Fisher v. HuckabeeAnnotate this Case
At issue in this appeal was a question of who could bring a civil action on behalf of the estate of a deceased person when the personal representative of the estate is also a potential defendant in the action. Alice Shaw-Baker lived in Charleston and had no immediate family. She allegedly reached an agreement with Bessie Huckabee, Kay Passailaigue Slade, and Sandra Byrd that if they would care for her in her final years, she would leave them the assets of her estate. In her last will (executed 2001), she left her entire estate to Huckabee, Slade, and Byrd, and named Huckabee the personal representative. Shaw-Baker died in February 2009. Betty Fisher was Shaw-Baker's niece and closest living relative. Shortly after Shaw-Baker's death, Fisher filed an action in probate court challenging the 2001 will and the appointment of Huckabee as personal representative. Fisher removed the probate action to circuit court. Then purporting to act as Shaw-Baker's "real representative," Fisher brought this action against Huckabee, Slade, and Byrd, and Peter Kouten (a lawyer who represented the first three). Fisher primarily alleged Huckabee, Slade, and Byrd breached their duty to take suitable care of Shaw-Baker. Fisher brought the action under section 15-5-90 of the South Carolina Code (2005). The defendants moved for summary judgment, claiming Fisher did not have standing to bring the survival action. The question of who may bring a civil action arose under Rule 17(a) of the South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure, "[e]very action shall be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest." The South Carolina Supreme Court determined that section 62-3-614 of the South Carolina Probate Code allowed for a special administrator to be appointed, "in circumstances where a general personal representative cannot or should not act." The term "real representative . . . is mentioned nowhere in the modern Probate Code." The circuit court, and later the court of appeals, analyzed the issue as whether Fisher qualified as Shaw-Baker's real representative: neither court considered Rule 17(a). "Although the result the courts reached was not erroneous, the analysis was misplaced." After the defendants challenged Fisher's status as the real party in interest, she did not ask for "a reasonable time . . . for ratification . . . or joinder or substitution." In that circumstance, the Supreme Court held Rule 17(a) provided for dismissal, and the circuit court did not err.