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Sinclair v. Sampson

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

September 19, 2018




         We asked a gentleman by us if he knew what cause was on. He told us Jarndyce and Jarndyce. We asked him if he knew what was doing in it. He said really, no he did not, nobody ever did, but as well as he could make out, it was over. Over for the day? we asked him, No, he said, over for good.

         Charles Dickens, Bleak House 911 (Signet Classics 2011) (1853).

         Such is the denouement the Court hopes here to hasten in this case. It is - like Jarndyce and Jarndyce - a suit regarding inheritance and with competing testaments, and also one litigated through “trickery, evasion, procrastination, spoliation, botheration, under false pretences of all sorts.” Id. at 13. Fortunately, though, this is not nineteenth-century Chancery Court applying “[t]he one great principle of the English law . . . to make business for itself, ” id. at 579, but a court compelled “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1.

         I. Background

         Given that “every difficulty, every contingency, every masterly fiction, every form of procedure known . . . is represented over and over again” in this case, [1] Dickens, supra, at 29, the material facts are somewhat involved. But at bottom, this is a fight among siblings about who should control the remaining balance of their late mother's annuity.

         Plaintiff Leila Sinclair and Defendants Kathleen Ennen, William Jenkins, and Theodore Jenkins Jr. are all children of the late Kathleen and Theodore Jenkins. (Sibling Defs.' Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute (“SSMF”) ¶¶ 1, 6, ECF No. 154; see American National Insurance Company's Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute (“ASMF”) ¶¶ 5-6, ECF No. 152.) On August 6, 2010, at the behest of Kathleen Jenkins, Defendant American National Insurance Company (“ANICO”) sold an annuity for $384, 993.92 to the Theodore Lock Jenkins Trust (“TLJ Trust”). (ASMF ¶ 6; ASMF Ex. 2 at 6, 13, ECF No. 152-2.) The TLJ Trust had been born of Theodore Jenkins's will when he passed in 1988, and had Kathleen Jenkins and Sinclair for trustees. (ASMF ¶ 5; ASMF Ex. 1 at 3, ECF No. 152-1.) The TLJ Trust directed that income from its assets - including from the annuity - be paid for Kathleen Jenkins's benefit. (See ASMF Ex. 1 at 22.) And indeed, the annuity itself required that Kathleen Jenkins, as annuitant, receive periodic payments from its corpus, (ASMF Ex. 2, at 5), and that upon her death her children, as the annuity's beneficiaries, would each receive a quarter of whatever remained, (id. at 15).

         Such was the arrangement, anyway, before Kathleen Jenkins created the Kathleen Ennis Jenkins Trust (“KEJ Trust”) and appointed Sinclair her attorney-in-fact, in May 2013. (ASMF ¶¶ 7, 10.) Sinclair was named trustee to the KEJ Trust, a position that assumed an importance as to the annuity when, in November 2014, Sinclair - using her newly coined power-of-attorney - surreptitiously changed the annuity's beneficiary designation from the four children to the KEJ Trust. (Id. ¶ 8, 11.) A secret coup, but one for whose fruits Sinclair was impatient. Because rather than wait patiently for her mother to die and the annuity to fall - naturally, so to speak - into the KEJ Trust, Sinclair began in November 2014 to request withdrawals from the annuity. (Id. ¶ 12.) Ten in all and totaling $192, 750, the checks were made payable to the KEJ Trust and sent to its trustee, Sinclair. (Id.)

         Kathleen Jenkins died November 18, 2015. (Id. ¶ 14.) On December 28, 2015, eager to collect what was left of the annuity, Sinclair submitted a claim on behalf of the KEJ Trust to ANICO. (Id.) She sent paperwork including Kathleen Jenkins's death certificate and a copy of the deed to the KEJ Trust. (Id.) The next day Jenkins Jr. - suddenly awake to at least some of Sinclair's intrigues - phoned ANICO to say that he was contesting the power-of-attorney that enabled Sinclair to change the annuity beneficiary from the children to the KEJ Trust. (Id. ¶ 15.) ANICO informed Jenkins Jr. that Sinclair was one step ahead of him, having already submitted a claim for the annuity. (Id.)

         Two days later, in a remarkable turn, ANICO received a letter from Defendant Craig Sampson, a lawyer for Jenkins Jr. (Id. ¶ 16.) The letter highlighted part of the KEJ Trust deed Sinclair had overlooked: clause 7, which created the office of Appointer. (ASMF Ex. 11 at 3-4, ECF No. 152-11; ASMF Ex. 3 at 9, ECF No. 152-3.) According to the deed, the Appointer had nearly unfettered power to remove and appoint trustees to the Trust. (ASMF Ex. 3 at 9.) And, the letter continued, the deed had William Jenkins, Jenkins Jr.'s brother, designated Appointer. (Id. at 20; ASMF Ex. 11 at 3-4.) Attached to Sampson's letter was a copy of a memorandum signed by William Jenkins and sent to Sinclair, removing her as trustee of the KEJ Trust and appointing Sampson in her stead. (ASMF Ex. 11 at 4.)

         Soon thereafter, on January 4, 2015, Sampson exercised his power as trustee by submitting a claim to ANICO for the annuity. (ASMF ¶ 17.) Sampson received the $215, 274.18 that remained in the investment via check dated January 14, 2016. (Id. ¶ 19.) Before doing so, however, ANICO wrote and took a call from Sinclair as a courtesy, to tell her she had been supplanted pursuant to clause 7 of the KEJ Trust, and that the company was therefore sending the annuity proceeds to the newly appointed trustee. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.)

         Not content to wonder at the irony of it all, Sinclair mailed ANICO what she represented was a later version of the KEJ Trust deed, purportedly executed in September 2013, several months after the original. (Id. ¶ 21.) This version was curious for its having a signature page identical to that of the original, that is, the one submitted to ANICO by both Sinclair and Jenkins Jr. in December 2015 as part of their competing annuity claims. (Id.) Although unlike the original, this new version - surprise, surprise - had swapped William Jenkins out for another Appointor, and limited the Appointer's power to install new trustees to situations where the sitting trustee either died or expressly consented to the appointment. (Id.; ASMF Ex. 17 at 9, 20, ECF No. 152-17.)

         All except Sinclair considered this second deed a dead letter: ANICO had already disbursed the annuity's funds to Sampson, and Sinclair's siblings had by then developed a deep distrust of her handling of their mother's estate. Struggling to breathe life into her piece of paper, and recapture her siblings' attention, Sinclair filed suit. (Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 1.)

         II. Discussion

         Of the remaining “stages of an endless cause, ” the Court first runs its “head[] against walls of words” to do with the three pending summary-judgment motions, (ECF Nos. 151, 153, 155). Dickens, supra, at 10. The rest - the motions to strike (ECF No. 177), to amend (ECF Nos. 182, 187), to supplement (ECF No. ...

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