Justia Trusts & Estates Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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The City of Warrior ("Warrior") and the Town of Trafford ("Trafford") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying their motions for a summary judgment in this tort action filed by plaintiff James Griffin, as the personal representative of the estate of James R. Olvey, and to enter a summary judgment in Warrior's and Trafford's favor on the basis of immunity. A Warrior police officer saw a cehicle operated by Donald Wright run a red light. Though the officer tried to stop Wright's vehicle, Wright sped away and the officer pursued. A Trafford officer joined in pursuit. When Wright entered the interstate to avoid the police chase, the officers stopped their pursuit. Approximately three quarters of a mile from where the officers ceased their pursuit, Wright's vehicle collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Olvey in a southbound lane. Olvey died as a result of the collision. When Wright was apprehended at the collision scene, a syringe was found hanging from his right arm. Subsequent testing revealed that, at the time of the collision, he was under the influence of both marijuana and cocaine. Wright was subsequently criminally indicted in connection with Olvey's death. Griffin, as the personal representative of Olvey's estate, later sued, among others, the two officers and their respective Town employers, alleging among other things, that Olvey died as the result of the allegedly unskillful, negligent, and/or wanton conduct of the officers in pursuing Wright while carrying out duties. As to each municipality, Griffin further alleged, based on a theory of respondeat superior, that they were vicariously liable for the purported wrongful conduct of the officers. After review, the Supreme Court determined Warrior and Trafford demonstrated a clear legal right to summary judgment in their favor on the basis of immunity. Accordingly, the trial court was directed to enter a summary judgment in favor of each on Griffin's claims against them. View "Ex parte City of Warrior and Town of Trafford." on Justia Law

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Susan Hoff ("Susan") and Eliot Hoff ("Eliot") were mother and son and the purported beneficiaries under a will executed by Susan Bibb Kidd ("Kidd"), Susan's mother. Probate was initiated in 2011. In 2020, Eliot filed a "Verified Petition for Removal Pursuant to Ala. Code 12-11-41," in which he asserted, among other things, that he was an heir of Kidd and that the estate could be better administered in the circuit court. Although Eliot's signature appeared on his petition, the signature was not notarized or signed under oath. While Eliot's petition was pending, Susan filed her own verified petition for removal that was sworn to under oath and notarized. The circuit court granted Susan's removal petition. Later that same day, however, the circuit court entered an order in which it vacated its previous order granting Susan's removal petition, directed Susan to serve notice of her removal petition to all interested parties, and indicated that it would set the matter for a hearing. After reconsideration was denied, Susan appealed, and the case was transferred to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed when Susan failed to respond to a show-cause order. In 2021, Susan moved the circuit court seeking an order removing the administration of the estate. On October 18, 2021, the circuit court entered an order dismissing Susan's removal petition without prejudice, "[f]or failure to comply with th[e] Court's Orders of November 16, 2020, June 8, 2021 and September 1, 2021." On October 21, 2021, Susan and Eliot each filed a notice of appeal to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals; that court again transferred the appeals to the Supreme Court based on a lack of appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court ultimately found that because Eliot (eventually)filed a sworn removal petition that included a statement regarding his standing to bring the removal petition as an heir of Kidd and a statement that, in his opinion, the estate would be better administered in the circuit court, Eliot's removal petition satisfied the requirements of 12-11-41. Accordingly, the circuit court was required to enter an order of removal. The circuit court's order "denying" Eliot's removal petition was reversed. The Supreme Court did not reach Susan's appeal because its decision to grant Eliot's removal petition effectively awarded Susan the relief she sought. View "Hoff v. The Estate of Susan Bibb Kidd" on Justia Law

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Robert Louis Dill appealed a circuit court judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of Douglas Dill in Douglas's action contesting the purported will of Walter Dill, Jr. Walter and his wife Alva purchased a house across the street from Douglas (his son) and his wife Peggy, and Douglas' children. After Alva died, Douglas and Peggy assisted Walter with things such as preparing his meals and taking him to his appointments. Robert, Walter's brother, did not visit with Walter much before Alva's death because Alva did not care for Robert. However, after Alva died, Robert started visiting Walter and spending time with him on a frequent basis. Robert began taking Walter to certain places and appointments. By 2008, Walter did not really trust anyone but Robert and that Robert had "spread his wings over Walter." Peggy further stated that Robert had started turning Walter against Douglas. Walter had approximately $80,000 in a joint checking account with Douglas that was intended to help pay for Walter's future care. Douglas and Peggy discovered that Walter had written approximately $40,000 worth of checks from the joint account to Robert, one of which had been used to purchase Robert a vehicle. Thereafter, Douglas removed the $39,000 from the joint account and placed the money in an account solely in his name to prevent Walter from giving more money to Robert. Douglas and Robert separately petitioned an Alabama Probate Court seeking letters of guardianship and conservatorship over Walter. It appeared from the record that Walter once had a will that made Douglas the primary beneficiary of his estate. However, on December 11, 2013, Walter executed a new will ("the 2013 will") naming Robert as the executor and sole beneficiary of his estate. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in favor of Douglas, finding the 2013 will had been prepared by an attorney who had previously represented Robert, and Robert accompanied Walter to the attorney's office on the day the will was executed. Approximately one month after the 2013 will was executed, the probate court entered an order finding that Walter lacked the mental capacity to handle his affairs and appointed a permanent conservator for Walter. "Based on the foregoing, we cannot say that the circuit court erred in entering a judgment on the jury's verdict in favor of Douglas in the will contest." View "Dill v. Dill" on Justia Law

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David Miles appealed a circuit court order denying his postjudgment motion seeking to alter, amend, or vacate a judgment appointing a guardian for Nadine Chalmers. The administration of the guardianship was purportedly removed to the circuit court from probate court. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the removal was not proper under section 26-2-2, Ala. Code 1975, and thus, the circuit court never acquired subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court therefore dismissed the appeal. View "Miles v. Helms" on Justia Law

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Ilka Porter and Lina Louise Porter, through her mother and next friend, Ilka Porter, appealed a probate court order that concluded Sean Porter was married to Alexis Campbell Porter at the time of his death, and appointing Alexis Campbell Porter as administratrix of his estate. The question presented by these appeals was one of first impression in Alabama: Whether the death of a party to a marriage, after a marriage document is executed but before the marriage document is recorded, invalidates the marriage for failure to comply with the registration requirements of section 22-9A-17, Ala. Code 1975. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that it did not, affirming the probate court's order. View "Porter v. Estate of Porter" on Justia Law

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Karen Wheeler, as administrator of the estate of Eugene Drayton, appealed a probate court judgment declaring Kristin Marvin was the biological child of Drayton, and was therefore an heir of Drayton for purposes of intestate succession. The probate court appointed Wheeler, who was Drayton's daughter, as the administrator of Drayton's estate. In her filings with the probate court, Wheeler identified herself and her brother as Drayton's only heirs. Marvin, however, later filed a petition with the probate court in which she claimed to also be a biological child of Drayton. She requested that the probate court consider the results of a DNA test allegedly showing that Drayton's half brother was Marvin's uncle and, therefore, indicating that Marvin was Drayton's daughter. Wheeler testified that she was unaware that Drayton had any children other than herself and her brother. She asserted that no one, including Drayton, had ever stated to her that Marvin was Drayton's child. Wheeler claimed to have met Marvin for the first time at a funeral held after the death of Drayton's mother, but, she said, Drayton did not introduce them. On appeal, Wheeler argued primarily that the probate court erred in considering the DNA test result, because the DNA samples were collected not by disinterested parties but by Marvin and Curtis, who then mailed them outside the presence of disinterested parties. Wheeler asserts that "there is a possibility that the samples were switched because they were in the exclusive possession of interested parties prior to being mailed to [the laboratory that performed the test]." She points out that the test result itself disclaims any responsibility for how the samples were collected and is based on the assumption that they were collected correctly. The Alabama Supreme Court found after review that Wheeler did not present any authority suggesting that the probate court could not admit and consider the DNA test if it believed the testimony of Curtis and Marvin describing how the DNA samples were collected and submitted. Accordingly, she did not show the probate court erred in considering the DNA test result based on how the samples were collected and submitted. View "Wheeler v. Marvin" on Justia Law

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The petitioners in six cases before the Alabama Supreme Court were brothers Michael Todd Scoggins and Matthew Tyler-Crimson Scoggins. The brothers sought to set aside orders in some of the cases, to intervene in some of the cases, and to order the Circuit Court to permit the interpleader of funds by a third party in one case. The proceeds of a wrongful death settlement were to be used to purchase four annuities for the brothers; their father died in an industrial accident when they were children. The annuities provided for periodic payments and lump-sum payments on various dates. In 2010, the brothers' paternal grandfather Thomas Scoggins (through an attorney) petitioned to have Thomas named conservator for the brothers in order to "reopen" the wrongful-death action for the purpose of obtaining a ruling that a sale of the structured settlement-payment rights was in the best interests of the brother. Court documents would later reveal that the brothers' grandfather did not have authority to sell the payment rights, and that the attorney their grandfather hired to help with the payment rights paid himself from the brothers' trusts with "nearly every single disbursement .... made to himself with virtually no money being paid to the beneficiaries, Michael and Matthew." The brothers sued multiple parties relating to the sale of the payment rights and the mismanagement of their trusts. They moved the circuit court to set aside orders that empowered Thomas to sell certain structured-settlement-payment rights. The motion was denied without a rationale for the ruling. The Alabama Supreme Court granted the petition for the writ of mandamus in case number 1200107, which pertained to the circuit court's denial of the brothers' motion to set aside the circuit court's August 11, 2011, and November 21, 2011, orders in the wrongful-death action; the Court denied the petitions for the writ of mandamus in case numbers 1200103, 1200104, 1200105, and 1200106, which pertained to the circuit court's October 7, 2020, order denying Michael's motion to intervene in the Stratcap actions; and the Court granted the petition for the writ of mandamus in case number 1200102, which pertained to the circuit court's October 1, 2020, order denying American General's motion for interpleader relief in the 2019 action. View "Ex parte Michael Todd & Matthew Tyler-Crimson Scoggins." on Justia Law

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Theodore Branch, Jr., Denise Whisenhunt, Wanda Standfield, Yulonda Branch, Monique Branch, and Darin Branch appealed a circuit court order dismissing their action challenging their father's will based on a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Theodore W. Branch, Sr. ("the father"), died testate December 3, 2019, survived by his seven children: Angela Branch, Theodore Branch, Jr., Denise Whisenhunt, Wanda Standfield, Yulonda Branch, Monique Branch, and Darin Branch. Angela petitioned the probate court to probate a will that the father had executed on October 31, 2018. The will devised all of the father's property to Angela and omitted any reference to the father's other six children. On March 6, 2020, the omitted children filed a response to Angela's petition to probate the will in which they contested the validity of the will, asserting that the father had not been competent to execute the will and that Angela had exerted undue influence to procure the father's execution of the will and to obtain from the father the transfer of real property. The omitted children also asserted that a previous will executed by the father in 2017 better reflected his final wishes. The Alabama Supreme Court found the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to consider the omitted children's action because they did not strictly comply with statutory prerequisites to invoke that court's jurisdiction. Therefore, the circuit court correctly dismissed the action. View "Branch, et al. v. Branch" on Justia Law

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Two appeals arose from a dispute between four siblings about the management of trusts set up by their parents. The siblings -- Lenn Rainwater ("Lenn"), Charles Edward Rainwater ("Charles"), Jean Rainwater Loggins, and Mary Rainwater Breazeale -- executed a settlement agreement resolving their dispute. In appeal no. 1190952, the parties petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to consider whether that agreement should have been declared void. Lenn also sought to garnish trust assets that she says were hers. In appeal no. 1190951, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether those garnishment proceedings should have been quashed. The Court ultimately did not reach either of those issues because both appeals should been dismissed: appeal no. 1190952 was filed too late and appeal no. 1190951 was filed too soon. View "Lem Harris Rainwater Family Trust et al. v. Rainwater" on Justia Law

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Damon Stephens appealed a circuit court order ordering that certain property located on Old Railroad Bed Road in Toney, ("the property"), be partitioned by sale, pursuant to the Alabama Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act ("the Heirs Act"). In September 2017, Michael Claridy filed a complaint to quiet title to the property and requested that the circuit court partition the property by sale on the basis that the property could not be equitably divided or partitioned in kind. Stephens acquired his interest in the property in 2019; he has neither lived on the property nor paid taxes on the property. Stephens stated that he had lived on the property and made improvements to some of the buildings there. Following an initial hearing, the circuit court determined that the property was heirs property governed by the Heirs Act. Based on the testimony, the evidentiary materials, and the judge's personal observation of the property, the circuit court concluded that there was no method by which the property could be partitioned in kind to adequately preserve each cotenant's interest in the property. Accordingly, the circuit court entered a detailed judgment ordering that the property be partitioned by sale via public auction. Stephens contended the circuit court erred by ordering a partition by sale because, he contended, the court considered only one factor in its analysis, provided no discussion of the other factors, and provided no analysis regarding whether any particular cotenant would be greatly prejudiced by a partition in kind. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order. View "Stephens v. Claridy" on Justia Law