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Reno v. Hurchalla

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

August 21, 2019

Janet Meliha Reno, Appellant,
v.
James Alan Hurchalla, etc., Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Mindy S. Glazer, Judge. Lower Tribunal No. 17-1874.

          The Nguyen Law Firm and Hung V. Nguyen and Jacobeli J. Behar, for appellant.

          Day Pitney/Richman Greer and Charles H. Johnson, Alan G. Greer and Katherine A. Coba, for appellee.

          Before SALTER and LINDSEY, JJ., and LEBAN, Senior Judge.

          SALTER, J.

         Janet Meliha Reno (the "Appellant"), a niece of the late Janet Reno ("Ms. Reno"), appeals a final judgment and order modifying the Janet Reno Revocable Trust ("Trust") created by Ms. Reno before her death. The appellees are James Alan Hurchalla, (Ms. Reno's nephew and the successor trustee to Ms. Reno for the Trust ("Successor Trustee")), and five living beneficiaries under the Trust (also children of Ms. Reno's siblings) who have not objected to the modification of the Trust and have not appealed the final judgment and order under review.

         The probate case below and this appeal concern Ms. Reno's historically significant homestead property (the "Reno Homestead") and her charitable intention to see the home and surrounding, undeveloped acreage preserved in perpetuity. When her originally-designated charitable donee (the University of Miami) for the Reno Homestead rejected the terms of the bequest after Ms. Reno's death, the Successor Trustee and other family members (other than the Appellant) sought to effectuate Ms. Reno's charitable intent through the trust doctrine of cy pres[1] and a transfer of the Reno Homestead to nearby Miami Dade College instead of the University of Miami. We affirm the final judgment authorizing that transfer.

         I. Issues and Procedural History

         The Appellant contends that the Successor Trustee must sell the Reno Homestead pursuant to Article V of the Trust, a duty allegedly triggered by the fact that each of Ms. Reno's brothers, Mark W. Reno and Robert M. Reno ("the Brothers") predeceased Ms. Reno.

         The Successor Trustee and the five other appellees contend, and the trial court found, that a provision within Article VI of the Trust specifically controls the charitable transfer of the Reno Homestead because the Trust "still owned" the Reno Homestead at the date of Ms. Reno's death. Our task on review is made considerably easier by the professionalism of counsel for the parties. Counsel stipulated in the trial court proceeding that the trust language is unambiguous and the parties' differing textual readings could be decided on the papers presented to the trial court.[2]

         The trial court agreed with the parties that the Trust terms were unambiguous, and agreed with the Successor Trustee that Article VI.C. of the Trust was controlling because the Reno Homestead was "still owned by the Trust" at the date of Ms. Reno's death. When the University of Miami advised the Successor Trustee of its inability to accept the gift and the attendant conditions (preservation "in perpetuity" of the Reno Homestead and its unique character and history), the Successor Trustee sought authorization to effectuate the charitable transfer and its conditions with another non-profit charitable and educational institution, Miami Dade College.

         The trial court found, and the Appellant does not dispute, that Miami Dade College[3] is prepared to accept the conditions in the "Real Estate Transfer and Preservation Agreement" required to effectuate the charitable gift and Ms. Reno's intentions evidenced by the language of Article VI of the Trust. The trial court then determined "that a substitution of Miami Dade College for the University of Miami under [these] circumstances is authorized by Florida ...


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