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Smith v. Smith

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

November 27, 2017

KATHERINE ANNE SMITH, Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
v.
DOUGLAS W. SMITH AND E. DREW MITCHELL, AS CO-PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT H. SMITH. IN RE: ESTATE OF ROBERT H. SMITH, Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED

         An appeal from the Circuit Court for Leon County. Stewart E. Parsons, Judge.

          F. Wallace Pope, Jr., Brandon D. Bellew, and Caitlein J. Jammo of Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns, LLP, Clearwater, for Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

          Dubose Ausley and Kevin A. Forsthoefel of Ausley McMullen, Tallahassee; James P. Judkins and Larry D. Simpson of Judkins, Simpson & Schulte, Tallahassee, for Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

          JAY, J.

         This is an appeal and cross-appeal from an order ruling on Appellees' motion to dismiss various counts of a petition filed by Appellant in the probate of her husband's estate. We affirm in all respects and write only to address Appellant's contention that the trial court erred in dismissing with prejudice her claim seeking removal of Appellees as co-personal representatives of the estate.

         On May 28, 2013, Appellant's husband died, survived by Appellant and two adult children. The decedent's last will and testament and the first codicil to the will designated Appellees as co-personal representatives and co-trustees of testamentary trusts funded with assets from the residue of the estate. One of these trusts-the marital trust-provided income to Appellant during her lifetime. The trial court entered an order admitting the will and codicil to probate and appointing Appellees as co-personal representatives of the estate.

         On September 11, 2013, Appellant filed a claim against the estate pursuant to a premarital agreement dated March 5, 2009, which provided for the cash purchase of the marital home by the estate from Appellant and the lump-sum payment to Appellant of $500, 000.00. In exchange, Appellant and her husband agreed "to refrain from any action or proceeding to void or nullify to any extent the probate of or the terms of any last will and testament or trust or testamentary substitute created by the other so long as the rights of the surviving party under the terms of this Agreement are not abridged by any such instrument." Pursuant to this agreement, the estate made the lump-sum payment and purchased Appellant's interest in the marital home.

         On November 2, 2015, Appellant filed an amended petition seeking, among other things, Appellees' removal as co-personal representatives due to alleged breaches of fiduciary duty with regard to the marital trust. In particular, the amended petition alleged that Appellant entered into the premarital agreement on March 5, 2009, and that the waiver of rights provision contained therein did not apply to any rights Appellant later acquired through her husband's subsequently executed will and codicil. In response, Appellees filed a motion to dismiss in which they asserted, among other things, that Appellant waived any interest in her husband's estate by entering into the premarital agreement. The trial court granted Appellees' motion to dismiss with leave to amend.

         On January 28, 2016, Appellant filed a second amended petition, which again sought removal of the co-personal representatives but omitted all reference to the premarital agreement. In response, Appellees filed another motion to dismiss as well as a motion to strike, which asserted that the removal of the reference to the premarital agreement constituted a sham to avoid a subsequent dismissal. The trial court entered an order both striking and dismissing with prejudice Appellant's claim seeking removal of the co-personal representatives. This appeal followed.

         Appellant asserts that the trial court erred in dismissing her claim seeking removal of the co-personal representatives upon concluding that she waived any interest she had in her husband's estate by entering into the premarital agreement. Although it is undisputed that Appellant and her husband executed a premarital agreement, Appellant asserts that the waiver provisions of the premarital agreement did not extend to the interest she acquired in her husband's estate when she was named an income beneficiary of the marital trust created under the terms of his last will executed after the marital agreement.

         "'A trial court's interpretation of a prenuptial agreement is reviewed de novo, as such agreements are governed by the law of contracts.'" Hahamovitch v. Hahamovitch, 174 So.3d 983, 986 (Fla. 2015) (quoting Taylor v. Taylor, 1 So.3d 348, 350 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009)). "Contract interpretation begins with a review of the plain language of the agreement because the contract language is the best evidence of the parties' intent at the time of the execution of the contact." Taylor, 1 So.3d at 350. "Where a contract is clear and unambiguous, it must be enforced pursuant to its plain language." Hahamovitch, 174 So.3d at 986.

         Here, the premarital agreement expressly provided that the parties would "refrain from any action or proceeding to void or nullify to any extent . . . the terms of any last will and testament or trust or testamentary substitute, " which clearly contemplated all wills and testamentary trusts regardless of whether they were executed before or after the premarital agreement. Accordingly, the premarital agreement prevented Appellant from nullifying the terms of her husband's last will by seeking the removal of the co-personal representatives named in the will.

         In addition to dismissing Appellant's claim seeking removal of the co-personal representatives, the trial court also granted Appellees' motion to strike that claim as a sham because the second amended petition deliberately omitted facts alleged in the amended petition-specifically, the execution of the premarital agreement-for the purpose of avoiding a dismissal. Appellant did not challenge this ruling in her initial brief and cannot challenge it for the first time in her reply brief. See Land v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., 181 So.3d 1252, 1254 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015) ...


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