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BARBER v. RUTH

October 2, 1991

RICHARD W. BARBER, Personal Representative of the ESTATE OF BARBARA W. REESE, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN J. RUTH, Defendant, and LUCILLE A. RUTH, Counterclaim Plaintiff and Defendant


Marvin E. Aspen, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: ASPEN

MARVIN E. ASPEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This action stems from the administration of the estate of Barbara W. Reese ("Reese"). Plaintiff Richard W. Barber, in his capacity as personal representative of Reese's estate, brought suit against John and Lucille Ruth to recover funds allegedly removed by Lucille Ruth ("Ruth") from a joint bank account held by her and the decedent. Currently before the court is (1) Barber's motion to dismiss Ruth's amended counterclaim; (2) Ruth's motion in limine to exclude testimony of Marion Charrier, Rodney Charrier, and Beverly Nickel; and (3) Barber's motion in limine to determine the admissibility into evidence of Barbara Reese's diaries. We address each motion in turn.

 I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

 A motion to dismiss should not be granted unless it "appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 102, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957); see also Beam v. IPCO Corp., 838 F.2d 242, 244 (7th Cir. 1988); Ellsworth v. City of Racine, 774 F.2d 182, 184 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1047, 106 S. Ct. 1265, 89 L. Ed. 2d 574 (1986). We take the "well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true and view them, as well as reasonable inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Balabanos v. North Am. lnvestment Group, Ltd., 708 F. Supp. 1488, 1491 n.1 (N.D. Ill. 1988) (citing Ellsworth).

 II. Background

 Before turning to the details of the contested transaction, a brief introduction to the parties and their interrelationships is in order. In 1972, Ralph Reese, Sr. married Barbara Reese. Both brought previously acquired children to the marriage. Lucille Ruth is the natural daughter of Ralph Reese, Sr. John Ruth is Lucille's husband. Marion Charrier is the natural daughter of Barbara Reese. Rodney Carrier is Marion's husband. Beverly Nickel, a certified nurse's assistant, was employed to attend to the medical needs of Ralph Reese, Sr., from July 1985 until his death on July 25, 1986.

 After the death of Ralph Reese, Sr., Reese engaged Barber on several occasions to draft a number of wills. On October 9, 1987, Reese executed a will that provided that the residual estate would be placed in trust, the income from which would be payable to her daughter, Marion Charrier, for life, and then to her grandson, John Paul Charrier, for life, after which the trust would terminate and the property remaining would be distributed to Ruth or her lineal descendants. On October 30, 1987, Reese executed another will which provided for a specific bequest of $ 65,000 to Ruth and provided that the testamentary trust holding the residual estate would terminate upon the death of Marion Charrier, at which time the trust corpus would be distributed to Ruth or her lineal descendants. Finally, on April 5, 1988, Reese executed yet another will drafted by Barber. This will removes Ruth and her descendants as the beneficiaries of the remainder of the testamentary trust, naming instead Nickel and her descendants.

 From November 18, 1986, Ruth and Reese held a joint tenancy money market account through Harris Trust & Savings Bank in Chicago. The account agreement explicitly states that "if this Account is held in the name of two or more persons, the form of ownership is Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship unless otherwise specified on your Money Market Account signature card." The signature card contains no other specification. All deposits made into the account were derived from funds belonging to Reese. Ruth contends that, at the time the account was established, it was Reese's intention that the money she deposited was to be available to her during her lifetime, should she need it, and that, upon her death, the money would belong to Ruth and her children. Reese died on June 27, 1989 at her home in Largo, Florida. On July 3, 1989, Ruth closed the account, withdrawing $ 251,667.79.

 Ill. Ruth's Amended Counterclaim

 After complete discovery, Ruth amended her counterclaim to allege a single count for breach of fiduciary duty. Her amended counterclaim, now founded on the premise that the will probated in Florida is valid, alleges that Barber breached "a fiduciary duty [owed] to the estate of Barbara Reese and its beneficiaries, including Lucille Ruth, to protect the estate and to insure the distribution of funds therefrom in accordance with the testamentary intent of Barbara Reese." Barber now moves to dismiss the amended counterclaim, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons that follow, we grant Barber's motion.

 As we previously noted in Barber I, Barber possesses a fiduciary duty to distribute Reese's estate in accordance with the terms of her last will and testament. Fla. Stat. Ann. 733.602(1) (West 1989). *fn2" While Ruth fails to specify in her amended complaint the specific acts of Barber which constitute a breach of this duty, an examination of Ruth's response to the motion to dismiss makes clear that Ruth's dissatisfaction with Barber's performance as personal representative stems from the filing of the instant suit. Ruth contends that the prosecution of this action, seeking to retrieve the funds formerly contained in the money market account despite Barber's knowledge of a contrary testamentary intent, amounts to a breach of his fiduciary duty. We disagree.

 Florida law clearly states that a "personal representative shall take all steps reasonably necessary for the management, protection, and preservation of the estate until distribution . . . [including] maintain[ing] an action to recover possession of property." Fla. Stat. Ann. § 733.607 (West Supp. 1991). As such, there is no question that the mere filing of an action to recover controverted funds, without more (i.e. improper or bad faith exercise of power), does not amount to a breach of Barber's fiduciary duty. The facts as pleaded by Ruth are insufficient to support an inference that Barber's action as personal representative was improper or that the commencement of this action was undertaken in bad faith. Indeed, given Reese's failure to make a specific bequest of the money market account, Barber's position that the funds constitute a portion of the residual estate to be distributed according to the explicit and unambiguous terms of the April 5, 1988 will is patently reasonable. Whether Barber ultimately succeeds in his suit is an entirely ...


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