WALTER STOKELY, ET AL.
JAMES STOKELY, ET AL.
Session October 18, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Greene County No. 2015-0133
Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor
appeal arises from a family dispute over a life estate.
Charles Eason, Thomas Eason, Marsha Grayer, and Walter
Stokely ("Petitioners") filed suit against their
siblings Anna Eason, James Stokely, and Mark Stokely
("Respondents") in the Chancery Court for Greene
County ("the Trial Court") seeking partition of
their late mother's home and property which they all had
inherited but to which they had executed a quitclaim deed to
sister Anna Eason to hold as life tenant. Respondents filed
an answer asserting that Anna Eason was the life tenant and
the land was not subject to partition. Respondents asserted
the statute of limitations as a defense, as well. After a
trial, the Trial Court dismissed Petitioners' lawsuit.
Petitioners' appeal, arguing that Respondents waived the
statute of limitations as a defense through abandonment and
also that the Trial Court erred in not reforming the deed
when the parties did not understand it would create a life
estate for Anna Eason. We hold, inter alia, that
Respondents properly pled the statute of limitations and
could rely upon it. We hold further that Petitioners'
lack of knowledge regarding all the implications of a life
estate is not, in itself, a basis for reforming the deed. We
affirm the Trial Court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed; Case Remanded
Ronald Chesnut, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellants,
Charles Eason, Thomas Eason, Marsha Grayer, and Walter
Douglas L. Payne, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellees,
Anna Eason, James Stokely, and Mark Stokely.
Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which John W. McClarty and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ.,
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE
appeal stems from a dispute among siblings over the home of
their deceased mother, Betty Eason. Betty Eason died
intestate in 2003. Although the siblings inherited their
mother's property upon her death, the siblings were under
the impression that they needed to take additional action
lest they lose the property. The surviving siblings therefore
went through attorney Grant Crum to create a deed. Anna Eason
had lived in the home with her mother, and the parties
desired to make provision for Anna Eason to continue living
in the home as before.
Crum interpreted the family's request as one to create a
life estate for Anna Eason in the subject property. For
non-local siblings, limited power of attorney documents were
prepared so that elder brother James Stokely could act on
their behalf in the matter. The limited power of attorney
contained the following language, in part: "As my
attorney in fact, JAMES HOWARD STOKELY shall be and is hereby
authorized to . . . execute a quitclaim deed reserving unto
Anna Geraldine Eason a life estate in the above named
property . . . ." A quitclaim deed also was created,
stating the following, in part:
For good and valuable consideration, the receipt of which is
hereby acknowledged, We, ANNA GERALDINE EASON, THOMAS ANTHONY
EASON, JAMES HOWARD STOKELY, Individually, and JAMES HOWARD
STOKELY as attorney in fact for MARK STEVEN STOKELY, MARSHA
LOUISE GRAYER, CHARLES PHILIP EASON, and WALTER LEE STOKELY,
hereinafter referred to as the GRANTORS, have this day
transferred, and by these presents do hereby relinquish,
remise, release and quitclaim unto ANNA GERALDINE EASON,
THOMAS ANTHONY EASON, JAMES HOWARD STOKELY, MARK STEVEN
STOKELY, MARSHA LOUISE GRAYER, CHARLES PHILIP EASON, and
WALTER LEE STOKELY, and SUBJECT TO A LIFE ESTATE RESERVED
UNTO ANNA GERALDINE EASON, hereinafter referred to as the
GRANTEES, any and all interest which we might have in the
following described real estate . . . .
time, family disagreements arose regarding Anna Eason's
status in the home, the particulars of which have no bearing
on the legal issues presented on appeal. In 2014 or 2015,
Anna Eason discovered that she in fact held a life estate in
the subject property. In April 2015, Petitioners filed suit
in the Trial Court seeking partition of the property. In
September 2015, Petitioners filed an amended petition,
alleging in part as follows:
The Petitioners allege that the Respondents, and especially
James Stokely, misrepresented the nature of the deed which is
in controversy herein, at the time of the execution of same.
Specifically, the Plaintiffs were told by the Respondents at
that time, i.e. shortly after the demise of the parties'
Mother, that the purpose of the "deed" was to
transfer ownership of the real property to all of the heirs,
i.e. the parties herein being the children of the deceased
Mother. There was no mention of a "life estate" to
be retained by any one of the children, and certainly not for
Anna Eason. However, the parties did agree that the real
property was to "remain the same" and further that
the sister, Anna Eason, could remain living on the real
October 2015, Respondents filed an answer to Petitioners'
amended petition. Respondents asserted, among other things,
the statute of limitations, as follows:
10. Motion to Dismiss - Statute of
Limitations: The Petitioners seek the set aside of a
purported fraudulent deed which has been of record in the
Register's Office for Greene County, Tennessee since
April 2, 2004. At no time have any of the Petitioners (who
have frequently visited Greene County, or in Thomas
Eason's case, a resident of Greene County) sought to
avail themselves of redress until after all applicable
statutes of limitations have expired (see TCA §
28-3-104, 105 and TCA § 28-3-110).
case was tried in August 2016. Attorney Crum testified as to
his involvement in the case:
Q. Did you back in 2004 have an opportunity to meet with
certain individuals concerning an Estate matter for Betty L.
A. Yes, I handled the Estate of Ms. Eason.
Q. All right. Do you have a record in your file of who you
A. I have looked through it. I do not have an inventory or a
list of each person that was there that day. My recollection
is most of the family was there, but not all.
A. I think very similar to what you've been discussing
here, that a couple live out of state, and I believe one was
active military at that time, if I remember correctly.
Q. All right. You remember meeting with more than one person,