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In re Weidner

Court of Appeals of Utah

January 10, 2019

In the matter of Stephen M. Weidner.
v.
Guardian and Conservator Services LLC, Appellee. SuAnn Taylor Weidner, Appellant,

          Fourth District Court, Provo Department The Honorable James R. Taylor No. 123400054

          Daniel K. Brough and Barry N. Johnson, Attorneys for Appellant

          Scott W. Hansen and Brenda L. Flanders, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Michele M. Christiansen Forster authored this Opinion, in which Judges Ryan M. Harris and Diana Hagen concurred.

          OPINION

          CHRISTIANSEN FORSTER, JUDGE

         ¶1 Guardian and Conservator Services LLC (Guardian) served as the court-appointed guardian and conservator for Stephen M. Weidner. SuAnn Taylor Weidner, Stephen's spouse, disagreed with Guardian's administration of the estate and initiated an action for separate maintenance naming Stephen and Guardian, in its capacity as guardian and conservator for Stephen, as respondents.[1] Guardian, Stephen, and SuAnn subsequently executed a settlement agreement resolving all outstanding issues between them. The relative calm was short-lived, however, as both SuAnn and Guardian soon came to believe that the other had breached the agreement. SuAnn and Guardian each requested that the trial court enforce the terms of the settlement agreement. For the alleged breaches, SuAnn sought damages from Guardian in its individual capacity rather than in its role as guardian and conservator for Stephen. The trial court rejected SuAnn's arguments, granting summary judgment for Guardian and dismissing some of SuAnn's claims. Following trial, the court dismissed SuAnn's remaining claims because it determined that Guardian was not individually liable to SuAnn under the relevant provisions of the settlement agreement. SuAnn appeals. We reverse the trial court's grant of summary judgment, vacate its findings of fact and conclusions of law resulting from the trial, and remand for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 SuAnn and Stephen had been married approximately fourteen years when SuAnn initiated divorce proceedings. A few months later, Stephen's friend, business advisor, and personal attorney filed a petition seeking appointment of a guardian and conservator for Stephen due to his infirmity. Subsequently, the divorce action was dismissed and SuAnn stipulated to the appointment of Guardian as guardian and conservator for Stephen in the guardianship action.

         ¶3 Following Guardian's appointment, SuAnn filed a complaint for separate maintenance in a different court, naming Stephen and Guardian, in its capacity as guardian and conservator for Stephen, as respondents. In her separate maintenance petition, SuAnn generally alleged that Stephen and Guardian had failed to provide her sufficient support. Instead of providing SuAnn sustaining support, she asserted, Guardian merely represented that the estate lacked sufficient funds. Indeed, Guardian had maintained that the estate's liquid assets were less than that needed to cover the estate's expenses.

         ¶4 Two days after SuAnn filed the separate maintenance action, the court granted SuAnn's motion to enjoin Guardian from selling two parcels of real property, scheduled to be sold that day. However, the restraining order was served on Guardian and the other named defendants after the sales closed. Approximately five days later, SuAnn served the defendants with her separate maintenance complaint. Due to the sale of the parcels, SuAnn amended her complaint to incorporate quiet title and conversion claims. The separate maintenance case and the guardianship case were later consolidated.

         ¶5 In an effort to resolve all of the pending claims, SuAnn, Guardian, and Stephen engaged in mediation and ultimately executed a settlement agreement (the Agreement). Among other things, the Agreement provided for: (1) dismissal of SuAnn's separate maintenance action; (2) the sale of the marital home; (3) establishment of the Weidner Trust, naming SuAnn as its sole beneficiary; and (4) the continuing obligations of Guardian as court-appointed guardian and conservator for Stephen. As to the sale of the marital home, SuAnn retained exclusive decision-making authority to "identify household furnishings to be included in the sale of the [h]ome." The president of Guardian signed the Agreement twice: once on behalf of the business entity, in its individual capacity, and once on behalf of Stephen, in Guardian's capacity as his guardian and conservator.

         ¶6 As anticipated, Guardian listed the marital home for sale. SuAnn, who was living in the home at the time, removed some trees from the property and placed them on property belonging to a third party. Following an offer to purchase the property, SuAnn refused to allow a realtor to access the home to prepare for the sale, and she refused to vacate on the date scheduled for the sale's closing. Fearing disruption of the sale, Guardian asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order. The court ultimately denied the request due to the availability of contractual remedies, and it indicated that while "what [SuAnn] has done to the home is annoying," her conduct "is far from looting."

         ¶7 Several months later, SuAnn filed a motion to enforce the Agreement, seeking damages for alleged breaches by Guardian. Guardian denied the allegations and followed suit with its own motion to enforce the Agreement. While the enforcement motions were pending, Stephen passed away. Guardian then transferred the remaining assets in the estate to SuAnn, terminating its role as guardian and conservator for Stephen. Subsequently, SuAnn filed a document entitled "Combined (1) Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement, and (2) Objections to Final Accounting." SuAnn argued that, under the terms of the Agreement, Guardian undertook responsibilities to SuAnn in its individual capacity rather than in its capacity as Stephen's guardian and conservator and did not fulfill those obligations. Consequently, she contended, Guardian was individually liable for the alleged breaches.

         ¶8 The trial court requested additional briefing and held a hearing before narrowing the issue to "whether [Guardian] is individually liable for performance breaches." The trial court concluded that Guardian consented to paragraph 4 of the Agreement-the section detailing Guardian's continuing obligations as guardian and conservator of Stephen (the Continuing Obligations Provision)-in its capacity as guardian and conservator, not in its individual capacity. In other words, if Guardian had breached the Continuing Obligations Provision, the estate could be held liable but not Guardian individually. The court also concluded that, with respect to other provisions in the Agreement, Guardian had indeed undertaken unique responsibilities to SuAnn and received benefits distinct from those received by its ward. Specifically, in its individual capacity, Guardian agreed to a general release of claims against ...


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