IN RE: THE ELIZABETH A. BRIGGS REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST.
CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON MAY 30, 2017
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD JUDICIAL CIRCUIT SANBORN
COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE JON R. ERICKSON Judge
A. AKKERMAN NICOLE O. TUPMAN of Lindquist & Vennum, LLP
Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for petitioner and
appellant, Thomas F. Briggs.
S. WOODWARD PAUL T. VAN OLSON of Johnson, Miner, Marlow,
Woodward & Huff, LLC Yankton, South Dakota Attorneys for
trustee and appellee, Judith Briggs.
SDCL 55-4-57(a) limits the time to commence a judicial
proceeding contesting "whether a revocable trust or any
amendment thereto, or an irrevocable trust was validly
created." Settlor amended her revocable trust to
expressly disinherit her son. Following settlor's death,
her son commenced this action to invalidate the amendments on
the grounds that settlor lacked capacity and was unduly
influenced. Son also requested an accounting and made a claim
for breach of fiduciary duty. Son, however, commenced the
action more than sixty days after he received an SDCL
55-4-57(a)(2) notice that he had sixty days to commence a
judicial proceeding regarding the trust. We affirm the
circuit court's dismissal of the lack-of-capacity and
undue-influence claims as untimely. We affirm the dismissal
of the breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim and the request for an
accounting on other grounds.
and Procedural History
Judith and Thomas Briggs are the two children of Willard and
Elizabeth Briggs. On November 28, 1995, both Willard and
Elizabeth executed several estate planning documents,
including separate revocable trusts. Elizabeth amended her
trust on two occasions. In 2009, she amended it to expressly
remove Thomas as a beneficiary and provide that her assets
were to be distributed to Judith after Elizabeth's death.
The amended trust stated: "Grantor has purposely omitted
her son, Thomas F. Briggs, from any provisions hereunder for
reasons known to him and also for reasons identified in a
letter which Grantor has signed and directed her attorney to
retain and deliver to her son, Tom, at Grantor's
demise." In 2012, Elizabeth amended her trust to
expressly omit Thomas's daughter.
Elizabeth died on July 16, 2013. On August 15, 2013, an
attorney for Elizabeth's trust and estate sent Thomas a
letter informing him of his mother's death and that she
had left him no property. Pursuant to SDCL 55-4-57(a)(2), the
attorney also sent Thomas a copy of the trust documents, the
trustee's name and address, and a "Notice of Time
for Commencing Judicial Proceedings." The notice advised
Thomas that he had sixty days to commence any judicial
proceeding regarding the trust.
Thomas did not file this petition to contest Elizabeth's
two trust amendments within sixty days. Instead, he emailed
the Sanborn County clerk of courts and the trust's
attorney. The email contained an unsigned, pro se
"Notice of Objection to the Trust Instrument for
Elizabeth A. Briggs." The notice did not, however, identify what
the objection was or any reason for it; and it contained no
request for relief. It merely stated that Thomas was
"giving notice of objection to the trust
instruments." Because there was no file opened regarding
Elizabeth's trust, the clerk filed Thomas's notice in
a miscellaneous file folder. Thomas was aware that no court
file was opened.
On April 18, 2015-611 days after Thomas received notice that
he had sixty days to commence a judicial proceeding-Thomas
commenced this proceeding to contest the trust amendments. He
alleged the amendments were invalid because Elizabeth lacked
capacity and was unduly influenced by Judith, who was a
beneficiary and the trustee. Thomas's petition also
included a claim that Judith breached her fiduciary duty and
requested that Judith "be held liable for any and all
damages caused by the breach of her fiduciary duties."
Thomas did not, however, name Judith as a party defendant or
commence an action against her in her individual capacity.
Finally, Thomas's petition contained a request for an
Judith in her capacity as trustee moved to dismiss the
petition. She contended that Thomas's claims were barred
by SDCL 55-4-57(a)'s time limitations for commencing a
judicial proceeding. The circuit court granted the motion and
dismissed the petition. The court concluded that although
Thomas sent his Notice of Objection within sixty days, he did
not commence a judicial proceeding. The court also ruled that
the doctrines of substantial compliance and equitable
estoppel did not apply. Thomas appeals.
Thomas first argues the circuit court erroneously interpreted
SDCL 55-4-57(a) as a statute of limitations that barred his
claims. He contends his action should be governed by the
general six-year statute of limitations in SDCL 15-2-13. In
response, Judith argues SDCL 55-4-57(a) operates as both ...