Bonnie Wehle et al.
Thomas H. Bradley et al.
from Bullock Circuit Court (CV-07-22)
Wehle, Penny Martin, and Sharon Ann Wehle (hereinafter
referred to collectively as "the daughters") appeal
from the Bullock Circuit Court's order, on remand,
awarding damages against Thomas H. Bradley III; James H.
McGowan; and Grady Hartzog, as the personal representatives
of the estate of the daughters' father (hereinafter
referred to collectively as "the personal
representatives"). The personal representatives purport
to cross-appeal as to the portion of the circuit court's
judgment awarding them attorneys' fees and expenses in
connection with prior litigation between the
parties. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and
and Procedural History
the third time this matter has been before this Court. See
Wehle v. Bradley, 49 So.3d 1203 (Ala. 2010)
("Wehle I"), and Wehle v.
Bradley, 195 So.3d 928 (Ala. 2015) ("Wehle
II"). As established in Wehle I and
Wehle II, the pertinent factual and procedural
history is as follows:
"'Robert G. Wehle died on July 12, 2002. His will
was admitted to probate, and [in August 2002] letters
testamentary were issued to [the personal representatives].
The will created a marital trust for Wehle's wife, Gatra
Wehle, and a family trust for the daughters and Wehle's
granddaughter, Debbie Kloppenberg. The personal
representatives were named as cotrustees of both the marital
trust and the family trust.
"'In October 2005, the personal representatives
petitioned the probate court for final settlement of the
estate. They also filed an accounting of their administration
of the estate. The accounting indicated that the personal
representatives had paid themselves total compensation of $1,
964, 367.82, which, they allege, amounts to 5% of the value
of Wehle's estate at the time the petition for final
settlement was filed. The personal representatives argue that
the amount of their fees is consistent with the statutory
allowance for such fees. They also argue that Wehle told his
attorney that he intended for the personal
representatives' fees to be approximately 5% of the value
of his estate.
"'The daughters filed an objection to the
accounting, arguing, among other things, that, pursuant to
§ 43-2-844(7), Ala. Code 1975, the personal
representatives were required to obtain prior court approval
before compensating themselves out of the assets of the
estate. The daughters also argued that the amount of the
compensation exceeded the "reasonable compensation"
allowed by § 43-2-848(a), Ala. Code 1975.
"'In March 2007, Gatra Wehle petitioned to have the
administration of the estate removed to the circuit court.
The petition was granted.
"'The personal representatives moved the circuit
court for a partial summary judgment on the daughters'
objections, arguing (1) that the will authorized the payment
of the compensation to the personal representatives without
prior court approval, and (2) that the statute of limitations
barred the daughters' claim that the fees of the personal
representatives were excessive. On July 17, 2009, the circuit
court granted the personal representatives' motion for a
partial summary judgment, stating:
"'"As to the claim that the Personal
Representatives paid fees to themselves without obtaining
Court approval, the Court finds that the terms of the Will
expressly exempt the Personal Representatives from obtaining
Court approval before payment of their fees. As to the claim
that the fees paid were excessive, it is without factual
dispute that [the daughters] had knowledge of the amount of
these fees more than two years before they filed their
contest of the fees and thus this claim is time
"'On July 24, 2009, the daughters appealed to this
Court from the circuit court's judgment pursuant to
§ 12-22-4, Ala. Code 1975.'
"[Wehle I, ] 49 So.3d at 1205-07.
"In Wehle I, this Court concluded that
'[b]ecause the payment of compensation to the personal
representatives without prior court approval was not
expressly authorized by Robert G. Wehle's will, the
circuit court erred in entering its partial summary judgment
in favor of the personal representatives.' 49 So.3d at
1209; see also Ala. Code 1975, § 43-2-844(7). This Court
reversed the circuit court's judgment and remanded the
case on that basis; it did not decide the issue whether the
daughters' 'claim as to the excessiveness of the
compensation is barred by the statute of limitations.'
"On remand, the circuit court held a hearing at which
evidence was presented ore tenus as to the petition for final
settlement of the estate. Thereafter, the circuit court
entered its final order approving the compensation the
personal representatives had paid themselves, i.e., $1, 964,
367.82, as 'reasonable compensation' under §
43-2-848(a), Ala. Code 1975. The order denied the
daughters' claim seeking to have the personal
representatives pay interest on the compensation because they
had paid it without prior court approval. Also, in regard to
other issues raised by the daughters, the order denied the
daughters' petition to remove McGowan as a cotrustee of
the family trust, denied the daughters' request to tax
costs relating to Wehle I against the personal
representatives, and awarded attorney fees and costs to the
personal representatives in the amount of $383, 437.31 as to
their defense against the daughters' claims on final
Wehle II, 195 So.3d at 932-34 (footnote omitted).
II addresses the daughters' appeal from the
above-described order. In that decision, we rejected the
daughters' challenges to the reasonableness of the fees
awarded to the personal representatives and the circuit
court's refusal to remove McGowan as trustee. 195 So.3d
at 937, 943. However, we agreed with the daughters that the
circuit court had erred in denying their claim seeking to
recover interest from the date of the premature compensation
payments through the date those payments were finally
approved by the circuit court. 195 So.3d at 941-42. We
similarly agreed that the circuit court erred "insofar
as it determined the amount of the attorney fees" due
the personal representatives in connection with their defense
of the daughters' claims. 195 So.3d at 946. Finally, we
held that the circuit court had, as the daughters alleged,
violated our mandate in Wehle I to tax the costs of
the appeal in that case against the personal representatives.
195 So.3d 947. Thus, based upon those determinations in
"[w]e once again remand[ed] this case to the circuit
court for the purposes of conducting an evidentiary hearing
as to the personal representatives' claim for attorney
fees and costs, of taxing the costs of the appeal in
Wehle I against the personal representatives, and
of awarding interest against the personal