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Americans United For Life v. Estate of Mee

Superior Court of Rhode Island

October 7, 2016

AMERICANS UNITED FOR LIFE, Plaintiff,
v.
ESTATE OF GABRIELLE D. MEE (a/k/a Gabrielle Malvina Mee), Defendant.

         Providence County Superior Court

          For Plaintiff: Bernard A. Jackvony, Esq.

          For Defendant: Joseph J. McGair, Esq.

          For Interested Party: Nicole J. Benjamin, Esq.

          For Intervenor: Steven E. Snow, Esq.

          DECISION

          SILVERSTEIN, MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Estate of Gabrielle D. Mee's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Americans United for Life's amended petition to probate and to reopen estate. The Legion of Christ North America, Inc. (Legion of Christ) is the sole beneficiary of Mrs. Mee's estate. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 33-23-1.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         Mrs. Gabrielle D. Mee passed away on May 16, 2008, following a life devoted to the Catholic faith. Throughout her life, Mrs. Mee was exceptionally generous, specifically to organizations committed to advancing the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Two of those organizations that benefited from Mrs. Mee's extraordinary good will-the Legion of Christ and Americans United for Life-are currently before this Court. In addition to the extensive donations made during her lifetime, Mrs. Mee also sought to provide for these organizations beyond her death. At different times, Americans United for Life and the Legion of Christ were named beneficiaries in the several iterations of her will.

         The Legion of Christ is an order of the Catholic Church with which Mrs. Mee became familiarized at the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s.[1] Pl.'s Am. Pet. for Probate of Will, Mem. in Supp. of Am. Pet. to Probate and to Reopen Estate, at ¶¶ 4, 14. (Am. Pet.). After touring the Legion of Christ's center in Connecticut and meeting with its General Director, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, Mrs. Mee gave a $1, 000, 000 gift to the order. Id. at ¶ 15. Following her first visit, Mrs. Mee grew closer to the Legion of Christ, resulting in another gift of $3, 000, 000 in November of 1991. Id. at ¶ 19.

         Prior to that substantial gift, on October 10, 1991, Mrs. Mee executed a will (the 1991 Will), revoking all of her prior wills and codicils, as well as directing that ninety percent of her estate go to the Legion of Christ and naming Fleet National Bank as the estate's executor. Id.; see Pl.'s Ex. D at 166 "Last Will and Testament of Gabrielle D. Mee."[2] Also included in the 1991 Will was a direction that the remaining ten percent of the estate go to Americans United for Life. Am. Pet. at ¶ 19. Americans United for Life is a pro-life, educational, nonprofit organization and public interest law firm with its national headquarters in Washington, D.C. In addition to naming Americans United for Life as a beneficiary of her 1991 Will, Mrs. Mee donated upwards of $600, 000 to the group from 1989 to 2002. Id. at ¶ 20.

         However, in 1995, Mrs. Mee executed a codicil to the 1991 Will, which removed Americans United for Life as a beneficiary of her estate. Id. at ¶ 23. This codicil also allocated one hundred percent of her assets to the Legion of Christ. Id. Thereafter, in 1999, Mrs. Mee executed a second codicil to the 1991 Will, which placed an investment restriction on the executor to ensure that her estate did not benefit entities inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. Id. at ¶ 28.

         On December 14, 2000, Mrs. Mee executed a will (the 2000 Will) that revoked the 1991 Will and both of its codicils. Pl.'s Ex. D at 176, "Last Will and Testament of Gabrielle D. Mee." Aside from reaffirming Mrs. Mee's direction to give one hundred percent of her estate to the Legion of Christ, the 2000 Will replaced Fleet National Bank as executor and named Father Anthony Bannon-a member of the Legion of Christ-in its place. Id. However, Fleet National Bank remained as an alternate executor. Id. Finally, in 2002, Mrs. Mee executed a codicil to the 2000 Will that removed Fleet National Bank as an alternate executor and replaced it with Father Christopher Bracket. See Pl.'s Ex. D at 173. Six years later, in 2008, Mrs. Mee passed away.

         On March 6, 2009, Father Bannon, as the named executor, petitioned the Smithfield Probate Court to probate the 2000 Will and its 2002 codicil. Over the course of the next month-in anticipation of the April 2, 2009 hearing to probate the 2000 Will-notice of the probate proceedings was published in The Providence Journal. This notice was published in the newspaper once a week for two weeks. Thereafter, in June of 2009, Mrs. Mee's niece, Mary Lou Dauray, petitioned the Smithfield Probate Court to challenge the admission of the 2000 Will to probate. However, on February 4, 2010, the Smithfield Probate Court entered a Consent Order admitting the 2000 Will to probate. Am. Pet. at ¶ 3; see Pl.'s Ex. D at 173.

         Later that month, Ms. Dauray appealed to this Court claiming that the 2000 Will was the result of the Legion of Christ's undue influence over her aunt. Am. Pet. at ¶ 7. This Court dismissed Ms. Dauray's appeal for lack of standing in September 2012. Id. at ΒΆ 8. In its decision, this Court noted that the 1991 Will named the Legion of Christ and Americans United for Life as beneficiaries in addition to stating the gifts allocated therein. In February 2013, Ms. Dauray appealed this Court's decision to the Rhode Island ...


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