Supreme Court affirms ruling in trust battle

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SANDPOINT — The Idaho Supreme Court is affirming a district court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit in which heirs claimed they were chiseled out of an inheritance that included 400 acres of property on Lake Pend Oreille.

Dwight Randy Green, Kathy Lefor, and Gary Green filed suit in 1st District Court against their brother, James Green. The suit challenged a sixth amendment to their parents’ trust and argued that the change was the product of undue influence exerted by their brother.

The trust was amended from an equal distribution between all of Ralph and Jeanne Green’s children to a 100-percent distribution to James Green that excluded the other siblings.

Ralph and Jeanne Green formed a corporation in 1976 to manage the waterfront property, which included four cabins and lease sites for 16 other cabins, according to court documents.

By 1998, Ralph and Jeanne had gifted 10-percent interest in the corporation to each of their children. The trust was created to hold their remaining 60-percent interest in the corporation.

The trust was originally meant to be distributed equally among their children upon the death of Ralph and Jeanne Green.

However, Green Family Enterprises amended its bylaws in 2010 to winnow the number of seats on the board from six to three. The siblings who would later file suit were not elected to the board.

Counsel for the siblings later questioned the elder Greens’ competency and their legal capacity to negotiate leases.

Weary of dealing with the siblings amid a dispute over placing the acreage into a conservation easement, Ralph Green directed an attorney to draw up an amendment to the trust to ensure their wishes would be carried out, according to court documents. Ralph Green, moreover, decided that James Green was best able to execute those wishes.

The aggrieved siblings filed suit in 2013, which triggered a defense motion for summary judgment that brought an abrupt end to the proceedings the following year.

Buchanan dismissed the siblings’ complaint after striking an affidavit filed by a doctor who concluded that the elder Greens were subjected to undue influence by John Green. Buchanan ruled that the doctor failed to link his opinion to supporting facts.

On appeal, the aggrieved siblings argued the facts were already in the record and court abused its discretion in striking the affidavit.

But high court Justice Joel Horton disagreed with that argument, according to a nine-page opinion published on Monday.

Horton noted that Ralph Green’s attorney attested that the elder Green’s stated their express wishes to him and that John Green was not looped into the plan to modify the trust before it occurred.

“Siblings have failed to identify any instance where James had the opportunity to exert undue influence on Ralph or Jeanne in connection with the sixth amendment,” Horton said in the nine-page opinion.

Chief Justice Roger Burdick concurred, as did justices Daniel Eismann, Warren Jones and Jim Jones.

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