`

Citing evidence error, COA remands family farm dispute

June 18, 2019

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the denial of two siblings’ motion for summary judgment against their brother in a family trust case, finding that the trial court erred by considering evidence that had not been designated.

After William Zartman, Jr. and Marilyn Zartman died, their son, William G. Zartman, III, transferred to himself one-quarter of the family farm that was held by his mother’s trust. He had been transferred another quarter of the farm from his father’s estate years before, while the remaining half of the farm was transferred to William III before their deaths.

William III’s siblings, Paul and Brenda, sued him in 2016, seeking to set aside his conveyance to himself of the one-quarter interest in the farm held by Marilyn’s trust and to recover lost income from the land. The trial court denied their motion for summary judgment, finding that the content of Marilyn’s trust documents was required to be determined by a jury.

A jury later returned a favorable verdict for William III and his siblings appealed, asserting the trial court erred in its application of Evidence Rule 1008.

The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that the Miami Circuit Court did err in its application of Evidence Rule 1008 in Paul Zartman and Brenda Cameron, Individually; et al. v. William G. Zartman, III, Individually and as Successor Co-Trustee of the Marilyn M. Zartman Revocable Trust; Kim Zartman; et al., 18A-PL-1071. https://www.in.gov/judiciary/opinions/pdf/06181901rts.pdf

Noting that the primary trouble of the case stemmed from both parties’ lack of documentation of a complete copy of Marilyn’s trust and amendment, Paul and Brenda argued the conveyance was invalid because the deed conveying the property should have been executed by both co-trustees — William III and Brenda — but instead was executed solely by William III.

Citing Coltec Industries Inc. v. Zurich Insurance Company, No. 99 C 1087, 2002 WL 31185789 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2002) in its decision, the appellate panel noted that in granting summary judgement for Coltec, the court determined that the certificates of insurance confirmed the terms of the missing policies and that Zurich offered no evidence to undermine the probative value of the certificates.

“Similarly here, Paul and Brenda presented evidence in the form of sworn statements of both Paul and William III that the First Amendment to Marilyn’s trust was identical to that of William Jr., and William III offers no evidence to dispute this,” Senior Judge Randall T. Shepard wrote for the panel.

“Here, the trial court misconstrued its role in determining the contents of Marilyn’s trust for purposes of deciding summary judgment, and it erred by taking into account evidence that had not been designated (i.e., a deposition taken of Paul that was in the court’s file),” the panel concluded.

It thus reversed and remanded for the trial court to reconsider its ruling on summary judgment.

ADVERTISEMENT

Recent Articles by Katie Stancombe