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Cruz v. Community Bank & Trust of Florida

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

August 9, 2019

TRACY L. CRUZ AND GREGORY W. CATES, Appellants,
v.
COMMUNITY BANK & TRUST OF FLORIDA, A FLORIDA BANKING CORPORATION, AS TRUSTEE OF THE ELMER WAYNE CATES TRUST DATED APRIL 25, 2016 AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF ELMER, ETC., ET AL., Appellees.

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

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Marion County, S. Sue Robbins, Judge.

          Alexander Thomas Briggs, of Pankauski Hauser, PLLC, West Palm Beach, for Appellants.

          Marty Smith and Stacie L. Corbett, of Bond, Arnett, Phelan, Smith & Carreras, P.A., Ocala, for Appellee, Community Bank & Trust of Florida.

          Brian T. Anderson and Samantha S. Raube, of Schatt & Hesser, P.A., Ocala, for Appellee, Hospice of Marion County.

         No Appearance for Other Appellees.

          ORFINGER, J.

         Tracy L. Cruz and Gregory W. Cates (collectively, "Appellants") appeal an order dismissing their breach of trust action against Community Bank and Trust of Florida ("the Bank") for lack of standing. Appellants assert that they have standing under the Florida Trust Code, chapter 736, Florida Statutes (2016), as "interested persons." We agree and reverse for further proceedings.

         The genesis of this appeal is a pour-over will that Appellants' late father, Elmer Wayne Cates ("Mr. Cates"), executed shortly before his death in 2016 ("2016 Will"). Upon Mr. Cates's death, the will placed the majority of his assets into a trust ("the Trust"). The Bank was named as trustee, and the Trust directed that most of the Trust's assets go to charity-half to Hospice of Marion County and the other half to fund leukemia research. The Trust provided Ms. Cruz with a life estate in a tract of land that included Mr. Cates's homestead, but made no provision for Gregory Cates.

         Following their father's death, Appellants brought an action to invalidate the 2016 Will and Trust, alleging that Mr. Cates lacked testamentary capacity at the time of its execution.[1] Shortly after the invalidation action was filed, the Bank served Appellants with a trust accounting and monthly account statements for the investment accounts maintained in the Trust. The trust accounting and each statement contained a statutory "limitations notice." Pursuant to section 736.1008, Florida Statutes, a "limitation notice" is

a written statement of the trustee that an action by a beneficiary against the trustee for breach of trust based on any matter adequately disclosed in a trust disclosure document may be barred unless the action is commenced within 6 months after receipt of the trust disclosure document or receipt of a limitation notice that applies to that trust disclosure document, whichever is later.

§ 736.1008(c), Fla. Stat. (2016). Appellants then sued the Bank, alleging mismanagement of the Trust.[2]

         In response, the Bank moved to dismiss the breach of trust complaint, asserting Appellants lacked standing to sue because they were not named beneficiaries of the Trust. Instead, Appellants' alleged basis for standing hinged on them inheriting their father's estate after invalidating the 2016 Will and Trust. This, according to the Bank, represented a hypothetical interest based on "uncertain future events," and such an interest did not establish standing to sue the Bank for its actions as trustee. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the breach of trust complaint for lack of standing.

         We review a dismissal for lack of standing de novo. Wheeler v. Powers, 972 So.2d 285, 288 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008). Standing is a threshold inquiry that must be addressed before considering the merits of a cause of action. See Olen Props. Corp. v. Moss, 981 So.2d 515, 517 (Fla. 4th DCA 2008). To have standing, a would-be litigant must show "a direct and articulable interest in the controversy, which will be affected by the outcome of the litigation." Centerstate Bank Cent. Fla., N.A. v. Krause, 87 So.3d 25, 28 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012). This interest must be legally cognizable and not "conjectural or merely hypothetical." Id. Standing to bring or ...


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