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Arrington v. Bryant

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 20, 2019

ANTHONY ARRINGTON
v.
BARBARA BRYANT ET AL.

          Session August 21, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Greene County No. 2017-CV-426 Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor [1]

         This case involves a dispute between siblings, named as co-executors of their mother's estate. Anthony Arrington (plaintiff) brought this action against his sister Barbara Bryant, alleging she engaged in "self-dealing, fraud, theft, and conversion" of the assets of their late mother, Nuffie Arrington (decedent). Ms. Bryant responded by alleging that the parties had mediated their dispute and entered into a settlement agreement disposing of all issues between them. She presented the settlement agreement and two checks she wrote to plaintiff in accordance with the agreement. The plaintiff had cashed the checks. Ms. Bryant asserted the defense of accord and satisfaction. Plaintiff admitted entering into the agreement, but argued that it should be rescinded because of fraudulent inducement and concealment. Ms. Bryant died while the action was pending in the trial court. Her children, Rachel Bryant Ramsey and Nathan Bryant (defendants) were substituted for her. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, finding the settlement agreement valid and enforceable. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          William S. Nunnally, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anthony Arrington.

          Douglas L. Payne, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Rachel Bryant Ramsey.

          Thomas C. Jessee, Johnson City, Tennessee, and Corey Shipley, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Nathan Bryant.

          Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and John W. McClarty, J., joined.

          OPINION

          CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., JUDGE

         I.

         Plaintiff's complaint alleges, in pertinent part, as follows. Decedent died testate on May 1, 2015. Her will was admitted to probate; plaintiff and Ms. Bryant were named co-executors. The will devised the estate in equal portions to plaintiff and Ms. Bryant. On March 24, 2016, Ms. Bryant opened an estate account in her name only. She did not tell plaintiff that the estate account was opened only in her name. According to the complaint, Ms. Bryant "withdrew from the account various sums of money to effect repairs on the vacant residence of the decedent and/or for her personal benefit." There was a savings account containing the decedent's funds at First Tennessee Bank. The account jointly bore the names of decedent, plaintiff, and Ms. Bryant. Ms. Bryant alleged that there had been improper expenditures from the savings account, On the day before decedent's death, Ms. Bryant withdrew the entire balance.

         Decedent also had a checking account at First Tennessee. Unbeknownst to plaintiff, on October 25, 2011, Ms. Bryant had her name placed on the checking account. Thereafter, Ms. Bryant "used the account for her personal benefit on many occasions" and "engaged in over 400 known acts of self-dealing, fraud, theft and conversion to the detriment of her mother and the plaintiff."

         The complaint further states that "on May 2, 2017, prior to . . . any lawsuit being filed, Plaintiff and [Ms. Bryant] attempted mediation and executed a Settlement and Mediation Agreement." Plaintiff alleges that he "was denied information about the savings checking and estate accounts of the decedent at the time of the mediation." Plaintiff, asserting that the settlement agreement should be rescinded, alleges that Ms. Bryant "intentionally concealed from him material facts" and "induced him to enter into an agreement without knowledge of those facts, which he would not have entered into had he had full knowledge of the concealed facts."

         Ms. Bryant responded by filing a "motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment," stating, in pertinent part, as follows:

Through the mediation process the parties reached and executed a Settlement and Mediation Agreement to settle all issues between them including, but not limited to, the division of the . . . Estate assets, the division of remaining estate expenses, and all issues related to [Ms. Bryant's] actions, both as Co-Executor of the estate and as custodian of any funds belonging to [decedent] prior to her death. . . .
In addition to monetary consideration which was promptly paid by [Ms. Bryant] and accepted by Plaintiff pursuant to the Agreement, each party fully released the other from any and all claims in relation to [decedent] and her estate.
***
The Settlement and Mediation Agreement between the parties constitutes a binding contract for which good and valuable consideration passed, and it further constitutes an accord and satisfaction of all claims of Plaintiff against [Ms. Bryant] including those alleged in the Complaint filed herein.

(Emphasis in original; paragraph numbering in original omitted).

         In support of her motion, Ms. Bryant filed her affidavit, wherein she stated that she was required to pay plaintiff $5, 000 plus the remaining balance of the estate account, $3, 913.53, under the terms of the settlement agreement. She provided copies of two checks in those amounts that she had tendered to plaintiff and that he cashed.

Plaintiff responded with his own affidavit, stating:

[Ms. Bryant] has actively concealed from me necessary and vital factual information, and committed fraud upon my mother in her lifetime and upon me following her death. I want the agreement to be set aside.
With respect to the $5, 000.00 she paid to me, I am willing to return it or pay it into the Court, but it can also be used as an offset for future defined damages.

         The trial court entered an order dismissing the action, finding and holding as follows:

The parties reached a settlement agreement at the mediation and their agreement was immediately reduced to a writing entitled Settlement and Mediation Agreement which was then and there executed by the parties.
The Settlement and Mediation Agreement provided, in pertinent part, that the parties ... "are in dispute over certain accounts of the Estate and of [decedent] prior to her death ..." The Agreement further contained a full and mutual release between the parties. The Plaintiff, Anthony "Tony" Arrington, specifically released the Defendant, Barbara A. Bryant, "of any and all issues arising from the Estate, her actions as an executor for the Estate, her actions as a custodian of funds of the Estate and belonging to [decedent] prior to [decedent's] death, any and all claims he now has, or may have, against Barbara in relation to [decedent], the Estate..."
In executing the Settlement and Mediation Agreement, the parties each acknowledged adequate consideration, and the monetary consideration required under the Agreement was timely paid by [Ms. Bryant] and received by Plaintiff.
The issues raised by Plaintiff in this action, all of which relate to expenditures by [Ms. Bryant] from the accounts of [decedent] before she died as well as from the Estate account, were in dispute and were addressed and negotiated by the parties at mediation as evidenced by the Settlement and Mediation Agreement.

(Ellipses in original; numbering in original omitted.) The trial court held the settlement agreement to be valid and binding on the parties.

         Plaintiff filed a motion to alter or amend, arguing that the motion to dismiss should not have been granted. He pointed out that defendants had neither filed a concise statement of material facts as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.03, nor responded to his discovery requests filed with the complaint. Following a hearing, the trial court entered its final judgment, stating:

the motion to alter and amend is GRANTED to the limited extent that the order of dismissal should be amended to reflect that the court treated the Defendants' motion as one for summary judgment and not as a Rule 12 dismissal for failure to state a claim; however, the court finds no other error and the motion is, respectfully DENIED in all other respects[.]

(Capitalization in original.) Plaintiff timely filed a notice of appeal.

         II.

         The issue presented by plaintiff, as quoted from his brief, is: "Did the trial court err in granting a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment and not allowing the plaintiff to engage in discovery and without there being a concise statement of material facts submitted by the movant?"

         III.

         Our standard of review of a grant of summary judgment is as stated by the Supreme Court:

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. We review a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment de novo, without a presumption of correctness.
***
[I]n Tennessee, as in the federal system, when the moving party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production either (1) by affirmatively negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party's evidence at the summary judgment stage is insufficient to establish the nonmoving party's claim or defense. . . . The nonmoving party must demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record which could lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the nonmoving party.

Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC, 477 S.W.3d 235, 250, 264-65 (Tenn. 2015) (italics ...


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