rule 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint: that is, whether the allegations in the complaint establish any set of circumstances under which a plaintiff would be entitled to relief. Id. at 37.

         [¶7] From the outset, there is a procedural issue. This case should not have been treated as a 12(B)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Witham's petition states a valid claim pursuant to Indiana Code section 29-1-7-17, and it is readily apparent that Steffan is not, in fact, contesting the substance of Witham's claim.

         [¶8] Instead, Steffan contends that Witham filed his petition in the incorrect court- the Circuit Court versus the Superior Court. Steffan even references the venue provisions of Indiana ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.