Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
Richey v. Morris
Dorothy Richey appealed a trial court judgment that set aside a deed conveying an interest in certain property to her on grounds that the grantor, Rodney Morris ("Rodney"), was incompetent at the time he purportedly executed the deed. Paul Morris, as guardian and conservator of the estate of his brother Rodney, an incapacitated person, initiated this action against Richey, seeking to set aside a deed in which Rodney had purported to convey his interest in the property to Richey. Morris alleged that Rodney had lacked the mental capacity to execute the deed in question and sought a judgment declaring the deed void and setting it aside. Morris also sought an accounting of any proceeds Richey had obtained from harvesting timber located on the property. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Richey's appeal was not from a final judgment, and therefore dismissed it. View "Richey v. Morris" on Justia Law
Barefoot v. Cole
Daniel Barefoot, as a personal representative and legatee of the estate of Danny Bryant Barefoot, appealed a probate court order that determined the estate of Donna Viola Barefoot was entitled to a share of Danny's estate on the basis that Donna was an omitted spouse under § 43-8-90, Ala. Code 1975. Danny executed a will in August 2012, while married to Merita Hall Barefoot. In the will, other than a specific bequest to his and Merita's son, Daniel, Danny devised his residuary estate to Merita. Danny specified that, if Merita predeceased him, his estate would be shared jointly in equal shares by Daniel and Marcie Jenkins, whom he identified in the will as his stepdaughter. Danny also named Daniel and Marcie as corepresentatives of his estate. Merita died on September 6, 2014. On January 21, 2018, Danny married Donna. Danny and Donna did not execute a prenuptial agreement, and Danny did not execute a new will or a codicil to his previous will to include any testamentary dispositions to Donna. Danny died on September 5, 2021. Twelve days later, on September 17, 2021, Donna died. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the appeal was from a nonfinal order and dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Barefoot v. Cole" on Justia Law
Fletcher v. Eddins, et al.
Consolidated appeals concerned the division of certain assets in the estate of R.E. Ivey ("R.E."). At the time of his death, R.E. was survived by his wife, Edwyna Ivey ("Edwyna"), and his four children from a previous marriage -- Sharyl Eddins ("Sharyl"), William Ivey ("Robbie"), Dell Ivey Moody ("Dell"), and Ty Ivey ("Ty"). In appeal no. SC-2022-0533, Mary Jo Fletcher, as the personal representative of Edwyna's estate, appealed the circuit court's determination that Edwyna's claims for certain statutory allowances were totally offset by the value of certain assets that Edwyna had retained from R.E.'s estate. She also appealed the circuit court's determination that three of Edwyna's stepchildren, Sharyl, Robbie, and Dell, were entitled to recover on their claims of conversion and breach of trust against Edwyna. In appeal no. SC-2022-0640, Sharyl, individually and as the executrix of R.E.'s estate, Dell, and Robbie filed a cross-appeal challenging the circuit court's determination that Edwyna was entitled to funds contained in an account known by the parties as the "farm account." In appeal no. SC-2022-0533, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order insofar as it denied Edwyna's claims for homestead, exempt-property, and family allowances pursuant to §§ 43-8-110 through -113 on the basis that those claims were completely offset by the value of the pickup truck. However, the Court reversed the circuit court's order insofar as it determined that Sharyl, Robbie, and Dell were entitled to recover the funds held in the POD accounts, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. In appeal no. SC-2022-0640, the Court affirmed the circuit court's determination that Edwyna, as R.E.'s surviving spouse, was entitled to the funds that Dell withdrew from the farm account. View "Fletcher v. Eddins, et al." on Justia Law
Smith v. Smith
Arthur Smith, individually and as the personal representative of the estate of Sammie Wells Smith, appealed a judgment entered in favor of Michael Smith. Sammie's remaining living children were Michael, Arthur, Larry Smith, Charles Smith, Brenda Smith Watson, Sarah Smith, and Elizabeth Smith. During her lifetime, Sammie owned two tracts of land; her house was located on one of those tracts of land. On September 13, 2013, Sammie executed a general warranty deed in which she conveyed the property to Michael and Watson but reserved a life estate for herself. On October 12, 2015, Michael and Watson executed a "Corrective Deed Jointly for Life with Remainder to Survivor," in which they created a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, subject to Sammie's life estate. On October 21, 2015, Sammie executed another deed in which she conveyed her life estate to Michael. On that same date, Watson executed a "Life Estate Deed," in which she conveyed a life estate in the property to Michael. Sammie died on February 15, 2018. Arthur was living in Sammie's house at the time of her death, and he remained in her house after her death. Michael and Watson commenced an ejectment seeking to remove Arthur from the property. During a bench trial, Michael and Watson presented evidence indicating that Sammie had executed deeds conveying the property to them and relinquishing her life estate; and that they were the exclusive owners of the property. However, Larry, Elizabeth, Charles, and Sarah testified that the signatures on the deeds were not Sammie's. Testimony was also presented indicating that Sammie had repeatedly stated that she wanted the property to be divided equally among her seven living children; that Sammie had wanted the property to be available if any of those children needed somewhere to stay. Ultimately, the trial court held that Michael and Watson were not entitled to relief and denied their ejectment petition. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case with instructions that the trial court "join [the remaining heirs] as [parties] to this action... If the trial court determined that any of the remaining heirs could not be made a party to the action, it "should consider the reasons [why any such heir] cannot be joined and decide whether the action should proceed in [any such heir's] absence." View "Smith v. Smith" on Justia Law
Hill v. Martinson, et al.
Douglas Martinson II and Caleb Ballew ("the lawyers") represented Lesley Hatch in probate court in a dispute over the guardianship of her aunt, Brenda Cummings. During the proceedings, the lawyers withdrew from representing Hatch and filed a claim for attorney fees to be paid from Cummings's estate. The probate court entered a judgment on the merits of the underlying case and denied the lawyers' claim for fees. Over 30 days later, the lawyers moved the probate court to reconsider their claim. After a hearing, the probate court reversed course and entered an order awarding them their fees. Elizabeth Cummings Hill, acting on behalf of Cummings under a power of attorney, appealed. She argued the probate court did not have jurisdiction to grant the lawyers' motion because it was untimely. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed and dismissed the appeal, with instructions to vacate the order awarding attorney fees. View "Hill v. Martinson, et al." on Justia Law
Daily, et al. v. Esser
These consolidated appellate proceedings consisted of an appeal filed by Regina Daily ("Regina") and The Daily Catch, Inc., d/b/a Gulf Shores Seafood ("The Daily Catch") (case number SC-2022-0672); a cross-appeal by Greg Esser ("Greg") (case number SC-2022-0673); and a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by Patrick Daily ("Patrick"), Regina, The Daily Catch, White Sands, Inc., d/b/a Remax of Orange Beach ("White Sands"), and Blue Palms, LLC (case number SC-2022-0992). The appeal, the cross-appeal, and the mandamus petition all involved the same underlying action filed by Greg -- in his individual capacity, in his capacity as the trustee of the Wallene R. Esser Living Trust ("the trust"), and in his capacity as an administrator ad litem of the estate of Wallene R. Esser ("the estate") -- against Patrick, Regina, The Daily Catch, White Sands, and Blue Palms. Following a bench trial, the circuit court entered a judgment awarding damages in favor of Greg and against Regina and The Daily Catch; the circuit court denied Greg's claims as to all the other defendants. Regina and The Daily Catch filed their appeal, and Greg filed his cross-appeal. Later, Patrick, Regina, The Daily Catch, White Sands, and Blue Palms petitioned for mandamus relief. Greg and Regina were Wallene's children and were beneficiaries to Wallene's estate. Generally, Greg alleged that "[t]he trust has been harmed and depleted by the acts and omissions of the defendants." Greg asserted claims of breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment, requesting money damages and declaratory relief. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment in case numbers SC-2022-0672 and SC-2022-0673, and granted the mandamus petition filed in case number SC-2022-0992. View "Daily, et al. v. Esser" on Justia Law
Ex parte Huntingdon College, et al.
Consolidated appellate proceedings involved a dispute between the trustees and beneficiaries of the Bellingrath-Morse Foundation Trust ("the Trust"). In appellate case no. SC-2023-0001, beneficiaries of the Trust, Rhodes College, Huntingdon College, and Stillman College, petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court Court to vacate its November 23, 2022, order granting the trustees of the Trust relief from a final judgment pursuant to Rule 60 (b)(5), Ala.R.Civ.P. In appellate case no. SC-2023-0011, the beneficiaries appealed the same circuit-court order granting Rule 60(b)(5) relief to the trustees. Walter Bellingrath (deceased) established the charitable Trust in 1950. Bellingrath contributed to the Trust, including the Bellingrath Gardens ("the Gardens"). The trustees and beneficiaries disagreed as to whether the Trust indenture contemplated a subsidy of the Gardens by the Trust: the trustees believed the Gardens were a "purpose" of the Trust requiring perpetual funding; the beneficiaries believed the Gardens were merely an asset of the Trust and subject to closure if not profitable. A 1981 agreement limited the payments or distributions by the Trust for the support of the Gardens. In a 2003 amendment to the 1981 agreement, the beneficiaries gave up their right to request the trustees seek court instructions concerning whether the Gardens should be open or not, and the trustees agreed that they would not increase the payments for the support of the Gardens above 20% of the total annual distribution amount without the unanimous consent of the beneficiaries. In 2017, the trustees contended their ability to maintain the Gardens had been substantially impaired by the funding restraints of the 1981 agreement and the 2003 amendment, and they sought instructions on how the existing funding agreement regarding the Gardens should be revised. After the Alabama Supreme Court released its opinion in "Ex parte Huntingdon College," the trustees immediately moved the circuit court seeking relief from the 2003 judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(5), alleging that new circumstances had arisen since the 2003 judgment was entered, rendering prospective application of the 2003 judgment inequitable. In appellate case no. SC-2023-0001, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the beneficiaries demonstrated a clear legal right to a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to vacate its November 2022, Rule 60(b) order. In appellate case no. SC-2023-0011, the Court dismissed the appeal filed by the beneficiaries concerning that same order. View "Ex parte Huntingdon College, et al." on Justia Law
Taylor v. Methodist Home for the Aging d/b/a Fair Haven, et al.
Angelia Taylor, as personal representative of the Estate of Willie Latham, appealed the denial by operation of law of her Rule 59(e), Ala. R. Civ. P., motion seeking to vacate an arbitration award entered in favor of Methodist Home for the Aging d/b/a Fair Haven and its administrator, Maria Ephraim (collectively, "Fair Haven"). While a resident, Latham fell and broke her hip. Latham was eventually transported to a hospital for surgery, and she died a few days later. In November 2019, Taylor, as the personal representative of Latham's estate, filed a wrongful-death action under the Alabama Medical Liability Act of 1987. In December 2019, Fair Haven moved to compel arbitration pursuant to an arbitration agreement Latham had signed. The parties filed a joint stipulation to submit the case to arbitration, and in February 2020 the circuit court entered an order compelling arbitration. In November 2021, an arbitrator issued a final award in favor of Fair Haven. A month later, Taylor filed a notice of appeal. Thereafter, she filed a motion to set aside or vacate the arbitration award. In response, Fair Haven filed a motion for the entry of a final judgment. On February 2, 2022, the circuit court entered an order noting that the purported postjudgment motions were not ripe, because the circuit clerk had not entered the arbitration award as a final judgment. On February 22, 2022, the circuit clerk entered the arbitration award as a final judgment. Taylor's motion to vacate was denied by operation of law 90 days later, on May 23, 2022. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Taylor failed to demonstrate a recognized basis under 9 U.S.C. § 10 for vacating the arbitration award; the denial by operation of law of her Rule 59 motion to vacate the arbitration award was therefore affirmed. View "Taylor v. Methodist Home for the Aging d/b/a Fair Haven, et al." on Justia Law
Alabama Somerby, LLC, et al. v. L.D.
Alabama Somerby, LLC, d/b/a Brookdale University Park IL/AL/MC; Brookdale Senior Living, Inc.; and Undrea Wright (collectively, Brookdale) appealed a circuit court's order denying their motion to compel arbitration of the claims asserted against them by plaintiff, L.D., as the next friend of her mother, E.D. Brookdale operated an assisted-living facility for seniors ("the nursing home") in Jefferson County, Alabama; Wright was the administrator of the nursing home. In March 2022, L.D. filed on E.D.'s behalf, a complaint against Brookdale and Wright and others, asserting various tort claims and seeking related damages premised on allegations that, following her admission to the nursing home, E.D. had been subjected to multiple sexual assaults both by other residents and by an employee of Brookdale. The Brookdale defendants jointly moved to compel arbitration of L.D.'s claims against them or, alternatively, to dismiss the action without prejudice to allow those claims to proceed via arbitration. Following a hearing, the trial court, denied the motion seeking to dismiss the action or to compel arbitration. The Brookdale defendants timely appealed, asserting that the trial court had erred by failing to order arbitration. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Brookdale defendants established that an agreement providing for arbitration existed and that the agreement affected interstate commerce. The trial court erred in denying the Brookdale defendants' request to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Alabama Somerby, LLC, et al. v. L.D." on Justia Law
Bentley v. Bentley
Consolidated appeals arose from a dispute between Richard Bentley and his brother, James Randall Bentley ("Randy"), and from a dispute between Richard and his ex-wife, Leslie Bentley. In case no. CV-19-7, an action concerning the administration of the estate of Richard and Randy's father, Dedrick William Bentley ("the estate action"), Richard, as coexecutor of Dedrick's estate, asserted cross-claims against Randy, as the other coexecutor of the estate. Richard sought, among other things, the return of certain real property previously owned by their parents to Dedrick's estate and sought to eject Randy from that property. Randy moved for summary judgment on those cross-claims, which was granted by the circuit court. Although the circuit court certified its partial summary judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., that certification was improper, and therefore Richard's appeal of the partial summary judgment (appeal no. SC- 2022-0522) should have been dismissed. In case no. CV-20-900058 ("the fraudulent-transfer action"), Leslie sued Richard seeking to set aside, pursuant to the Alabama Fraudulent Transfer Act ("the AFTA") the allegedly fraudulent transfer of assets that Richard had obtained or inherited from Dedrick's estate to a trust that Richard had created. Leslie moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the circuit court, and Richard appealed (appeal no. SC-2022- 0526). Finding no error in that judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Bentley v. Bentley" on Justia Law