Part II - Res judicata Bars Respondents from Re-litigating Case That Was Dismissed with Prejudice

As we discussed in our previous blog, the California Court of Appeal used the doctrine of res judicata to overturn a judgment made by the trial court to re-open a case that was already dismissed with prejudice. The facts of the case follows:

Patricia Margaret Redfield (decedent) is survived by her three children, Roan, True and Horan. The decedent had an estranged relationship with Roan and True (objectors and respondents), but had a close relationship with Nancy Horan (petitioner and appellant). A week prior to the decedent's death, she delivered a signed blank withdrawal slip to Horan for the purpose of purchasing a house for the both of them. Horan then used the slip to withdraw $136,000, which was later deposited in her own bank account.

After Patricia's death, True filed a petition for letters indicating that decedent died intestate with an estate consisting of $135,000 in personal property and $300,000 in real property. Horan contested the petition claiming that decedent left a will leaving 40% of the residual assets to Horan, the remainder to the grand and great-grandchildren, $1 to Roan, and $10,000 in trust for True. However, Horan admitted that the will was not properly executed as witness signatures were not present.

True and Roan challenged the will and the transfer of the money to Horan, claiming that the $136,000 should form part of the decedent's estate. Horan offered to settle the matter, proposing that she and respondents receive the residue of the estate in equal shares. True and Horan accepted the offer and subsequently withdrew their will contests and section 850 petitions. The probate court then denied with prejudice the petition to probate the will; denied probate of the will; and approved the settlement. The court also dismissed with prejudice respondents' contests and section 850 petitions concerning title to the $136,000. No objections were raised.

More than a year after the order approving the settlement was entered, True and Roan filed objections to the co-administrators account arguing that it was deficient since it did not include the $136,000 that was previously transferred by the decedent to Horan. Horan argued that the probate court's order approving the settlement was final and barred re-litigation of whether the $136,000 was part of the decedent's estate. The probate court determined that the $136,000 plus interest was part of the estate and ordered Horan to deposit that amount into the estate or deduct it from her share. Horan filed a timely appeal.

Stay tuned for more on this topic on our subsequent blog.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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