Ga. High Court Hears Family Feud Over Rollins Trusts
Four grandchildren are fighting their father, uncle over share of multibillion-dollar fortune
An intrafamily feud landed at the Georgia Supreme Court on Monday, as descendents of the cofounder of a major pest-control conglomerate squabble over the family's multibillion-dollar fortune.
At issue are trusts established by O. Wayne Rollins, the late patriarch of the family behind Rollins Inc. Four of the nine grandchildren who were to benefit from the trusts are fighting their father and uncle over their shares of the family's money.
The four grandchildren who brought the lawsuit are Glen W. Rollins, Ruth Ellen Rollins, Nancy Louise Rollins and O. Wayne Rollins II. The defendants are their father, Rollins CEO Gary W. Rollins, and their uncle, R. Randall Rollins, chairman of the board of directors.
The plaintiffs say the defendants have shifted power to themselves and away from the plaintiffs and established unfair distribution systems, all at odds with the terms of the trusts and their grandfather's intent. The plaintiffs say their father and uncle breached their fiduciary duties as trustees.
Gary and Randall Rollins, who were sued along with a family friend named as a trustee, Henry Tippie, call the lawsuit "misguided." Their lawyer, James Lamberth of Troutman Sanders, told the justices on Monday that the result of Wayne Rollins' plan to have his sons manage the family's assets has been "wildly successful by any measure." Lamberth noted that the plaintiffs already have received more than $187 million in family money.
Monday's argument followed back-and-forth litigation in which the defendants first prevailed, only to be reversed by a March decision by a panel of the state Court of Appeals.
The appeals court said a trial judge should have ordered an accounting of family entities held within the trusts at issue. Also before the high court is the Court of Appeals' ruling that the defendants' fiduciary duties as trustees—by which they must act in the interests of the trusts' beneficiaries—extend to their management of family entities under their control held within the trusts.
The defendants say those rulings would make Georgia one of the nation's least friendly jurisdictions for trustees who have a role in managing entities owned in part by a trust.
As recounted in the Court of Appeals opinion, the case is over five trusts established by Wayne Rollins—the Rollins Children Trust (RCT) and four Subchapter S-Trusts. The beneficiaries to the trusts include the plaintiffs: a portion of the trust principal of the RCT was distributed to all nine grandchildren on their 25th and 30th birthdays. An S-trust set up for each grandchild requires the trustee to give the beneficiary all property remaining in the trust when a beneficiary turns 45. The S-trusts also require the trustee to distribute annually all of the trust income to the beneficiary of each trust, but they give the trustee discretion to determine income from principal.
Gary Rollins, Randall Rollins and Tippie were designated by Wayne Rollins as trustees of the RCT, while Gary Rollins is the sole trustee of his children's S-trusts. (According to a brief filed by the plaintiffs, Tippie has been cut out of management of the trusts.)