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In re Estate of Morris

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 13, 2017

IN RE ESTATE OF BILL MORRIS

          Session August 16, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Franklin County No. 19721 Jeffrey F. Stewart, Judge

         This is an appeal from the trial court's denial of Appellants' motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02. In In re Estate of Morris, No. M2014-00874-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 557970, (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2015), perm. app. denied (Tenn. June 15, 2015) (Morris I), this Court held that Decedent's will was invalid for failing to comply with the statutory formalities for executing a will. Following the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari, the parties entered into an agreed order declaring the will invalid and agreeing to administer the Decedent's estate as an intestate estate. After our decision in Morris I and entry of the agreed order, the legislature amended Tennessee Code Annotated section 32-1-104 to validate wills executed in the manner of the will at issue here. Relying on this amendment, Proponents of the will filed a Rule 60.02 motion asserting that "it is no longer equitable that the [agreed final judgment] should have prospective effect and relief from the operation is justified." The trial court denied Rule 60.02 relief and proponents of the will appeal. Discerning no error, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed and Remanded.

          Donald Capparella and Tyler Chance Yarbro, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Gary Lee Morris and Pamela Jean Morris.

          Eddy R. Smith and Katie Tolliver Jones, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Estate of Bill Morris, Deceased, Bill Morris, Jr., and Cheryl Morris.

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin and Brandon O. Gibson, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE

         I. Background

         This is the second appeal of this case. In In re Estate of Morris, No. M2014-00874-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 557970, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2015), perm. app. denied (Tenn. June 15, 2015) (Morris I), we held that the signatures of the witnesses on an affidavit, but not on the will, did not satisfy the statutory formalities for the valid execution of a will. Morris I at *4. Consequently, we concluded that the Decedent died intestate. Id. After the Tennessee Supreme Court denied certiorari, the parties entered an agreed final judgment on October 13, 2015. The agreed final judgment states that the "putative will of Bill Morris is not a will and Bill Morris died intestate." The judgment goes on to state that "[u]pon entry of this final judgment, the probate of the estate of Bill Morris shall commence immediately. . ." and defines the terms of the estate's administration.

         After Morris I was decided, in April 2016, the legislature added subsection (b) to Tennessee Code Annotated section 32-1-104. This statutory amendment allows the integration of the attestation affidavit to the will itself such that wills not otherwise validly executed under the prior law may be entered into probate. The new section of the statute reads as follows:

(b) (1) For wills executed prior to July 1, 2016, to the extent necessary for the will to be validly executed, witness signatures affixed to an affidavit meeting the requirements of § 32-2-110 shall be considered signatures to the will, provided that:
(A) The signatures are made at the same time as the testator signs the will and are made in accordance with subsection (a); and
(B) The affidavit contains language meeting all the requirements of subsection (a).
(2) If the witnesses signed the affidavit on the same day that the testator signed the will, it shall be presumed that the witnesses and the testator signed at the same time, unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. If, pursuant to this subsection (b), witness signatures on the affidavit are treated as signatures on the will, the affidavit shall not also serve as a self-proving affidavit under § 32-2-110. Nothing in this subsection (b) shall affect, eliminate, or relax the requirement in subsection (a) that the testator sign the will.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104(b).

         On May 13, 2016, proponents of the will, Pamela Morris and Gary Morris (together "Appellants"), filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 (4) and (5) in the trial court. Appellants asserted that "it is no longer equitable that the October 13, 2015 order should have prospective effect and relief from the operation of the judgment is justified." On August 22, 2016, Bill Morris, Jr. and Cheryl Morris (together "Appellees"), filed a response to Appellants' Rule 60 motion and an accompanying memorandum. Appellees argued that a change in the law is not generally a basis for relief under Rule 60 and that an intervening change in the law does not exempt parties from the doctrines of res judicata. Appellees also argued that the separation of powers doctrine prevents the legislature from changing the law to alter the result of a final judgment. After a hearing, the trial court entered an order denying Appellants' Rule 60.02 motion on October 13, 2016. Appellants appeal.

         II. ...


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