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Prins v. Michaeles

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 15, 2019

HARRY DE PRINS, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
MICHAEL J. MICHAELES, Trustee of the Donald Belanger Irrevocable Trust dated October 28, 2008; DONALD BELANGER IRREVOCABLE TRUST Dated October 28, 2008, Defendants, Appellants.

          APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Timothy S. Hillman, U.S. District Judge]

          Michael J. Rossi, with whom Conn Kavanaugh Rosenthal Peisch & Ford LLP was on brief, for appellants.

          J. Mark Dickison, with whom Ryan A. Ciporkin, Laura S. Sawyer, and Lawson & Weitzen, LLP, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Lynch, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          LYNCH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This is an important case about Massachusetts trust law which we think is better answered by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). Accordingly, we certify to the SJC under its Rule 1:03 an unresolved question under both state common law and state statutes concerning whether a judgment creditor of the settlor's estate may reach and apply assets in an irrevocable spendthrift trust after the death of the self-settlor of the trust.

         I.

         Harry De Prins brought this reach and apply action against a Massachusetts spendthrift trust created by his parents' murderer, Donald Belanger, to enforce an Arizona wrongful death judgment against Belanger's estate. The parties do not dispute the relevant facts, which we draw from the record.

         In 2000, Donald and Ellen Belanger moved from Massachusetts to Arizona. In 2005, their neighbors Armand and Simonne De Prins filed a lawsuit against the Belangers and others over shared water rights. In 2007, the De Prinses obtained a monetary judgment against the Belangers.

         In June 2008, the Belangers moved from Arizona to California. Ellen Belanger committed suicide there on October 4, 2008, distressed at least in part about the loss of the lawsuit. Immediately after Ellen Belanger's death, the Belangers' daughter, Christina Clark, drove to California and convinced her father to return to Arizona with her.

         One week after his wife's suicide, Donald Belanger contacted his attorney, Michael J. Michaeles, about creating an irrevocable trust. On October 28, 2008, Belanger created the Donald A. Belanger Irrevocable Trust Dated October 28, 2008 ("the Trust"), a self-settled trust that named Michaeles as its sole trustee and Belanger himself as its sole beneficiary during his life. The Trust provided that Clark would become the sole beneficiary after Belanger's death. It also contained a spendthrift clause and provided that Belanger could not "alter, amend, revoke, or terminate" the Trust. Belanger signed the Trust on November 3, 2008, and conveyed substantially all of his assets to Michaeles as trustee.

         Four months after he signed the Trust, on March 2, 2009, Belanger shot and killed Armand and Simonne De Prins in a Walmart parking lot in Show Low, Arizona. The next morning, police stopped Belanger on Interstate 25 in New Mexico. Before the officer approached Belanger's car, Belanger shot and killed himself.

         Michaeles, who was already the trustee of the Trust, then became personal representative of Belanger's estate, which he probated in Arizona.

         On June 10, 2010, the De Prinses' son, Harry De Prins ("De Prins"), brought a wrongful death action in Arizona state court against Michaeles as personal representative of Belanger's estate. That action was removed ...


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