The Duffey Law Firm Blog

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Can an “estate” be named as a party to a litigation?

In Spradley v. Spradley, 42 Fla. L. Weekly D549 (Fla. 2nd DCA March 8, 2017), a pro se prisoner filed a claim against his mother’s “estate,” claiming that his brothers had converted his property. The Second District Court confirmed that the personal representative, rather than the estate should have been named as the defendant. However, the trial court, rather than dismissing the claim entirely, should have allowed the plaintiff to amend his claim.

Glenn Spradley, a prisoner, brought a pro se action against his mother’s “estate” for conversion of his property. At trial, Glenn alleged that upon his mother’s death his brothers were left in possession of their mother’s home, which contained certain legal documents belonging to Glenn. After requests by Glenn, the brothers did not return the legal documents and Glenn filed an action against the estate for conversion of his property. The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim a claim of conversion and also dismissed based upon Glenn naming the “estate,” rather than the Personal Representative as the defendant.

On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeals held that Glenn had, in fact, adequately stated a claim for conversion. He pled sufficient facts to show that he had ownership and possession of the documents and that his brothers had failed to return them upon his request.  Further, the court confirmed the well-settled notion that an “estate” is not an entity that can be a party to a litigation, and held that the trial court should have allowed Glenn to amend his complaint to name the Personal Representative as the correct party, rather than dismissing the complaint entirely.

The Take Away?

The Spradley case confirms what is second nature to any trusts and estates practitioner; a personal representative, rather than an estate, must be named as the proper party of an action. However, the Spradley case indicates that if a plaintiff mistakenly names an “estate” as a party to a litigation, the plaintiff may get another bite out of the apple. 

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