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Contract Law Supreme Court Opinion

by Roy, Christopher


SC20010 - Browning v. Van Brunt, DuBiago & Co., LLC ("The sole question presented in this appeal is whether the trust beneficiaries are the proper parties to bring an action against third parties on behalf of the trust. The plaintiffs—Ann Browning, Richard Browning, Lance Browning, Karen Guinta, and Jill Milligan—are beneficiaries of a trust, and appeal from the judgment of the trial court dismissing their breach of contract claim against the defendants Dougherty & Company, LLC (Dougherty), the financial advisor for the trust, and Thomas Olander, an employee of Dougherty. Although the parties agree that the general rule is that beneficiaries of a trust lack standing to bring an action against a third party for liability to the trust, they disagree that the general rule applies under the facts of the present case. See 4 Restatement (Third), Trusts, § 107, p. 102 (2012). Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that they fit within an exception that allows beneficiaries to bring an action against third parties if the trustee improperly refuses or neglects to do so. The defendants respond that the plaintiffs do not fit within the exception to the general rule because they failed to demand that the current trustee bring an action and they did not allege in their complaint that the current trustee improperly neglected to sue the defendants. The defendants further argue that, because standing implicates subject matter jurisdiction, they properly raised the issue by way of a motion to dismiss. We conclude that the trial court properly determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claim and, therefore, that the trial court properly granted the motion to dismiss. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.")