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In re Estate of Barfield

August 19, 1999

IN RE ESTATE OF ISAAC R. BARFIELD
T. CARLTON RICHARDSON, APPELLANT.



Before Terry and Ruiz, Associate Judges, and Kern, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Cheryl M. Long, Trial Judge)

Argued March 4, 199

This appeal is from the probate court's order granting appellees' *fn1 12 (b)(6) motion and dismissing with prejudice the complaint of appellant, T. Carlton Richardson, to establish a lost or destroyed will of the decedent, Isaac R. Barfield, and to appoint a special administrator to protect the property of the estate. On appeal, Richardson asserts that the court erred in considering matters outside the pleadings, namely his bar discipline record, without treating the motion as one for summary judgment and providing him with the requisite notice and opportunity to respond. See Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12 (b) (where "matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded by the Court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present" all relevant material). In the alternative, he argues that the probate court erred in granting appellees' 12 (b)(6) motion on the grounds that his complaint failed to allege facts sufficient to support his claim of standing with regard to Barfield's estate or to support the existence of a will. Because we conclude that the probate court did not rely on matters outside the pleadings in dismissing the complaint, and that Richardson's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, we affirm the probate court's order granting appellees' 12 (b)(6) motion and dismissing Richardson's complaint.

I.

On August 17, 1997, Isaac R. Barfield, a District of Columbia resident, died in a car accident. Richardson, an estate planner and one of Barfield's close friends, offered his services to Barfield's family following the death. Although the family initially engaged Richardson to represent them in matters pertaining to the estate, appellee Sampson, one of Barfield's daughters, terminated this arrangement several weeks later after discovering that Richardson's license to practice law had been suspended in Florida and the District of Columbia, *fn2 both jurisdictions where probate proceedings were necessary to settle Barfield's estate.

Following Barfield's death, and on Richardson's recommendation, the family conducted a search for a will or estate planning document at Barfield's home in the District of Columbia and at his mother's residence in Florida. The family also searched Barfield's office at Howard University School of Law and both his home and work computers to ascertain whether Barfield had drafted a testamentary document. Additionally, Richardson attempted to locate a will by contacting various banks in the District of Columbia and in Florida to determine whether Barfield had rented a safety deposit box. To date, no will or estate planning document has been located.

Notwithstanding the failure to locate a will despite these efforts, Richardson filed a complaint claiming that Barfield died testate. *fn3 The complaint alleges that on numerous occasions Barfield had told Richardson that he had prepared a will which named Richardson and Meera Kashyap, a friend of Barfield's who also died in the accident, as co-executors of the will, and Barfield's mother and now-deceased sister as beneficiaries. Richardson further alleged that Barfield never indicated to him that he had provided for his children in his estate plan. *fn4 On the basis of these representations, Richardson asked the probate court to determine whether a will exists and, if so, whether the original will is lost or destroyed. In addition, Richardson requested the appointment of a special administrator to protect the assets of Barfield's estate pending appointment of a personal representative. To demonstrate standing to petition the probate court regarding Barfield's estate, Richardson asserted that he is both the "putative testate personal representative" and a creditor of Barfield's estate. *fn5 In the order granting appellees' 12 (b)(6) motion and dismissing Richardson's complaint, the probate court queried why Richardson would have filed such a complaint unless he was representing the interests of a client, and noted that if Richardson was advocating for a client, he was in violation of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decision temporarily suspending his license to practice law. Richardson filed a motion to reconsider the order dismissing his complaint, which the probate court denied for the same reasons as set forth in the original order.

II.

In reviewing the grant of a 12 (b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim, this court applies the same standard as the trial Judge, i.e. "we accept the allegations of the complaint as true, and construe all facts and inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Atkins v. Industrial Telecommunications Ass'n, 660 A.2d 885, 887 (D.C. 1995). "Because a motion to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12 (b)(6) 'presents questions of law, our standard of review for dismissal for failure to state a claim is de novo.' " Fraser v. Gottfried, 636 A.2d 430, 432 n.5 (D.C. 1994) (quoting Johnson-El v. District of Columbia, 579 A.2d 163, 166 (D.C. 1990)).

Richardson makes two principal arguments on appeal. He contends that the probate court's improper consideration of a matter outside the pleadings, his bar discipline history, prejudiced its decision on the merits. He also maintains that he alleged sufficient facts to survive a 12 (b)(6) motion, both on the issue of standing and on the issue of the existence of a will.

A. Order on Appeal

At the outset, we address the question of which order is on appeal. On December 12, 1997, Richardson filed a motion to reconsider the November 24, 1997 order dismissing his complaint. As this motion was filed within 10 days of the court's order, we consider it a Rule 59 (e) motion which tolled the time for filing an appeal. See Coleman v. Lee Washington Hauling Co., 388 A.2d 44, 47 (D.C. 1978), superceded on other grounds by statute as stated in Perry v. Sera, 623 A.2d 1210 (D.C. 1993). Therefore, Richardson's February 19, 1998 notice of appeal was timely filed within 30 days of the probate court's January 22, 1998 order denying the motion to reconsider. See D.C. App. R. 4 (a)(1) (party has 30 days after entry of a judgment or order to file notice of appeal). Because Richardson initiated this matter by complaint, his motion to reconsider is termed a Super. Ct. Civ. R. 59 (e) motion rather than a Super. Ct. Prob. R. 130 motion. See Super. Ct. Prob. R. 130 ("Any person who is aggrieved and participated in the determination of a trial court . . . order . . . in any matter not initiated by complaint . . . in a decedent's estate proceeding, may seek reconsideration thereof . . .) (emphasis added); see also Super. ...


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