A Proper MRCP 54(b) Certification

February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

In February, 1969, John Whitehead, Jr., executed a will naming his wife, Marie, and their four sons at the time, each mentioned by name, as his beneficiaries. The will set up a family trust to support Marie for her life, and then to support the named sons until each reached age 30, at which time each would receive his share of the corpus.

There were two subsequent codicils to the will. There were also two after-born children, one legitimate and one illegitimate.

The will and codicils were admitted to probate, and Jonathan, the illegitimate son, filed a declaratory judgment action in the estate proceeding asking the court to declare that he was a residuary beneficiary because the trust failed.

The chancellor granted summary judgment in favor of the estate, adding a R54(b) certification of finality, finding that there was “no just cause for delay.”

The COA took the case and affirmed in Whitehead v. Estate of Whitehead, rendered September 24, 2013.

This case illustrates what I consider to be an ideal situation for application of R54(b). The judge’s ruling disposed of all of Jonathan’s issues in the estate. The declaratory judgment action was essentially put to an end by the R56 summary judgment, so there was no sense in making Jonathan await the closing of the estate, which may take some considerably longer time, before he could take his appeal. The R54(b) ruling had the added advantage that, if the COA reversed, Jonathan could possibly return to the chancery court to participate in the ongoing administration of the estate.

I’ve posted here many times about cases rejected by our appellate courts due to no or improper R54(b) certification. Reading the R54(b) decisions, it appears that oftentimes it is unclear whether the case is a proper one for its application. This case was pretty clear.

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