Neal v. Neal

Decision Date06 September 2002
Citation856 So.2d 766
PartiesJohn Stewart NEAL v. Terrill NEAL and James Willett Neal. John Stewart Neal v. N.Q. Adams, Kate Neal McNeel, and Lauren Neal Shepard.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Walter R. Byars of Steiner-Crum, Byars & Main, P.C., Montgomery; and Reo Kirkland, Jr., Brewton, for appellant.

William R. Stokes, Jr., of Stokes, Jernigan & Stokes, Brewton, guardian ad litem.

Frank M. Bainbridge of Bainbridge, Mims, Rogers & Smith, L.L.P., Birmingham, for appellees Terrill Neal and James Willett Neal.

Broox G. Garrett, Jr., of Thompson, Garrett & Hines, L.L.P., Brewton; and Andrew J. Noble III of Bradley Arant Rose & White, L.L.P., Birmingham, for appellees N.Q. Adams, Kate Neal McNeel, and Lauren Neal Shepard.

Broox G. Garrett, Jr., of Thompson, Garrett & Hines, L.L.P., Brewton; and Andrew J. Noble III of Bradley Arant Rose & White, L.L.P., Birmingham, for amicus curiae in case no. 1991439, N.Q. Adams, Kate Neal McNeel, and Lauren Neal Shepard.

Terry L. Butts, Troy, for amicus curiae David U. Rhone, Sr., and other officials of St. Paul A.M.E. Church as representatives of the class of religious and/or charitable corporations, trusts, organizations, individuals, or groups of individuals in Calhoun County, Florida, and/or Escambia County, Alabama.

JOHNSTONE, Justice.

John Stewart Neal, the appellant in these two consolidated appeals and the movant on a motion filed directly with us, is litigating against the successor cotrustees of a family trust and against his two adoptive brothers to get more from the trust than was granted to him by a 1997 judgment, which he did not appeal. Over two years after rendition of that judgment, he sought relief from it and suffered the two successive summary judgments he has now appealed to us. Because we conclude that the relief John seeks is precluded, we must deny his motion and affirm both of the summary judgments now on appeal.

The story is somewhat long but not particularly complicated. A chronology, analysis, and conclusion follow, in that order.

Chronology

In 1941, W.T. Neal executed a will creating a trust. The provisions of the will itself establish the terms of the trust. The will appointed three coexecutors, Ed Leigh McMillan, Violet H. Neal, and W.T. Neal, Jr. (hereinafter "W.T. Jr."), the son of the testator and trustor, and likewise appointed the same three as cotrustees of the trust. The trust required the trustees to pay $3,000 per year to each of W.T. Jr. and Violet H. Neal while both lived and, after Violet's death, $6,000 per year to W.T. Jr. while he lived, and then to his children or their descendants per stirpes. The instrument further provides, in pertinent part:

"Descendant, as used in this will, is intended to mean and include child and grandchild of any degree.
"I direct that the balance of the net income from said trust fund shall be paid to Violet Neal, W.T. Neal, Jr., and Ed. Leigh McMillan for the sole purpose of paying for the education of my son W.T. Neal, Jr., should he not have finished his education at the time of my death, and of making contributions to a corporation, trust or community chest fund or foundation organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, and no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propoganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation; or to a domestic fraternal society, order or association operating under the lodge system, to be used exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes—such contribution, to whomsoever made, to be used exclusively in the County of Escambia, State of Alabama, and the County of Calhoun in the State of Florida.
"Should any emergency arise in the life of ... my son, W.T. Neal, Jr., ... or in the life of any child or children of my son, W.T. Neal, Jr., ... during the existence of this trust on account of any disaster or severe illness, or otherwise, whereunder additional funds (that is, funds in addition to those hereinabove provided) should be needed, I request that the trustees of said trust fund shall make the necessary advancements and/or payments to meet such emergency, either from the income or the principal of said trust estate.
"....
"Upon the termination of the trust herein created, the trustees shall divide the corpus of the trust estate among the descendants of my son, W.T. Neal, Jr., such division to be made per stirpes.
"....
"I direct that the trust herein created shall continue during the lives of Violet Neal, W.T. Neal, Jr., and Ed. Leigh McMillan and the life of their survivor, and twenty years thereafter." (Emphasis added.)

On July 23, 1950, W.T. Neal died. On July 28, 1950, his will was probated.

On March 15, 1955, W.T. Jr. married Sara Olivia Beall Weaver. From a previous marriage, she already had two sons, Leon Terrill Weaver II (hereinafter "Terrill"), and James Willett Weaver (hereinafter "James").

On January 1, 1956, the coexecutors funded the trust with the remainder of the assets in the estate, subject only to payment of any remaining debts of the estate.

On January 11, 1956, appellant John Stewart Neal (hereinafter "John") was born to W.T. Jr. and his wife Sara Olivia.

On March 3, 1960, the Escambia County Circuit Court declared John to be the only living descendant of W.T. Jr.

Sometime after March 3, 1960, a daughter, Lauren, was born to W.T. Jr. and his wife Sara Olivia.

On December 19, 1960, the estate of W.T. Neal was settled and the corpus of the trust identified and approved in the Escambia County Circuit Court.

In 1963, a second daughter, Kate, was born to W.T. Jr. and his wife Sara Olivia.

On September 13, 1973, the Adult Adoption Act, codified at §§ 43-4-1 through -4, Ala.Code 1975, became effective. The Adult Adoption Act provided that "[a]ny resident of Alabama over the age of 19 years desiring to adopt another adult person so as to make such person capable of inheriting his real and personal estate may file a petition for an order of adoption...." § 43-4-1. The Act provided that "[f]or the purposes of inheritance of property under the laws of descent and distribution, an adopted person shall bear the same relation to his adopter and the natural and adopted children of the adopter as if he were the natural child of such adopting person." § 43-4-3. The Act provided further that "[t]he provisions of this chapter shall not be construed to affect adversely any rights which have vested prior to the effective date of its enactment...." § 43-4-4.

On September 17, 1973, W.T. Jr. petitioned to adopt his two adult stepsons, his wife Sara Olivia's two adult sons from her former marriage, Terrill and James.

On December 21, 1973, and on December 31, 1973, final orders of adoption were issued for Terrill (then 25 years old) and James (then 21 years old), respectively.

On November 14, 1990, W.T. Jr., the last surviving original cotrustee of the trust, died. Surviving him were, among others, his three natural children, John, Lauren, and Kate, all born to W.T. Jr. and his wife Sara Olivia, and his two adopted sons, Terrill and James, born to Sara Olivia during her prior marriage. The successor cotrustees began dividing among these five issue of Sara Olivia the $6,000 per year in trust benefits payable to the children or descendants of W.T. Jr. Moreover, his death triggered the termination clause of the trust provisions of the will. The trust will terminate on November 14, 2010, 20 years from the November 14, 1990 date of W.T. Jr.'s death.

On January 1, 1991, the repeal of the Adult Adoption Act, §§ 43-4-1 through -4, Ala.Code 1975, became effective. 1990 Ala. Acts No. 90-554.

On January 11, 1996, the successor cotrustees, N.Q. Adams, Kate Neal McNeel, and Lauren Neal Shepard, petitioned the Escambia County Circuit Court for a partial settlement of the trust from "January 1, 1956, through December 1, 1996" and for a declaration that Terrill and James were "children" and "descendants" of W.T. Jr. as contemplated by the will and trust and that they and their descendants as their interests would appear were beneficiaries and remaindermen of the trust.

On June 7, 1996, Terrill and James filed an answer, counterclaim, and cross-claim. In their counterclaim they sued the successor cotrustees, and in their cross-claim they sued John, for the very same declaration of their status and their descendants' status as the declaration sought by the successor cotrustees in their petition for partial settlement. Thereafter, Terrill and James likewise filed a motion for summary judgment for the same declaratory relief and for the denial of the contrary relief sought by John.

On June 11, 1996, John filed his own answer and counterclaim to the petition for partial settlement. In his counterclaim he sought a declaration that Terrill and James were neither "children" of W.T. Jr., grandchildren of W.T. Neal, nor "descendants" of either W.T. Neal or W.T. Jr. entitled to distributions of assets or income from either the estate or the trust; sought an accounting of the assets of the trust; sought removal and replacement of the successor cotrustees; sought an injunction prohibiting the successor cotrustees from distributing trust assets and income to "recipients not entitled to receive the same"; sought damages for the successor cotrustees' alleged breaches of fiduciary duties, distribution of trust assets or income "to parties not entitled to the same," and suppression of facts about improper distribution of trust assets; and sought attorney fees. John's answer to the successor cotrustees' petition for partial settlement raised the same issues as his counterclaim and the additional issue of the successor cotrustees'...

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