Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Eagle Lands And Remands

The Missouri Supreme Court reversed and remanded a dispute between the children/heirs of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly as described in the court's summary

Bruce Schlafly (Son) and Anne Cori (Daughter) are children of political activist Phyllis Schlafly and beneficiaries of her trust. Prior to and after Schlafly’s death, conflict arose between Son and Daughter as to control over and the direction of the political entities Schlafly created (Eagle Entities). Daughter filed several lawsuits against and related to Eagle Entities. She also contested Schlafly’s trust, which Schlafly had amended prior to her death to reduce Daughter’s interest by the defense costs stemming from the lawsuits. Daughter named Son as a defendant in the trust contest action. Daughter later dismissed the trust contest once a settlement was reached. In 2020, Son sued Daughter for abuse of process. He alleged Daughter’s legal actions, including the trust contest, were motivated partially by animosity toward Son and other relatives. Son further alleged Daughter sought to force him to resign from Eagle Entities, grant her control and use of certain Eagle Entities property, halt his involvement with the political operations, cede his inheritance, require him to expend large sums on litigation, extract items of value from him, hinder his medical practice, create media coverage regarding her claims, curry public favor, legitimize her standing regarding one of the Eagle Entities, improve her bid to take over Eagle Entities and its assets, obtain advantages and force favorable outcomes in other litigation, harass Son, and reduce trust assets. Daughter moved to dismiss the action, and the circuit court sustained her motion. Son appeals.

Court en banc holds: Son sufficiently alleged an improper use of process for purposes of his abuse of process claim. Improper use of process means some willful, definite act not authorized by the process or aimed at an objective not legitimate in the proper employment of such process. The relevant question is whether process has been used to accomplish some unlawful end or to compel the opposite party to do some collateral thing which he or she could not be compelled to do legally. In his petition, Son alleged Daughter instituted the trust contest to achieve unlawful ends, to compel Son to act in a manner in which he could not be legally compelled, and to obtain results outside of the scope of process. Son further alleged Daughter used the trust contest not to adjudicate the validity of the trust amendments but for improper ulterior motives, such as gaining an advantage in other litigation, extorting items of value, improving her standing for claims regarding control of Eagle Entities, silencing Son, pressuring him regarding his positions with the two related funds, harassing him, and hindering his medical license. Son also asserted Daughter utilized improper litigation tactics, such as engaging in extensive discovery and seeking the appointment of a special fiduciary or master, all to increase costs. Taking these allegations as true, as the Court is required to do under the standard of review, Son sufficiently pleaded improper use of process.

(Mike Frisch)

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