T&E Litigation Update – Hoffman v. University of Massachusetts Amherst, Kostick v. Fort Hill Community, and Krawczyk v. Beng

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Mark E. Swirbalus, Esq., Day Pitney LLP

The T&E Litigation Update is a recurring column summarizing recent trusts and estates case law. If you have question about this update or about T&E litigation generally, please feel free to e-mail the author by clicking on his name above.

Hoffman v. University of Massachusetts Amherst

In Hoffman v. University of Massachusetts Amherst, Case No. 10-P-1251, 2011 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 731 (June 2, 2011), a decision issued pursuant to Rule 1:28, the Appeals Court affirmed an application for cy pres with respect to a charitable trust.

The trust provides for scholarships to boys of two particular Roman Catholic parishes to study forestry at Paul Smith’s College or the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The trustee’s application for cy pres to expand utilization of the trust was granted, with the consent of the Attorney General, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield subsequently filed a motion to intervene pursuant to Rule 24 and a motion for relief from the judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6).

The Roman Catholic Bishop’s motion to intervene was denied. The Court explained that it is the exclusive function of the Attorney General to correct abuses in the administration of a public charity by the institution of proper proceedings, and to protect the public interests by proceeding as those interests may require. A party other than the Attorney General would have standing only if that party has an individual interest in the charitable organization distinct from the general public. The Court held that although the Roman Catholic Bishop operates the two parishes in question, the Roman Catholic Bishop is not a legal beneficiary of the trust. The Catholic males from the two parishes in question who would study forestry at either Paul Smith’s College or UMass Amherst are the legal beneficiaries. Therefore, the Roman Catholic Bishop lacked standing to intervene.

Even if the Roman Catholic Bishop were to have standing, it would not be entitled to relief from the judgment, because such relief would not be necessary to accomplish some “substantial justice.” The exact nature of the cy pres relief granted by the trial court is difficult to discern from the summary decision, but it seems to have included an ability to benefit Catholic students from outside of the two parishes in question, if necessary. In any event, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting this relief.

Finally, the Court held that the Roman Catholic Bishop was not entitled to receive notice of the cy pres proceedings because the applicable statute, G.L. c. 214, § 108, requires that notice in a cy pres action be given only to heirs and other takers in default should the charitable gift fail. The Roman Catholic Bishop is neither.

Kostick v. Fort Hill Community

In Kostick v. Fort Hill Community, Case No. 10-P-1294, 2011 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 697 (May 23, 2011), a decision issued pursuant to Rule 1:28, the Appeals Court addressed, among other questions, when the statute of limitations begins to run on a breach of trust or breach of fiduciary duty claim.

Fort Hill Community is a commune that was established in the 1960s. Fort Hill has engaged in real estate development, and the proceeds from the real estate development are held in a trust that names all Fort Hill members as equal beneficiaries. The declaration of trust provides that the trustees are to pay net income to the beneficiaries as the trustees deem advisable, and that each Fort Hill member is to remain a beneficiary unless the member ceases living with the other Fort Hill members or is deprived of membership by a four-fifths vote of the trustees. A person who ceases to be a member through either of these two mechanisms is not entitled to a share of the trust.

Plaintiff John Kostick was a member of Fort Hill, but he stopped living in Fort Hill in 1993. He alleges that he left the commune involuntarily and without a four-fifths vote of the trustees to expel him.

In 2007 or 2008, other members of Fort Hill received distributions from the trust. In November 2008, Kostick made a demand for his beneficial interest, which was rejected, and so he filed suit in superior court in February 2009. In his complaint, Kostick asserted claims for breach of trust, breach of fiduciary duty, an accounting, and a declaratory judgment.

The trustees moved to dismiss the complaint, and the court allowed their motion. Between the time of the court’s decision and entry of judgment, Kostick moved to amend his complaint. The court then entered judgment on the motion to dismiss and denied Kostick’s motion to amend. In denying the motion to amend, the court reasoned that Kostick’s claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, G.L. c. 260 § 2A, because the three-year limitations period began running on Kostick’s claims when he was ejected from Fort Hill many years earlier.

The Appeals Court reversed and remanded. On the statute of limitations question, the Court explained that a cause of action for breach of trust or breach of fiduciary duty does not accrue until the trustee repudiates the trust and the beneficiary has actual knowledge of the repudiation. Here, based on the facts alleged in the complaint, which must be deemed to be true, the trustees did not repudiate the trust until they rejected Kostick’s demand for his beneficial interest in November 2008, rather than when he alleges that he involuntarily left the commune without a four-fifths vote of the trustees, and thus his claims were not time-barred.

Krawczyk v. Beng

In Krawczyk v. Beng, Case No. 10-P-1443, 2011 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 702 (May 24, 2011), another decision issued pursuant to Rule 1:28, the Appeals Court affirmed the appointment of a receiver to oversee and manage a parcel of property owned in trust. The Court explained that a receiver can be appointed within the discretion of the court to prevent waste or loss and conserve the assets in question for the benefit of all parties with an interest in the assets. Here, the Court held that the appointment of a receiver was appropriate as a “prophylactic measure to protect assets,” and clearly within the motion judge’s discretion, because of the discord between the parties and the trustee’s demonstrated inability to manage and protect the trust property.