Master in Chancery Concludes That “Unclean Hands” Is Not Applicable As The Conduct At Issue Did Not Directly Relate To Present Estate Litigation

Delaware Fiduciary Litigation Blog

Posted October 16, 2019

In The Matter of the Last Will and Testament of Milton Ray Lomax, C.A. No. 2018-0434-PWG (October 8, 2019)

In this case, David Lomax (“David”) filed a petition for review of proof of will under 12 Del. C. § 1309, on June 13, 2018, asking the Court to declare the Last Will and Testament of Milton Ray Lomax (“2013 Will”) void because Milton Ray Lomax (“Decedent”) purportedly did not have testamentary capacity to execute the 2013 Will and because the 2013 Will was a product of undue influence. David also asked that Robert Lomax (“Robert”), his brother, be required to file an accounting of all of Robert’s transactions involving the Decedent’s financial resources since January of 2013.  The 2013 Will, which was executed on January 23, 2013, disinherited David, splitting the Decedent’s estate between Robert and another brother, Thomas Lomax (“Thomas”).  The 2013 Will differed from the Decedent’s earlier wills, which devised his estate to his three sons (David, Robert and Thomas) equally.

                Robert counterclaimed and sought an accounting from David for David’s actions as Decedent’s agent under a power of attorney executed on October 2, 2012 and revoked on October 23, 2012.  David had earlier pled guilty to a felony in North Carolina for actions as the Decedent’s agent.

                Robert moved for summary judgment on the purported basis that the doctrine of unclean hands precluded the relief requested by David because David had pled guilty to the felony in North Carolina mentioned above.

                David countered by arguing that (1) the doctrine of unclean hands did not apply because there is no connection between the alleged misconduct and the relief sought; (2) the accounting in North Carolina was not entitled to protections under full faith and credit; and (3) Robert’s request for an accounting from David was improper because (i) the transactions occurred over five years ago, (ii) David acted under the auspices of a valid power of attorney, and (iii) David’s North Carolina criminal sentence did not provide for restitution.

                The Master noted that “for the Court to determine that the unclean hands doctrine applies in this case, Robert must prove that David’s inequitable conduct related directly to this litigation and has an ‘immediate and necessary’ relationship to the claims under which relief is sought.”

                Applying that standard, the Master found “no direct relation . . . between David’s misconduct and the matter in controversy here.  David’s misconduct does not affect the validity of the 2013 Will, the Decedent’s capacity to execute that Will, or whether it was a product of Robert’s undue influence.”

                However, as to the accounting claim, the Master did conclude that “as a matter of law, Robert is entitled to an accounting addressing actions taken by David as the Decedent’s agent under the power of attorney” and recommended that the Court grant summary judgment on that issue.

Author(s)

William M. Kelleher, Director
Director
Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A.