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Characterization of an action as equitable or legal depends on the appellant's main purpose in bringing the action. The main purpose of the action should generally be ascertained from the body of the complaint. However, if necessary, resort may also be had to the prayer for relief and any other facts and circumstances which throw light upon the main purpose of the action. The nature of the issues raised by the pleadings and character of relief sought under them determines the character of an action as legal or equitable.
By instrument executed August 2, 2000, HCC Investments, Inc. (HCC) established a charitable remainder unitrust (Trust) between itself, as grantor, and Nicholas L. Alvanos (Appellant), as trustee. Upon petition, appellant was removed as a trustee. Subsequently, HCC filed suit in probate court against Appellant individually and as former trustee of the Trust. HCC captioned the action as one for "Breach of Trust," triable "Non-Jury." HCC's causes of action included breach of fiduciary duty of care, breach of fiduciary duty of loyalty, and one for an accounting. The relief sought for the alleged breach of fiduciary duty of care was the restoration to the Trust any lost income, lost capital gain, and lost appreciation in value caused by the alleged breach. Appellant demanded for trial by jury, which the probate court denied. The circuit court affirmed the probate court’s decision. The present appeal followed.
Was appellant entitled to a jury trial?
The court affirmed the circuit court's decision denying the appellant’s demand for a jury trial, holding that while the appellant would have to pay money to the trust if the grantor's allegations were proven, that did not mean that the causes of action were legal in nature. Because the main purpose in bringing the action was equitable, not legal, the former trustee did not have the right to a jury trial.