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Estate of Reaves

February 09, 1999

THE ESTATE OF LAWRENCE EUGENE REAVES APPELLANT
v.
WALTER OWEN APPELLEE



Before Bridges, C.j., Diaz, Payne, And Southwick, JJ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Diaz, J.

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/19/1997

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. PAT WISE

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - CONTRACT

TRIAL COURT DISPOSITION: CHANCELLOR UPHELD CONTRACT AND ORDERED ESTATE TO PAY BALANCE OWING UNDER THE CONTRACT.

DISPOSITION: AFFIRMED - 02/09/99

¶1. This is an appeal from a judgment of the Hinds County Chancery Court establishing the validity of a claim against the estate of Lawrence E. Reaves in favor of Walter Owen. The executrix of the estate, Debra Thomas, has appealed the chancellor's decision to award to Owen the balance due on the $59,500 contract debt owed by Reaves's estate to Owen. Thomas raised the following issues in this appeal: (1) that the trial court erred in upholding a property settlement agreement entered into after the termination of a homosexual relationship, (2) that the trial court erred in upholding the property settlement agreement in light of the material breach of agreement by Owen, and (3) that the trial court erred in not allowing the estate to put on proof of the materiality of the breach of the property settlement agreement by Owen. Since the first and second issues are dispositive, we do not reach the merits of the final issue. Finding all of these assignments of error to be without merit, we affirm the chancellor's decision and also award statutory penalties and interest to the appellee.

FACTS

¶2. Walter Owen and Lawrence E. Reaves were involved in an admittedly homosexual relationship for nine years. During an argument in the fall of 1995, Reaves stabbed Owen in the back with a knife. At this time, Reaves was terminally ill and suffering from AIDS.

¶3. On October 12, 1995, Owen entered into settlement negotiations with Reaves to obtain compensation for the damages suffered by him because of the knife wound. As part of the written contract, Reaves agreed to pay Owen fifty-nine thousand five hundred dollars ($59,500) with ten thousand dollars ($10,000) to be paid by January 1, 1996, and the rest to be paid in forty-five hundred dollar ($4500) increments for eleven months to start on November 1, 1995.

¶4. Owen was represented by attorney Jeff McKinney and Reaves was represented by attorney Tom Royals when the agreement was signed at Royals's office. The third paragraph of the agreement specifically set out provisions for Reaves's estate to continue the payments if Reaves did not live until the debt was paid. The remainder of the contract provided that Walter Owen was to return certain personal property, including a car and antiques; that Reaves and Owen were not to have any further contact with each other; that Owen not claim any right to any other personal property of Reaves; and that "each party agrees to release the other from all civil or criminal charges that may be pending or threatened at this time." In fact, no criminal charges had been pursued or brought by Owen.

¶5. Despite their agreement to the contrary, the testimony at the hearing was that both Reaves and Owen continued to consensually contact one another. Owen also conceded that he failed to return several items. However, he stated that Reaves knew these items had been stolen from Owen and were no longer in Owen's possession. Although both Reaves and Thomas knew that Owen did not return the items, they continued to make monthly payments under the agreement until Reaves's death in January of 1996.

ΒΆ6. Upon Reaves's death, his estate ceased making payments to Owen despite the express provision in the contract between the parties to the contrary. After Reaves's estate was opened for probate, Owen filed his claim against the estate based upon the private contract entered between Reaves and himself. Thomas subsequently filed a petition to determine the validity of the claim alleging, inter alia, that the contract was the result ...


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