TRACY L. CRUZ AND GREGORY W. CATES, Appellants,
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.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND
DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED
from the Circuit Court for Marion County, S. Sue Robbins,
Alexander Thomas Briggs, of Pankauski Hauser, PLLC, West Palm
Beach, for Appellants.
Smith and Stacie L. Corbett, of Bond, Arnett, Phelan, Smith
& Carreras, P.A., Ocala, for Appellee, Community Bank
& Trust of Florida.
T. Anderson and Samantha S. Raube, of Schatt & Hesser,
P.A., Ocala, for Appellee, Hospice of Marion County.
Appearance for Other Appellees.
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
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.
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. 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.
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.
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