Dismissing Complaint with Prejudice for Failure to Join Decedent’s Estate As Indispensible Party was Improper

Posted on February 28, 2016

In Parker v. Parker, 2016 Fla. App. LEXIS 1441 (Fla. 4th DCA 2016), the Fourth DCA held that where Appellants filed suit to set aside Decedent’s inter vivos conveyances to Appellees, the trial court erred in dismissing their complaint with prejudice for failure to join Decedent’s estate as indispensable party. As the Decedent transferred the properties prior to his death, his estate was not an indispensable party under Section 733.607, Fla. Stat.

In the subject case, Joe, Eddie, David, and Cornel Parker, (collectively, “Appellants”) and Sean, Joan, and Kevin Parker, along with Parkersquest, LLC, (collectively, “Appellees”) were opposing parties in a lawsuit to set aside conveyances of property by their late father and husband, Joe Parker, Sr. (“Decedent”). After being advised of his terminal medical condition, and fifteen days before his death in September 2006, Decedent and his wife, Joan Parker, transferred title to a total of seven properties, three to their son Sean Cornelius Parker, and four to an entity called Parkersquest, LLC. Parkersquest was created on the day the warranty deeds were executed, and was founded and solely owned by Sean. Decedent and Joan had one other son together, named Kevin. Seven months later, Appellants (Decedent’s children from other relationships) sued Appellees (their half-brothers their stepmother Joan, and Parkersquest) to set aside each of the warranty deeds. Their allegations included tortious interference with inheritance, unjust enrichment, and replevin to recover the properties as well as certain personal possessions and documents belonging to Decedent which were necessary to administer his estate.

The trial date was set and reset numerous times over the next three years. In November 2010, the trial court removed the case from the trial calendar, and ordered Appellants to proceed with the opening of an estate for Decedent, but did not order that Appellants join the estate in the suit. Another three years went by until September 2013, when Appellees filed a motion to dismiss for failure to join the estate. Appellees argued that Decedent’s estate was an indispensable party under Section 733.607, Fla Stat., and that Appellants lacked standing for failure to join it in the action. The trial court granted Appellees’ motion to dismiss with prejudice for failure to join indispensable parties and denied Appellants’ ore tenus motion to amend. Then, Appellants filed multiple motions for relief, notifying the trial court that they had opened the estate since the time the motion to dismiss was granted, and requested permission once again to amend the complaint. Specifically, they sought leave to add Joe R. Parker, Jr., as a party to the lawsuit as the estate’s representative, and to transfer the case to the probate division for resolution. The trial court denied Appellants’ combined motions without explanation.

The Fourth DCA reviewed the case de novo, noting that Section 733.607 clearly states that a personal representative has rights to property that remains in the decedent’s possession at death. However, the subject properties at issue in this case were not part of Decedent’s estate at the time he died because they had already been conveyed inter vivos to Sean and Parkersquest.  Florida courts have repeatedly permitted a decedent’s children to pursue claims to set aside inter vivos conveyances based upon allegations of undue influence, without requiring that the decedent’s estate be joined as a party to the suit. See Pratt v. Carns, 85 So. 681, 682, 80 Fla. 243 (Fla. 1920); Mulato v. Mulato, 705 So. 2d 57, 59-63 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997); Dunn v. White, 500 So. 2d 565, 566 (Fla. 2d DCA 1986). Other family members have also been permitted to challenge inter vivos transfers of property for undue influence without joining the decedent’s estate. See Bryant v. Bryant, 379 So. 2d 382, 383 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979); Wrobbel v. Walda, 217 So. 2d 340, 341 (Fla. 4th DCA 1968); Rowland v. McCall, 118 So. 2d 846, 847 (Fla. 2d DCA 1960).

By contrast, Appellees provided no authority supporting the proposition that under Section 733.607, Fla. Stat., Decedent’s estate is an indispensable party that must be joined in a suit seeking to set aside inter vivos conveyances due to alleged undue influence. By its ruling, the trial court imposed a requirement that, according to the plain wording of the statute, does not exist. See, e.g., D.S. v. J.L., 18 So. 3d 1103, 1108-09 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009) (holding that trial court erred by interpreting statute to “impos[e] requirements beyond those specified in [the statute]”). In the subject case, Decedent’s estate was not so essential to the suit that a final decision regarding Appellants’ challenge to the conveyances could not be rendered without its joinder. Villanueva, 174 So. 3d at 613. Therefore, the Fourth DCA reversed the trial court’s order dismissing the case with prejudice for failure to join the estate as a party, and remand for further proceedings.

If you or anyone you know is in need of representation in actions involving Guardianship, Probate and/or Trust Disputes, or questions pertaining to such proceedings, please contact The Law Offices of Glenn M. Mednick, P.L., at (954) 315-1154 or gmednick@mednicklawgroup.com.

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