Fifth District affirms Harrison over trust administration ruling

By Bethany Krajelis | Mar 1, 2013

Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison had jurisdiction and acted within his discretion when he denied a motion to vacate a series of orders over the administration of a trust, an appeals panel held.

In an unpublished order filed Thursday, the Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed Harrison’s decision to deny Marian Beyer’s motion to vacate his orders or in the alternative, for leave to file a counterclaim and litigate her request to construe the trust.

Justice Richard Goldenhersh delivered the court’s order, which referred to some of Beyer’s arguments as “unconvincing” and “unfounded.” Justices Stephen Spomer and James Wexstten concurred.

The issue before the court stemmed from a petition filed by the Bank of Edwardsville regarding the administration of the Marian L. Beyer Trust.

Beyer’s mother, Emma, who died in 2004, created the trust in her will. It bequeathed more than seven acres of residential real estate in St. Jacob to her daughter and put $500,000 into the Marian L. Beyer Trust.

The Bank of Edwardsville became the trustee with the will calling for it to pay Beyer “such income and principal from the trust as the trustee from time to time believes desirable for the comfortable maintenance, medical care and welfare.”

In addition, Emma’s will provided that upon her daughter’s death, the trustee would distribute the remaining assets to “my blood descendants then living, or if none, to the University of Illinois Foundation.”

In June 2009, according to the panel’s order, the Bank of Edwardsville “filed a petition for inspections, appraisals, and court direction” that named Beyer and the University of Illinois Foundation as defendants.

The bank claimed that Beyer requested funds from the trust to pay for roof repairs and building improvements, but failed to respond to requests seeking permission to inspect the property, something Beyer denied in her answer to the petition.

The bank then filed another petition for direction from the court, alleging that the buildings Beyer wanted money to improve “were so dilapidated that the costs of repair were unreasonable,” the order states.

Beyer brought a counterclaim requesting the repairs and in the months that followed, Harrison, according to the appellate court, entered orders “to repair the roof, install gutters, remove dead trees, clean up damage caused by raccoons, and pay a portion of” Beyer’s attorney fees.

After retaining new counsel, Beyer in September 2011 filed a motion to vacate all of Harrison’s prior orders as “void ab initio” or in the alternative, for leave to file an amended counterclaim and litigate her request to construe the trust.

Beyer claimed that Harrison’s prior orders were void because parties she alleged were necessary– four surviving nephews and nieces of her late mother – were not named in the petition and the University of Illinois Foundation was not served.

She argued that the expenditure of funds from the trust prejudiced the non-joined individuals and opened her up to re-litigation. Harrison’s alleged failure to join these parties, Beyer asserted, deprived him of jurisdiction and rendered his prior orders void.

“Marian's assertions are unfounded,” Goldenhersh wrote for the appeals panel. “Regardless of how the Foundation and Emma’s kin are categorized, their absence did not deprive the court of jurisdiction nor render the court’s orders void.”

Goldenhersh explained that “Illinois has long recognized that the failure to join an indispensable party may subject a judgment to collateral attack by that party, but does not deprive a court of jurisdiction over a party properly before it.”

Pointing to Fourth District Appellate Court’s 1996 decision in In re Thorp, the appeals panel wrote that determining whether the failure to join a party should render prior orders void “involves considerations of equity and judicial economy.”

The court in Thorp held that even though the children of a predeceased will beneficiary were not named and were indispensable parties to a will construction suit, the court’s orders didn’t need to be set aside because joinder is not a jurisdictional matter.

On appeal, Beyer tried to distinguish Thorp because it dealt with a final order whereas her case came before the appellate court on an interlocutory appeal. Goldenhersh wrote that “this distinction is without substance.”

“Equity and judicial economy demanded the denial of Marian’s motion,” the appeals panel held.

In regards to Beyer’s argument that the University of Illinois Foundation was not properly served, Goldenhersh wrote that “the Foundation’ awareness of the prior proceedings belies any claim that its absence in the proceedings was inequitable.”

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