In Sloan v. Segal, No. 2319-VCS (Del. Ch., Jan. 27, 2010), read letter decision here, the Court of Chancery adhered to its prior opinion after the Supreme Court remanded for clarification. The prior trial court opinions in this case were highlighted on this blog here.
The primary and short reason I include this ruling on the blog is for its discussion of the difference between how a witness was actually used and offered at trial, compared to the description of how the role of that witness was described in the pre-trial stipulation (which were not the same).
This letter ruling is based on the remand from the Supreme Court which held that it was improper for the trial court to “exclude certain deposition testimony.” That testimony was in the form of a deposition by the expert for the Petitioner. The deposition was not offered into evidence during the Petitioners’ case-in-chief. In the pretrial stipulation, as the Supreme Court noted, Respondent Louis Segal agreed that the deposition of that expert could be admitted despite the fact that the deposition had not been conducted as a trial deposition.
Issue upon Remand
The issue upon remand was whether the inclusion of the deposition testimony of the Petitioner’s expert, Dr. Ayden Bill, would have changed the trial court’s decision.
The Petitioners indicated at the pre-trial conference that they would only use Dr. Bill as a rebuttal witness and that the pretrial stipulation said that Dr. Bill’s testimony could come in either live or by deposition. However, the Court and counsel for the Respondent were given the impression that because he was a rebuttal witness it was expected that the rebuttal witness would appear live to address the case presented by the other party.
The Supreme Court reasoned that the original pre-trial stipulation regarding the introduction of Dr. Bill’s deposition had never been altered.
In its decision after remand, the Court of Chancery explained that it read the entire deposition testimony of Dr. Bill and concluded that: “Nothing in it persuades me that the measured conclusions I previously reached were erroneous. At best, Dr. Bill speculates that Mrs. Sloan might have had some unexpressed change of heart and desired to leave wealth to the Petitioners Frank and Jack Sloan, despite: (1) A total absence on the effort on their part to resume contact with her; and (2) The total lack of any effort by Frank and Jack to foster a relationship between their children and their grandmother, Mrs. Sloan. Indeed, Dr. Bill admits he is speculating in this regard.”
Moreover, the Court adds in support of its conclusion to “adhere to [its] previous decision,” that: “all in all, Dr. Bill provides no rational basis to conclude Mrs. Sloan had any intention to leave her wealth to the two sons who abandoned her and whose sole reaction to her aging and change of residence to Florida involved maneuvering to try to secure wealth at her disposal.”
The Court also referred to the testimony of three other doctors that did support a finding that the Codicil was a product of the true wishes of Mrs. Sloan. The finding was also supported by medical records and the concession by the Petitioners that Mrs. Sloan had no reason to reward them. This all supports the view that she was competent when she expressed the clear intent to leave them nothing.