ESTATE OF BONNIE C. BRIMER
BERNICE HENNESSEE ET AL.
Session August 9, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Morgan County No. 14-08 Frank V.
Williams, III, Chancellor
judgment was granted to the defendant in an action brought by
the executrix of an estate to declare the rights of the
parties to joint bank accounts created by the decedent. The
executrix appeals the grant of summary judgment. We conclude
that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether
the decedent was unduly influenced and accordingly reverse
the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Reversed and Remanded
C. Wimberly, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Judy F.
Hutson. James W. Brooks, Wartburg, Tennessee, for the
appellee, Bernice Hennessee.
Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court,
in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and John Wesley McClarty,
RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE.
Factual and Procedural History
C. Brimer, a resident of Morgan County, died on January 30,
2013, at the age of 85. Her will, executed in August 2005,
was admitted to probate, and letters testamentary were issued
to her sister, Judy Hutson, on February 14, 2013.
years prior to her death, Ms. Brimer created two accounts at
Regions Bank that were titled in her name and in the name of
her friend Bernice Hennessee; the accounts were established
as joint accounts with the right of survivorship. Account
4071 was opened at the Wartburg, Tennessee, branch in 2007,
and account 7379 was opened at the Amite, Louisiana, branch
in 2009; at some point after Ms. Brimer's death, Ms.
Hennessee closed the accounts.
January 22, 2014, Ms. Hutson filed a petition for declaratory
and injunctive relief, naming Bernice Hennessee and Geralynn
Melancon as defendants, and seeking to have the court declare
the rights of the parties with regard to the accounts and
safe deposit boxes. The petition alleged that "the
Deceased suffered from dementia and was under the influence
of medications that impacted her competency with regard to
the titling of" the bank accounts. The petition further
alleged that "all of the funds in the above-referenced
accounts originated from the Deceased, Bonnie C. Brimer, and
that the Respondents did not contribute to any of the funds
in the accounts. . ." and "that Respondents unduly
influenced Decedent to add Respondents' names to the
title of the above-referenced accounts, or that the Decedent
lacked the requisite mental capacity to transfer title to the
funds existing in the above-referenced accounts of the
Deceased. . ."
Hennessee moved for summary judgment, asserting that that the
undisputed facts "show that there was no fraud, no undue
influence or overreaching by [Ms. Hennessee] when the joint
accounts were established." The motion was supported by
a statement of eight undisputed material facts; the facts
were supported by citations to the order admitting Ms.
Brimer's will to probate, the letters testamentary, the
signature card from the Wartburg account 4071, a document
entitled "Account Package" from the Amite account,
Ms. Hutson's answers to interrogatories and deposition,
and the deposition of Ms. Hennessee. Ms. Hutson responded to
the statement, disputing six of the statements, citing to her
interrogatory answers and deposition.
a hearing, the court entered an order granting the motion.
The court held that "the Plaintiff has failed to produce
any evidence to support her claim that the Defendant, Bernice
Hennessee, unduly influenced Bonnie C. Brimer at the time
these bank accounts at Regions Bank were established."
The court also held that Tennessee Code Annotated sections
45-2-703(d)(1)(A) and (e)(1) controlled, and because Ms.
Brimer and Ms. Hennessee "held the accounts as joint
tenants with right of survivorship which is conclusive
evidence in this case of the intent to establish the bank
accounts at Regions Bank such that title vested in the
Hutson appeals, raising the following issues for our review:
1. Whether the trial court erred in finding that Appellant
failed to produce any evidence to support her claim that
Defendant/Appellee unduly influenced Bonnie C. Brimer at the
time the Regions Bank accounts were established.
2. Whether the trial court erred in finding that there was
not an issue of material fact as to whether the mortgage
payments being paid to Ms. Brimer that were deposited into
one or more of the Regions Bank accounts after Ms.
Brimer's death on January 30, 2013 were part of Ms.
Brimer's probate estate and were thus improperly
converted by Defendant/Appellee for her use and benefit.
Hennessee raises an additional issue as follows: "Can
the Appellant raise a claim to post-death deposits of funds
into a joint bank account of the decedent and Appellee for
the first time on appeal?"
Standard of Review
is entitled to summary judgment only if the "pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits…show that there is
no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Tenn.
R. Civ. P. 56.04. When the moving party does not bear the
burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its
burden of production either (1) by affirmatively negating an
essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or (2)
by demonstrating that the nonmoving party's evidence is
insufficient to establish the nonmoving party's claim or
defense. Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis,
MPLLC, 477 S.W.3d 235, 264 (Tenn. 2015), cert.
denied, 136 S.Ct. 2452 (2016). Where the motion is
properly supported, the nonmoving party must respond by
showing specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of
material fact for trial. Id. at 265. A fact is
material if it must be decided in order to resolve the
substantive claim or defense to which the motion is directed.
Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC, 477
S.W.3d at 251 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A "genuine
issue" exists if a reasonable jury could resolve that
fact in favor of one side or the other. Id.
review the trial court's ruling on a motion for summary
judgment de novo with no presumption of correctness,
as the resolution of the motion is a matter of law.
Rye, 477 S.W.3d at 250. We view the evidence in
favor of the non-moving party by resolving all reasonable
inferences in its favor and discarding all countervailing
evidence. Stovall v. Clarke, 113 S.W.3d 715, 721
(Tenn. 2003); Godfrey v. Ruiz, 90 S.W.3d 692, 695
Hutson's petition alleged that Ms. Brimer's mental
capacity at the time she created the bank accounts was
diminished because she "suffered from dementia and was
under the influence of medications that impacted her
competency." At the hearing on the motion, counsel for
Ms. Hutson conceded that "we have not come forward with
any proof about diminished capacity" but argued that
"the genuine issue [. . . of] material fact definitely
exists as to undue influence[.]" The trial court did not
discuss the evidence relied upon by the parties in support of
their respective contentions or make factual findings; the
court held that there was no issue of material fact as ...