New Case Alert: Urick v. Urick

Filed October 5, 2017, Second District, Div. Five

Allyne Urick created a trust and named her two children, Willis and Dana, and Dana’s son, Trentyn, as the primary beneficiaries. After Allyne died, Dana filed a petition to reform the trust on the grounds that the drafting attorney misrepresented its terms and that the trust did not reflect Allyne’s wishes. Although she was named as the trustee, Dana filed her petition as a trust beneficiary, and sought a reformation that benefited her and her son, Trentyn, and disinherited Willis. In response, Willis filed a petition for instructions as to whether his sister’s reformation petition violated the “no contest” clause of their mother’s trust. In her capacity as trustee, Dana then filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike Willis’s petition, arguing that the filing of the reformation petition was a “protected activity.” The trial court granted the anti-SLAPP motion, finding that Willis’s petition for instructions arose out of the type of protected litigation activity contemplated by the anti-SLAPP statutes and that Willis had failed to show a probability of prevailing in his petition.

The Court of Appeal reversed. Although Dana had successfully established that Willis’s petition arose from her protected litigation activity (the filing of her reformation petition) and fit squarely within the plain language of the anti-SLAPP statutes, the appellate court took a different view of whether Willis had demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the merits. Unlike the lower court, the appellate court determined that Dana had very little evidence that her mother intended to name Dana and her son, Trentyn, as sole beneficiaries and to disinherit Willis. Additionally, the court found that Willis was likely to prevail in his argument that Dana’s actions violated the “no contest” clause of the trust since the reformation petition was a direct contest sought by a beneficiary without probable cause. In finding that Willis had successfully shown a reasonable probability that he would prevail on the merits, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s order granting the anti-SLAPP motion.

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