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Kryder v. Estate of Rogers

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Columbia Division

November 2, 2017

PATRICIA PORTER KRYDER, Plaintiff,
v.
ESTATE OF JAMES KEMMLER ROGERS, JENNIFER ROGERS-ETCHEVERRY, Defendants. JENNIFER ROGERS-ETCHEVERRY, as administrator for the ESTATE OF JAMES KEMMLER ROGERS, Counter-Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICIA PORTER KRYDER, Counter-Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         What should be a routine skirmish over the enforceability of a Promissory Note between the maker, Patricia Porter Kryder (“Kryder”), and the holder, James Kemmler Rogers (“Rogers”), has escalated into a protracted battle, with campaigns fought in both state and federal court. The case was launched with a preemptive strike by Kryder in the form of a declaratory judgment action in the Chancery Court of Giles County, Tennessee. The front moved here, when the case was removed based upon diversity jurisdiction.

         Now in its fourth year, and before its second federal judge, the case has survived Rogers. Almost two years after a judicially conducted settlement conference failed to provide a negotiated truce, Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry (“Etcheverry”), as special administrator of Rogers' estate, filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 136) seeking an end to the conflict. This is her second such attempt, and the third attempt at partial or complete summary judgment filed by the parties. Unfortunately, Etcheverry's Motion will not bring a total halt to the hostilities.[1]

         I. Background

         In the Complaint filed in the Giles County Chancery Court, Kryder alleged that, in 2007, she and Rogers entered into a “landlord/tenant” agreement whereby Rogers would live in her Lynnville, Tennessee residence in exchange for providing general care-taking services and paying $1, 500 per month rent, plus $150 per month for each of the four horses that Rogers pastured on the land. This was not a typical landlord/tenant agreement, however. Rogers, who was on a fixed income, was not required to pay the rent he owed each month. Instead, the parties would “settle up” at mutually agreeable intervals when Rogers had available funds.

         The Complaint also alleges that on January 9 or 10, 2010, Kryder and Rogers agreed that Rogers would become current and pay future rent by advancing Kryder a lump sum payment of $50, 000. This agreement was to be set out in a Promissory Note for that amount, with the understanding that the principal would be reduced each month as Rogers' rent and pasture fees became due.

         Immediately thereafter, on January 11, 2010, a fire destroyed Kryder's utility building and carport, damaged her house, and destroyed surrounding landscaping and trees. Kryder demanded that Rogers reimburse her for “certain damages” caused by the fire, and Rogers agreed to do so when he had available funds, including using a frequent flyer credit card with payment made for Kryder's benefit.

         On January 15, 2010, Kryder executed a Promissory Note in the principal amount of $50, 000. Rogers later agreed to advance Kryder an additional $50, 000. Kryder executed a second Promissory Note on April 16, 2010 in the amount of $100, 000, which consolidated the two Notes. As with the prior Note, the principal was to be reduced each month as Rogers' rent and pasture fees accrued. It was also to be reduced, Kryder alleged, by the amount of Rogers' responsibility for the fire loss, once that amount was finally determined. Kryder claims that, some time later, Rogers used his frequent flyer credit card for her benefit in the amount of $56, 633.17, “which represented his past-due rent and pasture fees through December 2009.” (Doc. No. 1-1, Complaint ¶ 14).

         On May 18, 2012, Rogers was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Giles County and airlifted to Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville. Kryder informed Rogers' daughter Etcheverry, who was living in California, about the accident and the extent of her father's injuries. However, and unbeknownst to Kryder, Etcheverry immediately boarded a flight to Nashville, rented a van, drove to Kryder's farm, entered the residence without permission, and “removed documents, including evidence of the various business transactions, ‘settling up' of the rent, and note obligations between Kryder and Rogers.” (Id. ¶ 19). Etcheverry later “admitted to law enforcement that she removed the documents and other property while Kryder was at Rogers' hospital bedside.” (Id.).

         Kryder also alleged that, on June 3, 2012, Etcheverry removed Rogers' remaining personal property from Kryder's residence and, thereafter, Etcheverry and Rogers flew on a private jet to California. Then, on September 12, 2012, and at a time when Rogers was “mentally incapacitated, ” Etcheverry, through her attorney, sent Kryder a letter alleging that Kryder had failed to pay interest on the two Notes, and demanding that the balance be paid with interest, even though the face of the $100, 000 Note acknowledged that the $50, 000 Note had been satisfied. This was followed by another letter dated February 20, 2013, that demanded Kryder pay the entire April 16, 2010 Note, together with interest by March 15, 2013. In response, Kryder informed counsel that Rogers actually owed her at least $40, 000 for past due rent, pasture fees and damages resulting from the fire.

         Based upon the foregoing, Kryder asserted claims for breach of contract/procurement of breach; breach of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing; and quantum meruit against Rogers and Etcheverry. She also sought an accounting and a declaration that Etcheverry and Rogers were obligated to apply all pre-paid interests, debts for rent and pasture fees, the damages resulting from the fire to the April 16, 2010 Promissory Note.

         After the case was removed to this Court on May 16, 2013, Kryder filed an Amended and Restated Complaint (Doc. No. 80) that re-alleged the same facts and asserted the same causes of action. In response, Etcheverry and Rogers filed an Answer and Counterclaim that was twice amended.

         In the controlling Second Amended Answer and Counterclaim, Etcheverry and Rogers deny most of the pertinent allegations made by Kryder. They concede that Kryder and Rogers entered into an agreement, whereby Rogers would stay at the Lynnville residence for an indefinite period of time, but claim that he was not obligated to pay rent, either for himself or his horses. Rather, Rogers was allowed to live on the property and pasture his horses there if he helped maintain the residence and performed general handyman duties, including mowing the lawn, hauling Kryder's horses, exercising and feeding the horses, and repairing and maintaining the property.

         Etcheverry and Rogers also concede that Kryder executed two Promissory Notes in favor of Rogers-one for $50, 000 and the second for of $100, 000. They claim, however, that the money advanced via the Notes was not for past or future rents, or to reimburse Kryder for the damages that allegedly resulted from the fire. Rather, the first $50, 000 was advanced to Kryder to pay attorney's fees in her unsuccessful attempt to contest her parents' will, and another $50, 000 was advanced to pay additional attorney's fees.

         Etcheverry concedes that, upon learning of her father's accident and hospitalization, (which she claims not to have heard from Kryder), she flew to Nashville on May 20, 2012, and went to the Lynnville residence. Etcheverry claims, however, that she let herself in with a key that her father had provided to her and that she removed some of her father's personal belongings, which is the same thing she told the police officers. On June 3, 2012, while under Kryder's supervision and with her permission, Etcheverry removed the remainder of her father's personal property from the residence.

         Based upon the Promissory Notes and the advancement of other money, the Counterclaim alleges breach of contract and unjust enrichment. It also seeks equitable relief in the form of a lien to be placed on Kryder's property, either in the form of a Deed of Trust in favor of Rogers to secure the Notes, or a lien lis pendens on the property for at least the balance of the unpaid interest on the Notes.

         The Second Amended Answer and Counterclaim was filed by Etcheverry as the “attorney-in-fact for James Kemmler Rogers, an incapacitated person.” After Rogers passed away on June 11, 2014, Etcheverry, on December 11, 2014, filed a Motion for Substitution (Doc. No. 81) requesting that she be substituted for Rogers as the Counter-Plaintiff in her capacity as the Special Administrator of Roger's estate. By marginal Order dated December 19, 2014, (Doc. No. 82), the Motion was granted by then-Judge William J. Haynes, who was presiding over the case at the time. Kryder filed a Motion to Reconsider (Doc. No. 83), arguing that the Giles County Chancery Court was the proper jurisdiction for the estate to present Rogers' claims, and that Kryder, as a creditor, had filed a Petition to probate Roger's estate in that court. Judge Haynes rejected Kryder's arguments and confirmed the substitution by Order (Doc. No. 85) entered March 9, 2015.

         As noted at the outset, the matter is before the Court on Etcheverry's Motion for Summary Judgment and, for that reason, the allegations made by the parties in the unverified pleadings are, to a great extent, irrelevant. However, the Court sets them out in detail because, quite frankly, the parties' Local Rule 56.01 submissions, and in particular their respective Statement of Undisputed Facts (Doc. Nos. 138 & 150), are unhelpful. Those filings fail to provide context, let alone flavor, [2]to the dispute between the parties. Furthermore, the parties rely on many of the allegations in advancing their arguments, as if the allegations were established facts.

         It is only with the foregoing background that one can makes sense of the limited number of material facts on which the parties actually agree. Those facts are:

(1) Rogers lived on the Lynnville property from 2007 until he was injured in an automobile accident on May 18, 2012.
(2) Kryder drafted and executed two Promissory Notes in favor of Rogers. The first, signed January 15, 2010, was in the amount of $50, 000. The second, signed April 10, 2010, was in the amount of $100, 000.
(3) The $100, 000 Promissory Note replaced the previous note[3] and (a) was to be secured by a Deed of Trust; (b) provided that Kryder would be responsible for attorney fee's, costs, and expenses if collection proceedings were necessary; and (c) required Kryder to pay four percent interest per year on the outstanding principal balance.
(4) The Promissory Note contained no acceleration clause. Instead, all principal and unpaid interest was to be paid on or before December 31, 2020.
(5) After execution of the Promissory Note, Rogers advanced Kryder $56, 633.17 using his frequent flyer credit card.
(6) From May 2010 through December 2011, Kryder made monthly interest payments to Rogers.
(7) On January 11, 2010, a fire destroyed Kryder's utility building, carport, landscaping, and trees, and damaged her house.
(8) In April 2012, Etcheverry stayed at the Lynnville property and helped her father recover from hip surgery. No demands were made on the Promissory Note during time.
(9) On September 11, 2012, and again on February 20, 2013, counsel for Etcheverry sent Kryder a letter requesting payment to make the Note current.
(10) Rogers died on June 11, 2014, and Etcheverry's Motion to Substitute was thereafter granted.

(Doc. No. 149-1, Kryder's Reponse to Etcheverry's Statement of Facts ¶¶ 12, 14-18. 20-22; Doc. No. 153, Ethceverry's Response to Kryder's Statement of Facts ¶¶ 3, 7, 9-22).

         II. Standard of Review

         The standards governing summary judgment have been restated on countless occasions and are well known. It suffices to note: (1) summary judgment is only appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); (2) the facts and inferences must be construed in favor of the nonmoving party, Van Gorder v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., Inc., 509 F.3d 265, 268 (6th Cir. 2007); (3) the Court does not weigh the evidence, or judge the credibility of witnesses when ruling on the motion, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); and (4) the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position is insufficient to survive summary judgment, Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003).

         III. Legal Analysis

         Etcheverry seeks summary judgment on both her counterclaims and on Kryder's claims. The Court considers Kryder's claims first.

         A. ...


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