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In re Estate of Wilson

Court of Appeals of Iowa

February 7, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF LESLIE TRUE WILSON, Deceased.
v.
SUSAN WOODALL FISHER and JOHN C. WERDEN, Executors, Respondents-Appellees. DAVID LANCE WILSON, Petitioner-Appellant,

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Crawford County, Patrick H. Tott, Judge.

         David Wilson appeals a district court order granting summary judgment on his petition for a declaratory judgment.

          Bradley J. Nelson of Norelius Nelson Law Firm, Denison, for appellant.

          Aaron W. Ahrendsen of Eich, Werden & Steger, P.C., Carroll, for appellees.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and McDonald, JJ.

          MCDONALD, JUDGE.

         David Wilson appeals a district court order granting summary judgment on his petition for a declaratory judgment. He contends a genuine issue of material fact existed and the court therefore erred in granting summary judgment. He alternatively argues the district court abused its discretion in declining to reserve ruling pending further discovery.

         I.

         Leslie Wilson and Susan Woodall Fisher were same-sex partners. They were married in Colorado sometime before November 6, 1991.[1] On November 6, 1991, Leslie executed her last will and testament. Under the will, Susan was to receive Leslie's entire estate. Leslie's brother, David, was listed as the successor beneficiary.

         Leslie passed away in March 2014. In December, Susan filed an application for probate of a foreign probated will in the Iowa District Court for Crawford County. The district court admitted Leslie's will into probate and appointed the appellees as personal representatives of the Iowa estate. Susan subsequently filed an election to take under the will as Leslie's surviving spouse. In June 2015, the personal representatives executed and recorded a court officer deed conveying an undivided one-half interest in real property owned by Leslie at the time of her death to Susan.

         In January 2016, David filed a petition for a declaratory judgment. He alleged that after Leslie executed her will Susan and Leslie "dissolved" their marriage and they "never cohabited again and never remarried." Pursuant to Iowa Code section 633.271(1), he argued such dissolution acted as a revocation of all provisions in the will in favor of Susan. In her answer, Susan denied her and Leslie's marriage was ever dissolved.

         The representatives moved for summary judgment. In his subsequent statement of disputed facts, David alleged, among other things, Susan and Leslie terminated their relationship and divided their assets in 2005. David also moved the court to reserve ruling on the summary-judgment motion pending the completion of discovery. The district court denied David's motion to reserve ruling and granted the representatives' motion for summary judgment. In doing so, the court concluded the terms "divorce" and "dissolution" as used in section 633.271 are synonymous. As noted, David appeals.

         II.

         "We review a district court ruling granting a motion for summary judgment for correction of errors at law." Plowman v. Fort Madison Cmty. Hosp., 896 N.W.2d 393, 398 (Iowa 2017) (quoting Estate of Gray ex rel. Gray v. Baldi, 880 N.W.2d 451, 455 (Iowa 2016)). Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3). "We . . . view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and will grant that party all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record." Plowman, 896 N.W.2d at 398 (ellipsis in original) (quoting Baldi, 880 N.W.2d at 455). "Summary judgment is appropriate if the only conflict concerns the legal consequences of undisputed facts." Id. (quoting Peppmeier v. Murphy, 708 N.W.2d 57, 58 (Iowa 2005)). We also review the district court's interpretation of a statute for legal error. DuTrac Cmty. Credit ...


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