Can minor children sue the surviving father over an estate after the mother is killed in a car accident?
After a district court appointed a retired judge as Guardian Ad Litem for his children, Michael Soule filed an appeal to Supreme Court of Montana. Specifically, he asked the court to decide whether a district court "abused its discretion in appointing a guardian ad litem to determine whether the pursuit of certain legal claims would be in the best interests of the Soule children."
Guardian Ad Litem Appointed
A Guardian ad litem is a person the court appoints to investigate solutions that would be in the best interests of a child.
The lawyer representing the children, in this case, designated as J.S., K.S., and R.S., felt he had a basis for claims against the father and his business.
First, let's look at how the mother died. The parents were driving to a hotel where they were staying after spending time at a tavern when their vehicle rolled, ejecting both parents. The mother died in that accident.
Police charged the mother's husband, Michael Soule, with vehicular manslaughter while under the influence. The charges were eventually dismissed due to police misconduct and loss of critical evidence.
Children Prepare to Sue Father for Traveler's Insurance Settlement Money
Because the Soules had Safeco insurance, the insurer offered $300,000 to the children, to be split three ways. That sum represented the insurer's policy limits.
The maternal grandfather, Tom Reiner, decided to step in and petitioned the district court for approval of the settlement with Safeco and asked to be appointed conservator of the children's estate. The court granted his request, but limited his conservatorship to oversight of the Safeco settlement funds.
The court also appointed attorney Benjamin Alke to represent the children. Alke, in turn, decided that the children might have additional claims against the father related to Michael Soule's business, Belgrade Liquor. His reasoning? The business was insured by Traveler's Insurance and the policy had a $1 million limit. So he asked the district court to determine whether the kids should have a Guardian Ad Litem so they could pursue claims against the father and his business for the purpose of accessing those insurance funds.
After the father's criminal charges were dropped, he decided to object to Alke's petition to the court. He maintained that such a petition would introduce further trauma into their children's lives. After all, their mother had recently died and until recently, he had been charged with manslaughter.
His argument was also based - in part - on the fact that the eldest child attempted suicide.
Maybe this was coincidental, but It was after the suicide attempt that the district court decided to appoint retired Judge Dorothy McCarter as guardian ad litem.
Father Fights Appointment of Guardian Ad Litem
The Supreme Court of Montana, upon appeal, wondered whether the district court acted arbitrarily or "exceeded the bounds of reasons resulting in substantial injustice."
The father maintained that the lower court did abuse its discretion in the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem for the purpose of suing him and his business.
But the attorney, Alke, held that appointing a Guardian Ad Litem was in the best interest of the children.
What did the Supreme Court decide?
The justices ruled that while it is the right of a parent to make decisions for his or her children, in the end, the district court didn't abuse its discretion in appointing a Guardian Ad Litem for the children.
The court also determined that the surviving father's interests were in conflict with those of his children.
Who do you think should have prevailed in this case?