Trusts and Estates

Dupree v. CIT Bank, N.A.

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Cite as A163903
Filed May 31, 2023
First District, Div. Four

By Michelle Barnett Batista
Aaron, Riechert, Carpol & Riffle, APC

Headnote:  Amendment of Pleadings to Substitute New Party

Summary:  Complaint that named trust, rather than trustee, as plaintiff did not deprive court of fundamental jurisdiction and trial court abused its discretion in denying leave to file an amended complaint substituting trustee as the plaintiff.

Dupree, an attorney and trustee of the Jo Redland Trust (“Trust”), filed a complaint which named the Trust as the plaintiff.  Three years later, Dupree sought leave to amend the complaint to substitute himself, as successor trustee, as the plaintiff.  The trial court denied leave to amend on the ground that the complaint was a nullity from inception.  Thus, Dupree could not rely on the “relation back” doctrine to avoid a statute of limitations bar, rendering the proposed amendment legally futile and unjustifiably late.  Dupree appealed.  

The appellate court reversed.  A trust lacks capacity to sue because it has no independent legal existence.  However, a court has inherent power to determine its own jurisdiction and the discretionary power to allow a curative amendment.  Here, the trial court’s refusal to exercise its discretion when presented with undisputed facts demonstrating that an existing party with capacity to sue did exist and had been mistakenly omitted from the original complaint, amounted to a failure to discharge its duty to assume jurisdiction.  Although Dupree was an indispensable party, his absence did not deprive the court of fundamental jurisdiction.

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