Pendley v. Pendley

Decision Date12 May 1983
Docket NumberNo. 39532,39532
Citation302 S.E.2d 554,251 Ga. 30
PartiesPENDLEY v. PENDLEY.
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court

Howard H. Johnston, Atlanta, for George Ramey Pendley et al.

Margaret H. Fairleigh, Fairleigh & Furlow, Decatur, G. Conley Ingram, Ronald L. Reid, R. Wayne Thorpe, Alston, Miller & Gaines, Atlanta, for Lavinia Goforth Pendley.

SMITH, Justice.

This is a will contest case. Norman Pendley, the testator, died in 1979. He was survived by his fourth wife, Lavinia Pendley, and two children of previous marriages. Lavinia Pendley petitioned to probate in solemn form a 1972 will wherein she is named as the sole beneficiary and executrix of Norman Pendley's estate. The children filed caveats contending that Norman Pendley was prevented by the undue influence and coercion of Lavinia Pendley from executing his will. The probate court admitted the will to probate and the children appealed to the superior court. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the caveators. Thereafter the court entered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, from which the caveators appeal. They also appeal the failure of the court to direct a verdict against the propounder of the will for failure to make out a prima facie case establishing the execution of the will. We affirm.

1. Appellants make two enumerations. First they cite as error the granting of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The sole issue presented to the jury for its determination was whether Lavinia Pendley had exercised undue influence over Norman Pendley at the time he made his will. The jury found that she had.

The standard for granting a directed verdict or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict are the same. Where there is no conflict in the evidence as to any material issue, and the evidence introduced, with all reasonable deductions therefrom, shall demand a particular verdict, such verdict shall be directed. OCGA § 9-11-50 (Code Ann. § 81A-150). In reviewing grant of a directed verdict or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, we must decide whether all the evidence demanded it, or whether there was some evidence supporting the verdict of the jury. Bryant v. Colvin, 160 Ga.App. 442, 287 S.E.2d 238 (1981). A judgment notwithstanding the verdict is improperly granted in the face of conflicting evidence, and an appellate court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party who secured the jury verdict. Id. The appellants argue that Lavinia Pendley was shown by evidence sufficient to support the jury's verdict to have exercised undue influence over her husband in the making of his will. Their principal contention is that Mrs. Pendley's often expressed dislike for them prevented the testator from exercising his own free will in arranging for the disposition of his estate. They cite several disparate episodes scattered over a period of about fifteen years in support of their argument. However, none of these episodes were related to the execution of the testator's will and most occurred at times not within a reasonable period before or after its making. See Akin v. Patton, 235 Ga. 51, 218 S.E.2d 802 (1975). For undue influence to be a proper ground of caveat, it must...

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