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In re Estate of Lipscomb

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 21, 2018

In Re ESTATE OF ALYS HARRIS LIPSCOMB

          Assigned on Briefs June 1, 2017

          Appeal from the Probate Court for Shelby County No. PR-1541 Karen D. Webster, Judge

         The 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.

         Tenn. 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 Lipscomb.

          Robert L. J. Spence, Jr. and Kristina A. Woo, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Carnita F. Atwater.

          John W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S. and Brandon O. Gibson, J., joined.

          OPINION

          JOHN W. McCLARTY, JUDGE

         I. BACKGROUND

         Alys H. 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.

         Scott 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.

         The 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."

         Beneficiary 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 ...


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