e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 77885
Opinion Date : 07/28/2022
e-Journal Date : 08/15/2022
Court : Michigan Court of Appeals
Case Name : Barretta-Biondo v. Shellenbarger
Practice Area(s) : Litigation, Probate
Judge(s) : Per Curiam – Jansen and O’Brien; Concurrence - Hood
Full Text Opinion
Issues:

Standing & real parties in interest; MCR 2.201(B); The Estates & Protected Individuals Code (EPIC); “Interested persons”; Tortious interference with an expected inheritance; Estate of Doyle v Doyle; In re Green (Unpub)

Summary

The court affirmed the probate court’s order granting defendant summary disposition in this estate dispute as to the parties’ deceased parents.  There was “no dispute that decedents disinherited plaintiffs and left defendant as the sole beneficiary of their estates.” The court noted that both “decedents’ last will stated that all of their assets would pour over into their trusts upon their deaths. Defendant was the only named beneficiary of each trust. The probate court previously found that decedents made this decision knowingly and voluntarily, and admitted both wills to probate.” Thus, the court held that “plaintiffs were not ‘interested persons’ as defined by the EPIC because they had no property right to or claim against the trust estate. Therefore, plaintiffs lacked standing and were not the real parties in interest to bring this action.” Moreover, their brief on appeal appeared “to be an attempt to relitigate the issues previously before the probate court when it admitted the wills to probate.” Plaintiffs made “arguments that defendant coerced or unduly influenced decedents into making their estate planning choices, relying on evidence that was not part of the lower court record, which plaintiffs attached to their brief on appeal. Parties cannot expand the record on appeal.” It was clear that the evidence attached to their brief on appeal was “the evidence relied on by the probate court when it entered the” order admitting the wills to probate. “This evidence, however, was never entered in the lower court in this matter.” The court held that res judicata “precludes plaintiffs’ arguments on appeal pertaining to coercion and undue influence because the probate court already determined that there was no such evidence of coercion or undue influence by defendant in the action admitting the wills to probate. Therefore, an assessment of costs against plaintiffs’ attorney for vexatious litigation is appropriate, MCR 7.216(C), as is an award of costs and fees for defendant.” Plaintiffs argued that “they should have been allowed leave to file an amended complaint because Michigan recognizes a cause of action for tortious interference with an expected inheritance.” But because Green was unpublished, it was not binding precedent. Further, the decision relied upon, Doyle “merely cites the Second Restatement of Torts.” Cases decided after “Green make clear that this state has not recognized tortious interference with an expected inheritance as a cause of action. Because this cause of action does not exist, allowing plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint to add such a claim would be futile.”

Full Text Opinion