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Stover v. Davis

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

April 25, 2019

MARQUAN D. STOVER
v.
ELAINE G. DAVIS, EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF TAMORA G. ROBINSON, DECEASED

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 10/13/2016

          CHANCERY COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF HINDS COUNTY. HON. WILLIAM H. SINGLETARY.

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: SHARON D. HENDERSON STEVE YOUNGER TRACEE O. DARBY JACK G. MOSS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: MARQUAN D. STOVER (PRO SE) RICK D. PATT

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: JACK G. MOSS

          BEAM, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Marquan D. Stover filed a motion to contest the second codicil to his great aunt Tamora Robinson's last will and testament, alleging that the second codicil was the product of undue influence by Robinson's sister Elaine Davis. After a hearing, the Chancery Court of the Second Judicial District of Hinds County, found no undue influence and dismissed Stover's motion to contest.

         ¶2. Stover appealed, arguing that the chancellor had erred by not requiring Davis to rebut the presumption of undue influence and that the decision was not supported by substantial, credible evidence. The Court of Appeals issued a plurality decision, affirming the ruling of the chancellor. Stover v. Davis, 2016-CP-01605-COA, 2018 WL 2110017 (Miss. Ct. App. May 8, 2018). This Court granted Stover's petition for a writ of certiorari. We hold that the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that a presumption of undue influence, which arises when a confidential relationship is coupled with suspicious circumstances, is rebutted. We reverse the decisions of the Court of Appeals and of the chancery court, and we remand for further factfinding by the chancellor.

         FACTS

         ¶3. Robinson died on October 11, 2013, at the age of eighty-nine. She had no children, and her husband predeceased her. Before her death, Robinson executed a last will and testament, signed June 14, 1993, a first codicil, signed October 12, 2000, and a second codicil, signed May 20, 2013. On October 28, 2013, the chancery court admitted Robinson's will and the two codicils to probate and issued letters testamentary to Davis.

         ¶4. On November 7, 2013, Stover filed a motion to contest the second codicil on the ground that it had been the product of undue influence by Davis. The second codicil had made two changes to Robinson's will. First, it changed the disposition of thirty acres of real property, which originally had been devised to a nephew, Richard Robinson. That property was devised to Davis. Second, it nominated Davis as executrix and Robinson's niece Sherry Fletcher as successor executrix in the event that Davis was unable, removing Robinson's other sister, Clyda Myers, from that role. Davis testified that the reason for these changes was that Richard Robinson and Clyda Myers both had predeceased Robinson.

         ¶5. At the hearing, Stover testified that he believed the devise of property to Davis and her nomination as executrix resulted from undue influence. Before Robinson's mental decline, according to Stover, she had expressed that she wanted the thirty acres to remain in the Robinson family and that Davis violated that wish. Further, Stover testified that Robinson was on medication for dementia. In early 2013, she suffered a stroke that had worsened her mental condition greatly. After the stroke, Stover said that Robinson could not eat, bathe, or comb her hair without assistance, and she could not identify the time, date, or year. Stover testified that Robinson would frequently behave unusually, yelling, "Can I lay down" when she already was lying down.

         ¶6. Davis testified that Robinson, who was twenty-one years older than she, had been diagnosed with dementia in March 2006. Following the diagnosis, the progress of the disease had been slow, and Robinson, according to Davis, had known what she was doing when she executed the second codicil. Davis testified that Robinson did sometimes ask to lie down but that usually she was in a recliner at those times, although occasionally she was lying in bed already. Davis also testified that the family had established a conservatorship for Robinson in 2006 after Stover had purchased a Cadillac in Robinson's name ...


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