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Estate of Greer v. Ball

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

June 1, 2017

ESTATE OF ROSE GREER, DECEASED: JOHN OAKS a/k/a JOHN OAKES
v.
LINDA GREER BALL

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 03/20/2014

         LINCOLN COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. EDWARD E. PATTEN, JR. Judge

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: JOHN R. REEVES WILLIAM D. BOERNER

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JOHN R. REEVES JOHN JUSTIN KING

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: WILLIAM D. BOERNER BRAD RUSSELL BOERNER JOE ROBERT NORTON, IV

          DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶1. A provision in a lease stated that upon the lessor's death, the lessor's rights-primarily the right to receive lease payments-transferred to the lessor's daughter, who was not a party to the lease. The lessor died, and the question presented under the facts of this case is whether the provision of the lease or the provisions of the lessor's will determine the owner of the lease payments. We granted certiorari because this Court previously has not addressed testamentary provisions in a contract. Because we agree with the Court of Appeals that the conveyance was testamentary, and for the reasons stated below, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Rose Greer leased land she owned in Lincoln County to David and Jene Nunnery. Section 3 of the lease-which extended until July 31, 2025, in automatically renewing one-year terms-stated:

In the event of the death of the Lessor, this lease agreement shall not terminate, rather the rights and obligations of Lessor shall immediately be transferred to Linda Ball, who will also have the right to receive payments hereunder.

         ¶3. Greer later executed a will leaving all her property to John Oakes and naming him executor of her estate. After Greer's death, Oakes filed a petition in the Chancery Court of Lincoln County to probate Greer's will. The chancellor admitted the will to probate and issued Oakes letters testamentary.

         ¶4. Oakes-as executor-then filed a complaint for declaratory relief in the chancery court, asking the chancellor (1) to find Section 3 testamentary in nature and declare it invalid because it lacked the formalities of a will; (2) to determine whether the lease remained in effect after Greer's death; and (3) if enforceable, to determine Ball's rights and obligations under the lease.[1] Ball responded that Section 3 simply assigned Greer's rights, and that she was entitled to attorney's fees and costs.

         ¶5. At the hearing, Oakes argued the chancellor should declare Section 3 invalid because it was testamentary in nature and lacked the formalities of a will, and because Ball was not an intended third-party beneficiary of the lease. Ball argued that she was a third-party beneficiary of the lease, and that Section 3 was a valid assignment of Greer's rights and obligations.

         ¶6. The chancellor concluded Section 3 was not testamentary and that it effectively assigned Greer's rights and obligations. Oakes appealed the chancellor's decision, arguing the chancellor had erred by finding that the assignment was not testamentary.

         ¶7. We assigned the case to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the chancellor's judgment, finding that Section 3 was testamentary and unenforceable.[2] Ball petitioned ...


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