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Maria Denise Little, As Executor, Etc v. Elaine Fambrini

July 23, 2012

MARIA DENISE LITTLE, AS EXECUTOR, ETC., PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
ELAINE FAMBRINI, AS TRUSTEE, ETC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



(Super. Ct. No. 07AS01530)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mauro , J.

Little v. Fambrini CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Jeannie Ramsay Bacich sued the beneficiaries of the estate of Dorothy Desmond -- Michael Campanella, Leslie Campanella, Tosh Campanella, Forrest Campanella, Jeanette Mae Mendias, Frances "Jenny" Navarro, Joellyn E. Knight, and Elaine Fambrini (Beneficiaries) -- to enforce Dorothy's promise to leave her estate to Jeannie.*fn1 Beneficiaries appeal from a judgment following a bench trial.

Beneficiaries contend (1) there is no substantial evidence that Jeannie would suffer unconscionable injury if she did not receive Dorothy's estate, or that Dorothy's estate would be unjustly enriched if Jeannie did not receive Dorothy's estate; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in not allowing Beneficiaries to recover defense costs from the trust estate.

We conclude:

1. Substantial evidence supports the trial court's findings that Dorothy induced Jeannie to make a serious change of position in reliance on Dorothy's promise to leave her estate to Jeannie, and the failure to enforce Dorothy's promise would result in unconscionable injury to Jeannie. Accordingly, we need not address whether substantial evidence also supports the alternative circumstance of unjust enrichment.

2. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in disallowing recovery of Beneficiaries' litigation expenses from the estate.

We will affirm the judgment.

BACKGROUND

Dorothy gave her daughter Jeannie up for adoption in 1930. At the time, Dorothy was 17 years old and unmarried. Dorothy never had any other children.

Allan and Grace Archibald adopted Jeannie. Jeannie had a very loving relationship with the Archibalds.

Allan died in 1953. In 1954, when Jeannie was 24, she began efforts to locate her birth mother. As a result of those efforts, Dorothy and Jeannie began communicating. At the time, Dorothy was married to Albert Desmond; Jeannie had two young children, Michael and Suzi Campanella.*fn2

Jeannie and her children stayed with Dorothy and Albert for two months in 1954 or 1955. Dorothy also invited Grace to visit with them. According to Jeannie, Dorothy was a little jealous of Grace.

Dorothy gave Jeannie a copy of a handwritten will dated January 9, 1955, in which Dorothy left her entire estate to Jeannie. After the two-month visit, however, Jeannie's relationship with Dorothy diminished. Dorothy and Jeannie lost touch for nearly 30 years.

Grace subsequently lived with Jeannie and her family. Jeannie took care of Grace toward the end of Grace's life. Grace died in 1972.

In 1984, Dorothy and Jeannie reconnected. After their reunion, Dorothy and Jeannie grew close, seeing each other every week, traveling together, and spending holidays together. Dorothy referred to Jeannie as her daughter and to herself as "mother." Albert died in 1991.

In early 1992, when Dorothy was 79 years old, Dorothy proposed adopting Jeannie. Jeannie was 62 years old and had no interest in adoption. Jeannie had a social relationship with Dorothy and saw no reason to change or enhance their relationship. Jeannie was also concerned about severing legal ties with her sister Barbara (also adopted by the Archibalds) ...


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