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In re Estate of Goza

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 19, 2014

IN RE: ESTATE OF JOHN J. GOZA

Direct Appeal from the Probate Court for Shelby County No. D-10567 Kathleen N. Gomes, Judge

Larry E. Parrish, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, The Estate of John J. Goza.

Kenneth P. Jones and M. Matthew Thornton, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, SunTrust Bank, N.A.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Joseph F. Whalen, Acting Solicitor General; and Janet M. Kleinfelter, Deputy Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J., joined.

OPINION

BRANDON O. GIBSON, Judge.

I. Background and Procedural History

This case has an unusual procedural history. As this is hardly the first time that matters related to the Estate of John J. Goza have come before this Court, we briefly restate the underlying facts giving rise to this appeal. For a more thorough recitation of the facts underlying this case, see this Court's opinion in Morrow v. SunTrust Bank, No. W2010-01547-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 334507 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 31, 2011) (no perm. app. filed) ("Goza I").

In 1991, Helen B. Goza executed a Trust Agreement that created a Living Trust. Goza I, at *1. The Trust Agreement provided that the trust's assets be used for her benefit and for the benefit of her mentally disabled son, John J. Goza, during each of their lifetimes. Id. Ms. Goza amended the Trust Agreement in March 1999 and April 1999. Id. at *1-2. The March 1999 amendment provided that if John Goza survived Ms. Goza, the Trustee should, upon her death, set aside a portion of the trust estate in a separate trust for the benefit of John during his lifetime, with the balance of the estate distributed to a Perpetual Trust for the benefit of organizations providing services to the mentally handicapped. Id. at *1. However, the March 1999 amendment failed to provide for a complete disposition of the assets remaining in the separate trust at John Goza's death. Id. The April 1999 amendment provided that upon John Goza's death, $5, 000 from the separate trust should be disbursed to the American Diabetes Association, with the remaining balance of the estate going into the Perpetual Trust benefitting organizations that serve the mentally handicapped. Id. at *2. Helen Goza died in May 2001 survived by her son. Id. John Goza died in September 2007 without issue. Id.

Goza I arose from a complaint for declaratory judgment filed against the Trustee of the Perpetual Trust, SunTrust Bank ("SunTrust"), by David L. Morrow and Judy M. Wright in Shelby County Chancery Court. Id. Mr. Morrow and Ms. Wright, Ms. Goza's nephew and niece, sought a declaration that the March 1999 Agreement failed to provide a complete disposition of the assets remaining in the separate trust at John Goza's death and, therefore, those should pass to them as Helen Goza's heirs according to the rules of intestate succession. Id. The Attorney General intervened and filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the April 1999 Agreement superceded the March 1999 amendment and provided for a full disposition of the assets. Id. In response, Mr. Morrow and Ms. Wright requested summary judgment be granted in their favor declaring the April 1999 Agreement null and void because it altered the unambiguous statement of Ms. Goza's intent in the March 1999 amendment. Id. at *3. Following two hearings on the motions, the chancery court granted the Attorney General's motion for summary judgment in February 2010. Id. at *4. The chancery court found that the entire sequence of events showed Ms. Goza's intent was to provide a complete disposition of the trust assets to the Perpetual Trust at John Goza's death. Id. After the chancery court denied a motion to alter or amend the judgment in June 2010, Mr. Morrow and Ms. Wright appealed to this Court. Id. at *5.

While the appeal in Goza I was still pending, Mr. Morrow initiated separate proceedings in Shelby County Probate Court that would eventually lead to this Court's opinion in In re Estate of Goza, 397 S.W.3d 564 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 20, 2012) ("Goza II"). In October 2010, Mr. Morrow filed a petition in probate court requesting to be appointed personal representative of Mr. Goza's estate ("the Estate"). Goza II, at 566. The probate court granted the petition. Id. Acting in his capacity as personal representative of the Estate, Mr. Morrow filed a petition in the probate court to require SunTrust to turn over the trust assets in its possession to the Estate. Id. at 566-67. SunTrust replied, asserting that it would follow the terms of the April 1999 Agreement unless given contrary instructions by the court. Id. at 567. Prior to oral arguments on the petition, this Court issued its opinion in Goza I, affirming the chancery court's determination that the April 1999 Agreement validly provided for the disposition of the trust assets to the Perpetual Trust. Id. In light of this Court's opinion in Goza I, the probate court denied the Estate's petition as being barred by res judicata and/or the law of the case. Id. SunTrust requested a reimbursement for its attorney's fees incurred in defending the matter, which the probate court denied without prejudice. Id. at 571. The Estate appealed, and this Court affirmed in its opinion in Goza II, which was issued in April 2012. Id. This Court held that the Estate's claim was barred by res judicata because the Estate stood in the same legal relationship with regard to the subject matter of the litigation as Mr. Morrow had in Goza I. Id. The Goza II court also awarded SunTrust attorneys' fees incurred on appeal and, because the probate court had not exercised its discretion on the issue of attorneys' fees, remanded the matter to the probate court to determine whether an award of attorneys' fees and costs incurred in the probate court was warranted. Id. at 571-72.

Meanwhile, in September 2011, Mr. Morrow initiated yet another lawsuit against SunTrust and several of its employees in his capacity as the Estate's personal representative, this time in Shelby County Circuit Court. The circuit court proceedings led to this Court's opinion in Estate of Goza v. Wells, No. W2012-01745-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 4766544 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 4, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. June 13, 2014) ("Goza III"). SunTrust filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the case concerned administration of a trust. Goza III, at *1. The circuit court agreed and dismissed the Estate's petition in July 2012, stating that each of its claims was premised on the non-existence of the Perpetual Trust. Id. The circuit court found that the Perpetual Trust's existence had already been determined by this Court in Goza I and that it was therefore barred by res judicata from addressing the issue. Id. The Estate appealed the circuit court's judgment.[1] Id.

While the appeal in Goza III was pending before this Court, proceedings continued in the probate court following the remand of Goza II. The present appeal arises from those proceedings. In November 2012, Mr. Morrow filed a motion requesting that the probate court appoint his attorney, Larry Parrish, to replace him as the Estate's personal representative. The motion was premised on the belief that if he was replaced as personal representative of the Estate by a person who was not a party to any prior suit, the Estate's claims against SunTrust would no longer be barred by res judicata. After a hearing on the matter, the probate court denied the Estate's motion in an order entered on February 1, 2013. The Estate made several attempts to appeal the probate court's ruling. First, the Estate filed applications for an extraordinary appeal pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure with this Court and the Tennessee Supreme Court, both of which were denied. On March 1, 2013, the Estate filed a Notice of Appeal pursuant to Rule 3 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The court of appeals assigned the appeal number W2013-00678-COA-R3-CV to the appeal.

Meanwhile, proceedings still continued in the probate court. In April 2013, the Estate filed a motion to require SunTrust to show cause why it was entitled to possession of the assets in the Perpetual Trust. The probate court denied the motion as well as the Estate's subsequent motion to alter or amend. On October 2, 2013, the Estate filed another Rule 3 Notice of Appeal from the probate court's order denying the ...


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