404 A.2d 1020 (Me. 1979), Harmon v. Harmon

Citation:404 A.2d 1020
Opinion Judge:NICHOLS,
Party Name:Richard HARMON v. Harold C. HARMON et ux.
Attorney:Bennett, Kelly & Zimmerman, P. A. by Graydon G. Stevens (orally), Peter H. Jacobs, Portland, for plaintiff. Preti & Flaherty by Arthur A. Peabody (orally), Robert F. Preti, Portland, for defendants.
Judge Panel:Before WERNICK, ARCHIBALD, DELAHANTY, GODFREY and NICHOLS, JJ.
Case Date:August 23, 1979
Court:Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

Page 1020

404 A.2d 1020 (Me. 1979)

Richard HARMON

v.

Harold C. HARMON et ux.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

August 23, 1979

Page 1021

Bennett, Kelly & Zimmerman, P. A. by Graydon G. Stevens (orally), Peter H. Jacobs, Portland, for plaintiff.

Preti & Flaherty by Arthur A. Peabody (orally), Robert F. Preti, Portland, for defendants.

Before WERNICK, ARCHIBALD, DELAHANTY, GODFREY and NICHOLS, JJ.

NICHOLS, Justice.

Somewhere near the frontier of the expanding field of law relating to tortious interference with an advantageous relationship we encounter the legal issue which is paramount in this appeal.

By a complaint entered November 21, 1977, in Superior Court in Cumberland County the Plaintiff, Richard Harmon, asserted that the Defendants, Harold C. Harmon and Virginia S. Harmon (who are the Plaintiff's brother and brother's wife) had by fraud and undue influence induced the Plaintiff's mother, Josephine F. Harmon, while she was 87 years old and in ill health, to transfer to the Defendants valuable property. By her 1976 will and by her more recent statements the mother had indicated her intention that the Plaintiff son should receive at least a one-half interest in this property. Thus, this transfer effectively disinherited the Plaintiff son. The mother, it appears, is still living.

Upon the Defendants' motion the Superior Court dismissed the complaint upon the grounds (a) that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and (b) that the Plaintiff son lacked standing to proceed against the Defendant son and the latter's wife.

The Plaintiff son has appealed to this Court from that order of dismissal.

We sustain his appeal.

All well-pleaded material allegations of the complaint are taken as admitted for purposes of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or for want of standing. See National Hearing Aid Centers, Inc. v. Smith, Me., 376 A.2d 456 (1977); Rodway v. Wiswall, Me., 267 A.2d 374 (1970); Warren v. Waterville Urban Renewal Auth., Me., 259 A.2d 364 (1969); Richards v. Ellis, Me., 233 A.2d 37 (1967).

Thus, the issue before us is whether, prior to the mother's death, a son and expectant legatee can maintain an action in

Page 1022

tort against a third party for wrongful interference with an intended legacy to the son.

In Cyr v. Cote, Me., 396 A.2d 1013 (1979) we recently considered a similar question. There it was after the testator's death that certain legatees under his will commenced their action, alleging that, but for the defendants' fraud and undue influence upon the testator, they would have received the property which by such tortious conduct the Defendants obtained as an intervivos gift. In determining whether the expectancy of receiving a bequest was something which the law would protect, we had occasion to examine Perkins v. Pendleton, 90 Me. 166, 38 A. 96 (1897). There it was held that a plaintiff, employed by a company which had the right to terminate his employment at will, could bring an action against defendants who unlawfully caused the company to discharge the plaintiff. Relying upon Perkins, we recognized in Cyr v. Cote, supra, an action for the wrongful interference with an expected legacy or gift under a will.

In both Perkins and the instant case, the injured parties had only an expectation of future gain. In both, the third parties, i. e., the company and the testator, were under no legal obligation to the plaintiffs. Both suits in substance alleged that but for the tortious conduct of the defendants, the plaintiffs would have reaped economic benefits. In short, in all material respects, the instant case falls well within the controlling principles of Perkins v. Pendleton. Nor can we perceive any countervailing policy reason not to extend Perkins v. Pendleton, which recognized an action for the wrongful interference with the expectation of a future business relationship, into the area of decedents' estates. Id. at 1018.

The question presented by the appeal now before us goes one step further. Here we are called upon to decide whether the factual difference between Cyr, where the testator had died, and the present action, where the testatrix is still alive, leads to a different legal conclusion concerning whether such an action may currently be maintained. Some courts have held that this distinction is dispositive, 1 but we conclude that under the facts of this case the difference is not a crucial one.

In Cyr, the interest we sought to protect was the Expectation, and not the Certainty, that the legatees would have received a future benefit under the will. If there had been no undue influence the testator, prior to death, could still have disinherited them or bequeathed the property to another person. Nevertheless, the wrongful conduct deprived the plaintiffs of the possibility that the testator would not have changed his mind, absent the undue influence.

Once the will has been executed an expectancy has been created in the legatee. If the legatee is injured due to some wrongful conduct on...

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41 practice notes
  • 205 Cal.App.4th 1039, G044479, Beckwith v. Dahl
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • 3 Mayo 2012
    ...Neither the employee nor the prospective legatee has any enforceable right to his likely benefit.” (Harmon v. Harmon (Me. 1979) 404 A.2d 1020, 1023.) As discussed above, unlike the chance of winning at trial or the chance of winning a horserace, the chance of inheriting is not inherently sp......
  • 503 A.2d 694 (Me. 1986), Rubin v. Matthews Intern. Corp.
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Judicial Court of Maine
    • 9 Enero 1986
    ...material allegations of the complaint as admitted. See Culbert v. Sampson's Supermarkets, Inc., 444 A.2d 433 (Me.1982); Harmon v. Harmon, 404 A.2d 1020 (Me.1979). Those allegations reveal that on February 2, 1984, Donna L. Rubin placed an order with the Memorial Division of Matthews for the......
  • Theriault v. Burnham, 060309 MESUP, CV-08-025
    • United States
    • Maine Superior Court of Maine
    • 3 Junio 2009
    ...in an action for wrongful interference with an advantageous existing valid contract or prospective economic advantage); Harmon v. Harmon, 404 A.2d 1020, 1026 (Me. 1979) (applying the preponderance of the evidence standard for claim of tortious interference by fraud and undue influence with ......
  • 320 P.3d 77 (Wash.App. Div. 3 2013), 69356-5-I, Grange Ins. Ass'n v. Roberts
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 28 Octubre 2013
    ...to cover liability for negligence ... ." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 774B cmt. a; Allen, 328 Or. at 282-85; Harmon v. Harmon, 404 A.2d 1020, 1024-25 (Me. 1979); Peffer v. Bennett, 523 F.2d 1323, 1325 (10th Cir. 1975); Allen v. Leybourne, 190 So.2d 825, 828-29 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1......
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39 cases
  • 205 Cal.App.4th 1039, G044479, Beckwith v. Dahl
    • United States
    • California California Court of Appeals
    • 3 Mayo 2012
    ...Neither the employee nor the prospective legatee has any enforceable right to his likely benefit.” (Harmon v. Harmon (Me. 1979) 404 A.2d 1020, 1023.) As discussed above, unlike the chance of winning at trial or the chance of winning a horserace, the chance of inheriting is not inherently sp......
  • 503 A.2d 694 (Me. 1986), Rubin v. Matthews Intern. Corp.
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Judicial Court of Maine
    • 9 Enero 1986
    ...material allegations of the complaint as admitted. See Culbert v. Sampson's Supermarkets, Inc., 444 A.2d 433 (Me.1982); Harmon v. Harmon, 404 A.2d 1020 (Me.1979). Those allegations reveal that on February 2, 1984, Donna L. Rubin placed an order with the Memorial Division of Matthews for the......
  • Theriault v. Burnham, 060309 MESUP, CV-08-025
    • United States
    • Maine Superior Court of Maine
    • 3 Junio 2009
    ...in an action for wrongful interference with an advantageous existing valid contract or prospective economic advantage); Harmon v. Harmon, 404 A.2d 1020, 1026 (Me. 1979) (applying the preponderance of the evidence standard for claim of tortious interference by fraud and undue influence with ......
  • 320 P.3d 77 (Wash.App. Div. 3 2013), 69356-5-I, Grange Ins. Ass'n v. Roberts
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals of Washington
    • 28 Octubre 2013
    ...to cover liability for negligence ... ." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 774B cmt. a; Allen, 328 Or. at 282-85; Harmon v. Harmon, 404 A.2d 1020, 1024-25 (Me. 1979); Peffer v. Bennett, 523 F.2d 1323, 1325 (10th Cir. 1975); Allen v. Leybourne, 190 So.2d 825, 828-29 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Testamentary incapacity, undue influence, and insane delusions.
    • United States
    • South Dakota Law Review Vol. 60 Nbr. 2, June - June 2015
    • 22 Junio 2015
    ...plaintiff is allowed to bring a later action for damages since relief in probate was impossible."); see also Harmon v. Harmon, 404 A.2d 1020, 1025 (Me. 1979) (allowing a claim of undue influence to proceed while the testator was still living). (238.) See Diane J. Klein, River Deep, Mou......
  • Torts and estates: remedying wrongful interference with inheritance.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 65 Nbr. 2, February - February 2013
    • 1 Febrero 2013
    ...264 N.W.2d 792, 795 (Iowa 1978). Kentucky: Allen v. Lovell's Adm'x, 197 S.W.2d 424, 426-27 (Ky. 1946). Maine: Harmon v. Harmon, 404 A.2d 1020, 1024 (Me. 1979); Cyr v. Cote, 396 A.2d 1013, 1018 (Me. 1979). Massachusetts: Labonte v. Giordano, 687 N.E.2d 1253, 1255 (Mass. 1997). North Carolina......