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Ruel v. Dalesandro

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

July 9, 2019

ROBERT E. RUEL, III, JANINE RUEL JUNEAU, KRISTEN RUEL TRICHE, AND JAMES S. RUEL, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS TRUSTEE OF THE SALLY H.P. RUEL INTER VIVOS REVOCABLE TRUST
v.
SALLY PULVER DALESANDRO

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 727-836, DIVISION "K" HONORABLE ELLEN SHIRER KOVACH, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE, ROBERT E. RUEL, III, JANINE RUEL JUNEAU, AND KRISTEN RUEL TRICHE David P. Salley Stephannie McKinney Sharon I. Corona Davidson S. Ehle, III

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, SALLY RUEL DALESANDRO Richard D. Mere

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, JAMES SCOTT RUEL E. Phelps Gay P. Ryan Plummer

          Panel composed of Judges Jude G. Gravois, Stephen J. Windhorst, and Hans J. Liljeberg

          HANS J. LILJEBERG JUDGE

         Defendant/appellant, Sally Pulver Dalesandro, seeks review of two judgments entered by the trial court on October 30, 2017 and November 3, 2017, which granted in part and denied in part motions for partial summary judgment filed by plaintiffs/appellees, Robert E. Ruel, III, Janine Ruel Juneau, Kristen Ruel Triche and James S. Ruel (hereinafter collectively referred to as "plaintiffs"). Ms. Dalesandro seeks review of the portions of those judgments which dismissed her claims for damages and attorney's fees alleged against plaintiffs in her reconventional demand filed on October 11, 2016. For reasons stated more fully below, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The facts at issue in this matter are discussed extensively in the companion opinion issued by this Court in Robert E. Ruel, et. al. v. Sally Pulver Dalesandro, Case No. 18-CA-224 (La.App. 5 Cir. 7/9/19). In the companion opinion, this Court reversed the trial court's judgment granting Ms. Dalesandro's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, reinstated the verdicts entered in favor of plaintiffs by the jury and remanded the matter to the trial court. In the present matter, Ms. Dalesandro filed a separate appeal seeking review of two judgments entered earlier in the proceedings, which granted motions for partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs and dismissed most of the claims alleged in her reconventional demand for damages and attorney's fees filed against plaintiffs.

         This matter involves a dispute between plaintiffs and Ms. Dalesandro arising from a revocable trust - the Sally H.P. Ruel Inter Vivos Revocable Trust - established on February 25, 1994 (the "Trust"). At the time of the creation of the Trust, Ms. Dalesandro was recently married to Dr. Robert E. Ruel, Jr. Plaintiffs are Dr. Ruel's children from a prior marriage. Ms. Dalesandro was the settlor who created the Trust. The Trust named plaintiffs as the principal beneficiaries and their father, Dr. Ruel, as the income beneficiary. Plaintiff, Robert E. Ruel, III, was initially designated as the trustee. In 2002, James Scott Ruel ("Scott Ruel") was substituted as trustee.

         Dr. Ruel died on October 10, 2011. Shortly after his death, Bruce Miller, the attorney who drafted the Trust and who was appointed therein to represent the trustee, contacted Scott Ruel about executing documents to revoke the Trust and transfer title to the immovable property held by the Trust to Ms. Dalesandro. Plaintiffs contend that on January 19, 2012, based on Mr. Miller's representations that Ms. Dalesandro still had the right to revoke the Trust, Ms. Dalesandro and Scott Ruel executed documents that revoked the Trust and transferred title to four pieces of immovable property to Ms. Dalesandro, including a condominium in Redstick Lofts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and property located at 450 Hesper Avenue in Metairie, Louisiana.

         Ms. Dalesandro subsequently sold the condominium in Redstick Lofts to a third party, Mary Kilp Miles, and in May 2013, Ms. Dalesandro attempted to sell the property located on Hesper Avenue. However, an attorney researching the title for this property determined the sale could not proceed due to title issues created by the terms of the Trust ‒ specifically that the Trust terminated at Dr. Ruel's death and that plaintiffs obtained the ownership rights in the property at that point. In response, Bruce Miller contacted plaintiffs and requested that they execute documents that would serve to quiet title to the property in favor of Ms. Dalesandro.

         Plaintiffs allege that at that point, they realized that pursuant to Section 2.1 of the Trust cited below, the Trust terminated at the time of their father's death:

Term. Except as provided in Section 1.3, this trust shall terminate as to each principal beneficiary upon the death of the Settlor's husband or when the beneficiary ...

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