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In the Matter of the Estate of: andrew T. Graves, Deceased. v. J. Denny Moffett

December 20, 2011

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF: ANDREW T. GRAVES, DECEASED. BEIT HANINA ENTERPRISES, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION, BY AND THROUGH ITS CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, SHARIF SILMI, APPELLANT (CLAIMANT),
v.
J. DENNY MOFFETT, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF ANDREW T. GRAVES, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT).



Appeal from the District Court of Teton County The Honorable Timothy C. Day, Judge

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

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

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in Pacific Reporter Third. Readers are requested to notify the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Supreme Court Building, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82002, of any typographical or other formal errors so that correction may be made before final publication in the permanent volume.

[¶1] Creditor (California corporation "Beit Hanina Enterprises, Inc.," hereinafter referred to as "BHE") challenges a Wyoming probate court's "Order Finding Creditor Time Barred from Challenging Denial of Claim" and argues on appeal that the probate court erred in refusing to find peculiar circumstances entitling BHE to equitable relief from strict application of the Wyoming Probate Code's 30-day statute of limitations under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 2-7-718 (LexisNexis 2011). We affirm.

ISSUE

[¶2] BHE presents one issue:

Whether the District Court erred when it declined to provide to [BHE] the equitable relief available at W.S. § 2-7-703(c), which states, "This section [regarding filing claims] shall not bar: (i) Claimants entitled to equitable relief due to peculiar circumstances, if so found by the court in adversary proceedings." (Emphasis added.)

FACTS

[¶3] In 2008, the decedent, Andrew T. Graves, as CEO of Wireless Technology Solutions, Inc., purchased a cell phone retail outlet from BHE. As part of the purchase, BHE accepted a promissory note from Wireless Technology Solutions, in the amount of $663,563.00. Graves signed the note as personal guarantor, but he died one day before the first installment payment was due on the note.

[¶4] Two closely related legal actions followed -- a California civil suit and this Wyoming probate action. On July 22, 2010, BHE filed a breach of contract action in California against Wireless Technology Solutions. BHE anticipated naming Graves' estate as a defendant, so BHE named "Does 1-10" as co-defendants.

[¶5] On June 10, 2010, the Wyoming probate court admitted Graves' estate to probate with J. Denny Moffett appointed as the personal representative. On August 25, 2010, "Notice of Probate" was mailed to BHE. On September 1, 8, and 15, 2010, public notice of the probate was published in the Jackson Hole News & Guide. Under § 2-7-703(a), BHE had three months after September 1, 2010, to file a claim with the Estate.

[¶6] In accordance with the statutory requirements, BHE filed a timely claim with the Estate. On September 21, 2010, the Estate's attorney mailed a "Notice of Rejection of the Claim." After correcting a procedural flaw in the first claim, on October 4, 2010, BHE filed a second claim with the Estate. The Estate did not issue a separate rejection for the second claim. Under § 2-7-718, a creditor must "bring suit" within 30 days after the date of mailing of the claim rejection notice. If the creditor fails to do so, his claim is, according to the statute, "forever barred." Here, the 30-day period for bringing suit expired on October 21, 2010 -- 30 days after the rejection of the claim.

[¶7] Back in California, on October 15, 2010, BHE filed an "Ex Parte Application for Amendment to Complaint and [Proposed] Order." Through that pleading, BHE sought to replace the fictitious name of "Doe 1" with "the Estate of Andrew T. Graves, by and through J. Denny Moffett, Personal Representative." The California court did not sign the proposed order on October 15, 2010. Rather, a clerk of the California court indicated that BHE's pleading did not comply with court rule amendments that had gone into effect on January 1, 2010. The pleading apparently lacked a supporting declaration and the proper fee. On November 12, 2010, the California court held a hearing and entered an "Order Granting Plaintiff's Ex Parte Application to Amend Complaint," which added the Estate as a defendant in the action.

[¶8] Returning to the Wyoming probate action, the Estate, on December 30, 2010, filed a "Notice of Claim Dispositions." The Estate persisted in its denial of BHE's claim. The same day, the Estate also filed a "Motion for Hearing on Creditor's Capacity to Challenge Denial of Claim." On February 4, 2011, the probate court held a hearing on that motion, and on April 11, 2011, entered its "Order Finding Creditor Time Barred from Challenging Denial of Claim." First, the court ruled BHE's attempt to include the Estate in its ongoing lawsuit on October 15, 2010, was in compliance with Wyo. Stat. § ...


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