PROBATE CORNER

By: David M. Garten, Esq.

ARTICLE: Jurisdiction Over Trust Beneficiaries

Jurisdiction over God: In State Senator Ernie Chambers v. God (D. Neb. 2007), Senator Ernie Chambers of Nebraska filed a law suit against God, seeking a permanent injunction against God’s harmful activities. Senator Chambers contends that he had jurisdiction over God because “Defendant is present in Douglas County by and through putative agents, representatives, spokespersons (hereinafter “agents”) of various religious denominations, persuasions, cults and the like, who publicly and notoriously hold themselves out to be agents of Defendant who are authorized to speak for and represent Defendant”. Senator Chambers requested that the court “find that lawful personal/constructive service has been effectuated by virtue of the fact that Defendant, being omniscient, shall be deemed to have actual notice of this action…”. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, in part, because God wasn’t served a legal notice and there can never be service effectuated on God.

Jurisdiction over Satan: In United States ex rel. Gerald Mayo v. Satan & His Staff, 54 F.R.D. 282, 283 (W.D. Pa. 1971), the plaintiff filed a civil rights action alleging Satan and his employees “on numerous occasions caused plaintiff misery and unwarranted threats, against the will of plaintiff” and “placed deliberate obstacles in his path and caused plaintiff’s downfall.” Plaintiff asserted these transgressions violated his constitutional rights. Judge Weber denied the application, in part, because he questioned “whether plaintiff may obtain personal jurisdiction over the defendant in this judicial district.”

Florida’s Trust Code: Sec. 736.0202, F.S. reads in relevant part: (2) PERSONAL JURISDICTION. (a) Any …trust beneficiary, or other person, whether or not a citizen or resident of this state, who personally or through an agent does any of the following acts related to a trust, submits to the jurisdiction of the courts of this state involving that trust: … 8. Accepts a distribution from a trust having its principal place of administration in this state with respect to any matter involving the distribution….

EXAMPLE: Your client makes distributions from his trust to Lilith Grotto Church Inc. of the Church of Satan (“Church of Satan”), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Manhattan NY, and names Church of Satan as a trust beneficiary. Post-death, the successor trustee contends that the Church of Satan improperly received pre-death transfers and unduly influenced the settlor into naming it as a beneficiary of the trust. Does the Florida court have personal jurisdiction over the Church of Satan so that the trustee can sue the church (or Satan and his minions) in Florida? This question may have been answered in Abromats v. Abromats, 2016 WL 4366480, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108420 (S.D. Fla. August 16, 2016).

In Abromats, the settlor created a revocable trust while residing in Florida. The settlor made distributions from the trust to her son, Philip, who lives in Wyoming. After her death, Philip was sued in Florida by the trustee for an accounting and for undue influence in connection with a trust amendment that reinstated him as a beneficiary of the trust. In response, Philip filed a Motion to Dismiss on the basis of lack of jurisdiction. The court, in denying the motion, found that it had jurisdiction over Philip. The court reasoned in part:

Clifford’s Complaint seeks to declare null and void the September Amendments, which reinstated Philip as a beneficiary entitled to Trust funds. See Complaint; see also ECF No. [1], Exh. A, at 33. The Complaint also seeks approval of an Accounting, which by its nature, encompasses the distributions Philip admits he received. As such, the Court finds that the distributions Philip accepted from the Trust establish the requisite minimum contacts, as they are sufficiently “related to” the instant cause of action and the forum. Furthermore, by accepting distributions from the Trust administered from Florida, with the assistance of Florida-based professionals, from funds based in Florida accounts, and with the understanding that Florida law governed, Philip unquestionably “purposefully availed [himself] of forum benefits” and made it such that he “could reasonably anticipate being haled into court” in Florida. See Fraser, 594 F.3d at 850.

The Order on Motion to Dismiss is a “must read” for any lawyer involved in a dispute involving jurisdiction over a trust beneficiary. A copy of the order can be found at:

https://dockets.justia.com/docket/florida/flsdce/0:2016cv60653/481259