Higgins, Cavanagh & Cooney Attorney Perseveres to Win $2.9 Million Judgment

HCC attorney Melissa M. Horne recently won a $1,164,138 jury verdict on a claim originally filed in the Newport Probate Court in June 2012. During the nearly 11-year proceeding of the case captioned Glassie v. Doucette, NP-2016-0265, the case was appealed twice to the Superior Court and once to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Prejudgment interest accrued during the protracted litigation resulted in a judgment of almost $2.9 million.

The claim was originally filed by the decedent’s daughter, who alleged her father had failed to fully fund a trust for her as required by a Property Settlement Agreement executed as part of her parents’ divorce. The executor of the father’s estate denied the claim. After the plaintiff appealed the claim to the Superior Court, the executor obtained summary judgment on the ground that only the trustee of the daughter’s trust had standing to bring a claim for payments that should have been made to the trust. The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s order.

Because the original plaintiff had passed away shortly after she appealed the denial of her claim to the Superior Court, her executrix pursued and eventually obtained an assignment of the trustee’s right to assert a claim for payments to the trust. Following the executor’s objection to the plaintiff’s petition to file a late-filed claim, the probate court denied the petition. The plaintiff filed another appeal in the Superior Court. The executor’s violations of discovery rules delayed the litigation and resulted in sanctions being paid to the executrix. In January 2022, Attorney Horne finally obtained a Superior Court decision granting the petition to file late-filed claim after a bench trial conducted in September 2021. Glassie (click here for the judge’s decision)

The issue tried to the jury in March 2023 involved the interpretation of an ambiguous provision in the Property Settlement Agreement that required the father to make payments of $10,000 per year to his daughter’s trust until it was equal to the amount of trusts his mother had established for two older daughters. The jury found that the father had breached his contractual obligation to make his younger daughter’s trust equal to the value of her sisters’ trusts. The jury concluded that the last opportunity he had to fulfill his obligation was shortly before his death in February 2011, when the older daughter’s trust was valued at $1,296,819.06 and the younger daughter’s trust was worth just $132,680.63. The jury awarded $1,164,138 in damages.

The jury also decided a counterclaim asserting that the daughter’s claim violated an in terrorum clause in the father’s will. That clause provided that a beneficiary of the will would forfeit her entire interest under the will if she became an adverse party in a proceeding for the probate of the will or contested the validity of the will or any of its provisions. The jury concluded that this action did not violate the in terrorum clause and rendered a verdict for the plaintiff on the counterclaim.

HCC’s successful navigation of this litigation involving complex legal and procedural issues in three different courts over the course of more than ten years reflects the firm’s dedication to utilizing its expertise and resources to obtain extraordinary results for its clients.

If you have any matter involving contract or probate litigation you would like to discuss with Attorney Horne, she may be reached at mhorne@hcc-law.com or 401-272-3500.