Assigned on Briefs June 1, 2017
from the Probate Court for Shelby County No. PR-1541 Karen D.
administrator of an estate appeals the trial court's
award of attorney fees to a beneficiary in a contempt action
filed by him against the beneficiary. We reverse, holding
that the trial court abused its discretion in its award of
attorney fees because the fees awarded did not inure to the
benefit of the estate.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Probate
Court Reversed; Case Remanded
Kenneth P. Jones, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Scott B. Peatross, Administrator of the Estate of Alys Harris
L. J. Spence, Jr. and Kristina A. Woo, Memphis, Tennessee,
for the appellee, Carnita F. Atwater.
W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S. and Brandon O. Gibson, J.,
W. McCLARTY, JUDGE
Lipscomb, M.D. ("Decedent") died at the age of 98
on May 21, 2014. Her death has resulted in years of
protracted litigation concerning the administration of her
estate, valued at approximately $2.9 million. This action is
one of many concerning Carnita F. Atwater's
("Beneficiary") status as a beneficiary of the
estate following her long-term care of Decedent and resulting
relationship with her.
B. Peatross ("Administrator"), serving as the
administrator of the estate, filed the petition for contempt
that is at issue in this case on October 1, 2015, alleging
that Beneficiary violated the trial court's temporary
restraining order, entered on July 3, 2014, and then extended
on August 31, 2014, against Beneficiary. The July 2014 order,
provided, as pertinent to this appeal, as follows:
[Beneficiary] is hereby ORDERED not to transfer, spend, or
dispose of any asset described in the Verified Complaint and
formerly owned by [Decedent] or any asset purchased, in whole
or in part, with funds that belonged to Decedent.
temporary restraining order was then extended by consent
through the trial of the matter. In the petition for
contempt, Administrator alleged that Beneficiary listed
several items, either owned by Decedent or paid for with
Decedent's funds, on an estate sale website for sales
held on May 9 and August 2, 2015, in violation of the
court's order. He sought a finding of contempt, an
assessment of damages, and an order directing Beneficiary to
"provide an inventory of any and all items purchased, in
whole or in part, with funds that belonged to [Decedent],
which [she] sold, transferred, disposed of, through the
[website] or otherwise."
denied wrongdoing, claiming that she has been in the business
of selling antiques, household furniture, and other items at
community sales and flea markets for years. She asserted that
none of the items at issue were actually sold, that some of
the items were owned by her, and that other items were
inadvertently or mistakenly uploaded to the website. She
attached photographs of several items at issue in an attempt
to establish her continued ...