Unless Truly Conflicting Proof Presented To Justify Denials, Then Costs Of Proof Sanctions In Play Where Nothing Supporting Certain Blanket Denials.
Usually, the abuse of discretion standard is difficult to surmount. However, where the proof only admits of one reasonable conclusion, don’t be surprised by some reversals depending upon the circumstances, as Crowe v. Tweten, Case No. E058311 (4th Dist., Div. 2 Dec. 29, 2014) (unpublished) demonstrates.
This case involved testamentary capacity, forgery, and related activities in connection with the validity of an amendment to a trust executed by trustors (husband and wife)—although the dispute focused on the capacity and signature of wife. Four RFAs were propounded by husband trustor (and beneficiary) Leonard, drawing boilerplate objections from the objecting children and one further word--“Denied.” Leonard prevailed after a bench trial, with Leonard then filing a motion seeking $1.5 million in fees as “costs of proof” sanctions for the RFA denials he claimed were material and unjustified. The lower court denied the costs of proof motion in entirety.
On appeal, the reviewing court found that the denials in three out of four instances constituted an abuse of discretion, while the forgery RFA costs of proof sanctions denial was proper.
Without getting into excruciating detail, the appellate court reviewed the opposition costs of sanction proof and simply found it was not credible with respect to denying three of the four RFAs. For example, wife’s intent to pass her assets to Leonard for his death was consistent throughout the evidence, such that the denial was baseless.
However, on the forgery RFA, the opposing children had a belief they might prevail because mother’s signature was not notarized and several handwriting experts expressed skepticism or an opinion that the signature was not mother’s.
However, the matter had to be remanded for Leonard to detail with particularity the actual expenses incurred in proving the matters unreasonably denied in the three RFAs subject to the reversal, not just a blanket assertion of costs incurred with no specific delineation otherwise