Lynch v. Lynch, No. SC 88923.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Writing for the CourtMary R. Russell
Citation260 S.W.3d 834
PartiesJohn LYNCH, et al., Appellants, v. George A. LYNCH, et al., Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. SC 88923.
Decision Date20 May 2008
260 S.W.3d 834
John LYNCH, et al., Appellants,
v.
George A. LYNCH, et al., Respondents.
No. SC 88923.
Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.
May 20, 2008.
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing August 26, 2008.

[260 S.W.3d 835]

Harold G. Johnson, Mitchell D. Johnson, St. Ann, for Appellants.

John M. Challis, Robert J. Selsor, St. Louis, for Respondents.

MARY R. RUSSELL, Judge.


This appeal arises from the dismissal of a declaratory judgment action seeking the imposition of a constructive trust on assets that were designated under a living trust. The judgment of the trial court is reversed, and the case is remanded.

I. Facts

Harry Schoepp ("Husband") executed his last will and testament, which bequeathed his estate to his wife, Olivia Schoepp ("Wife"), unless she predeceased him. If she predeceased him, the estate would be paid to a joint revocable living trust which was executed the same day as the will.1 The will also stated that no gift, bequest, or devise was made to Wife's descendents, because they were provided for under the terms of the trust.2

The trust stated that Husband and Wife could transfer or convey assets to the trust, which would be administered under its terms. Under the trust, after the death of both Husband and Wife, the remaining assets were to be distributed equally to Wife's living children and Husband's

260 S.W.3d 836

sister.3 Although the will stated that Wife's descendents would be provided for in the trust, the trust specifically stated that "no portion of the trust estate shall go to the descendents of John J. Lynch [II]."4

Wife died in 2003, and Husband passed away in 2005. His will was admitted to probate and was not challenged. Additionally, no contrary will or any evidence thereof was ever filed.5 Husband's assets, which included those he received upon Wife's death, were administered and distributed according to the terms of the will and the trust. Although $75,000 of the trust's assets were from Husband's probated estate, the majority of the trust assets were from transfers made by Husband and Wife prior to either of their deaths.

Plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action in March 2006 seeking to have the trust assets placed in a constructive trust to be divided among both the named beneficiaries and themselves.6 They contend that the provision of the trust prohibiting the distribution of any assets to them should be found void and unenforceable due to Wife's Alzheimer's disease and Husband's undue influence. Defendants, the beneficiaries under the trust, moved to dismiss the petition, contending that Plaintiffs did not have standing to assert their claim. The trial court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss. This Court granted transfer after opinion by the court of appeals. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 10.

II. Standard of Review

The standard of review for a trial court's grant of a motion to dismiss is de novo. Moynihan v. Gunn, 204 S.W.3d 230, 232-33 (Mo.App.2006). When this Court reviews the dismissal of a petition for failure to state a claim, the facts contained in the petition are treated as true and they are construed liberally in favor of the plaintiffs. Ste. Genevieve Sch. Dist. R-II, et al. v. Bd. of Aldermen of Ste. Genevieve, et al., 66 S.W.3d 6, 11 (Mo. banc 2002). If the petition sets forth any set of facts that, if proven, would entitle the plaintiffs to relief, then the petition states a claim. Id. Plaintiffs' petition states a cause of action if "its averments invoke principles of substantive law [that] may entitle the plaintiff to relief." Asaro v. Cardinal Glennon Mem'l Hosp., 799 S.W.2d 595, 597 (Mo. banc 1990).

III. Can Plaintiffs Seek a Constructive Trust?

Plaintiffs had a choice to either file a constructive trust cause of action in the circuit court or to file a discovery of assets suit in the probate division under section 473.340, RSMo 2000.7 See Jarman v. Eisenhauer,

260 S.W.3d 837

744 S.W.2d 780, 782 (Mo. banc 1988) (holding that the circuit court has jurisdiction to entertain plaintiff's action for declaratory judgment after the death of one of the co-owners of an asset and that such jurisdiction is concurrent with the jurisdiction of the probate division in discovery of asset proceedings). Plaintiffs elected to file their "Petition for Declaratory Judgment and the Establishment and Imposition of a Constructive Trust" in circuit court, seeking a declaration that the trust provision that prohibited the trust assets from being distributed to them was void and unenforceable.8

Plaintiffs contend that because certain portions of the trust were void and unenforceable, the trial court erred in sustaining Defendants' motion to dismiss their cause of action. Their petition alleged that Wife "placed her confidence in her husband in the belief that he would act and respect her wishes to provide for [Plaintiffs] in the manor (sic) he promised he would and having failed in said promise the [Defendants] are unjustly enriched." Plaintiffs further stated that Wife "was subservient to and trusted her husband." They argue that Husband took advantage of his confidential relationship with Wife by excluding them as beneficiaries of the trust. They assert that, if they are successful in proving the allegations in their petition, a constructive trust on the trust assets should be imposed in their favor against Defendants.

Defendants contend that, even if the trial court found...

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61 practice notes
  • McGuire v. Edwards, No. ED 106860
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • April 2, 2019
    ...de novo. Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, 476 S.W.3d 913, 915 (Mo. banc 2016) (quoting Lynch v. Lynch, 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008) ). We "treat[ ] the facts contained in the petition as true and in the light most favorable to the plaintiff."......
  • White v. White, No. WD 69580.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • June 23, 2009
    ...III. Standard of Review Our review of a dismissal for failure to state a claim or for lack of standing is de novo. Lynch v. Lynch, 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008). When reviewing for failure to state a claim, we treat the facts contained in the petition as true and construe them liberal......
  • R.M.A. ex rel. Appleberry v. Blue Springs R-IV Sch. Dist., No. SC 96683
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • February 26, 2019
    ...whether the petition invokes "principles of substantive law [that] may entitle the plaintiff to relief." Lynch v. Lynch , 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008) (internal quotation omitted). The substantive principles of law within the MHRA define the word "sex" as biologic......
  • Williston v. Vasterling, WD 80137
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • October 24, 2017
    ...entitle the plaintiff[ ] to relief, then the petition states a claim.’ " R.M.A. , 2017 WL 3026757, at *3 (quoting Lynch v. Lynch , 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008) ). "A ‘petition states a cause of action if its averments invoke principles of substantive law that may entitle th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
93 cases
  • Heartland Presbytery v. Gashland Presbyterian Church, No. WD 73064.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • February 28, 2012
    ...then the petition states a claim.Adams v. One Park Place Investors, LLC, 315 S.W.3d 742, 753 (Mo.App. W.D.2010) (quoting Lynch v. Lynch, 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008)). “We will affirm the dismissal if it is supported by any ground, regardless of whether the trial court relied on that......
  • McGuire v. Edwards, No. ED 106860
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • April 2, 2019
    ...de novo. Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist. v. City of Bellefontaine Neighbors, 476 S.W.3d 913, 915 (Mo. banc 2016) (quoting Lynch v. Lynch, 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008) ). We "treat[ ] the facts contained in the petition as true and in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Id. Furth......
  • White v. White, No. WD 69580.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • June 23, 2009
    ...III. Standard of Review Our review of a dismissal for failure to state a claim or for lack of standing is de novo. Lynch v. Lynch, 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008). When reviewing for failure to state a claim, we treat the facts contained in the petition as true and construe them liberal......
  • R.M.A. ex rel. Appleberry v. Blue Springs R-IV Sch. Dist., No. SC 96683
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • February 26, 2019
    ...must determine whether the petition invokes "principles of substantive law [that] may entitle the plaintiff to relief." Lynch v. Lynch , 260 S.W.3d 834, 836 (Mo. banc 2008) (internal quotation omitted). The substantive principles of law within the MHRA define the word "sex" as biological se......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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