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In re Estate of Mohr

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 19, 2017


         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Osceola County, Nancy L. Whittenburg, Judge.

         A biological son of a decedent appeals after the probate court overruled his motion to strike the amended report and inventory filed by the administrator of the decedent's estate removing the son from the list of "heirs at law" on the report. AFFIRMED.

          John L. Sandy of Sandy Law Firm, Spirit Lake, for appellant.

          Zachary S. Hindman of Mayne, Arneson, Hindman, Hisey & Daane, Sioux City, for appellee Joan Mohr.

          Mark C. Cord III of Moore, Heffernan, Moeller, Johnson & Meis, L.L.P., Sioux City, for appellee Pamela Mohr.

          Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Doyle and McDonald, JJ.

          DOYLE, Judge.

         Jerry Mohr, a resident of Arizona, died intestate in August 2011. At the time of his death, Jerry owned a one-half interest in 160 acres of farmland in Osceola County, Iowa. This land is the subject of ancillary administration in Osceola County.[1] Based on the establishment of paternity in Arizona, the Iowa estate's administrator, Joan Mohr, Jerry's sister-in-law, filed a probate inventory listing Jonathon Langerman as an heir to the Iowa estate.

         Pamela Mohr, Jerry's surviving spouse, filed in Iowa district court a petition for declaratory judgment seeking a declaration that Jerry's biological son, Jonathon Langerman, is not an heir within the meaning of Iowa Code section 633.222 (2011). In 2014, this court affirmed the district court's ruling denying the petition for declaratory judgment. See Mohr v. Langerman, No. 13-1422, 2014 WL 5243364, at *1-3 (Iowa Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2014). Though we agreed with Pamela that section 633.222 requires proof of both paternity and recognition to establish heirship, Pamela, as the petitioner seeking the declaration, had the burden of proving the negative of either proposition to prevail. See id. at *1-2, *4. Because an Arizona court had already established Jerry is Langerman's biological father, Pamela had to prove Jerry did not recognize Langerman as his child. See id. at *3-4. Because Pamela did not meet that burden, we affirmed the denial of her declaratory-judgment petition. See id. at *6-10. Pamela's application for further review was denied by the Iowa Supreme Court.

         Thereafter, the administrator of Jerry's estate filed a motion to amend the estate's inventory seeking to delete Langerman from the inventory. The administrator stated Langerman had only been listed on the original inventory "to provide notice" to him of the proceedings. The administrator pointed out that neither this court nor the declaratory-judgment court explicitly found that Langerman is Jerry's heir; rather, it was only determined that Pamela failed to prove Langerman is not an heir. The administrator also noted Langerman's answers to interrogatories stated he had no personal recollection of seeing or speaking to Jerry. Because the original inventory listing Langerman as an heir was not conclusive of the fact Langerman is Jerry's heir, see Iowa Code § 633.367, and because there had been no explicit finding Langerman is Jerry's heir in either the declaratory-judgment action or in our opinion on appeal, the administrator requested the court grant her motion to amend to delete Langerman from the inventory. Resistances and replies and other motions were made by the parties. Following a hearing, the probate court granted the administrator's motion. In its March 23, 2016 ruling, the court noted the administrator's motion did not require the court to make a final determination on the status of Langerman as an heir entitled to take; instead, the motion merely required the court to consider whether the administrator had adequate justification to warrant amending the inventory. The court found the proffered additional information from Langerman's answers to interrogatories "adequate in conjunction with all known facts and circumstances to justify the removal of [the administrator's] designation of Langerman as an heir." But the court also recognized that Langerman was free to challenge the determination once amendment was made.

         More filings by the parties followed. Specifically, Langerman filed a motion to reconsider and a motion to stay pending interlocutory appeal. The motion to reconsider was resisted. The district court overruled the motion to reconsider and sustained the motion to stay the proceedings.

         In the meantime, the administrator filed the amended report and inventory removing Langerman from the inventory's list of heirs. Langerman then filed an objection to the amended inventory. Langerman stated his "right to be listed in the inventory has already been adjudicated and determined by [the district court in its declaratory-judgment ruling] in this matter and affirmed by the Court of Appeals, with the Supreme Court denying review in the case" and argued the administrator was "collaterally estopped from relitigating these issues by filing and amended inventory." He affirmatively stated he is Jerry's biological son and was "recognized as such by his father and, as such, is entitled to distributive rights to his father's estate." He requested an evidentiary hearing on the matter.

         After his motion to reconsider was denied, Langerman filed a motion for ruling on his pending objections to the amended inventory, a motion to strike the amended inventory, a motion for evidentiary hearing, and a notice he was withdrawing his request for stay of proceedings. On August 25, 2016, the probate court entered its ruling overruling Langerman's motion to strike, among other things. The court explained:

Having read the motions, the resistance, the reply to the resistance and the objection, the court finds that the pending motions filed by Langerman . . . have already been presented to the court and argued in previous hearings and rulings have been filed thereupon. The court has also entertained and ruled upon Langerman's previously filed motion to reconsider [the court's March 23, 2016 ruling, which sustained the administrator's motion to amend the estate's inventory]. Langerman's request of March 30, 2016 for a stay of these proceedings to appeal the court's previous decision sustaining the amendment to the inventory was granted with Langerman subsequently withdrawing the request for stay and foregoing the appeal of the court's decision regarding the prior motions. Now Langerman attempts to renew before the court the issue of the amendment to the inventory, which has been determined and reconsidered after argument and opportunity of each party to come before the court and fully present each party's position. Langerman disagreed with the court's ...

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