IN THE MATTER OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES DWIGHT BROWN, DECEASED: STEVE AMOS, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF SANDRA PATRICK, DECEASED APPELLANT/ CROSS-APPELLEE
JAMES DWAYNE BROWN, JASON DWIGHT BROWN AND FELICIA LYNN NOLL APPELLEES/ CROSS-APPELLANTS
OF JUDGMENT: 03/20/2018
MADISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. ROBERT GEORGE CLARK III
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: PAMELA L. HANCOCK JEFFREY BRYAN
McGUIRE WHITNEY MOSEL THRASHER.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: F. HALL BAILEY OWEN PATRICK LALOR.
BARNES, C.J., GREENLEE AND LAWRENCE, JJ.
This appeal concerns a 2017 Honda Ridgeline truck. The issue
is whether the truck owned by the decedent had been given to
Sandra Patrick and was her property and not that of the
decedent's estate. The Madison County Chancery Court held
for the appellees. We reverse, render, and remand.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In this estate matter, Patrick filed a motion for declaratory
judgment seeking ownership of a 2017 Honda Ridgeline truck.
In response, Brown's heirs, James Dwayne Brown, Jason
Dwight Brown, and Felicia Lynn Noll ("Appellees"),
filed an answer to Patrick's declaratory motion, as well
as a counterclaim for declaratory relief and partition. In
their Answer and Counterclaim, the Appellees alleged that (1)
"Patrick ha[d] unclean hands and [was] barred from
seeking to obtain any affirmative relief"; (2)
"[Patrick] was not a title holder as joint tenant with
right of survivorship"; (3) "[Patrick] did not
acquire an ownership interest by inter vivos gift"; (4)
"[Patrick] did not acquire an ownership interest by
testamentary gift"; (5) "[Patrick] did not acquire
an ownership interest by purchase"; and (6)
"[Patrick's] claim [was] barred by failure of
consideration, unjust enrichment and estoppel, waiver or
laches." In addition, the Appellees sought a ruling from
the chancery court confirming title to the 2017 Honda
Ridgeline. In the alternative, the Appellees sought partition
of ownership interests in the vehicle under Mississippi Code
Annotated sections 11-21-71 to -81 (Rev. 2019).
The record shows James Dwight Brown ("Brown") was
in a romantic relationship with Patrick during his lifetime.
After receiving a large settlement check, Brown purchased a
Toyota Tacoma and a new home in Ridgeland, Mississippi. It is
undisputed that the two of them shared the home together, but
Brown and Patrick never married. A month or so prior to
Brown's death, Brown purchased a second truck, a 2017
Honda Ridgeline. Brown and Patrick both signed the
application for the certificate of title for the 2017 Honda
Ridgeline. The 2017 Honda Ridgeline was then titled in both
of their names as: "BROWN, JAMES D OR PATRICK,
SANDRA." The application appears in the appendix below.
At the time of the proceedings, Mississippi Administrative
Code Title 35, Part VI, Subpart 6, Chapter 3 governed joint
ownership of vehicles for title purposes. That
regulation provided as follows:
100 Joint ownership of a motor vehicle: Where ownership is a
joint tenancy, with right of survivorship, the owners'
names on the title shall be shows as follow: JOHN DOE AND/OR
JOE DOE. To transfer ownership of the vehicle or to encumber
the vehicle, both signatures are required [if] both are
living; if one of the parties is deceased, satisfactory proof
of death of the deceased and signature of the survivor.
101 Where ownership is a tenancy in common, the owners'
names are shown as follows: JOHN DOE AND JOE DOE. To transfer
ownership of the vehicle or to encumber the vehicle, both
signatures are required if both are living; if one of the
parties is deceased, probate proceedings are required. Where
there has been no admission on the estate of the deceased
vehicle owner-affidavit on Form 65-015 is required.
102 Where the ownership is a joint tenancy, with an expressed
intent that either of the owners have full authority to
transfer ownership of the vehicle or to encumber the same,
the owners' names are shown on the title as follows: JOHN
DOE OR JOE DOE.
Miss. Admin. Code tit. 35, pt. VI, r. 6.03 (effective as of
Nov. 17, 2011).
The chancery court found that the 2017 Honda Ridgeline was
titled in the manner set forth in Subsection 102. Patrick
argued that this effectively created a joint tenancy with a
right of survivorship. The Appellees contested, among other
things, that the title was a failed attempt to give an inter
vivos gift to Patrick.
Following a hearing on the cross-petitions, the chancery
court entered a judgment finding that the Appellees were the
rightful owners of the 2017 Honda Ridgeline due to a failed
inter vivos gift. The court explained that (1) "[t]here
was never a delivery and relinquishment of control over the
vehicle" and (2) "the gift was revocable."
However, because of this ruling, the chancery court did ...