Ex parte Green, No. 1071195 (Ala. 4/9/2010), 1071195.

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam
PartiesEx parte Johnnie Mae Alexander Green et al. (In re: Frank Stokes, Jr. v. E'Stella Alexander Webb Cottrell et al.) Ex parte E'Stella Alexander Webb Cottrell. (In re: Frank Stokes, Jr. v. E'Stella Alexander Webb Cottrell et al.)
Docket NumberNo. 1071204.,No. 1071195.,1071195.,1071204.
Decision Date09 April 2010

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Ex parte Johnnie Mae Alexander Green et al.
(In re: Frank Stokes, Jr. v. E'Stella Alexander Webb Cottrell et al.)
Ex parte E'Stella Alexander Webb Cottrell.
(In re: Frank Stokes, Jr. v. E'Stella Alexander Webb Cottrell et al.)
No. 1071195.
No. 1071204.
Supreme Court of Alabama.
Decided April 9, 2010.

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Appeal from the Elmore Circuit Court, CV-03-321; Court of Civil Appeals, 2060887).



This case is before this Court on petitions for the writ of certiorari. Johnnie Mae Alexander Green, Lillie Robinson, Oscar C. Alexander, Bertha Mae Humphrey, Shirley Alexander, Cathy Alexander, Johnny Alexander, Jr., and Althea Alexander (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Greens") (case no. 1071195) and E'Stella Alexander Webb Cottrell (case no. 1071204) petitioned this Court for review of that portion of the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court insofar as it quieted title to certain real estate in the Greens and Cottrell (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the plaintiffs") and remanding the case to the trial court to enter a judgment quieting title in that real estate in the heirs of Larenda Jenkins. Stokes

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v. Cottrell, [Ms. 2060887, March 14, 2008] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2008). In addition, Cottrell seeks reversal of the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals insofar as it affirms the trial court's judgment awarding certain other real estate to Jenkins's heirs.

In cases no. 1071195 and 1071204, we vacate the portion of the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals reversing the trial court's judgment. We quash the petition in case no. 1071204 insofar as it asks us to decide whether the Court of Civil Appeals erred in affirming the trial court's judgment quieting title to a portion of the disputed property in "the heirs of Larenda Jenkins." We remand the case to the Court of Civil Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Facts and Procedural History

This case concerns a dispute over the rightful ownership of approximately 270 acres of real property formerly owned by Estelle Haggerty Alexander ("Estelle"), who died in 1962

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without a spouse or children. The Court of Civil Appeals summarizes the facts of this case as follows:1

"During her lifetime, Estelle owned six parcels of land located in Elmore County in the vicinity of Rifle Range Road and Dozier Road. In the complaint to quiet title, the parcels were identified as `parcel 1,' consisting of approximately 100 acres for which Estelle had a deed of record in her name; `parcel 2,' consisting of approximately 11 acres; `parcel 3,' consisting of approximately 4.3 acres; `parcel 4,' consisting of approximately 24 acres; `parcel 5,' consisting of approximately 52 acres; and `parcel 6,' consisting of approximately 79 acres. No deed of record was produced for parcels 2 through 6. The parties stipulated that Estelle owned all six parcels at the time of her death.

"During her lifetime, Estelle lived on a portion of parcel 1, the 100-acre tract of land. Also during her lifetime, Estelle took in two infants—Cottrell and Johnny [Alexander] Sr.—whom she raised to adulthood. Cottrell and Johnny Sr. were not related by blood to Estelle or to each other, and Estelle did not legally adopt them. However, at some point before her death, Estelle had a house built for Johnny Sr. and his wife on parcel 1. Cottrell lived in Estelle's house.

"Estelle died in 1962; she left no will. She was buried on parcel 1 alongside her husband. Following Estelle's death, both Cottrell and Johnny Sr. continued living on the property. Cottrell continued living in Estelle's house, while Johnny Sr., his

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wife, Johnnie Mae [Alexander] Green, and their children continued living in the house that Estelle had had built for them on parcel 1.

"After Estelle's death in 1962, the Elmore Probate Court appointed Larenda Jenkins, Estelle's cousin and only living relative by blood, as the administrator of Estelle's estate.2 Johnny Sr. and Cottrell each filed claims against Estelle's estate in amounts of $7,500 and $5,000, respectively, for personal services rendered to Estelle during her lifetime. Johnny Sr. also challenged Jenkins's appointment as administrator; he filed an action seeking to have himself named as the administrator as the estate's largest creditor.

"A third party also challenged Jenkins's appointment as administrator, and the matter was removed to the circuit court. After a hearing in 1963, the challenges to Jenkins's appointment as administrator were dismissed. Although Johnny Sr. voluntarily dismissed his petition, the order resulting from the circuit court's 1963 hearing also recognized that the challenges filed to Jenkins's appointment as administrator were `not well taken' and were `denied. ` That order also declared that Jenkins was the administrator of Estelle's estate. No appeal was taken from that order.

"Cottrell moved away from the property in approximately 1964 or 1965 and never reestablished a residence thereon. In 1965, Cottrell and Johnny Sr. filed a complaint, alleging that, during her lifetime, Estelle had purchased the six parcels2 of land for their benefit and that, at the time of Estelle's death, the property was being held in a

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constructive trust for them.3 In that complaint, Johnny Sr. and Cottrell acknowledged that they were not Estelle's biological or adoptive children.

"During the pendency of that 1965 action, Jenkins died intestate; at the time of her death, Jenkins had not closed Estelle's estate. Johnnie Mae Stokes, Jenkins's granddaughter, was then named as the administrator of Estelle's estate. Cottrell and Johnny Sr.'s `constructive trust' action was subsequently dismissed for lack of prosecution.

"Johnny Sr. died in 1988; he was buried alongside Estelle. At the time of his death, Johnny Sr. `s wife and several of his children were still living on the property.

"Johnnie Mae Stokes, as the administrator of Estelle's estate, paid the property taxes due on the six parcels; the taxes were assessed in the name of the `estate of Estelle Haggerty Alexander.' Also during Johnnie Mae Stokes's administration of Estelle's estate, she leased to third parties the property held in Estelle's estate. The record contains a copy of a 1991 lease entered into by Johnnie Mae Stokes with E.B. Calloway. That lease provided:

"`For the sum of $700.00 for 1991 rent, I, Johnnie Mae Stokes, agree to lease E.B. Calloway all the farming and cotton acreage land of Larenda Jenkins and Estelle Alexander, south of the Rifle Range Road and north of the Rifle Range [Road] joining the Griffin land for the sum of $700.00. We reserve the rights to fish and hunt on said property, my family and the family of Johnny Alexander with hunting and fishing rights going to E.B. Calloway south and north of the Rifle Range [Road]. If this land is sold before the year is out, E.B.

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Calloway will be given the needed time to gather his crop.'

"Another such lease for the year 1993, this one between Johnnie Mae Stokes and Colvin Davis, was introduced into evidence; the 1993 lease differed from the 1991 lease only in the names of the parties involved and the amount of rent charged for the lease.

"Frank Stokes, Jr., Johnnie Mae Stokes's son, testified that, although other leases could not be located, Johnnie Mae Stokes had leased the property to Calloway and then to Davis repeatedly and continuously during her administration of the estate. Also, according to Oscar Alexander, Johnny Sr. was aware that, during Johnny Sr.'s lifetime, a third party was leasing the property. Oscar believed that the administrator of Estelle's estate, Johnnie Mae Stokes, was responsible for the leases of the property. Because Johnny Sr. died in 1988, it appears that Johnnie Mae Stokes leased the property even before 1991.

"Johnnie Mae Stokes died intestate in 1996 without having formally closed Estelle's estate. Although Frank Stokes, Jr., was never appointed administrator of Estelle's estate, he took over the handling of Estelle's estate. He paid the taxes due on the property and he continued to enter into farming, hunting, and fishing leases pertaining to the property with Colvin Davis until Davis's death. At that point, Stokes began entering into leases for the use of the property with Colvin's son, Reese Davis.

"In 2002, Cottrell and Oscar Alexander filed a petition, asking the probate court to appoint them as coadministrators of Estelle's estate. In that petition, Cottrell and Oscar Alexander, one of Johnny Sr.'s sons, claimed that they were the daughter and grandson of Estelle, that the estate

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was open, and that no administrator existed. Cottrell and Oscar also claimed that, other than the. . . plaintiffs, they knew of no other heirs to Estelle's estate. Cottrell and Oscar did not identify the heirs of Larenda Jenkins as Estelle's kin and heirs at law. Cottrell and Oscar were appointed coadministrators on May 22, 2002.

"At some point in 2003, Frank Stokes, Jr., entered into another lease with Reese Davis, granting Davis the right to farm, hunt, and fish on the property in Estelle's estate. However, because a lawyer representing the ... plaintiffs contacted Davis and instructed him not to plant his crop that year, no crops were planted in 2003. Stokes did not enter into any subsequent leases because of this litigation.

"In April 2003, the ... plaintiffs entered into an agreement to sell the property in Estelle's estate to a third party. A judgment was entered by the probate court on August 7, 2003, identifying the... plaintiffs as Estelle's heirs at law and approving the final settlement of Estelle's estate proposed by the ... plaintiffs. There is no indication in the record that any of the pleadings filed in this 2002 probate action were ever served on the heirs of Larenda Jenkins.

"On July 24, 2003, the ... plaintiffs...

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