Estate of Boland v. Boland

Decision Date01 October 2019
Docket NumberDA 18-0607
Citation450 P.3d 849,2019 MT 236,397 Mont. 319
CourtMontana Supreme Court
Parties IN RE the ESTATE of Edward M. BOLAND, Deceased, Paul Boland and Mary Gettel, as heirs of the Estate of Dixie L. Boland, Petitioners and Appellants, v. Chris Boland, Barry Boland, Ed Boland Construction, Inc., and North Park Investments, LLC, Respondents and Appellees.

For Appellants: Thomas E. Towe, Towe, Ball, Mackey, Sommerfeld, & Turner, P.L.L.P., Billings, Montana

For Appellees: Jason T. Holden, Katie R. Ranta, Faure Holden Attorneys at Law, P.C., Great Falls, Montana

Justice Laurie McKinnon delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Paul Boland (Paul) and Mary Gettel (Mary), as heirs of the Estate of Edward M. Boland (Estate), appeal the denial of their request to recover assets for the Estate, as well as various other related orders, entered in the Eighth Judicial District Court, Cascade County. We affirm and restate the issues as follows:

1. Were Paul and Mary entitled to a hearing on their Petition for Order to Recover Assets?
2. Did the District Court correctly conclude that the allegations of bias made against it by Mary and Paul were frivolous?
3. Did the District Court err by imposing Rule 11 sanctions against Paul and his attorney?
4. Should attorney fees and costs be assessed against Paul and Mary in this appeal?
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶2 This appeal arises from two cases, now consolidated, involving the same underlying probate of the Estate. Ed Boland (Ed) died on December 26, 2014, and was survived by his five children—Barry, Chris, Jacquie, Mary, and Paul—and wife, Dixie Boland (Dixie). Dixie died on January 4, 2016, and her estate is being formally probated.1 In his Will, Ed nominated his two sons, Chris and Paul, to be Co-Personal Representatives of his Estate.

¶3 Ed founded Ed Boland Construction, Inc., a successful construction company. Chris and Barry, Ed’s two oldest sons, worked for Ed Boland Construction, Inc., and now own it together. Chris and Barry also own North Park Investments, LLC, a real estate company. The origins of the instant dispute concern a claim by Paul and Mary that Chris, Barry, and their entities owed substantial sums of money to Ed at the time of his death. Paul and Mary claim the debt owed to the Estate by Chris and Barry was in the form of: (1) unpaid wages, (2) loans, (3) life insurance proceeds, and (4) undervalued stock.

¶4 On November 30, 2017, Paul filed a Petition for Order to Recover Assets (Petition) and a supporting brief and exhibits. The exhibits included: (1) a printout of all transactions made by Ed between 2007 and 2014; (2) correspondence between Barry and the accountant for Ed Boland Construction, Inc., in which it is discussed that an $8,000 liability will be included on the Estate as owed by Chris and Barry; (3) some notes written by Ed; (4) Chris’s responses to some of Paul’s discovery requests; (5) a 2017 balance statement from the Estate; and (6) the Ed Boland Construction, Inc., shareholders’s agreement demonstrating the total common stock issued as 100 shares.

¶5 Chris opposed Paul’s Petition, denying that any money was owed to Ed other than "$8,000 for his 2014 tax liability" and $6,165.91 for a development project, which had already been paid into the Estate account. Paul next sent Chris a demand letter requesting Chris’s consent to file a complaint as Co-Personal Representative to recover the funds Chris and Barry allegedly owed the Estate. Not surprisingly, Chris opposed the request and attached 125 pages of exhibits to his response in support of his conclusion that Ed was not owed any money by Chris, Barry, or any of their affiliated entities. These exhibits included: (1) articles of incorporation for Ed Boland Construction, Inc., authorizing, but not issuing, 500 shares; (2) the Ed Boland Construction, Inc., shareholders’s agreement demonstrating the total common stock issued as 100 shares; (3) stock certificates demonstrating the amount of shares owned at various times by Chris, Barry, and Ed; and (4) a 72-page report addressing the fair market value of Ed’s non-controlling common stock interest in Ed Boland Construction, Inc., prepared by Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co., P.C. This report concluded that, based on the percentage of ownership in Ed Boland Construction, Inc., the value of Ed’s interest was $278,100 and, accordingly, the Estate was overpaid when it received $400,000 for its interest in Ed Boland Construction, Inc. ¶6 Paul filed a Reply in which he asked for a hearing but did not respond in substance to any of the exhibits provided by Chris.

¶7 Pursuant to § 72-3-607, MCA, which requires a personal representative to prepare an inventory of all property owned by the decedent at the time of death within nine months of appointment, Judge Pinski ordered the parties to file inventories with the District Court. However, Judge Pinski expedited the timeline for filing inventories noting "The inventory will be necessary in resolving the Petition for Order to Recover Assets." Judge Pinski required the parties to file inventories within 30 days of his order, which was dated February 2, 2018. Chris filed his inventory on March 2, 2018. Paul filed his inventory on March 8, 2018, after the deadline set forth in the

order.

¶8 On March 13, 2018, the District Court issued a written order denying the Petition. The court did not hold a hearing before making its ruling, relying instead on the pleadings and substantial documentation filed in support of the pleadings. In its order, the District Court addressed every asset for which Paul provided details and reasoned largely the same for each item, in that it found there was no evidence to substantiate the existence of any debt owed to the Estate. The District Court concluded there was affirmative evidence indicating the debt did not exist and no evidence to substantiate the debt did exist. The District Court held, "In summary, the Court is satisfied with the evidence provided by Chris to explain each of the categories challenged by Paul. There are no assets which need to be recovered by the Estate of Edward Boland."

¶9 On April 2, 2018, Paul filed a motion and brief pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 60(b) requesting that the court set aside its March 13, 2018 order. Paul, through his attorney Thomas E. Towe (Towe), alleged the order contained "three serious errors or mistakes." Paul alleged: (1) he was entitled to a hearing on his Petition; (2) he timely filed his inventory and the court erred in failing to consider it; and (3) the court erred by concluding that a $230,000 payment was made by North Park Investments, LLC, and not by Ed Boland Construction, Inc. Importantly for purposes of this appeal, Paul and Towe averred in their motion that Judge Pinski was biased. We set forth exactly what Towe and Paul represented in their motion:

Chris responded that Towe and Paul were making unsubstantiated factual allegations against the court and that Towe and Paul should be required to provide evidentiary support for their allegations.

Is there a question of lack of impartiality on the part of the Judge of this Court?
Paul Boland has raised the question of whether or not the presiding Judge of this case, Judge Pinski, is or can be totally impartial. He fully understands that decisions of the Court cannot be the basis of a determination of bias or prejudice. Nevertheless, the 3 huge mistakes made by the Judge in this case seem so obviously in error that a further inquiry may be necessary. Paul is aware that Chris Boland or his corporation has made a significant contribution to Judge Pinski’s campaign fund during his election bid. In addition, Paul has seen [ ] Judge Pinski at the Peak, a gymnasium which Chris Boland and his previous attorney, Gary Bjelland, often go to exercise. Paul is not aware of any improper communication regarding this case nor any other indication of impartiality apart from the decisions of the Court, but if there is any such matters it would be appropriate for Judge Pinski to disclose those facts so that a reasonable determination of impartiality can be made. Clearly if there are some facts that may indicate a lack of impartiality, Judge Pinski may want to recuse himself from further participation in this case. See the Supreme Court’s insistence that a Judge should disclose circumstances that could potentially cause his impartiality to be questioned. Draggin’ Y Cattle Co., Inc. v. Addink , 2016 MT 98, ¶ 31, 383 Mont. 243, ¶ 31, 371 P.3d 970, ¶ 31 (2016).

¶10 On April 16, 2018, the District Court issued an order in which it advised both parties that it must address the allegations before it could resume acting on the merits of the case. Accordingly, the District Court carefully outlined for Towe the appropriate action available to a party when it believes a tribunal is not impartial: file a bias and prejudice petition pursuant to § 3-1-805, MCA. The court also allowed Towe to supplement his motion with evidence to support his allegations or Towe could withdraw his brief, "with an apology to the Court for impugning its integrity without sufficient factual support."

¶11 On April 25, 2018, Towe and Paul filed a Response of Counsel to Court’s order as well as a Fourth Affidavit of Paul Boland. Towe’s response did not comply with the court’s instructions and essentially reiterated the same allegations. Towe and Paul maintained they never accused Judge Pinski of being biased or prejudiced but were instead concerned with the "appearance of impartiality." Although "bias" and "prejudice" clearly appear in Towe’s brief, Towe asserted "the words bias or prejudice do not appear in Paul’s Brief." Although acknowledging that Judge Pinski could not be disqualified based on the rulings he made during the proceeding, Paul’s affidavit recited the numerous orders Judge Pinski made "which took us by surprise" and had "serious errors."

¶12 Towe never filed a ...

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4 cases
  • In re Elliot
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court
    • January 23, 2023
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    ...¶ 20 (citing Kellogg, ¶ 9). Our review of whether a party was afforded due process is plenary. Boland v. Boland (In re Estate of Boland), 2019 MT 236, ¶ 18, 397 Mont. 319, 450 P.3d 849 (citing In re Marriage of Cini, 2011 MT 295, ¶ 15, 363 Mont. 1, 266 P.3d 1257). ¶12 The construction or in......
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    • United States
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