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In re Trust of Phillips

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

March 12, 2018

IN RE THE TRUST OF HERBERT O. PHILLIPS, DATED MARCH 1, 1928

          For Plaintiff: Bernard A. Jackvony, Esq.

          For Defendant: Gordon P. Cleary, Esq.; Peter J. Duffy, Esq. (Interested Parties)

          DECISION

          SILVERSTEIN, J.

         Before the Court is Respondents'-Trust beneficiaries Claire Willis, Emily Greenstein, Carlin Greenstein, Suzanne Willis, Jack Sheehy, and David Sheehy (collectively, Respondents)-Super. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Petitioner John Parker Willis' (Petitioner) petition for declaratory relief or, in the alternative, to either amend the trust or allow the other beneficiaries to disclaim their interest in Petitioner's share of the Trust. Petitioner seeks to permit his adopted son-whom he adopted as an adult-to succeed to his interest in his grandfather's trust. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-30-1.

         I

         Facts

         The Herbert O. Phillips 1928 Trust and Amendments (herein, the Trust) was established in 1928 by Herbert O. Phillips (Settlor). Rhode Island Hospital Trust served as the initial Trustee, and has since been replaced by its successor entity, Bank of America. Following the Settlor's death, the Trust directs the Trustee to equally divide the remaining net income from the Trust to the benefit of his wife, Mary M. Phillips (Mary), three daughters-Edna, Barbara, and Marion- and their issue.[1] The Trust further provides for its termination twenty-one (21) years following the death of the Settlor's wife and daughters and two other named individuals, Wesley Price Ricker and Barbara Price Ricker (collectively, the Rickers). Currently, the Rickers are the only surviving named individuals, and both are in their nineties.

         Petitioner's mother, Barbara, one of Settlor's daughters, became a beneficiary of the Trust following the Settlor's death. Petitioner and his three sisters succeeded to their mother's interest in the Trust upon her death. In 2001, at the direction of this Court, Barbara's interest in the Trust was divided into four separate shares-one for each of her children. See Judgment, M.P. No. 2001-2857 (June 14, 2001) (Silverstein, J.) (hereinafter 2001 Judgment). The 2001 Judgment further provides that "[i]f, at any point, a child of Barbara Willis is deceased and no issue of that child survives, " then the deceased child's share of the Trust will be divided evenly among the surviving siblings. Id.

         At present, Petitioner is the only sibling without biological children. Thus, if Petitioner dies prior to termination of the Trust, per the 2001 Judgment, his interest will be divided equally among his surviving siblings. While Petitioner does not have any biological children, he does have an adopted son, Simon Etherington (Simon). Notably, Simon was adopted while an adult by Petitioner. He seeks to have Simon succeed to his interest in the Trust if Petitioner dies prior to its termination.

         Petitioner filed the instant petition; Respondents in turn submitted a motion to dismiss the petition. Both parties submitted supplemental memoranda in support of their respective positions.

         II

         Standard of Review

         "'[T]he sole function of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the complaint[.]'" Audette v. Poulin, 127 A.3d 908, 911 (R.I. 2015) (quoting Ho-Rath v. R.I. Hosp., 115 A.3d 938, 942 (R.I. 2015)). In testing the complaint's sufficiency, the Court's "review is confined to the four corners of that pleading, " id. (citation omitted), and the Court "'assumes the allegations contained in the complaint to be true and views the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff[].'" R.I. Emp't Sec. All., Local 401, S.E.I.U., AFL-CIO v. State Dep't of Emp't & Training, 788 A.2d 465, 467 (R.I. 2002) (hereinafter R.I. Emp't) (per curiam) (quoting St. James Condo. Ass'n v. Lokey, 676 A.2d 1343, 1346 (R.I. 1996)). Phrased another way, "'[w]hen ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the [Court] must look no further than the complaint, assume that all allegations in the complaint are true, and resolve any doubts in a plaintiff's favor.'" Pellegrino v. R.I. Ethics Comm'n, 788 A.2d 1119, 1123 (R.I. 2002) (quoting R.I. Affiliate, ACLU v. Bernasconi, 557 A.2d 1232, 1232 (R.I. 1989)); see also Palazzo v. Alves, 944 A.2d 144, 149 (R.I. 2008). Accordingly, a motion to dismiss "should not be granted 'unless it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff[] will not be entitled to relief under any set of facts which might be proved in support of [its] claim.'" R.I. Emp't, 788 A.2d at 467 (internal alteration omitted) (quoting St. James Condo. Ass'n, 676 A.2d at 1346).

         III

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