Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Estate of Cooney

Supreme Court of Montana

December 24, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN P. COONEY, II, Deceased.

          Submitted on Briefs: November 6, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Fourteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Wheatland, Cause No. DP 15-04 Honorable Randal I. Spaulding, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: Rebecca R. Swandal, Swandal Law, PLLC, Livingston, Montana

          For Appellee: Brandon JT Hoskins, Jeff G. Sorenson, Moulton Bellingham PC, Billings, Montana

          OPINION

          BETH BAKER JUSTICE

         ¶1 John Cooney II died in 2015, devising his property by will to his son John Cooney III. John II's daughters moved to invalidate parts of his will in the probate proceedings, claiming that the will contravened a prior marital property settlement agreement between John II and his ex-wife. In that agreement, incorporated into John II's dissolution decree, he agreed to leave real property he owned to all of his children "in equal shares to share and share alike." The District Court denied the daughters' motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and this appeal followed. We affirm for the reason that their claim is not properly brought in the probate proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         ¶2 John II and his ex-wife, Loriann Cooney, divorced in 1980. They entered into a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement ("Separation Agreement"), in which they agreed that the remainder of the ranch property[1] that John II owned at the time of his death would be distributed to their daughters, Jonnie and Melissa, "and any other children hereinafter born to [John II], in equal shares to share and share alike." The dissolution court incorporated the Separation Agreement into the final decree. John II later had two more children, Jill and John III. John Cooney II died on April 27, 2015. His final written will, executed in 2011, left all of his real property to John III.

         ¶3 John II's will was admitted to formal probate in the Fourteenth Judicial District Court, Wheatland County. Appellants Jonnie, Melissa, and Jill ("Daughters") filed a motion to invalidate portions of the will that left the property entirely to John III, arguing that those portions contravened the Separation Agreement, resulting in fraud on the court. The District Court denied their motion, concluding that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over equitable claims for relief and claims at law while sitting in probate. The Daughters appeal, asserting that the court erred when it determined that the Daughters could not enforce the Separation Agreement in the probate proceeding. They argue that the probate court had subject matter jurisdiction to administer the estate in accordance with the Separation Agreement because it directly involves the estate's property, and the probate court has jurisdiction to determine that they were the rightful heirs and successors to the property by virtue of the Separation Agreement.

         STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶4 Whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review for correctness. Haugen v. Haugen, 2008 MT 304, ¶ 8, 346 Mont. 1, 192 P.3d 1132. Formal probate proceedings are subject to the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure. In re Estate of Glennie, 2011 MT 291, ¶ 10, 362 Mont. 508, 265 P.3d 654; § 72-1-207, MCA. The parties agree that the District Court's denial of the Daughters' motion is analogous to a dismissal for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. We accordingly apply our standard of review for a motion to dismiss under M. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Glennie, ¶ 10 (citing McKinnon v. W. Sugar Coop. Corp., 2010 MT 24, ¶ 12, 355 Mont. 120, 225 P.3d 1221). A district court's determination that a complaint failed to state a claim is a conclusion of law that we review for correctness. Glennie, ¶ 11 (citing McKinnon, ¶ 12).

         DISCUSSION

         ¶5 1. Did the District Court err when it determined it did not have subject matter jurisdiction to enforce the Separation Agreement while sitting in probate?

         ¶6 A district court sitting in probate has limited, not general, jurisdiction as ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.