Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Simpson v. Simpson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 17, 2019

STEPHEN SIMPSON ET AL.
v.
WILLIAM B. SIMPSON

          Assigned on Briefs April 1, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Loudon County No. 12461 Frank V. Williams, III, Chancellor

         Siblings 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.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

          Kristopher D. Frye, Loudon, Tennessee, for the appellants, Alisa Bolt, and Stephen Simpson.

          Loren D. Plemmons, Loudon, Tennessee, for the appellee, William B. Simpson.

          J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr., and Andy D. Bennett, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE

         Background

         On 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").[1] 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.

         After 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.[2]

         A trial occurred on April 13, 2018.[3] 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 do."

         Appellee 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.

         At some point, [4] 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.

         Around 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 Appellee.

         On 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 Appellee.[5]

         Appellee 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.

         Norman 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, or both.

         Mr. 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.

         Ms. 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."

         When 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.[6] 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 will.[7]

         Anita 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 signature.

         Regina 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.

         Mr. 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.[8] 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.

         The 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.

         At the 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 quitclaim deed.

         On May 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.