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Betts v. Gunlikson

Supreme Court of Montana

August 6, 2019

DAVID W. BETTS, individually and through his conservator, the Western Montana Chapter for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, and JENNIFER BETTS and DAVID W. BETTS II, as Co-Trustees of the David William Betts Trust, Plaintiffs and Appellees,
v.
REED J. GUNLIKSON, individually and as former Trustee of the David William Betts Trust and DOES 1-10, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: June 12, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, In and For the County of Missoula, Cause No. DV-18-1236 Honorable Leslie Halligan, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Mark S. Williams, Tyler C. Smith, Williams Law Firm, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee David W. Betts: William E. McCarthy, Worden Thane P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee Jennifer Betts: Julie R. Sirrs, Boone Karlberg P.C., Missoula, Montana

          For Appellee David W. Betts II: Michael L. Hayes, Hays & Hayes, PLLP, Hamilton, Montana

          OPINION

          MIKE McGRATH CHIEF JUSTICE

         ¶1 Reed Gunlikson appeals from a Fourth Judicial District Court order denying his Motion to Transfer Venue. We affirm.

         ¶2 We address the following issue on appeal:

Whether the District Court erred when it held that the venue provisions of the Montana Uniform Trust Code controlled.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 David W. Betts is the trustor and sole current beneficiary of the David William Betts Trust (Trust). As alleged in the complaint, in 2010, David's mental and physical condition began to deteriorate, and he sought to appoint a successor trustee. Following a meeting between David's children, his attorney, and his accountant, Reed Gunlikson, David decided to resign and appoint Gunlikson as successor trustee. David officially resigned on January 1, 2011. In 2017, two of David's children, Jennifer Betts and David W. Betts II (David II), who are remainder beneficiaries, grew concerned with Gunlikson's management of the Trust. Jennifer and David II decided to remove Gunlikson and appoint a successor trustee, as allowed under the terms of the Trust. They chose the Western Montana Chapter for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, a nonprofit entity located in Missoula, Montana, and Jennifer filed a petition in Missoula County requesting that the court enforce the nonprofit's appointment.

         ¶4 Gunlikson opposed his removal and challenged venue, arguing that because the Trust's principal place of administration was located in Flathead County, the matter should be litigated there. The District Court held Missoula County was the proper venue, considering that county was where the Trust's principal place of administration would be located once Gunlikson transferred the Trust's assets. Following the District Court's order, Gunlikson agreed to step down as trustee.

         ¶5 After reviewing Gunlikson's actions during his time as trustee, Jennifer and David II were appointed as co-trustees for the limited purpose of pursuing a return of funds from Gunlikson on behalf of the Trust. Following their appointment, the Trust petitioned the court, within the same initial trust proceeding, for an order compelling Gunlikson to compensate the Trust for damages resulting from his alleged tortious conduct. The court denied the Trust's request, holding that because the petition alleged several tort claims for breach of fiduciary duty against the Trust's former trustee, the claims could only be pursued if Jennifer and David II were to commence a separate civil action against Gunlikson. The court clarified, "[b]ecause the Petition is making tort claims against the former Trustee-who now sits in the ...


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