Simpson v. Jones

Decision Date30 November 1984
PartiesGulley SIMPSON v. William J. JONES, et al. 83-870.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Wyman O. Gilmore, Grove Hill, and L.Y. Sadler, Jr., Camden, for appellant.

Thomas S. Lawson, Jr. of Capell, Howard, Knabe & Cobbs, Montgomery, for appellees.

JONES, Justice.

This is an appeal from a final judgment dismissing Gulley Simpson's attempted contest of the will and codicils of Martha Simpson.

Miss Martha Simpson executed her will on May 1, 1967, and executed codicils thereto in 1970 and 1975. The will directed that the bulk of Miss Simpson's estate be left in trust to provide scholarships to Wilcox County students, with additional bequests to various nephews and nieces. Miss Simpson died on May 28, 1982, and her will and the codicils were admitted to probate on November 10, 1982.

On May 9, 1983, Gulley Simpson filed with the Probate Court of Wilcox County a document entitled "Contest of Will of Martha Simpson ... and First Codicil ... and Second Codicil...." The heading of the document read "In the Probate Court," and, as relief, demanded "that the probate of said enclosed Will shall not be granted and further ... that this contest be transferred from the Probate Court ... to the Circuit Court...." As grounds for relief, Simpson alleged that Miss Simpson suffered from mental incompetence, physical weakness, and lack of testamentary capacity, and that coercion, undue influence, and restraint had been exerted on Miss Simpson to procure her will and the codicils. The document did not name respondents, nor did it allege Simpson's interest in the will. After having the document and a copy of it stamped as "filed" in the probate court, Simpson's lawyer took the original document and filed it with the circuit court.

On May 16, 1983, Simpson filed with the circuit court a document entitled "Removal of Contest of Will from Probate Court to Circuit Court in the Contest of the Will of Martha Simpson ... and First Codicil ... and Second Codicil...." This second document purported to amend the first by 1) alleging Simpson's entitlement to a share of the estate by virtue of his being a great-nephew of Miss Simpson, and 2) demanding, as relief, that the will "be declared void, and that said contest be transferred from the Probate Court ... to the Circuit Court...."

On October 5, 1983, Simpson supplied the circuit court with the names and addresses of those parties upon whom service of a summons and the alleged "complaint" was to be made. The record reflects that service was perfected on all specified respondents.

Five of the parties so served responded with a motion to dismiss and a motion to dismiss and strike, along with briefs in support of the motions. Simpson filed a brief in opposition to these motions. Based upon these pleadings, the circuit court entered a final judgment which dismissed "any purported action or claim," finding that "the defects in the [original] document cannot be cured by amendment," struck the pleading, and ordered the documents returned to the probate court.

Simpson appeals, claiming that he correctly initiated the contest of Miss Simpson's will by filing the proper documents with the proper court in accordance with both the applicable probate code sections ( § 43-8-190, et seq., Code 1975) and the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, and by proceeding thereon in a timely manner. We disagree, and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Jurisdiction to entertain a will contest in Alabama is conferred upon both the probate court and the circuit court by statute. Forrester v. Putnam, 409 So.2d 773 (Ala.1982); McCaa & Foster v. Grant, 43 Ala. 262 (1869). Before probate, a will contest may be commenced in the probate court in accordance with § 43-8-190. Once the will has been admitted to probate, however, contest is controlled by § 43-8-199:

"Any person interested in any will who has not contested the same under the provisions of this article, may, at any time, within the six months after the admission of such will to probate in this state, contest the validity of the same by filing a complaint in the circuit court in the county in which such will was probated."

Because will contest jurisdiction is statutorily conferred, proceedings under § 43-8-190 and § 43-8-199 must comply exactly with the terms of the applicable statute. "It is familiar law in Alabama, the only way to quicken into exercise a statutory and limited jurisdiction is by pursuing the mode prescribed by the statute." Ex parte Pearson, 241 Ala. 467, 469, 3 So.2d 5, 6 (1941). Section 43-8-199 mandates that, in order to commence a valid contest of a will already admitted to probate, a person with an interest in the will file a complaint in circuit court and "quicken" that court's jurisdiction of the contest.

We recognize that § 43-8-199 was enacted to provide an additional opportunity for contesting a will already admitted to probate. Carter v. Davis, 275 Ala. 250, 154 So.2d 9 (1963). Furthermore, the dismissal of a complaint is not proper if the pleading contains "even a generalized statement of facts which will support a claim for relief under ARCP 8" (Dunson v. Friedlander Realty, 369 So.2d 792, 796 (Ala.1979)), because "[t]he purpose of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure is to effect justice upon the merits of the claim and to renounce the technicality of procedure." Crawford v. Crawford, 349 So.2d 65, 66 (Ala.Civ.App.1977). See, also, Schlagenhauf v. Holder, 379 U.S. 104, 121, 85 S.Ct. 234, 244, 13 L.Ed.2d 152 (1964).

We cannot, however, ignore the ultimate goal of pleadings under the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure: to provide fair notice to adverse parties of the claim against them and the grounds upon which it rests. Dempsey v. Denman, 442 So.2d 63 (Ala.198...

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39 cases
  • Segrest v. Segrest
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • December 4, 2020
    ...challenge is timely made and strictly commenced pursuant to statutory, post-admission-to-probate, contest provisions. See Simpson v. Jones, 460 So. 2d 1282 (Ala. 1984).In Oliver v. Johnson, 583 So. 2d 1331, 1332 (Ala. 1991), this Court discussed the effect of the removal of the administrati......
  • Daniel v. Moye, 1140819 1140820.
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • November 10, 2016
    ...Wilbur Moye was filed in this Court according to the requirements listed and identified by the Alabama Supreme Court in Simpson [v. Jones, 460 So.2d 1282 (Ala. 1984) ]."The contestants of Claude's will appeal.B. Bessie's Will (Case No. 1140820) On August 1, 2012, Bessie's heirs at law and t......
  • Hughes v. Cox
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • June 12, 1992
    ...513, 516 (Ala.1986). The Rules of Civil Procedure are designed to give fair notice of the claim against the defendant. Simpson v. Jones, 460 So.2d 1282 (Ala.1984); Dempsey v. Denman, 442 So.2d 63 (Ala.1983); Carter v. Calhoun County Bd. of Educ., 345 So.2d 1351 (Ala.1977); Fraternal Order o......
  • Surrency v. Harbison
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1986
    ...fact that plaintiff failed to allege willfulness and wantonness in his complaint. Alabama is a "notice pleading" state. Simpson v. Jones, 460 So.2d 1282 (Ala.1984). Therefore, even though Harbison's complaint was inartfully drawn, when he requested punitive damages in his complaint, he, in ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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