STEPHEN SIMPSON ET AL.
WILLIAM B. SIMPSON
Assigned on Briefs April 1, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Loudon County No. 12461 Frank V.
Williams, III, Chancellor
appeal the trial court's refusal to set aside a deed
conveying real property from their decedent father to their
brother. The siblings also appeal the trial court's
denial of their post-trial motion to consider purported newly
discovered evidence. Discerning no error, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Kristopher D. Frye, Loudon, Tennessee, for the appellants,
Alisa Bolt, and Stephen Simpson.
D. Plemmons, Loudon, Tennessee, for the appellee, William B.
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., and Andy D. Bennett,
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
September 19, 2016, Plaintiffs/Appellants Stephen Simpson
("Mr. Simpson") and Alisa Bolt (Ms. Bolt, and
together with Mr. Simpson, "Appellants") filed a
complaint in Loudon County Chancery Court to set aside a
quitclaim deed against their brother, William Simpson
("Appellee"). According to the complaint, the
siblings' father, Tom Simpson ("Decedent"),
executed a quitclaim deed in favor of Appellee on August 5,
2015, for no consideration. The property conveyed by the deed
was a large piece of farmland that Decedent owned in Loudon
County ("the farm" or "the property").
Decedent continued to reside on the property notwithstanding
the conveyance. Shortly after execution of the deed, however,
in September 2015, Decedent's health took a turn for the
worse, causing him to fall. Decedent was hospitalized, then
transferred to an assisted living facility. Decedent never
returned to the farm before he passed away on May 15, 2016.
Decedent passed away, Appellants alleged that they learned
about the conveyance. Appellants asserted that the deed
should be set aside on the basis of their father's
diminished capacity and undue influence. The complaint also
stated that Appellee misappropriated certain funds from
Decedent in connection with an easement that was granted over
the property. Appellee filed an answer denying the material
allegations contained in the complaint.
occurred on April 13, 2018. Appellee testified that he
generally took care of his father's finances and person
during the later years of Decedent's life, going so far
as to hire a young neighbor to look in on Decedent and drive
him around. Appellee's assistance included taking care of
the farm property, including the cows owned jointly by
Decedent and Appellee, paying bills for Decedent, and taking
Decedent to have his taxes done. Appellee was a joint owner
on both Decedent's personal and business accounts.
According to Appellee, the only money taken from the accounts
went to pay farm and living expenses. Although Appellee
testified that he sometimes questioned Decedent about his
spending, including a time when Decedent took out a loan to
buy a skid steer, a piece of heavy farm equipment, allegedly
for Mr. Simpson's use, Appellee testified that "it
was [Decedent's] money. He did what he wanted to
admitted that he signed his father's name to the grant of
temporary easement over some of the farm property on May 5,
2015. Appellee testified that Decedent asked Appellee to
sign, as was his typical practice in many situations.
According to Appellee, Decedent fully understood the
transaction and agreed to allow the easement; the funds that
resulted from the grant of the easement were placed into one
of Decedent's joint accounts.
point,  Decedent and Appellee went to a lawyer to
discuss having a will prepared. Although Decedent initially
requested the meeting, Appellee testified that it was cut
short by Decedent's physical health issues. As such, no
will was ever drafted or executed.
July 2015, Appellee testified that his Father determined that
he wanted to convey the farm to Appellee in an effort to
ensure that the property was not sold and subdivided upon his
passing. As such, Appellee contacted Southeastern Title
Company to prepare a quitclaim deed to that effect. Decedent
had no contact with Southeastern Title Company until the day
the deed was signed on August 5, 2015; according to Appellee,
Decedent asked Appellee to take care of the transaction
because he had severe hearing impairment that made
business-type calls difficult. On August 5, 2015, Decedent
and Appellee drove to Southeastern Title Company and Decedent
signed the deed conveying the entire farm property to
September 19, 2015, Appellee found Decedent on the floor of
his home after a fall. Decedent was taken to a hospital by
ambulance where he stayed until approximately September 24,
2015, when he was moved to an assisted living facility.
Appellee testified that he changed the locks on the farm
house approximately one day following Decedent's fall.
According to Appellee, Decedent asked Appellee not to tell
his other siblings about the fall. In October 2015, Decedent
executed a power of attorney in favor of
testified that Decedent suffered from some physical health
issues in the last years of his life, including severe
hearing impairment and bowel incontinence. Appellee denied,
however, ever being informed that Decedent was diagnosed with
dementia prior to September 2015. Rather, Appellee testified
that that on August 5, 2015, Decedent was not suffering from
any form of dementia.
Gryder testified that he was hired by Appellee to help
Decedent around the farm for approximately five years prior
to September 2015. Mr. Gryder testified that Decedent could
not drive himself "in the month before" he was
hospitalized, but that Decedent was still attempting to drive
approximately two months prior to his hospitalization. Mr.
Gryder confirmed that he drove Decedent to a law office at
Appellee's behest to take care of "something about
the farm"; Mr. Gryder did not stay for the meeting and
was not privy to what was discussed. According to Mr. Gryder,
he once asked Decedent what was to happen to the farm upon
his death; Decedent responded that he wanted "it equal
and four ways." Mr. Gryder testified that in the months
before Decedent's hospitalization, Decedent "was not
himself," but was "sick." Mr. Gryder did not
elaborate as to whether this sickness was mental, physical,
Simpson testified that he lived with Decedent from September
2012 to approximately November 2014. During this time, Mr.
Simpson testified that he would cook and clean for Decedent,
while Appellee would visit approximately once a month to pay
bills. At some point, Mr. Simpson also helped Decedent
purchase a skid steer; according to Mr. Simpson, the decision
to make such a purchase was Decedent's and he signed all
the necessary financial documents to do so. In November 2014,
however, Decedent asked Mr. Simpson to leave the farm after a
falling out; Decedent apparently believed that Mr. Simpson
had taken some wood from the farm. According to Mr. Simpson
this belief was one in a pattern of "unusual
outbursts" that Decedent experienced in his later years.
Like Mr. Gryder, Mr. Simpson testified that Decedent
"wasn't completely himself" during this time.
In particular, Mr. Simpson pointed to physical impairments
and Decedent saying "off-the-wall stuff." Mr.
Simpson admitted, however, that he had no interaction with
Decedent around the time the deed was executed. Mr. Simpson
also testified that while Decedent had only a fourth-grade
education, he was an intelligent man. In addition, Mr.
Simpson confirmed that Travis Thompson, a neighbor, helped
out with Decedent after he moved out.
Bolt testified that she was close with both Appellee and
Decedent prior to the events at issue in this case, but that
Appellee's behavior changed things. Prior to the summer
of 2015, Ms. Bolt testified that she visited Decedent two to
three times per month. In the months leading up to the
transfer, however, Ms. Bolt noticed a significant decline in
Decedent's mental and physical faculties. With regard to
the physical, Ms. Bolt explained that Decedent was
incontinent, weak and feeble. Ms. Bolt was concerned about
his mental status as well, as he had at some times allowed
the house to become filthy and made a comment about how
"rats were laughing at him."
Decedent was hospitalized in September 2015, Ms. Bolt
asserted that Appellee did not inform her of the
hospitalization; rather she learned of the fall from a
third-party. As such, there was a delay in her seeing her
father until he had been moved to an assisted living
facility; Decedent apparently blamed Ms. Bolt for the delay,
causing some familial strife. Ms. Bolt agreed, however, that
Decedent could not return home to the farm due to his
physical condition. Ms. Bolt testified that Appellee also
failed to inform the siblings about the conveyance of the
farm until the deed was discovered following Decedent's
death. Ms. Bolt testified that she was surprised
by the conveyance. Ms. Bolt's husband confirmed their
surprise, as he testified that Decedent had once told a group
of people that "the farm would go down to all of his
kids" and that he did not intend on drafting a
Wilson testified that she prepared the quitclaim deed at
issue in her capacity as a closing agent and processor for
Southeastern Title Company. According to Ms. Wilson, Appellee
initially contacted her about the preparation of a quitclaim
deed and she completed the title work and necessary
paperwork. When it came time to execute the deed, Ms. Wilson
took the paperwork to the parking lot where Decedent was
waiting. Ms. Wilson then engaged in light
"chitchat" with Decedent, in an effort to
"make sure that everybody knows what's going
on." Ms. Wilson also generally explained the deed to
Decedent, including the property description, the tracts, and
the acreage. Although Ms. Wilson testified that Decedent was
hard of hearing, she believed that he fully understood the
transaction and that Decedent "did intend to convey the
property to his son [Appellee]." Appellee was in the car
during this interaction, but he did not participate. Ms.
Wilson also testified that Decedent appeared to have clear
cognitive thinking and sufficient mental capacity to engage
in the contract. Finally, Ms. Wilson testified that it did
not appear that Decedent was in any way coerced into
executing the deed. Ms. Wilson admitted, however, that had
she been informed that Decedent had previously been diagnosed
with dementia, she would not have notarized Decedent's
Lindsey, Decedent's long-time neighbor and mail-carrier,
also testified about Decedent's intentions and mental
state. According to Ms. Lindsey, she saw Decedent nearly
every day for a number of years. In approximately 2005, Ms.
Lindsey inquired of Decedent whether the farm would be
subdivided upon his death; Decedent responded that farm was
not to be sold but was "going to go to [Appellee]."
Over the years, the parties would sometimes discuss the issue
again; each time, Decedent confirmed that the property was to
go to Appellee upon his death. Ms. Lindsey verified that
Decedent suffered a physical decline in the years before his
death, but claimed that his mental capacity did not suffer to
the point that he could not comprehend or make his own
decisions. According to Ms. Lindsey, Decedent liked things
done "[o]nly his way" and had no compunction in
letting others know. Ms. Lindsey also described Decedent as
independent up until shortly before he was hospitalized.
Although there was no dispute that Mr. Gryder was often doing
work at the farm, Ms. Lindsey testified that she only saw
Decedent getting help from Appellee and Mr. Thompson in 2015.
Thompson, Decedent's neighbor for approximately fifteen
years, detailed multiple conversations with Decedent over the
future of the farm. First, approximately fifteen years before
trial, Mr. Thompson attempted to buy a piece of the farm from
Decedent. Decedent declined, noting that his intent was to
keep the farm intact. Over the years, Decedent and Mr.
Thompson had multiple conversations concerning the farm, all
of which resulted in Decedent expressing his intention that
the farm would pass to Appellee alone. Indeed, according to
Mr. Thompson, Decedent explained his choice that his other
two sons "would piddle it away" and Ms. Bolt only
wanted the property for the money. Decedent's intentions
did not change in conversations that occurred "toward
the end" of Decedent's life. Indeed, approximately
one year prior to Decedent's death, he asked Mr. Thompson
to take him to have the property transferred into
Appellee's name. Mr. Thompson declined, however, stating
that Appellee would need to take care of that issue. Finally,
Mr. Thompson confirmed that immediately prior to
Decedent's hospitalization, Decedent did not appear to be
suffering from any mental weakness.
deposition testimony of Hank S. Seo, M.D. was submitted as
substantive evidence. Dr. Seo treated Decedent following his
hospitalization on or about September 24, 2015. At that
point, Dr. Seo noted that Decedent had already been diagnosed
with dementia by some other medical professional and had
difficulty answering questions about his own history. As a
result, Dr. Seo opined that Decedent was then suffering from
severe Alzheimer dementia. Although such a condition often
results from a gradual worsening over time, Dr. Seo declined
to state whether Decedent was suffering in a similar fashion
on August 5, 2015 when the deed was executed.
conclusion of the trial, the trial court issued an oral
ruling in favor of Appellee. The trial court's order was
later memorialized by written order filed April 30, 2018.
Therein, the trial court found that while Decedent was
suffering from some dementia as of August 5, 2015, the deed
was the result of a long-term plan by Decedent to give the
farm to Appellee and that he had not been influenced by
anyone to make that decision. The trial court therefore
dismissed Appellants' complaint in its entirety and ruled
that all right title and interest in the real property at
issue vested in Appellee by virtue of the August 5, 2015
25, 2018, Appellants filed a motion for new trial on the
basis of newly discovered evidence. Specifically, the motion
alleged that Appellants learned after trial that Decedent had
in fact spoken with a lawyer in May 2015 and informed the
lawyer of his intent to devise the farm to his four children
equally. The lawyer asked Decedent to obtain a survey of the
property; however, Decedent never returned and no will was
drafted. The motion was accompanied by the affidavit of
attorney Matthew B. Frère ...