This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re the Estate of
Robert Buchanen Cameron,
a/k/a Robert B. Cameron.
Filed August 21, 2007
Itasca County District Court
File No. PR-05-2631
Hugh A. Cameron,
Leif A. Nelson, 515 Northeast Second Avenue, Grand Rapids, MN 55744 (for respondent Estate of Robert Cameron)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Lansing, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court’s denial of his motions for amended findings or amended judgment, new trial, and attorney fees arguing that the district court (1) abused its discretion when it denied his claim for $388,749 in attorney fees; (2) erred when it determined that his father’s May 3, 2005 will was not the product of undue influence; and (3) abused its discretion when it denied his motions without addressing his motion to compel discovery. We affirm.
Cameron died on July 5, 2005, survived by his three sons, Donald Cameron, Lee
Cameron, and appellant Hugh Cameron. In
1983, Robert and Louise Cameron, Robert’s predeceased wife, acquired 100% of
the shares in the First National Bank of
On April 8, 2005, Robert entered into a stipulation and agreement with Lee and Donald, whereby they agreed to dismiss a number of pending lawsuits in which they were opposing parties. In consideration of the stipulation and agreement, Robert agreed to execute a will within 15 days that contained a number of provisions set forth in the agreement, including: (1) the division of Robert’s estate equally between Lee and Donald; (2) language stating that “[a]ny claim against Robert B. Cameron’s estate for fees, services or other matters, made by [appellant], to the extent allowed, have been fully satisfied as of the date hereof”; (3) terms revoking any prior executed wills and agreeing not to reinstate such wills or to execute another will revoking the provisions of the will “described and agreed to herein”; and (4) language disinheriting appellant. The agreement further stated that “Robert B. Cameron shall not retain or designate [appellant], . . . as his attorney or as his Attorney in Fact for any purpose and any prior document whereby he has previously done so is hereby revoked.”
Robert executed his last will and testament, “revok[ing] any and all prior wills and codicils” on May 3, 2005. The will provides in section 4.1 that the residuary estate should be given to Lee and Donald in equal shares. The will further states in section 4.3:
to Provide for [appellant] and His Issue.
During my lifetime, my said son [appellant], contrary to my wishes and
contrary to my best interests, had me convey several parcels of real estate in
In the event [appellant] voluntarily delivers a valid warranty deed to me conveying to me all the real estate he had me convey to him, then I reserve the option to change this will to provide for an equal distribution between my three sons.
The will was witnessed by Debra L. Sagedahl and Jerry S. Ophoven, who declared that Robert
signed and executed the [will] as his last will, that he signed it willingly, that he executed it as his free and voluntary act for the purposes therein expressed, and that the witnesses . . . signed the will as witnesses, and that to the best of their knowledge the testator was at the time of legal age, of sound mind and under no constraint or undue influence.
On October 24, 2005, appellant filed a claim against Robert’s estate in the amount of $388,749 for “legal services performed for Robert B. Cameron as requested, from October 2001 to November 2004.” Appellant attached a number of billing statements to the claim. But the probate court disallowed appellant’s claim in its entirety, and appellant subsequently petitioned the district court for an allowance of his claim. In an accompanying memorandum, appellant argued that he
was requested by Robert to work on at least sixteen separate legal matters: (1) trusts; (2) obtaining information withheld by Lee on trust and bank matters; (3) sale of the bank; (4) bank stock problems; (5) bank management matters; (6) bank loan problems; (7) board of directors’ matters; (8) bank investment matters; (9) bank personnel problems; (10) bank regulator problems including cease and desist order and strategic plan and civil money penalties; (11) Federal Reserve Bank problems; (12) hearings as to memoranda and gathering evidence and exhibits and faxes; (13) minority shareholder issues; (14) refusal to follow court orders by Lee; (15) Lee[’s] refusal to follow terms of trusts; (16) Bank and Lee cutting off all income and wrongful termination of Robert.
The district court granted Lee and Donald’s petition to admit Robert’s will to probate, concluding that Robert “had sufficient testamentary capacity to make and execute the will” and that the will was “not the product of undue influence.” Specifically, the district court reasoned that in making the will, “Robert Cameron met with [his attorney] several times and took the will home with him for review” and that the “will [wa]s consistent with the April 2005 mediated agreement.”
But appellant subsequently moved for amended findings and amended judgment, seeking to void the will on the grounds of undue influence and because the will did not reflect Robert’s intent. Specifically, appellant alleged that Lee and Donald “pressured [Robert] to . . . disinherit [appellant].” In the alternative, appellant sought an order compelling the discovery of additional evidence allegedly showing undue influence, to be followed by a new trial pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 59.01 on the issue of undue influence. The district court issued an order denying appellant’s motions for amended findings and amended judgment, new trial, and $388,749 in legal fees.
This appeal follows.
Minn. Stat. § 524.3-407 (2006), persons contesting a will have the burden of
proving lack of testamentary capacity and undue influence. In re
Estate of Torgersen, 711 N.W.2d 545, 550 (Minn. App. 2006), review denied (
argues that he is entitled to legal fees in the amount of $388,749 for services
he provided Robert Cameron from October 2001 through November 2004. Minn. Stat. § 549.01 (2006) provides that
“[a] party shall have an unrestricted right to agree with an attorney as to
compensation for services, and the measure and mode thereof . . . .” “The essentials of such contracts, whether
oral or written, express or implied, are the same as any other contracts.” Kittler
& Hedelson v. Sheehan Props., Inc., 295
Appellant contends that he is entitled to legal fees for services he provided to Robert because Robert requested appellant’s legal expertise and because appellant provided Robert with “accurate and detailed itemized monthly statements” of the amounts Robert owed for the requested services. But the record does not support the conclusion that appellant and Robert had an agreement with regard to the exchange of legal services for compensation. First, appellant admits that he and Robert did not have a written agreement for the legal services he allegedly provided to Robert. While this fact alone is not dispositive, the record further shows that after appellant had submitted a bill to Robert in a previous matter for legal work he had done on October 4, 1999, Robert sent appellant a letter stating, in part:
About the Bird’s Eye matter (2nd time) you recommended that I again hire Kent A. because of his previous knowledge. I was of the belief you were sitting in on our discussions on a father/son kind of relationship.
When you told me that you wanted to be paid you said you would accept from me whatever amount I thought . . . .
. . . .
In the future, if you are to participate in my legal affairs, I want you to set forth your terms for payment in writing.
I want to put this “pay” matter behind us. If you believe that you have money due you will you please advise by writing to me within the next 10 days—and send a copy to Kent.
Moreover, the stipulation and agreement signed by Robert in April 2005 provides that “[a]ny claim against Robert[’s] . . . estate for fees, services, or other matters, made by [appellant], to the extent allowed, have been fully satisfied as of [April 8].”
The testimony of two of Robert’s attorneys supports the conclusion that appellant was not providing legal services to Robert pursuant to any agreement between appellant and his father. James Stewart, an attorney who assisted Robert beginning in December 2001 in amending his estate plan, testified that appellant accompanied Robert to most of their meetings and that, after reviewing the itemized statements that appellant sent to Robert, it appeared to him that appellant was charging Robert for the same services that Stewart provided, despite the fact that Stewart had not engaged appellant to assist him. Stewart also testified that neither appellant nor Robert told him that Robert had engaged appellant to represent Robert, noting that
if anyone, [appellant] or [Robert] . . . had ever suggested to me that [appellant was] representing [Robert] on the same matter as me, in other words that we were co-counsel, I would immediately have objected. I would not have proceeded with [appellant] as co-counsel on this matter. I never got any indication either from [appellant] or from [Robert] that he . . . had engaged [appellant] to give advice on the same matter that I was giving him advice.
John Kelly, an attorney who represented Robert concerning several legal matters beginning in 2002, similarly testified that although appellant often accompanied Robert to office meetings, Kelly did not ask appellant to assist him with his father’s legal matters and that neither Robert nor appellant told him that Robert had asked appellant to provide him with legal services. Specifically, Kelly noted, “I have absolutely no reason . . . to believe that at any time [Robert] was represented in the several matters which I appeared for him by anyone other than me.” Kelly added that had he known that appellant was also acting as Robert’s attorney, he “would have insisted that Robert . . . terminate one or the other because [he] never would have served as co-counsel with [appellant].”
Meagher v. Kavli, 251
[a]n account stated comes into being through an acknowledgment or an acquiescence in the existing condition of liability between the parties. If an account rendered is acquiesced in by the parties and the correctness of the statement is admitted, then the law will imply a promise to pay whatever balance is thus acknowledged to be owing and due, without further proof; likewise, proof of the retention of a statement of account without objection for more than a reasonable length of time may under certain circumstances operate as proof of an acquiescence in or an admission of the correctness of the statement of account and permit the legal inference that an account stated has been established.
Here, there is no record evidence to support the assertion that Robert and appellant discussed legal fees, that Robert acknowledged that he owed appellant for services appellant allegedly provided him, or that Robert admitted the accuracy of appellant’s billing statements, if he ever even received them. Further, there is no evidence, other than appellant’s own statements, that Robert requested that appellant provide him with legal services.
Because the record shows that Robert and appellant did not have an agreement with regard to the legal services appellant allegedly provided to Robert and that Robert did not acquiesce to such services, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied appellant’s claim for $388,749 in attorney fees.
Appellant also argues that the district court erred by admitting Robert’s May 3, 2005 will to probate because the will was the product of undue influence. Specifically, appellant contends that his brothers, Lee and Donald, improperly convinced Robert to disinherit appellant in the May 2005 will by “exert[ing] extreme pressure and influence” over Robert.
invalidate a will, undue influence must be such as to substitute the will of
the person exercising it for that of the testator, thereby making the written
results not the will of the testator.” In re Estate of Rasmussen, 244
consider the following factors when determining whether a testator was unduly
influenced: (1) an opportunity to exercise influence; (2) a confidential
relationship between the testator and the party claimed to have influenced the
testator; (3) active participation in the preparation of the will by the
alleged influencer; (4) disinheritance of those whom the testator would have
been expected to remember or an unreasonable disposition; (5) a singularity of
the provisions of the will; and (6) the exercise of either influence or
persuasion to induce the testator to make the will. Peterson,
Here, appellant argues that both Lee and Donald exercised undue influence over Robert in the making of his May 2005 will. But the district court disagreed, determining that appellant did not show by clear-and-convincing evidence that the will was “the product of undue influence.” The district court was persuaded by the fact that Robert met with his attorney several times in making the will, took the will home for review, and that the will was consistent with the April 2005 stipulation and agreement between Robert, Lee, and Donald. Further, the will was witnessed by Debra L. Sagedahl and Jerry S. Ophoven, who declared that Robert signed it voluntarily and willingly, without undue influence.
As a general rule,
the appellant bears the burden of providing an adequate record. Mesenbourg
v. Mesenbourg, 538 N.W.2d 489, 494 (
Finally, appellant argues that Lee and Donald “refused to provide relevant discovery regarding undue influence” and that the district court therefore abused its discretion in failing to either amend its findings and judgment or to enter an order compelling discovery and granting a new trial.
district court “has wide discretion to issue discovery orders and, absent clear
abuse of that discretion, normally its order with respect thereto will not be
disturbed.” Shetka v. Kueppers, Kueppers, Von Feldt & Salmen, 454 N.W.2d
916, 921 (
In appellant’s motion, he argued that Lee and Donald failed to provide him with requested and relevant discovery with regard to the issue of undue influence. In its order dated October 24, 2006, the district court denied appellant’s motion but did not directly address appellant’s motion to compel or his claim that Lee and Donald had failed to provide him with relevant discovery.
the Minnesota Supreme Court held in St.
Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Lenzmeier, 309 Minn. 134, 138, 243
N.W.2d 153, 156 (1976), that a district court’s refusal to decide a party’s
discovery motion did not require reversal when the party was not prejudiced by
the district court’s refusal. See also Waters v. Fiebelkorn, 216