“Tortious Interference with an Inheritance” Fails in Unpublished Decision

By Doug Chalgian on August 3, 2022

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In Biondo v Shellenbarger (click on the name to read the case) Appellants are children cut out by their parents’ wills.  Appellee is the child who received the entire ($5 million) estate.

The procedural history from the trial court goes like this:

Appellee initiates a probate proceeding to have the parents’ wills admitted.  Appellants contest the admission of the wills, arguing undue influence.  Appellants lose, and the wills are admitted.

Appellants then file a separate civil action alleging various legal and equitable claims, including conversion, breach, unjust enrichment, and fraud.  Appellee seeks summary disposition of this case based on the proposition that Appellants have no interest in the estate (as already determined in the probate proceeding) and therefore have no standing to bring this action.  Before the trial court can rule on Appellee’s motion, Appellants move to amend their complaint to include a claim of tortious interference with expected inheritance.

The trial court rules against the Appellants, concluding that as a result of the admission of the wills, Appellants had no interest, and therefore no standing with respect to the claims set forth in their initial complaint.  As to tortious interference, the trial judge makes no finding as to whether Michigan does or does not recognize the tort, but holds that even if such a cause of action is recognized in Michigan, Appellants’ claim fails in this case because in order to establish tortious interference with expected inheritance Appellants would have to establish fraud, duress or undue influence, all of which had (or could have) been at issue in the initial probate proceeding.

In affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals holds that Michigan does not recognize “tortious interference with an expected inheritance” as a cause of action.  Curiously, to get there, the COA cites a variety of unpublished decisions on both sides (some that find it is a cause of action, and others that hold it is not).  And since this case is likewise an unpublished opinion, it appears that the question of whether this tort is or is not recognized in Michigan, remains unsettled.

Vexatious litigation

In the last sentence of the opinion, the COA awards sanctions against Appellants for “vexatious litigation” pursuant to MCR 7.211(C)(8). In a separate opinion, one member of the panel dissents to this aspect of the decision, arguing that the grounds for awarding sanctions for vexatious litigation are not present on these facts, and that the majority failed to adequately state a basis for their decision to grant such relief.  To read the concurrence/dissent click here.



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mm By: Doug Chalgian
Doug Chalgian

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