Finley v. Finley, ED 109676

CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)
Writing for the CourtColleen Dolan, J.
Citation642 S.W.3d 755
Docket NumberED 109676
Decision Date15 March 2022
Parties Karen FINLEY, in Her Capacity as Personal Representative of the Estate of Susan M. Finley and in Her Capacity as Trustee of the Susan M. Finley Living Trust Dated October 1, 2002, Appellant, v. Steven R. FINLEY and Cynthia D. Finley, Respondents.

642 S.W.3d 755

Karen FINLEY, in Her Capacity as Personal Representative of the Estate of Susan M. Finley and in Her Capacity as Trustee of the Susan M. Finley Living Trust Dated October 1, 2002, Appellant,
v.
Steven R. FINLEY and Cynthia D. Finley, Respondents.

No. ED 109676

Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, DIVISION THREE.

Filed: March 15, 2022


Ronald S. Ribaudo, 5526 Oak Bridge Dr., Ballwin, MO 63021, Karen I. Finley, 13321 N. Outer 40 Rd. Ste. 7000, Town and Country, MO 63017, For Appellant.

Mark G. McLean, Laura H. Stobie, Peter A. Corsale, 825 Maryville Centre Dr. Ste. 300, Town and Country, MO 63017, For Respondents.

OPINION

Colleen Dolan, J.

This appeal arises from a dispute over the administration of the Susan M. Finley Living Trust, dated October 1, 2002 ("Trust"). There is not yet a final judgment in this case, and we must dismiss the appeal as premature.

642 S.W.3d 757

I. Background

Susan Finley1 died on June 1, 2017, survived by her two children Karen Finley and Steven Finley. Karen is the trustee of the Trust, which contains all of the assets of Susan's estate. Karen and Steven are the sole beneficiaries. In May of 2018, Steven filed a five-count petition against Karen regarding her handling of the Trust. He asserted that Karen: breached her fiduciary duty by delaying administration of the Trust; was unfit to be the trustee and should be removed; tortiously interfered with Steven's expectation that he would receive half of Susan's estate under the Trust; was unjustly enriched by delaying administration of the Trust; and fraudulently misrepresented the reasons for that delay. Steven sought various remedies: compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees, costs, removal of Karen and appointment of Steven as trustee, an accounting, and an order compelling Karen to properly administer the Trust. In October of 2018, Karen filed a multi-count petition against Steven and his wife, Cynthia Finley, to recover unpaid loan amounts allegedly owed to Susan's estate. That case was transferred to the probate division of the circuit court and consolidated with Steven's case.

On January 7, 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") was entered and filed, signed by Karen, Steven, their attorneys and the trial court. The MOU stated "The parties agree that they have reached an agreement settling all issues herein." Among other terms distributing various Trust assets, the parties agreed that Susan's house, known as "Hargrove House," would be distributed to Karen at the value of $335,000.00. Paragraph 9 of the MOU stated: "Cash distribution to Steve[n] of $167,500.00 in consideration of distribution of Hargrove House to Karen." The parties also expressly agreed that they "shall dismiss their respective claims herein, with prejudice, upon satisfaction of all terms of settlement."

On February 19, 2019, the trial court entered an order ("February Order") after a motion hearing at which the parties had agreed to amend certain terms of the MOU. Among other things, the price of a farm to be sold under the MOU was amended and a provision was added stating that the difference in price, $14,000.00, would be withheld "from other funds subject to distribution pending resolution of allocation of said amount" and that "the parties reserve all other issues for purposes of determining this allocation." Except as amended thereby, the MOU was "to remain in full force and effect."

Despite the above agreements, discontent surrounding the distribution of assets persisted. In the spring and summer of 2019, the parties filed the following motions: (1) Steven filed a motion for sanctions, equitable relief, and accounting, alleging that Karen had not distributed the Trust assets as required by the February Order and asking that Karen be sanctioned with payment of his attorney's fees and for an accounting; (2) Karen filed a counter motion for sanctions, claiming that it was Steven--not Karen--who was violating the terms of the settlement agreement set out in the MOU and February Order; (3) Steven filed another motion for sanctions, equitable relief, and accounting, asserting that Karen continued to breach her fiduciary duties to the Trust and asking the trial court to remove and replace Karen as trustee and award Steven fifty percent of the Trust assets, his costs and attorney's fees; (4) Karen filed another

642 S.W.3d 758

counter motion seeking sanctions, alleging that Steven was trying to pursue the relief sought in his petition, which she maintained was "no longer pending" as a result of the settlement agreement. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on these four pending motions. Due to what it described as the "wide gamut" of relief requested in these motions, the trial court allowed in evidence pertaining to both Karen's handling of the Trust and to the existence and terms of any settlement agreement.

After the hearing, the trial court entered an Amended Order and Judgment on May 27, 2020 ("2020 Amended Judgment"). At the outset, the trial court recited the procedural history of the litigation and the relevant terms of the MOU and February Order, noting that the parties had agreed that $14,000.00 of the farm sale proceeds would be withheld "from other funds, subject to distribution at a later date." The trial court held that the MOU and February Order "are, and continue to be, a binding settlement agreement enforceable against the parties." The trial court found an ambiguity in paragraph 9 of the MOU and resolved it by determining that the cash distribution to Steven in consideration for Karen's receipt of the Hargrove House should have been paid from Karen personally or her share of Trust funds, not from the general Trust funds. It entered judgment against Karen and in Steven's favor for $83,750.00 (representing the amount she had been unjustly enriched). "In all other respects, the relief sought in the parties’ respective motions is denied." The trial court specifically declined to sanction either party "at this time." Karen filed a motion to amend or vacate the 2020 Amended Judgment, which was denied on August 28, 2020.

Steven sought to hold Karen in contempt of the 2020 Amended...

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