Gaynor v. Payne, (SC 16648)

Citation804 A.2d 170,261 Conn. 585
Decision Date03 September 2002
Docket Number(SC 16648)
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
PartiesPAUL A. GAYNOR, ADMINISTRATOR (ESTATE OF MARY CATHERINE IX GAYNOR) v. S. GILES PAYNE ET AL.

Sullivan, C. J., and Borden, Katz, Vertefeuille and Zarella, Js. Richard J. Buturla, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Joseph T. Sweeney, for the appellees (named defendant et al.).

Opinion

VERTEFEUILLE, J.

The plaintiff, Paul A. Gaynor, in his capacity as administrator of the estate of his mother, Mary Catherine Ix Gaynor (decedent), appeals1 from the summary judgment rendered against him by the trial court. The plaintiff claims that: (1) despite having personally released the named defendant, S. Giles Payne (defendant), the former executor of the decedent's estate, of all liability relating to the administration of the estate, he may bring an action against the defendant for mismanagement of the estate; and (2) his claims are not barred by the doctrine of res judicata as a result of the Probate Court approval of the defendant's final accounting. We conclude, first, that the plaintiff is not barred by the release from bringing such an action. We further conclude that, although some of the plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, there is no count of the plaintiff's complaint in which all the claims are barred. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. The defendant is an attorney who represented the decedent and later served as executor of her estate.2 In June, 1996, the decedent died testate. Her will, drafted by the defendant, named him the executor of her estate. The decedent's three children, one of whom is the plaintiff in the present case, became dissatisfied with the defendant's administration of the estate, and in March, 1997, they filed with the Branford Probate Court an application to remove the defendant as executor. In the application, the decedent's children alleged negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and conflict of interest in the defendant's drafting and execution of the decedent's will, the administration of the decedent's estate and his exercise of authority under a power of attorney prior to the decedent's death.

Subsequently, the defendant and the decedent's children agreed to resolve their differences. The defendant agreed to resign as executor and the decedent's children agreed to pay the defendant certain fees and to provide him with a general release. On March 21, 1997, the plaintiff, along with the decedent's two other children, executed a "Release and Waiver of Claims Agreement" (release) with the defendant. Pursuant to this release, the decedent's three children purported to release the defendant from all liability of any type, including, but not limited to, liability arising out of the defendant's provision of legal services to the decedent and the decedent's estate, and any liability associated with the defendant's serving as executor of the decedent's estate. The defendant filed his final accounting for the estate, and, after the accounting was approved by the Probate Court, resigned as executor of the decedent's estate. The plaintiff then was appointed administrator of the estate.

In 1998, the plaintiff brought this action in his capacity as administrator of his mother's estate, alleging, inter alia, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract in the defendant's administration of the decedent's estate and in his provision of legal services to the decedent and the decedent's estate. The defendant and his law firm; see footnote 2 of this opinion; moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff's claims were barred by his execution of the release. They further argued that the plaintiff's claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata because the plaintiff had not objected to the defendant's final accounting, which had been approved by the Probate Court. The plaintiff, in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, argued that his claims were not barred because the release was not executed on behalf of the decedent's grandchildren, who are remainder beneficiaries of a trust established under the decedent's will.

The trial court agreed with the defendant that the plaintiff's claims were precluded by the release. Specifically, the trial court found that the decedent's children intended to bind all beneficiaries of the decedent's estate when they executed the release. The trial court therefore rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendant and his law firm, and this appeal followed. Further facts will be set forth as necessary.

I

The first issue that we must resolve is whether the plaintiff, having executed a release along with the decedent's other two children absolving the defendant of all liability related to the administration of the decedent's estate, may, nevertheless, in his capacity as administrator of the estate, bring a claim against the defendant. The plaintiff claims that the release did not discharge all claims against the defendant because all beneficiaries of the estate were not parties to the release. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that, because the decedent's grandchildren, who are remainder beneficiaries under a trust that is the principal beneficiary of the decedent's will, were not parties to the release, the plaintiff may make claims against the defendant on their behalf as administrator of the decedent's estate. The defendant counters that because the decedent's grandchildren hold only an expectancy interest, pursuant to the trust, rather than a vested property interest, the plaintiff has no basis upon which to bring a claim against the defendant. The defendant, therefore, argues that the release extinguished any rights the estate may have had against him. We agree with the plaintiff that the grandchildren have vested property interests in the trust and that the release did not encompass those interests. Accordingly, we conclude that the plaintiff may maintain this action in his capacity as administrator of the decedent's estate on behalf of the decedent's grandchildren.

The following additional facts are necessary to our resolution of this issue. In her will, the decedent bequeathed certain tangible personal property to her children. The remainder of her estate was left to a trust established by the will, over which the defendant also was named trustee. The corpus of the trust was to be divided into three shares, one for each of her children living at the time of the decedent's death. Income from the respective portions of the trust was to be paid to each of the children during their lives. Upon the death of each child, the corpus of his or her trust was to be distributed per stirpes to his or her then living issue. If a child died without living issue, the interest was to be distributed per stirpes to the decedent's living issue. There currently are four living grandchildren of the decedent.

We begin by setting forth the standard of review that governs our examination of this issue. "The standards governing our review of a trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment are well established. Practice Book § [17-49] provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.. . . Miller v. United Technologies Corp., 233 Conn. 732, 744-45, 660 A.2d 810 (1995). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. . . . Id., 745. The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue [of] material facts which, under applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law; D.H.R. Construction Co. v. Donnelly, 180 Conn. 430, 434, 429 A.2d 908 (1980); and the party opposing such a motion must provide an evidentiary foundation to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Practice Book § [17-46].. . . Suarez v. Dickmont Plastics Corp., 229 Conn. 99, 105, 639 A.2d 507 (1994). . . . Hertz Corp. v. Federal Ins. Co., 245 Conn. 374, 380-81, 374 A.2d 820 (1998)." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Appleton v. Board of Education, 254 Conn. 205, 209, 757 A.2d 1059 (2000).

The plaintiff and the defendant and his law firm agree that, under Woodhouse v. Phelps, 51 Conn. 521, 523 (1884), when all the beneficiaries of an estate release any claims that they might have, any claim that the estate might have is also released. It is undisputed in the present case that the decedent's four living grandchildren did not execute the release. The parties disagree, however, as to whether the grandchildren should be considered beneficiaries of the estate.

The plaintiff is bringing this action in his capacity as the administrator of the decedent's estate. As such, he is the representative of all beneficiaries under the decedent's will. See Hall v. Schoenwetter, 239 Conn. 553, 559, 686 A.2d 980 (1996). He argues that the grandchildren are beneficiaries of the estate because they hold contingent, remainder interests in the trust that is the principal beneficiary of the estate. Their interests are contingent only on their surviving their parents.

The defendant argues, however, that the grandchildren have no rights against him because their interest in the trust corpus is a mere expectancy. More specifically, the defendant claims that because the interests of the grandchildren are subject to a condition precedent, namely, their surviving the decedent's children, the grandchildren hold only an inchoate property interest from which no presently existing rights may flow. Accordingly, the defendant claims that the...

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