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In the Matter of the Estate of

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA


May 2, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF BLAIR MARTIN HAMILTON, A/K/A BLAIR M. HAMILTON, DECEASED.

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FOURTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT HARDING COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE JOHN W. BASTIAN Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbertson, Chief Justice

ARGUED MARCH 21, 2012

[¶1.] Lyndon Hart appeals an order denying his petition to extend time to file a creditor's claim against the Estate of Blair Hamilton.

FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[¶2.] On the night of October 10, 2009, Blair Hamilton was drinking in his home with his friend Lyndon Hart and another person. Hamilton put a gun to his head in a simulated game of Russian roulette and accidentally killed himself. Hart witnessed Hamilton's death. Hamilton owned a large ranch in Harding County, South Dakota. Hart lived on the ranch in separate housing and worked for Hamilton.

[¶3.] Hart alleges that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in February 2011 from witnessing this event. Hart consulted with an attorney. On May 12, 2011, an intern in the attorney's office sent a letter to the attorney for Hamilton's estate ("the Estate"), requesting information about the Estate and the incident in order to assess a potential claim against the Estate.*fn1 The personal representative filed a verified statement for informal closing of the Estate on June 2, 2011. Counsel for the Estate responded to Hart's attorney on June 3, 2011, that all claims against the Estate were barred under SDCL 29A-3-803.*fn2

[¶4.] In August 2011, Hart filed a petition to extend time to file a creditor's claim against the Estate under SDCL 29A-3-804(c). Specifically, Hart wanted to file an "unliquidated claim against the Estate of Blair Hamilton for the negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress caused by the actions of Blair Hamilton on the night of October [10], 2009." After a hearing, the circuit court denied the petition.*fn3 Hart appeals the denial.

[¶5.] After appellate briefing, the Estate submitted a motion to dismiss and a supplemental brief asserting that the Court lacks jurisdiction under Estate of Geier, 2012 S.D. 2, 809 N.W.2d 355. The Estate argues that Geier requires service of notice of appeal on all heirs and because not all heirs were served in this case, service was not completed. Hart served his notice of appeal only on the Estate's attorney. Hart argues Geier does not apply because he has not been permitted to file a claim against the Estate. Further, Hart argues that under SDCL 29A-3- 804(a)(1) and (2), he is not required to serve notice of appeal on all heirs.

[¶6.] On appeal, we address the following issues:

1. Whether all required parties were served with notice of appeal.

2. Whether the circuit court erred in denying Hart's motion to extend time to file a creditor's claim.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶7.] In cases of statutory construction:

Questions of law such as statutory interpretation are reviewed by the Court de novo. . . . The purpose of statutory construction is to discover the true intention of the law which is to be ascertained primarily from the language expressed in the statute. The intent of a statute is determined from what the legislature said, rather than what the courts think it should have said, and the court must confine itself to the language used. Words and phrases in a statute must be given their plain meaning and effect. When the language in a statute is clear, certain and unambiguous, there is no reason for construction, and the Court's only function is to declare the meaning of the statute as clearly expressed. Since statutes must be construed according to their intent, the intent must be determined from the statute as a whole, as well as enactments relating to the same subject. But, in construing statutes together it is presumed that the legislature did not intend an absurd or unreasonable result. . . . Martinmaas v. Engelmann, 2000 S.D. 85, ¶ 49, 612 N.W.2d 600, 611.

ANALYSIS

[¶8.] 1. Whether all required parties were served with notice of appeal.

[¶9.] After appellate briefing, the Estate filed a motion to dismiss the appeal. The Estate alleges that Hart failed to serve his notice of appeal on all of Hamilton's heirs. Hart only served notice on counsel for the Estate.

[¶10.] The Estate relies on Geier, 2012 S.D. 2, 809 N.W.2d 355, decided on January 11, 2012. In Geier, the appellant was an heir who petitioned the probate court for supervised administration of the estate and removal of the personal representative. The circuit court denied appellant's petition. The appellant served notice of appeal only on the estate. This Court held: "Under SDCL 15-26A-4(3), notice of appeal must be served on the heirs. Because failure to serve notice of appeal to all parties is jurisdictionally fatal, this appeal must be dismissed." Id. ¶ 23, 809 N.W.2d at 361. SDCL 15-26A-4(3) provides in pertinent part: "The appellant, or his or her counsel, shall serve the notice of appeal and docketing statement on counsel of record of each party other than appellant, or, if a party is not represented by counsel, on the party at his or her last known address."

[¶11.] The appellant in Geier made the petition as an heir and as a party to the probate proceedings. Here, Hart petitioned to file a claim as a creditor of the Estate. Hart is in a different position than the appellant in Geier. As a potential creditor, Hart's petition is controlled by SDCL 29A-3-804(a)(1), which provides in part: "Claims against a decedent's estate may be presented by either of the following methods . . . [t]he claimant may deliver or mail to the personal representative a written statement of the claim . . . ." A personal representative addresses claims made against an estate without notifying all heirs regarding every claim. In this case, no claim was filed, and Hart appealed from the denial of a petition to extend time. The personal representative was the only party that needed to be notified of an appeal.

[¶12.] "[T]he rules of statutory construction dictate that 'statutes of specific application take precedence over statutes of general application.'" Schafer v. Deuel Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 2006 S.D. 106, ¶ 10, 725 N.W.2d 241, 245 (quoting Coop. Agronomy Servs. v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, 2003 S.D. 104, ¶ 19, 668 N.W.2d 718, 723). SDCL 29A-1-401 is a general provision governing notice in estate litigation. SDCL 29A-1-401(a) provides:

If notice of a hearing on any petition is required and except for specific notice requirements as otherwise provided, the petitioner shall cause notice of the time and place of hearing of any petition, together with a copy of the petition, to be given to any interested person or the person's attorney if the person has appeared by attorney or requested that notice be sent to an attorney.

(Emphasis added.) Neither SDCL 29A-1-401(a) nor SDCL 15-26A-4(3) applies because SDCL 29A-3-804 is more specific in this instance. Even if those statutes did apply, who would be an "interested person" is not the same in every proceeding. See Estate of Flaws, 2012 S.D. 3, ¶ 11, ___ N.W.2d ___. SDCL 29A-1-201(23) defines "interested person" to include:

heirs, devisees, children, spouses, creditors, beneficiaries, and any others having a property right in or claim against a trust estate or the estate of a decedent, minor, or protected person. It also includes persons having priority for appointment as personal representative, and other fiduciaries representing interested persons. The meaning as it relates to particular persons may vary from time to time and must be determined according to the particular purposes of, and matter involved in, any proceeding.

(Emphasis added.) Moreover, "the law on service of the notice of appeal requires service on 'each' party, not just 'adverse' parties . . . ." Flaws, 2012 S.D. 3, ¶ 11, ___ N.W.2d at ___. In this case, the heirs are not parties in a creditor's claim against an estate. Accordingly, the Estate's motion to dismiss for failure to serve notice of appeal on all the heirs is denied.

[¶13.] 2. Whether the circuit court erred in denying Hart's motion to extend time to file a creditor's claim.

[¶14.] Hart wants to present a claim against the Estate based on Hamilton's actions on October 10, 2009. Possibly relying on the Estate's response to its inquiry that all claims were barred by SDCL 29A-3-803, no claim was presented or filed. Instead, Hart petitioned the circuit court to extend time to file a creditor's claim under SDCL 29A-3-804(c). SDCL 29A-3-804(c) provides:

No proceeding to obtain payment of a claim presented under subsection (a)(1) may be commenced more than sixty days after the personal representative has mailed or delivered a notice of disallowance; but, in the case of a claim which is not presently due or which is contingent or unliquidated, the personal representative may consent to an extension of the sixty-day period, or to avoid injustice the court, on petition, may order an extension of the sixty-day period, but in no event may an extension be granted beyond the applicable statute of limitations.

(Emphasis added.) The court held a hearing and denied the petition by order. No findings of fact, conclusions of law, or memorandum decision were filed. [¶15.] The problem presented in this appeal is that no claim has ever been presented. By its plain language, SDCL 29A-3-804(c) only applies to claims that have been presented in a manner described by SDCL 29A-3-804(a)(1)*fn4 or are "not presently due or [are] contingent or unliquidated." The statute is clear: "to avoid injustice the court, on petition, may order an extension of the sixty-day period . . . ." (Emphasis added.) There is no sixty-day period to extend in this case. Therefore, a petition to extend time to present a claim cannot be granted under SDCL 29A-3- 804(c).*fn5 "SDCL 29A-3-804(c) only applies when a creditor has not yet filed a petition for allowance of a claim after the personal representative has issued a notice of disallowance." In re Estate of Ginsbach, 2008 S.D. 91, ¶ 15, 757 N.W.2d 65, 69 (emphasis added); see also Matter of Oney's Estate, 624 P.2d 1037, 1040 (N.M. Ct. App. 1981) ("Section 45-3-804(C) . . . deals with a time for bringing suit to collect a timely presented claim that had been denied. Section 45-3-804(C) . . . does not deal with the time limits for presenting claims . . . and does not authorize the trial court to extend the time limits of § 45-3-803.").

[¶16.] SDCL 29A-3-803 is a nonclaim statute, and sets limitations on presentation of claims. We identify Hart's argument that SDCL 29A-3-803 cannot control the potential claim because South Dakota does not have a provision controlling claims that "arose at or after death."*fn6 However, based on this record, without even a disallowance of a claim, we cannot reach that issue. We cannot reach the merits of Hart's appeal without a presented claim.

CONCLUSION

[¶17.] The order is affirmed. SDCL 29A-3-804(c) only applies to claims that have been presented. That is not the case here.

[¶18.] KONENKAMP, ZINTER, SEVERSON, and WILBUR, Justices, concur.


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