On June 11, 2021, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of David Buboltz and Donna Reece, vs. Patricia Birusingh, Estate of Cletis C. Ireland, and Kumari Durick.
Cletis Ireland died in March 2016 at age 92. She was an only child, was never married, and had no children. At the time of her death she owned a family century farm on which she had resided most of her life. In 2001, the decedent executed a Will that divided her farm in equal shares to David Buboltz, a farmer who had cash rented eighty acres of the farm since 1991 and to Edith Mae Maertens, her cousin. In 2015 the decedent executed a new Will which removed Maertens, who passed away, and Buboltz as the beneficiaries of the farm and bequeathed the farm to Kumari Durick, who was the daughter of a family friend. Durick’s mother, Patricia Birusingh, was named as the executor of the new Will.
Patricia Birusingh was married to the decedent’s doctor. The decedent grew close to the Birusingh family. Patricia and Kumari brought the decedent groceries and drove her to appointments. Shortly after the death of the decedent, one of Maertens’ daughters, Donna Reece, along with David Buboltz, filed a lawsuit to set aside the 2015 Will. The petition also alleged undue influence and tortious interference with inheritance.
The District Court granted a motion for summary judgment and dismissed the Plaintiff’s tortious-interference-with-inheritance claim. Buboltz and Reece dismissed other claims but maintained the undue influence cause of action. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Buboltz and Reece on the undue influence claim.
Buboltz and Reece alleged that the dismissal of the tortious-interference-with-inheritance claim was improper, arguing that the District Court erroneously determined that the tort required proof that a defendant possess knowledge of a plaintiff’s expected inheritance.
The Supreme Court acknowledged that none of the Court’s prior cases analyzed or set forth the elements of a tortious-interference-with-inheritance claim.
The Supreme Court cited the Restatement (Third) which defines the tort as follows:
- A defendant is subject to liability for interference with an inheritance or gift if:
a) The plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of receiving an inheritance or gift;
b) The defendant committed an intentional and independent legal wrong;
c) The defendant’s purpose was to interfere with the plaintiff’s expectancy;
d) The defendant’s conduct caused the expectation to fail; and
e) The plaintiff suffered economic loss as a result.
The Supreme Court went on to note that the evidence to establish subsection (c) necessarily includes a requirement that a defendant know of the plaintiff’s expected inheritance since a defendant ignorant of a plaintiff’s expectancy could never have as her or his purpose an intention to interfere with it.
The Supreme Court went on to state that the District Court was correct in concluding that “the plaintiffs needed to prove the defendants’ knowledge of the plaintiffs’ expectancy of an inheritance from the decedent.”
The Supreme Court went on to conclude that there was no basis that the defendants knew of Buboltz’s expectancy of an inheritance from Ireland and thus confirmed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment in the defendants’ favor.
The Supreme Court also rejected the defendants request for the granting of a new trial due to the District Court admitting improper hearsay evidence and due to the plaintiffs’ lawyer making the improper and highly prejudicial statements during the closing argument.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the District Court.