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Case No. 19-0847

For summaries from opinions prior to August, 2018, view PDF versions here

Kathleen Brownell
Scott M. Johnson


Kathleen Brownell


Scott M. Johnson

Attorneys for Appellee

Jeremy L. Thompson

Attorneys for Appellants

William T. Talbot

Gary J. Streit, for amicus curiae Iowa Academy of Trust and Estate Counsel

Court of Appeals

Court of Appeals Opinion

Opinion Number:
Date Published:
Nov 04, 2020

            Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Palo Alto County, Nancy L. Whittenburg, Judge.  REVERSED AND REMANDED.  Considered by Doyle, P.J., and Mullins and Greer, JJ.  Opinion by Greer, J.  Special Concurrence by Mullins, J.  (21 pages)

                Kathleen Brownell sued Scott Johnson, her former stepson, claiming he intentionally interfered with the decree dissolving her marriage to Scott’s father, Phillip Johnson, which awarded Kathleen $1600 in alimony each month.  The jury found in Kathleen’s favor and awarded her $59,800.  Scott appeals that judgment.  He maintains the court should have entered judgment for him—either by granting his motion for directed verdict or granting his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict—because the court could conclude as a matter of law that his conduct was not improper given his role as trustee or as agent under power of attorney.  In the alternative, Scott argues the trial court should have granted his motion for new trial because there was “sufficient irregularity” in the proceedings to warrant a new trial.   The Iowa Academy of Trust and Estate Counsel sought leave to file an amicus brief, which our supreme court granted before transferring the case to us.  The amicus’s stated purpose in filing an appellate brief “is to assure that [our] disposition of the appeal does not result in the adoption of a standard that the trustee of a trust owes any duty to the creditor of a beneficiary of a trust when the trustee is making distributions to other beneficiaries of the trust in compliance with terms of the trust.”  OPINION HOLDS: The district court should have granted Scott’s motion for directed verdict regarding Kathleen’s claim. The law does not support the jury verdict, so it is improper and the verdict should be vacated.  Nothing in this ruling should translate into a duty on trustees to consider the interests of third-party creditors over the interests of the trust beneficiaries.  Finally, Kathleen is not entitled to appellate attorney fees in this case.  We reverse and remand for the district court to enter an order vacating the judgment and dismissing Kathleen’s petition with prejudice and assess costs to Kathleen.  SPECIAL CONCURRENCE ASSERTS: I specially concur to call into question the viability of Kathleen’s theory of the case.  Iowa has not recognized the tort of interference with contract rights arising out of a settlement agreement that has been approved and incorporated into a decree dissolving a marriage.

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