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Jeanne S. Reed Trust v. Hutchinson

Superior Court of Maine

June 2, 2017

JEANNE S. REED TRUST; LAWRENCE E. REED as co-trustee and Individually; GEORGE P. REED IV, as co-trustee and individually Plaintiffs,
v.
SALLY HUTCHINSON; JENNIFER REED; SHAUN GIBERSON; ANGELA GIBERSON; NISSA GIBERSON, Defendants

          JUDGMENT

          JUSTICE LANCE E. WALKER MAINE SUPERIOR COURT

         Plaintiffs filed a complaint on June 11, 2015 seeking "an order to quiet title or an Order of partition that requires the sale of real estate . . . ." Entries of default were previously issued against all defendants except for defendant Hutchinson. A bench trial was held on March 3, 2017.

         I. Background

         The subject real property is located in Gray, Maine on Little Sebago Lake. Jeanne S. Reed (hereinafter "Mrs. Reed) acquired the property in 1980 pursuant to two deeds. (PL's Ex. 4.) The deeds each grant the properties to "Jeanne S. Reed, her heirs and assigns forever." (Id.)

         On July 23, 1997, Mrs. Reed executed her Last Will and Testament, which provided in relevant part as follows: "All of the property that I own at my death, . . . and any property that I have the power to dispose of under my Will shall be distributed to the Trustee of the Jeanne S. Reed Trust to be administered and distributed as provided under that Trust." (PL's Ex. 2.) The same date Mrs. Reed executed a trust document and paid a nominal corpus to establish the Jeanne S. Reed Trust (hereinafter "the Trust"). (PL's Ex. 2.) Mrs. Reed's husband, George Reed, III (hereinafter "Mr. Reed"), was named as trustee. (Id.) Her sons, George Reed, IV and Lawrence Reed, were named as successor co-trustees. (Id.) Mrs. Reed died on July 26, 1997.

         Her will was never probated. See 18-A M.R.S. § 3-108 (stating, except for some exceptions that do not apply in the circumstances of this case, there is a three-year statute of limitations for probating a will). Mrs. Reed is still the record owner of the properties. Following her death, Mr. Reed managed the Trust and paid all property taxes and upkeep expenses. (PL's Ex. 5.) Mr. Reed passed away on May 20, 2013. The Cumberland County Probate Court issued an order determining Mrs. Reed's heirs on August 20, 2014. (PL's Ex. 1.)

         This memorandum considers whether the will is sufficient to establish the Trust's title to the properties in light of relevant statutes, case law, and the "joint motion to accept stipulation of settlement" and "stipulation of settlement" between plaintiffs and defendant Hutchinson.

         II. Discussion

         a. Jurisdiction

         In the complaint, the Trust seeks relief pursuant to 14 M.R.S. § 6651.[1] It did not expressly seek relief pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, but this court may treat a quiet title claim as one for declaratory judgment.[2] See Ricciv. Godin, 523 A.2d 589, 591 (Me. 1987) (noting approvingly that the Superior Court assumed 14 M.R.S. §§ 6655-6658 and 14 M.R.S. § 6701 claims in pleadings initiated actions for declaratory judgment); see also 3 Harvey, Maine Civil Practice 419-20 (3d, 2011 ed.). Declaratory judgment actions are not a new cause of action, but rather '"provide a more adequate and flexible remedy in cases where jurisdiction already exists.'" Hodgdon v. Campbell, 411 A.2d 667, 669 (Me. 1980) (quoting CascoBank& Trust Co. v. Johnson, Me., 265 A.2d 306, 307 (1970)).

Section 6651 reads as follows:
A person in possession of real property, claiming an estate of freehold therein or an unexpired term of not less than 10 years, . . . may, if he or those under whom he claims or those claiming under him have been in uninterrupted possession of such property for 4 years or more, bring an action in the Superior Court... in the county ... in which said real property lies, setting forth his estate, stating the source of his title, describing the premises, and averring that an apprehension exists that persons named in the complaint, or persons unknown claiming as heirs, devisees or assigns, or in any other way, by, through or under a person or persons named in the complaint, claim or may claim some right, title or interest in the premises adverse to his said estate; and that such apprehension creates a cloud upon the title and depreciates the market value of the property; and praying that such persons be summoned to show cause why they should not bring an action to try their title to the described premises. . ..

§ 6651 (2015). The Superior Court also enjoys concurrent jurisdiction with the Probate Court over "all proceedings in this State involving a trust." 18-B M.R.S. § 203; see also 18-B M.R.S. ยง 201(1), (3) (2015) ("(1) The court may intervene in the administration of a trust to the extent its jurisdiction is invoked by an interested person or as provided by law. ... (3) A judicial proceeding involving a trust may relate to any ...


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