Friday, July 18, 2008

Summary 2008 WY 80

Summary of Decision issued July 14, 2008

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Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court

Case Name: Lasen v. Anderson

Citation: 2008 WY 80

Docket Number: S-07-0138

Appeal from the District Court of Goshen County, Honorable John C. Brooks, Judge

Representing Appellant (Plaintiffs): Jerry M. Smith of Torrington, Wyoming.

Representing Appellee (Defendant): Howard P. Olsen Jr. of Simmons Olsen Law Firm, Scottsbluff, Nebraska

Date of Decision: July 14, 2008

Facts: Robert Anderson was the father of Barbara (Anderson) Lasen and Samuel L. Anderson. Samuel predeceased his father, dying in April of 1998. Robert passed away in February of 2003 after living most of his adult life in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Prior to both men passing, Robert executed a deed in 1995 conveying a farm in Goshen County, Wyoming, to his children, Barbara and Samuel. After Samuel died, Robert executed another deed on July 2, 1998, conveying the same Goshen County farm to Barbara and her husband Paul (the Lasens). Disputing the validity of the new deed, in May of 1999 Samuel's children Tricia Rohloff and Lee Anderson filed a Notice of Execution and Delivery of Warranty Deed with the Goshen County Clerk asserting an interest in the farm based on the first deed executed in 1995. After Robert died, the 1998 deed was recorded on March 3, 2003, by the Lasens. And although the Lasens' complaint to quiet title asserted their rights to the Goshen County farm based upon the 1998 deed, Samuel's children argued that the 1995 deed was executed, delivered, accepted, and irrevocable - giving no effect to the 1998 deed. Samuel's children further asserted that their grandfather Robert was not competent to execute the 1998 deed, and that the 1998 deed was procured through undue influence on Robert by the Lasens. On July 11, 2005, the Lasens filed the complaint at issue in the instant case, asking the district court to quiet title in the Goshen County farm owned by Robert before he passed away. Named as defendants in the complaint, Tricia Rohloff and Lee Anderson responded and alleged numerous affirmative defenses. On March 21, 2006, First National Bank of Fort Collins, Colorado, as Trustee of the Anderson Family Irrevocable Trust No. 1 dated August 14, 1997, intervened as an additional defendant, claiming an interest in the Goshen County farm on behalf of the estate of Samuel Anderson. After a bench trial, the district court entered an Order Denying Plaintiffs' Complaint to Quiet Title and Granting Intervenor's Counterclaim to Quiet Title.

Issues: Whether the findings of the District Court are clearly erroneous as a matter of law and unsupported by the evidence. Whether the District Court erred in determining that the Plaintiffs exercised undue influence to gain execution of a 1998 Deed to the property. Whether the District Court erred in determining a 1995 Deed was properly delivered. Whether the District Court erred by not considering whether Defendants had unclean hands.

Holdings: In order to prevail on a claim of undue influence, the following must be proven: 1) opportunity to control; 2) a condition permitting subversion; and 3) activity on the part of the person charged. Upon review, the facts in the instant case amount to one of the clearest cases of undue influence the court has seen To support its conclusions, the district court noted that even before Samuel Anderson's funeral, the Lasens were making appointments with attorneys to assure that Robert Anderson's will was changed. The substantive changes to that will all but disinherited Samuel Anderson's children, gave most of the estate to Barbara Lasen, and ultimately Paul Lasen if he survived Barbara. The court also declared it "apparent" that by 1998, Robert's mental health was "seriously compromised," noting that one day Barbara took her father to the doctor to discuss his deteriorating mental status, and the very next day took him to an attorney to execute a new will and a new deed to the Goshen County farm, which deed was prepared by Mr. Lasen. The district court's findings do not stop there. The court observes in its decision letter that the Lasens took Robert to a nursing home with orders to not resuscitate him in the event of an emergency. Also, in violation of a court-ordered conservatorship, the Lasens used their power-of-attorney to transfer large sums of money from Robert to themselves, to buy a car and an airplane, and to sell Robert's Arizona townhouse for their own profit. The district court ultimately found that the Lasens clearly had an opportunity to control Robert Anderson. The activities of the Lasens after Samuel Anderson's death were continually directed towards causing Robert Anderson to change his will, his power-of-attorney, and the deed in question. Seeing no facts to the contrary, the district court is affirmed.

To effect a conveyance transferring title, a deed must be both executed and delivered. At the time of the delivery the grantor's intent is of primary and controlling importance. The Lasens argue that the deed was never delivered exactly as Robert instructed and that there is a "total lack of evidence of delivery." Undeniably, the deed was accepted by Samuel for filing upon his father's death rather than being given to Paul Lasen to hold in escrow until Robert's death as were the exact instructions. However, as the district court points out, the Lasens were "ready and willing to accept any and all of Robert Anderson's assets at any time." The district court found a "clear, irrevocable transfer" of the Goshen County property by Robert Anderson. The fact that a second deed was written and executed by the Lasens in 1998 does not obviate the first deed that was both executed and delivered.

Finally, the Lasens argue that Samuel Anderson's children come before this Court with unclean hands, alleging first that Samuel's children refused to give Robert his papers, files, and other property when requested, and second that Samuel embezzled funds from another trust, and from Barbara Lasen, and that the existence of the 1995 deed and escrow letter was concealed throughout the legal proceedings. This argument fails on appeal as it appears to be a "red herring" argument made by the Lasens in a last ditch effort to resurrect this case in their favor. Furthermore, the Lasens have failed to support what argument they make with citation to or analysis of pertinent legal authority.

The district court's Order Denying Plaintiff's Complaint to Quiet Title and Granting Intervenor's Counterclaim to Quiet Title is affirmed.

J. Hill delivered the opinion for the court.

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