In Ramirez v. Rodriguez, 04-19-00618-CV (Tex. App. -San Antonio, Feb. 19, 2020 no pet. h) (mem. op.), three co-trustees of a Trust sued to remove Santiago, a fourth co-trustee. Santiago moved to dismiss the lawsuit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (the Act), asserting the lawsuit was based on, related to, or was in response to the exercise of his right to free speech and right to petition.
The appeals court assumed without deciding that the Texas Anti-SLAPP, TCPA applied to this suit to remove a co-trustee. It then moved to the second step in the Texas Anti-SLAPP process of whether the co-trustees who sought Santiago’s removal met their burden to establish by clear and specific evidence a prima facie case for each essential element of the claim in question.
Conclusion and Disposition
The court upheld the trial court’s denial of Santiago’s Texas Anti-SLAPP, TCPA motion to dismiss.
The co-trustees wanted Santiago removed as co-trustee based on ill will and hostility. A Trustee can’t be removed for that reason unless his ill will and hostility “affects his performance.” The co-trustees pleaded that Santiago had done eleven things that showed his ill will and hostility were affecting his performance, such as:
(1) sent a letter unilaterally and without the authority of the Trust to the postmistress of a post office complaining of tampering with the Trust’s mail which complaint was determined to be unfounded;
(2) sent letters and emails unilaterally and without the authority of the Trust to an auditor whose services the Trust sought to engage resulting in the auditor declining the engagement and costing the Trust legal fees for its attorney to locate a new auditor; etc.
The court ruled that the co-trustees had met their burden of providing specific evidence of a prima facie case for each essential element of the claim.
What Could Have Been Done
This case shows the broad reach of the Texas Anti-SLAPP, TCPA law. Even in old stodgy probate and trust law, there might be opportunities to engage the act.