A notable decision has been rendered by the Second Department, dismissing a trust rescission action as a result of Plaintiff’s failure to join certain remainderpersons and charitable beneficiaries as parties.
In Estate of Nowitz v. Nowtiz, 2009 NY Slip Op 06660 (2d Dept 2009), the Decedent had commenced an action during his lifetime to rescind an irrevocable trust agreement without the consent of the trustee. After a jury trial entering a judgment in favor of the Plaintiff’s Decedent, the Defendant appealed seeking a dismissal for failure to join necessary parties and the expiration of the statute of limitations. The Second Department remitted the case to the Supreme Court for a determination (see Estate of Nowitz v. Nowtiz, 37 AD3d 788 [2d Dept 2007]).
According to the lower court, one of the remainderpersons and two of the charitable beneficiaries had waived any appearance on the matter. It further opined that plaintiff’s failure to join the remaining four beneficiaries was excusable due to their notice of the action before it proceeded to trial, and failure to intervene (Estate of Nowitz v. Nowtiz, 2009 NY Slip Op 066600 [2d Dept 2009]).
Relying on CPLR 1001(b), the Appellate Division reversed. It explained that according to statute, courts may excuse failure to join a necessary party upon consideration of five factors:
· Whether there exists another remedy for the petitioner if the action is dismissed due to nonjoinder;
· The prejudice to the party who has not been joined;
· Whether and by whom prejudice may have been, or may in the future be, avoided;
· Whether a protective provision in the judgment is feasible; and
· Whether an effective judgment may be rendered in the absence of the party that was not joined (see CPLR 1001[b]).
Although the Court recognized that the first factor was in favor of excusing the nonjoinder because the plaintiff had no other effective remedy, it determined that a consideration of the remaining factors weighed against proceeding in the absence of the beneficiaries that had not been joined (Estate of Nowitz v. Nowtiz, 2009 NY Slip Op 066600).
Specifically, in light of the second and third factors, the Court held that the beneficiaries would be greatly prejudiced if the trust were rescinded without their participation in the action, and that the plaintiff could have avoided prejudice to the beneficiaries by timely joining them as defendants. The Appellate Division rejected the Supreme Court’s conclusion that the nonjoinder was excusable because the beneficiaries could have avoided any prejudice by seeking to interve; instead holding that this fact was outweighed by the absence of a reasonable excuse for failure to join (id.).
In contemplating the forth CPLR 1001(b) factor, the Court opined that the facts were not in favor of proceeding in the absence of beneficiaries; a protective provision in an ultimate judgment was not feasible because rescission of the trust would directly affect their economic interests. Finally, the Court held that the efficacy of a judgment would be questionable without the participation of the beneficiaries who had not been joined, thus rendering the fifth factor against nonjoinder as well (id.).
Because four of the five CPLR 1001(b) factors weighed against proceeding without those who had not been joined in the action, the Appellate Division held that these beneficiaries were indispensible parties. Coupling this with the fact that the applicable statute of limitations had expired, the Court dismissed the action (id.).
The foregoing serves as a caveat to trust and estate litigators, emphasizing the importance of joining all beneficiaries in a proceeding. Although dismissal is never desirable for the petitioner or plaintiff, a dismissal predicated on failure to join an indispensible party is especially unpleasant considering the ease of avoiding such a result. Indeed, where the CPLR 1001(b) factors render a party to be necessary, a beneficiary’s failure to intervene upon notice of the proceeding is no excuse. Inclusion of all indispensable parties is the responsibility of the party commencing the action.