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Hauser v. Hauser

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

February 21, 2017

TERESA KAY HAUSER, Plaintiff,
v.
DARRELL S. HAUSER and ROBIN E. WHITAKER HAUSER, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 16 November 2016.

         Appeal by plaintiff from order entered 3 March 2016 by Judge John O. Craig, III, in Forsyth County No. 15CVS7698 Superior Court.

          The Law Office of Michelle Vincler, by Michelle Vincler, for plaintiff-appellant.

          David E. Shives, PLLC, by David E. Shives, for defendants-appellees.

          DAVIS, Judge.

         This appeal presents the issues of whether (1) North Carolina law recognizes a cause of action for tortious interference with an expected inheritance by a potential beneficiary during the lifetime of the testator; and (2) in cases where a living parent has grounds to bring claims for constructive fraud or breach of fiduciary duty such claims may be brought instead by a child of the parent based upon her anticipated loss of an expected inheritance. Teresa Kay Hauser ("Plaintiff") appeals from the trial court's 3 March 2016 order granting the motion to dismiss of Darrell S. Hauser and Robin E. Whitaker Hauser (collectively "Defendants") as to her claims for tortious interference with an expected inheritance, constructive fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty as well as her request for an accounting.[1] Because Plaintiffs claims for relief are not legally viable in light of the facts she has alleged, we affirm the trial court's order.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         We have summarized the pertinent facts below using Plaintiffs own statements from her complaint, which we treat as true in reviewing the trial court's order granting a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Feltman v. City of Wilson, 238 N.C.App. 246, 247, 767 S.E.2d 615, 617 (2014).

         Plaintiff and Darrell S. Hauser ("Darrell") are the only children of Hilda Hege Hauser ("Mrs. Hauser") and her late husband, James Hauser ("Mr. Hauser"). Before his death, Mr. Hauser set up a trust (the "Trust"), naming Edward Jones Investments as trustee and listing Plaintiff, Darrell, and Mrs. Hauser as the Trust's beneficiaries. On 31 December 1998, Mrs. Hauser executed a will, devising all of her real and personal property to Plaintiff and Darrell per stirpes in the event that Mr. Hauser predeceased her. Her real property included a residence located on Harper Road in Lewisville, North Carolina (the "Harper Road Property"). The 1998 will also devised her residual estate to the trustee of the Hilda Hege Hauser Revocable Trust Agreement.

         On 8 March 2005, Mrs. Hauser executed a power of attorney, naming Plaintiff as her attorney-in-fact. In late 2011, Darrell's wife, Robin Hauser ("Robin"), began caring for Mrs. Hauser. Mrs. Hauser's primary sources of income at this time consisted of payments from the Trust and her social security benefits. She also maintained checking and savings accounts with Wells Fargo.

         Beginning in December 2011, as a result of the exercise of undue influence over Mrs. Hauser by Defendants, Mrs. Hauser began transferring money from the Trust to her Wells Fargo accounts and withdrawing cash from these accounts. Between 27 December 2011 and 24 April 2012, these transfers and withdrawals totaled approximately $20, 000.

         During March 2012, Plaintiff "was alerted to questionable transfers of funds from the Trust to [Mrs.] Hauser's Wells Fargo accounts by a trustee at Edward Jones Investments." Upon learning of these transactions, Plaintiff transferred $12, 000 from Mrs. Hauser's Wells Fargo account to Plaintiffs personal account pursuant to her authority as Mrs. Hauser's attorney-in-fact.

         On 12 July 2012, Mrs. Hauser revoked the 8 March 2005 power of attorney naming Plaintiff as her attorney-in-fact and executed a new power of attorney (the "2012 Power of Attorney"), appointing Darrell as her attorney-in-fact.[2] That same day, she executed a new will, which devised the Harper Road Property to Darrell and left the remainder of her real and personal property to Plaintiff and Darrell in equal shares.

         On 22 January 2015, Mrs. Hauser created the Hilda Hege Hauser Irrevocable Trust (the "Irrevocable Trust"). On that same day, she signed a quitclaim deed for the Harper Road Property to Darrell and an attorney, George M. Cleland, IV, as trustees of the Irrevocable Trust.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in Forsyth County Superior Court on 17 December 2015 alleging constructive fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with an expected inheritance, and undue influence. In her complaint, she sought, inter alia, the return of any of Mrs. Hauser's funds that had been fraudulently transferred from her accounts, the removal of Darrell as Mrs. Hauser's attorney-in-fact, the revocation of Mrs. Hauser's July 2012 will, and an order requiring Darrell to "render an accounting of his actions as [Mrs.] Hauser's attorney-in-fact from July 12, 2012 to the date of the filing of th[e] Complaint."

         On 12 February 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and filed an answer twelve days later. A hearing was held on Defendants' motion to dismiss before the Honorable John O. Craig, III, on 29 February 2016. On 3 March 2016, the trial ...


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