In the Matter of Restatement of Declaration of Trust Creating the Survivor's Trust Created Under the Ravet Family Trust Dated February 9, 2012,
Submitted: May 8, 2014
Harold W. T. Purnell, II David W. Carickhoff, Jr. Archer & Greiner, P.C.
SAM GLASSCOCK III, VICE CHANCELLOR
This Letter Opinion addresses the Petitioner's outstanding Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment or, in the Alternative, to Reconsider the Judgment, or, in the Alternative, for Relief from Judgment. The judgment in question is my bench decision of January 29, 2014, in which I found that the Petitioner's claims are time-barred. The Petitioner in this action is the son of Shirley Ravet, settlor of the Restatement of Declaration of Trust Creating the Survivor's Trust Created Under the Ravet Family Trust Dated February 9, 2012 (the "Trust"). He brings this action to contest the validity of the Trust on the basis that it was the product of his sisters' exercise of undue influence over their mother, the settlor. On January 29, 2014, the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the limited issue of whether the Petitioner had been given written notice of the Trust by March 27, 2012, the last day on which such notice would effectively time-bar this action pursuant to 12 Del. C. § 3546, Delaware's pre-mortem validation statute. That Section provides:
(a) A judicial proceeding to contest whether a revocable trust or any amendment thereto, or an irrevocable trust was validly created may not be initiated later than the first to occur of:
(1) One hundred twenty days after the date that the trustee notified in writing the person who is contesting the trust of the trust's existence, of the trustee's name and address, of whether such person is a beneficiary, and of the time allowed under this section for initiating a judicial proceeding to contest the trust provided, however, that no trustee shall have any liability under the governing instrument or to any third party or otherwise for failure to provide any such written notice. For purposes of this paragraph, notice shall have been given when received by the person to whom the notice was given and, absent evidence to the contrary, it shall be presumed that delivery to the last known address of such person constitutes receipt by such person.
At that hearing, the parties disputed the meaning of the italicized language above: the Respondent contended that, absent evidence demonstrating that written notice was not delivered to the Petitioner's last known address, delivery of that notice was effective to trigger a presumption of receipt, while the Petitioner argued that "absent evidence to the contrary" refers to any evidence—including the Petitioner's own self-serving testimony—indicating that he had not actually received the notice. If the statutory language refers to mailing notice to the last known address, it is unquestionable that the Respondent is entitled to the statutory presumption of receipt; if it refers to receipt itself, my decision must turn on a review of the "evidence to the contrary" of receipt.
Evidence presented at the January 29 hearing included testimony from Daniel Hayward, counsel for the Trust's co-trustees, indicating that written notices were mailed to the Petitioner's last known address and P.O. Box by first class mail on February 23, 2012; that notices were mailed to the Petitioner's last known address and P.O. Box by certified mail on the same day, February 23, 2012, but that, after delivery was twice attempted and two package slips left, those letters were returned to Hayward; and that a Federal Express package containing notice of the Trust was delivered to the Petitioner's home address on March 27, 2012. At the conclusion of the hearing, I issued a bench ruling, in which I explained:
So the question is, given the fact that there was first class mail that did not come back, sent to the correct address, and that there were more than 30 days for that to have been delivered sufficient to toll this suit, whether I should find that there has been delivery to the last known address under the statute. It seems clear to me that the evidence is overwhelming here that there was delivery during that time, prior to March 28. Why do I say that? Because the only evidence that that wasn't delivered is the testimony of the Petitioner here. He obviously has an interest in this matter, but that doesn't necessarily make his testimony less than credible. However, to believe him, I would have to believe that the first class mail to his home went missing; the notice of certified mail to his home went missing; the first class mail sent to his post office box went missing; the notice of certified mail to his post office box went missing; two more notices of certified mail, one to his home and one to the post office box, went missing; all these things went missing. And yet the certified mail obviously went through because we have the returns. So it seems incredible to me that all of these things can have gone missing, at least three of them in a post office box to which no one but the Petitioner had access, and that they simply disappeared. More than that, he testified that the Fed Ex, which we know was delivered to his house on the 27th, also went missing. I don't find that to be "evidence to the contrary of delivery, " assuming that phrase modifies the delivery requirement [rather than the requirement that notice be sent to the "last known address"], because it's simply not credible evidence. It's absolutely not credible to me. . . . But in any event, I find no credible evidence that the first class mail was not delivered to this residence, to the extent that modifier applies. To the extent the modifier doesn't apply, I simply make a positive finding that given the two first class mailings and the two contemporaneous certified mailings, which we clearly know reached his two addresses, that it is extremely likely that delivery was made before the 27th of March.
On February 7, 2014, the Petitioner filed a Motion to Open Judgment to Allow Ruling on Motion in Limine and to Alter or Amend Judgment or, in the Alternative, to Reconsider the Judgment. On March 17, the Petitioner moved to amend that Motion to include a motion for relief from judgment, on the basis that:
While preparing a letter to trustees of the various trusts involved in this action and actions pending in California, on March 3, 2014, Petitioner discovered first class mail envelopes from counsel for the Co-trustees—one envelope addressed to his residence and one envelope addressed to his P.O. Box. The postage stamp on each envelope indicates that it was mailed on March 26, 2012—more than a month after counsel for the Co-trustees, Mr. Hayward, testified that he had sent such first class mailings. Upon opening the envelopes, Petitioner found in each of the two envelopes . . . an original cover letter signed and dated February 15, 2012 (with original signatures in blue ink) . . . .
The Petitioner contends that the March 3 first class mailings constitute newly discovered evidence justifying relief from my January 29 ruling.
On May 8, 2014, I heard oral argument on all pending motions in this action. After argument, I issued a bench ruling denying the Petitioner's Motion to Open Judgment to Allow Ruling on Motion in Limine. This Letter Opinion addresses the Petitioner's pending Motion ...