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Quinn v. Quinn

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

January 31, 2019

JEFFREY VAN QUINN APPELLANT
v.
SHADE LARUE QUINN APPELLEE

         DATE OF JUDGMENT: 06/15/2017

          JONES COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. FRANKLIN C. MCKENZIE JR.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: TERRY L. CAVES RISHER GRANTHAM CAVES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: S. CHRISTOPHER FARRIS

         EN BANC

          GRIFFIS, C.J., FOR THE COURT:

         ¶1. Jeffrey Van Quinn appeals the chancellor's denial of his complaint to set aside certain deeds signed by his late father, Earl Quinn, based on undue influence and a lack of mental capacity. We find no error and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. Earl suffered numerous medical ailments, including depression. Earl's grandson, Shade Larue Quinn, along with Bonnie Steadham, assumed the role of Earl's primary care givers when his condition worsened. Earl required a feeding tube, numerous medications, and assistance to stand and walk. In January 2016, Shade moved in with Earl to care for him full-time.

         ¶3. Earl owned the following property:

a. 166 acres of timberland in Jones County, Mississippi;
b. Five rental properties in Jones County, located at: 4413 Creek Avenue, 4411 Creek Avenue, 4407 Creek Avenue, 4415 Creek Avenue, and 832 Choctaw; and
c. His home, located at 4420 Creek Avenue, in Laurel.

         ¶4. On January 22, 2016, Earl asked Shade to take him to attorney Danny Henson's office. Earl chose Hanson because of his paralegal, Nita Tolbert. Earl always used the attorney who employed Nita. While there, Earl signed three warranty deeds. Two of the deeds transferred his interest in the timberland and the five rental properties to Shade. The other deed transferred Earl's interest in his home to his son, Terry Quinn. All of the deeds were recorded that day, and Shade placed the deeds in Earl's safety deposit box. Six days later, Earl took his own life.

         ¶5. Jeffrey, Earl's son, filed a complaint to set aside only the deeds that conveyed property to Shade. Jeffrey did not assert a claim to set aside the deed that conveyed Earl's home to Terry. Jeffrey claimed that Earl was unduly influenced by Shade and that Earl did not have the mental capacity to appreciate the consequences of his actions.

         ¶6. At trial, the chancellor heard testimony that Earl loved Shade and considered Shade his "heart." Moreover, Earl wanted to provide for Shade through numerous versions of his will. The chancellor also heard expert testimony from Dr. Mark Horne, an internist, who had never treated or met with Earl. Dr. Horne opined that Earl was mentally incapacitated and heavily medicated. His expert testimony focused on Earl's medical incapacity, not Earl's legal ability to transfer property to Shade in a deed.

         ¶7. The chancellor found that Earl made a conscious decision to transfer interest in the property to Shade. The chancellor determined that Earl always intended that the timberland go to Shade and that the additional five properties were transferred freely and without undue influence.

         ¶8. Jeffrey appeals the chancellor's judgment. We find no error and affirm.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶9. "A chancellor's findings of fact will not be disturbed unless they are manifestly wrong or clearly erroneous, or unless the chancellor applied an erroneous legal standard." Wright v. Roberts, 797 So.2d 992, 997 (¶14) (Miss. 2001). "If the [c]hancellor's findings are supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record, this Court will not reverse." Id.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Whether the chancellor erred in finding that Shade rebutted the presumption of undue influence.

         ¶10. The chancellor determined that a confidential relationship existed between Earl and Shade. Because a presumption of undue influence existed, the burden of proof shifted to Shade to show by clear and convincing evidence that the gift was not the product of undue influence. Id. at 998 (¶16). To rebut the presumption, Shade had to prove by clear and convincing evidence: (1) that he acted in good faith, (2) that Earl had full knowledge and deliberation of his actions and their consequences, and (3) that Earl exercised independent consent and action. Id. at 999 (¶23).

         A. Good Faith

         ¶11. To determine whether Shade acted in good faith, the court must consider the following factors:

(a) the determination of the identity of the initiating party in seeking preparation of the instrument, (b) the place of the execution of the instrument and in whose presence, (c) what consideration and fee were paid, if any, and (d) by whom paid, and (e) ...

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