MARIA J. DERBLOM, EXECUTRIX (ESTATE OF FRED H. RETTICH), et al. v. ARCHDIOCESE OF HARTFORD, SC 20584

Judicial District of New Haven 

 

      Standing; Wills; Charitable Gifts and Trusts; Whether Appellate Court Correctly Concluded Plaintiffs, as Putative Beneficiaries of Testamentary Bequest, Did Not Have Standing to Enforce Terms of Bequest Under "Special Interest" Exception to Rule Giving State's Attorney General Exclusive Enforcement Authority.  In 2012, the decedent, Fred H. Rettich, executed a will that contained a residuary clause in favor of Our Lady of Mercy School (OLM), or its successor.  Beginning in 2004, OLM had become an archdiocesan school under the auspices of the defendant, the Archdiocese of Hartford.  After Rettich died in 2013, the residuary of his estate, approximately $4.7 million, was distributed to OLM in accordance with his will.  In 2018, the defendant announced that it would be closing OLM, which was located in Madison, and establishing a new school in Branford.  The parents of some of the students attending OLM then formed Our Lady of Mercy School of Madison, Inc. (OLM Corp.), a corporation established to operate a private school purporting to be the successor to OLM.  The plaintiffs, Maria J. Derblom, the executrix of Rettich's estate, several former students of OLM, the students’ parents, and OLM Corp., brought this action against the defendant, alleging that the residuary clause in Rettich’s will created a constructive trust for the benefit of the plaintiffs and that the defendant had a duty to convey the funds to OLM Corp., as successor to OLM, or to return the funds to Rettich’s estate for distribution to his heirs. The defendant moved to dismiss the action on the ground that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring an action to enforce the charitable gift.  The trial court found that Rettich's will made a gift of his residual estate to OLM and the "special interest" exception to the rule giving exclusive authority to bring an action to protect any gifts, legacies or devises intended for public or charitable purposes to the state's attorney general was inapplicable to confer standing to the plaintiffs.  Thus, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss.  The plaintiffs appealed, and the Appellate Court (203 Conn. App. 197) affirmed the trial court's judgment.  The Appellate Court determined that the trial court did not err in construing Rettich's bequest as an absolute or outright gift to OLM instead of an endowment that created a charitable trust benefitting the plaintiffs.  The Appellate Court also determined that the "special interest" exception has been applied narrowly only in cases involving charitable trusts, not charitable gifts and, because the court had determined that Rettich's bequest constituted an outright gift, it concluded that the "special interest" exception was inapplicable to confer standing to the plaintiffs and affirmed the judgment of dismissal.  The plaintiffs were granted certification to appeal and the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the plaintiffs, as putative beneficiaries of a testamentary bequest, did not have standing to enforce the terms of that bequest under the "special interest" exception to the rule giving the state's attorney general exclusive enforcement authority.