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Cellers v. Adami

September 29, 2009

NORA BELLE CELLERS, APPELLANT (DEFENDANT),
v.
STEVEN M. ADAMI, SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE OF THE ALBERT STEWART CELLERS TRUST, DATED JULY 21, 2000, APPELLEE (PLAINTIFF).
STEVEN M. ADAMI, SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE OF THE ALBERT STEWART CELLERS TRUST, DATED JULY 21, 2000, APPELLANT (PLAINTIFF),
v.
NORA BELLE CELLERS, APPELLEE (DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Johnson County The Honorable John G. Fenn, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, Justice.

Before VOIGT, C.J., and GOLDEN, HILL, KITE, BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] This review of a summary judgment involves the interpretation of a marital settlement agreement. The primary issue is whether in that agreement the former wife relinquished her right as the named beneficiary to the proceeds of an investment account maintained by her former husband, now deceased. The district court held that the former wife had relinquished her right to the investment account proceeds, and that those proceeds belonged to the trustee of the deceased former husband's trust. The district court also held, however, that the trustee was not entitled to prejudgment interest on those proceeds. The former wife has appealed on the relinquishment issue, and the trustee has cross-appealed on the prejudgment interest issue.

[¶2] We hold that, under the unambiguous language of the marital settlement agreement, the former wife did not relinquish her right as the named beneficiary to the investment account proceeds; consequently, we reverse and remand on that issue with directions that the district court enter judgment in favor of the former wife because further proceedings in this matter would serve no useful purpose. State v. Homar, 798 P.2d 824, 826 (Wyo. 1990). Our disposition of that issue makes moot the trustee's cross-appeal on the prejudgment interest issue.

FACTS

[¶3] The parties do not dispute the salient facts. On January 13, 1960, Albert Stewart Cellers (hereinafter Stewart Cellers) created the investment account in question; a year later, he designated his parents as named beneficiaries of the account. On April 2, 1980, Stewart Cellers and Nora Belle Cellers married; on February 15, 2000, Stewart Cellers removed his parents as the named beneficiaries on the investment account and designated Nora Belle Cellers as the named beneficiary. In July 2000, Stewart Cellers established a trust in his own name, and the trust designated Steven M. Adami as successor trustee.

[¶4] On September 11, 2001, Stewart Cellers and Nora Belle Cellers separated and executed the marital settlement agreement in question. We now identify those agreement provisions that are pertinent to this issue on appeal. Recital D of this agreement stated the purpose of the agreement:

The purpose of this agreement is to make a final and complete settlement of all rights and obligations between the parties, including those concerning their property, the support and maintenance of each of them, rights to homestead and exemption and inheritance and succession, and all other matters existing between the parties growing out of their marital relationship.

Section 1 of the agreement identified the property to be received by Nora Belle Cellers. Section 2 of the agreement identified the property to be received by Stewart Cellers. Under that section, Stewart Cellers received, among other property, the investment account in question "as his sole and separate property." Section 6 of the agreement set forth general provisions. Among those general provisions, the most pertinent are those entitled Full Disclosure of Property Interest, Integration Clause, and Comprehension by the Parties. The general provision entitled Full Disclosure of Property Interest provides:

Each party warrants and represents to the other that he or she has made a full disclosure of all property and interests in property owned or believed to be owned by him or her, and there are no other assets of the marriage than those mentioned in this agreement, and that he or she has not secreted or hypothecated any such assets.

The general provision entitled Integration Clause provides:

This agreement contains the final and entire agreement of the parties. There are no representations, terms, conditions, statements, warranties, promises, covenants, or understandings, oral or written, other than those expressly set forth herein. This agreement is intended to be, and shall be, a full, final and complete settlement agreement between the parties. The provisions of this Agreement shall not be modified except by mutual consent by the parties, expressed in writing.

The general provision entitled Comprehension by the Parties provides:

The parties hereto declare that they fully understand all of the terms and provisions of this agreement and regard the same as fair and reasonable; that each has been, or has had the opportunity to be, advised of his or her respective legal rights and obligations, by independent counsel of his or her own choice; and that each signs this agreement freely and voluntarily and intending thereby that this agreement shall benefit and be binding upon the parties hereto and their respective legal representatives, heirs, successors and assigns.

[¶5] On September 25, 2001, the district court filed the couple's divorce decree which specifically incorporated by reference the marital settlement agreement. On November 15, 2001, Stewart Cellers amended his trust by eliminating provisions which granted specific distributions to various family members and by directing the successor trustee, on Stewart Cellers' death, to distribute the entire remaining residual trust to the Stewart Cellers Foundation, Inc. On July 2, 2004, Stewart Cellers executed his will which included a standard pour-over provision that left all the rest, residue, and remainder of his estate and property to his trust.

[¶6] On May 22, 2005, Stewart Cellers died; on April 13, 2006, the investment firm holding the investment account in question transferred the investment account funds to Nora Belle Cellers, the named beneficiary, because Stewart Cellers in his lifetime had not changed the beneficiary designation. On August 11, 2006, Steven M. Adami, as successor trustee of the Albert Stewart Cellers Trust, asked Nora Belle Cellers to return the investment account funds to the trust. She refused, and Mr. Adami filed his complaint against her alleging conversion.

[ΒΆ7] Both Steven M. Adami and Nora Belle Cellers initially filed summary judgment motions which the district court denied. Later, Mr. Adami filed a renewed summary judgment motion on September 25, 2007, which the district court granted by order dated April 21, 2008. That order incorporated by reference the district court's decision letter dated January 17, 2008. Nora Belle Cellers timely appealed that order. The district court denied Mr. ...


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