e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 77021
Opinion Date : 02/17/2022
e-Journal Date : 03/02/2022
Court : Michigan Court of Appeals
Case Name : In re Estate of DeBlock
Practice Area(s) : Litigation, Probate
Judge(s) : Per Curiam – K.F. Kelly, Sawyer, and Gadola
Full Text Opinion

Fines for failing to return estate property in violation of a court order; Surcharge; Whether the fine was for civil or criminal contempt; Due process; Hearsay; Personal representative (PR)


The court found no errors with the core of the trial court’s holding that appellant-Kenneth DeBlock was in contempt of court for failing to return estate assets and thus, affirmed that holding. But it vacated the portion of the trial court’s order imposing a $8,400 fine for his failure to return estate assets, and remanded with instructions to reduce the fine to the statutory maximum provided by MCL 600.1715. The court also found that “the portion of the order directing Kenneth to pay two-thirds of the value of the goods sold on eBay” was in error, and it remanded for the ministerial task of correcting the amount. The case concerned the trial court’s imposition of fines against Kenneth for failing to return estate property in violation of a court order and for cursing during an evidentiary hearing. He argued, among other things, that “because he is an heir, not a fiduciary of the estate, the trial court abused its discretion when it ‘surcharged’ him, an action that is only permissible against a fiduciary.” Although the court agreed that he “could not be ‘surcharged’ because he was not a fiduciary, we are not bound by the parties’ labels and, looking at the gravamen of the claim, the fines imposed against Kenneth were sanctions for his failure to return estate property in violation of court orders and compensation to” appellees-Karen Marten and Dennis DeBlock “for the property Kenneth took and sold on eBay.” Kenneth was mistaken as to “the nature of the fine imposed against him. Kenneth properly brought a petition for a surcharge against Dennis who, at the time, was the” estate’s PR. While “Dennis and Karen also filed petitions to ‘surcharge’ Kenneth, that label (‘surcharge’) is, as Kenneth himself states, a misnomer.” The court held that looking “at the petition as a whole, the relief Dennis sought was to hold Kenneth accountable for his failure to return estate property and for his ‘fraud’ related to taking items from the decedent’s home and selling estate property on eBay. In this sense, Dennis sought to sanction Kenneth for misleading the trial court regarding the estate property in his possession and failing to return everything to the” PR. Thus, there was no error in assessing a fine against Kenneth.

Full Text Opinion