Friday, January 11, 2013
C.A.: Man’s Claim Against Former Boyfriend’s Estate Not Time-Barred
By a MetNews Staff Writer
In a case of first impression, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that a man may proceed with a suit against his former boyfriend’s estate, despite a provision of the state’s Probate Code which appears to make such suit time-barred.
Div. Three, acknowledging that its decision left the relationship between conflicting sections of the Probate Code and the Code of Civil Procedure “a bit wibbly wobbly in certain particulars,” unanimously held Wednesday that under the unusual facts of the case, the claimant had one year after his partner’s death in which to file suit, rather than the 90-day period set forth in the Probate Code.
Plaintiff Richard Allen had been in a stable, long-term committed relationship with James Humpert, who died in October 2010. Humpert and Allen never registered as domestic partners or married during the brief period in 2008 in which same-sex couples could legally marry.
Before he died, Allen claimed, Humpert promised Allen he “would be taken care of” should “anything happen” to Humpert. But Humpert died intestate.
Five months later, Allen filed a creditor’s claim against the estate, based on Humpert’s promise that Allen “would be taken care of.”
The following month the estate sent Allen a formal notice of rejection of his claim, and 91 days later, Allen filed suit.
Humpert’s sister, Edith Marlynne Stoddard, the administrator of the estate, demurred, on the ground that the suit was untimely under Probate Code Sec. 9353(a)(1), which gives claimants 90 days from rejection of a claim by the estate to file suit.
Orange Superior Court Commissioner David Hood agreed and dismissed the case.
The panel disagreed, after exercising its discretion to examine an issue not raised at trial. Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 366.3 gives persons who have claims against estates based on promises to make a distribution after death a full year from the date of the decedent’s death to file suit. If Sec. 366.3 governed Allen’s claim, the panel said, Allen’s suit was timely.
But Probate Code Sec. 9353 states that regardless of any other statute of limitations, a claimant against an estate has 90 days after notice of rejection of the claim by the estate to file suit.
Justice William W. Bedsworth, writing for the panel, said that the panel was aware of no previous case in which a court had applied Sec. 366.3 to countermand the competing 90-day statute of limitations in Sec. 9353.
But the jurist reasoned:
“The precise conflict can be resolved for purposes of this case by the well established rule that where statutes are in irreconcilable conflict, a specific and later enacted statute trumps a general and earlier one.”
He noted that Sec. 9353 is a general statute, which applies on its face to all claims, while Sec. 366.3 is a specific statute, applying only to a narrow class of claims. In addition, Sec. 9353 was enacted about a decade earlier than 366.3.
Bedsworth emphasized, however, that the panel was not “trying to articulate a unified theory of the relationship between the Probate Code claim-filing requirements and section 366.3,” but was dealing only with the specific case before it.
“This case involves a claimant who filed a timely claim with the estate… but who did not file a timely suit under section 9353. Since the suit was timely under section 366.3 and section 366.3 trumps section 9353 on the topic of suits, the suit here is timely.”
As examples of cases the ruling was not intended to cover, Bedsworth cited the situation in which a suit could be timely under section 366.3, but there had been no claim made to the estate, or one in which an estate “somehow tries to run out the clock on section 366.3.”
Noting that there may be still be “unexplored circumstances where section 9351 simply cannot be reconciled with section 366.3,” Bedford concluded:
“But those are tomorrow’s cases. Sufficient unto this case are its own complexities. Perhaps the Legislature will make things clearer in the meantime. For now, this suit was timely.”
Presiding Justice William F. Rylaarsdam and Justice Eileen C. Moore concurred in the opinion.
The case is Allen v. Stoddard; 13 S.O.S. 100.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company