BARBARA JARNIGAN et al.
Session Date: September 13, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Hamblen County No. 2016-CV-143
Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor
case involves allegations of fraud and undue influence with
respect to the estate of Brenda Vargo (the deceased).
Following the deceased's death, four surviving family
members discovered that they were no longer designated as
"payable-on-death" beneficiaries on several of the
deceased's bank accounts. These family members filed suit
against Claude Moyers (Mr. Moyers), alleging that Mr.
Moyers's wife, Wanda Moyers (Mrs. Moyers), persuaded the
deceased, "through fraud or undue influence, " to
close some of her bank accounts and to name Mr. Moyers as the
sole payable-on-death beneficiary on the remaining accounts.
Following a bench trial, the court determined that Mrs.
Moyers had a confidential relationship with the deceased;
hence, creating a rebuttable presumption of undue influence.
The trial court imputed the undue influence of Mrs. Moyers to
Mr. Moyers. Ultimately, the trial court determined that Mr.
Moyers failed to rebut the presumption of undue influence by
clear and convincing evidence. Consequently, the court
divested Mr. Moyers of his interest in the disputed funds.
Mr. Moyers appeals. We reverse and remand for further
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Reversed; Case Remanded
A. Gibbons, Morristown, Tennessee, and Katherine A. Young,
Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Claude Moyers.
A. Cowan, Morristown, Tennessee, for the appellees, Barbara
Jarnigan, Wanda Lovin, Mattie Noe, and Peggy Light.
Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and John W.
McClarty, J., joined.
CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., JUDGE
deceased first met Mrs. Moyers in 2005 or 2006 when Mrs.
Moyers began preparing the Vargos' taxes. However, the
parties agree that Mrs. Moyers did not become a close friend
of the deceased until the deceased's husband passed away
in March 2014. Thereafter, Mrs. Moyers spent significantly
more time with the deceased. The two women spoke over the
telephone frequently. Mrs. Moyers also began driving the
deceased to the grocery store and doctor's appointments.
Moyers did not develop a personal relationship with the
deceased until the early months of 2015. He testified that he
began visiting the deceased at home in January 2015. The
plaintiffs contend that Mr. Moyers did not begin spending
time with the deceased until after March 31, 2015. According
to Mr. Moyers, he spent considerable time sitting and talking
with the deceased, taking her out to eat, and helping her
around the house. At least one plaintiff testified that the
deceased "loved" both Mr. and Mrs. Moyers. Before
this litigation ensued, plaintiffs also asked Mr. Moyers to
be a pallbearer at the deceased's funeral.
April 23, 2015, Mrs. Moyers drove the deceased to the TVA
Employees Credit Union, where she helped the deceased open
several new bank accounts. At that time, the deceased listed
the plaintiffs, in various combinations, as payable-on-death
beneficiaries on different accounts. On May 11, 2015, the
deceased executed a new general membership agreement with the
bank in which she designated Mr. Moyers as the
payable-on-death beneficiary. The execution of that document
revoked and superseded all prior agreements between the
deceased and the bank, thus extinguishing any legal interest
the plaintiffs had in the funds. Sometime later, the deceased
closed three of the accounts on which most of the plaintiffs
had originally been named as beneficiaries. Only four
accounts remained open at the time of the deceased's
death. Of those four accounts, only one account had
previously listed any of the plaintiffs as beneficiaries.
Plaintiff Brenda Jarnigan was the original beneficiary on
Mrs. Moyers both testified that they had absolutely no
involvement with the deceased's decision to name Mr.
Moyers as a beneficiary or her decision to close some of her
accounts. According to Mr. and Mrs. Moyers, they did not
drive the deceased to the bank when she made those changes;
nor did they provide the deceased with certain personal
information (such as Mr. Moyers's Social Security Number)
that would have been required. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Moyers
claim they were unaware that the deceased had named Mr.
Moyers as a beneficiary until after the deceased's death.
Plaintiffs offer no direct evidence that Mr. and Mrs. Moyers
had personal knowledge of the deceased's desire to name
Mr. Moyers as a payable-on-death beneficiary. Nor do the
plaintiffs offer evidence that Mrs. Moyers provided the
deceased with transportation on her May 11, 2015 trip to the
bank. Instead, plaintiffs merely assert that "[Mrs.
Moyers] started moving money around and had her husband's
name put on a document purporting to trump all of the
plaintiffs' beneficiary designations." The
plaintiffs also claim that "[i]n all likelihood"
the deceased would not have closed some of her other accounts
"had [Mrs. Moyers] not interfered."
Moyers raises four issues on this appeal, which we have
Whether the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction
over this case because of the plaintiffs' alleged lack of
Whether the trial court erred in declining to grant Mr.
Moyers's motion for a directed verdict.
Whether the trial court erred in finding that Mrs. Moyers
exerted undue influence over the deceased.
Whether the trial court erred in imputing the undue influence