In the Matter of the CERTIFICATION OF A QUESTION OF LAW FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, DISTRICT OF SOUTH DAKOTA, SOUTHERN DIVISION, Pursuant to the Provisions of SDCL 15-24A-1, and Concerning Federal Action Civ. 4:17-cv-04167-KES, Titled as Follows: THOMAS BRIGGS, Plaintiff,
JUDITH BRIGGS, Defendant.
ON NOVEMBER 13, 2018
R. FRITZ, II MARY A. AKKERMAN TIMOTHY R. RAHN of Ballard
Spahr LLP Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff
and non-moving party.
T. VAN OLSON SHEILA S. WOODWARD of Marlow, Woodward &
Huff, Prof. LLC Yankton, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant
and moving party.
On December 8, 2017, Thomas Briggs filed a complaint against
his sister, Judith Briggs, in the United States District
Court for the District of South Dakota, alleging claims for
tortious interference with inheritance or expectancy of
inheritance, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence. The
district court dismissed the claims for breach of fiduciary
duty and negligence. The district court then certified the
following question to this Court on the remaining cause of
South Dakota recognizes tortious interference with
inheritance or expectancy of inheritance.
In answer to the certified question from the district court,
we decline to recognize a cause of action for tortious
interference with inheritance or expectancy of inheritance.
Thomas's federal complaint alleges that Thomas and
Judith's parents, Elizabeth and Willard Briggs, each
created a revocable living trust and will in 1995. Thomas
attached a copy of Willard's trust to the complaint
showing he and Judith were treated equally as beneficiaries,
and he alleges on information and belief that he was also
named as an equal beneficiary in Elizabeth's trust and
will. Further demonstrating Willard's and Elizabeth's
benevolent intent toward their children, Thomas alleges his
parents deeded land they owned in Illinois to Thomas and
Judith in equal shares, subject to a retained life estate.
In 1995, Willard gifted Judith approximately 395 acres of
South Dakota agricultural land to assist her as she started
in the farming and ranching business. Thomas did not receive
a similar gift. Thomas alleges that Elizabeth and Willard
always intended their estate planning to include a later
distribution to him to equalize the gift to Judith.
In 1997, Willard passed away, and Elizabeth became trustee of
Willard's trust. According to Thomas's federal
complaint, as Elizabeth's health declined, Judith
developed a confidential relationship with her and became her
primary caretaker. Thomas further claims Judith began
isolating Elizabeth from others and began to control
Elizabeth's personal and financial decisions. He
identified that he last spoke to Elizabeth in 2006.
Thomas alleges Elizabeth amended her trust on January 16,
2009, despite her declining health, and removed Thomas as a
beneficiary. She amended the trust a second time on January
3, 2012, removing Thomas's daughter as a beneficiary.
Elizabeth passed away on July 16, 2013. Thomas claims that he
was unable to participate in the funeral services because
Judith failed to inform him of Elizabeth's passing. He
further claims he first learned of Elizabeth's death on
approximately August 15, 2013, when he received a letter from
Elizabeth's attorney explaining that Elizabeth had died
and prior to her death had disinherited him. This letter also
provided Thomas with notice of the time allowed for
commencing judicial proceedings under SDCL
More than eighteen months after Elizabeth's death, Thomas
filed a petition in state circuit court challenging the trust
amendments. He argued the amendments were invalid because
Elizabeth lacked testamentary capacity and was unduly
influenced by Judith who was a beneficiary and trustee. In
particular, he asserted Elizabeth was unable to read either
of the amended trusts when she signed them at ages 89 and 92,
respectively, due to her poor eyesight. Thomas also alleged
that Judith breached her fiduciary duties as trustee;
however, Thomas did not name Judith as a party defendant or
commence an action against her in her individual capacity.
After the circuit court dismissed Thomas's petition as
untimely under SDCL 55-4-57(a), Thomas appealed to this
Court. We affirmed, determining that the petition was time
barred. See In re Elizabeth A. Briggs Revocable Living
Trust (Briggs I), 2017 S.D. 40, ¶ 13, 898
N.W.2d 465, 471. We also held that the circuit court lacked
in personam jurisdiction to review the claim that
Judith breached her fiduciary duty because Thomas did not
commence the action against Judith in her individual capacity
or move to join her as a party defendant. Id. ¶
14. Thomas subsequently filed ...