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Turcott v. Estate of Bates

Supreme Court of Idaho

June 7, 2019

DEANN C. TURCOTT, Plaintiff-Counterdefendant-Appellant,
v.
THE ESTATE OF CLARENCE D. BATES, CLINTON D. BATES, Personal Representative, and The Bates Family Trust dated the 20th day of November, 2015; JANET N. BATES, CLINTON D. BATES and SHERRAL BATES, Co-Trustees, Defendants-Counterclaimants-Respondents.

          Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Richard Christensen, District Judge.

         The decision of the district court is affirmed. Costs, but not attorney fees, awarded to the Estate.

          Bistline Law, PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, Attorneys for Appellant. Arthur M. Bistline argued.

          Holmes Law Office, P.A., Coeur d'Alene, Attorneys for Respondent. Edwin B. Holmes argued.

          BEVAN, Justice.

         I. Nature of the Case

         This appeal concerns a district court's award of damages. Believing that she would be inheriting half of her father Clarence Bates' estate, Deann Turcott and her husband spent considerable time and money making improvements on Clarence's land. However, Clarence subsequently changed his will and left Deann nothing. Deann filed suit seeking quantum meruit damages for the work she had performed. The district court held that quantum meruit damages were not appropriate and awarded damages under a theory of unjust enrichment. Deann appealed the district court's award of unjust enrichment damages as inadequate. We affirm.

         II. Factual and Procedural Background

         In 1996, Clarence executed a will devising his real property to his two children, Deann and Clint, to "share and share alike." From 2007 to 2014, Deann and her husband moved onto Clarence's property and spent considerable time, effort, and money towards the upkeep of the property including: cultivating fields that had become overgrown with weeds; raising hay crops; raising cattle; maintaining fencing; clearing brush; restoring a barn; maintaining and repairing farm equipment; and performing administrative work associated with the farm and timberlands. Deann also built a personal residence on the property in 2012. The evidence showed that most of this work was not performed at the request of Clarence, but it was done with his knowledge. Deann testified the improvements and work were done in anticipation of her inheriting half of Clarence's estate. However, in 2014 Clarence remarried, and in 2015, Clarence revoked his previous will and placed all of his property in trust for himself and his new wife, Janet. In his new will Clarence declared "I purposefully have excluded my daughter, Deann C. Turcott as a devisee of my estate and my daughter, Deann C. Turcott shall take nothing from my estate."

         On September 22, 2016, Deann initiated this lawsuit against her father Clarence, his wife Janet, and Deann's brother Clint, to enforce Clarence's alleged promise to maintain his 1996 will. During the litigation Clarence passed away and his estate and the Bates Family Trust (collectively "the Estate") were substituted as the real parties in interest, and Clint and Janet were dismissed in their personal capacities but remained involved in their representative capacities. The district court later dismissed Deann's claim to enforce her father's alleged promise to maintain a will, but allowed Deann to amend her complaint to seek quantum meruit damages for the work she performed on Clarence's land.

         The matter went to trial where the issue before the district court was whether to award Deann damages measured in quantum meruit as she claimed, or based on unjust enrichment as claimed by the Estate. Following a bench trial, the district court awarded what it characterized as unjust enrichment damages. Deann was awarded $136, 402.50, itemized in the following categories:

1. Turcott Residence - $130, 000.00
2. Barn Repair - $3, 497.94
3. Forestry Work- $531.94
4. Other Reimbursable - $854.42
5. Taxes and Insurance - $136.14
6. Water Adjudication - $1, 382.06

         On February 2, 2018, Deann filed a motion for reconsideration - again requesting that the district court award damages under a theory of quantum meruit instead of unjust enrichment. Deann argued that if the Court would not reevaluate its decision to award unjust enrichment damages, that it was an error to award any sums other than the value of the residence and $136.14, an amount Clarence had specifically asked Deann to pay; thus, Deann effectively asked the district court to reduce her award to $130, 136.14. On March 6, 2018, Deann revised her motion for reconsideration to request that in the event the court would not award quantum meruit damages, it should increase its award under unjust enrichment by $153, 717.41.

         The district court denied Deann's motion to reconsider:

[T]he Court based its decision on the substantial evidence presented at trial. The Court is also free in a court trial to find reasonable inferences from the evidence presented. The Court found by reasonable inference that the defendants were unjustly enriched as to the renovations of the barn by the cost of materials and such ...

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