Woody v. Vickrey

Decision Date06 April 2021
Docket NumberNo. COA20-337,COA20-337
Citation857 S.E.2d 734
Parties Julius William WOODY, and Shannon Chad Gaines, Plaintiffs v. Randy Lynn VICKREY, individually and in his capacities as Trustee of the Julius William Woody Trust and as Attorney-in-Fact for Julius William Woody, Defendant and Third-Party Plaintiff v. Carrie F. Vickrey, and Donald G. Ayscue, Third-Party Defendants
CourtNorth Carolina Court of Appeals

Coleman Gledhill Hargrave Merritt & Rainsford, P.C., Hillsborough, by Cyrus Griswold, for Plaintiff-Appellant and Third-Party Defendants-Appellants

Reiss & Nutt, PLLC, by W. Cory Reiss, Wilmington, for Defendant-Appellee

CARPENTER, Judge.

¶ 1 Plaintiff Shannon Chad Gaines and Third-Party Defendants Carrie Vickrey and Donald Ayscue appeal from interlocutory orders including a declaratory judgment, an order on partial summary judgment, and a permanent injunction.

I. Factual & Procedural Background

¶ 2 The evidence tends to show that on 22 July 2008, Julius William Woody ("Plaintiff Woody") appointed his long-time friend Randy Lynn Vickrey, defendant and third-party plaintiff ("Defendant Vickrey"), as trustee of a revocable trust. Plaintiff Woody executed a general warranty deed and a bill of sale to transfer real property and personal property into the trust.

¶ 3 In the spring of 2017, Carrie Vickrey ("Third-Party Defendant Vickrey"), Donald Ayscue ("Third-Party Defendant Ayscue"), and Shannon Chad Gaines ("Plaintiff Gaines") (collectively "Appellants") moved at least one trailer onto Plaintiff Woody's parcel and lived on his property. Friends and family members of Plaintiff Woody noticed a change in his home and living conditions after Appellants moved to the property: cameras and sensors were installed around the home, curtains remained closed, Plaintiff Woody became isolated, and his personal property went missing. They were also concerned about his mental and physical wellbeing as he became increasingly feeble and susceptible to scams. Within one month after Appellants moved onto Plaintiff Woody's property, he executed multiple legal instruments including a revocation of the 2008 trust, a general power of attorney, a will, a certificate of trust, and general warranty deeds—all of which benefited one or more Appellants.

¶ 4 On 30 August 2017, Defendant Vickrey executed a certificate of trust to affirm his status as trustee of Plaintiff Woody's 2008 trust. To further protect the trust, he also transferred two parcels of land held by the trust to himself.

¶ 5 Plaintiffs Woody and Gaines filed a complaint in the Chatham County Superior Court against Defendant Vickrey on 22 November 2017, seeking to quiet title to the real property that Defendant Vickrey had transferred to himself. In Defendant Vickrey's answer to the initial complaint, he brought counterclaims including an action for declaratory judgment seeking the court to name him the trustee and sole beneficiary of Plaintiff Woody's trust, and a claim to quiet title to remove a 2017 deed executed by Plaintiff Woody. Defendant Vickrey also brought third-party claims against Third-Party Defendants Vickrey and Ayscue. These claims were for cancellation or rescission of certain documents signed by Plaintiff Woody in 2007 due to duress, undue influence, and lack of capacity; quiet title to remove a 2017 deed executed by Plaintiff Woody; punitive damages; injunctive relief; conversion; and civil conspiracy. All parties to the case prayed the court for a trial by jury.

¶ 6 Dr. George Corvin, a board-certified forensic psychiatrist, performed a mental examination on Plaintiff Woody in November of 2017 pursuant to court order. Dr. Corvin rendered an opinion with a "reasonable degree of medical certainty" that Plaintiff Woody lacked competence to sign the legal instruments executed in June of 2017 "in a knowing, voluntary, and intelligent manner." Defendant Vickrey filed his first motion for summary judgment on 10 January 2019, which was denied by presiding judge, the Honorable Allen Baddour, in an order (the "Baddour Order") entered pursuant to Rule 58 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil procedure on 10 February 2019. On 1 February 2019, Plaintiff Woody was granted leave to file, and filed, an amended and restated complaint, which brought claims against Defendant Vickrey relating to his alleged breach of fiduciary duties. Defendant Vickrey answered the amended and restated complaint and amended his counterclaims on 22 February 2019.

¶ 7 Defendant Vickrey filed a second motion for summary judgment on 18 September 2019 based on the amended pleadings. On 10 October 2019, the presiding judge, the Honorable Carl Fox, entered an order (the "Fox Order") granting declaratory judgment designating Defendant Vickrey as the trustee and sole beneficiary of Plaintiff Woody's trust. In his order, Judge Fox granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Vickrey on the parties’ claims for quiet title and conversion. He also granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Vickrey on his third-party claim for cancellation and recission of the 2017 instruments. Finally, Judge Fox denied summary judgment regarding Defendant Vickrey's third-party claim for civil conspiracy.

¶ 8 Plaintiff Woody voluntarily dismissed his other claims, without prejudice on 22 October 2019. Defendant Vickrey moved for a preliminary injunction on 7 September 2018 to prevent the transfer of assets from the 2008 trust, which the court granted on 1 November 2018.

¶ 9 A permanent injunction was entered on 4 November 2019, by the presiding judge, the Honorable Susan Bray, to enjoin Plaintiff Gaines and Third-Party Defendants Vickrey and Ayscue from communicating with Plaintiff Woody and from entering his property. The only remaining unresolved claim in the proceeding is Defendant Vickrey's counterclaim for civil conspiracy.

¶ 10 Appellants filed their notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals from the Fox Order and the permanent injunction. The trial court proceedings for this matter were stayed pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-294 until this Court issues its opinion.

II. Issues

¶ 11 The issues are whether: (1) Appellants have shown harm to a substantial right sufficient to warrant an immediate appeal from interlocutory orders, which removed the preliminary factual determinations of undue influence and lack of mental capacity from a jury; (2) the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Vickrey after a motion for summary judgment had been previously denied; (3) the trial court properly granted partial summary judgment, which effectively resolved the critical preliminary factual issues of undue influence and lack of capacity; (4) the trial court properly issued a permanent injunction before a final hearing on the merits; and (5) the trial court properly granted summary judgment on Defendant Vickrey's counterclaim for conversion in the partial summary judgment order.

III. Jurisdiction

A. Interlocutory Appeal

¶ 12 As an initial matter, this Court must determine whether it possesses jurisdiction over the interlocutory appeal of the declaratory judgment, partial summary judgment, and permanent injunction. All parties agree that the orders from which Appellants appeal are interlocutory.

¶ 13 "An interlocutory order is one made during the pendency of an action, which does not dispose of the case, but leaves it for further action by the trial court in order to settle and determine the entire controversy." Veazey v. Durham , 231 N.C. 357, 362, 57 S.E.2d 377, 381 (1950) (citation omitted). "A grant of partial summary judgment, because it does not completely dispose of the case, is an interlocutory order from which there is ordinarily no right of appeal." Jeffreys v. Raleigh Oaks Joint Venture , 115 N.C. App. 377, 379, 444 S.E.2d 252, 253 (1994) (citation omitted). "Generally, there is no right of immediate appeal from interlocutory orders and judgments." Goldston v. Am. Motors Corp. , 326 N.C. 723, 725, 392 S.E.2d 735, 736 (1990). However, "[t]here are ... two means by which an interlocutory order may be appealed: (1) if the order is final as to some but not all of the claims or parties and the trial court certifies there is no just reason to delay the appeal pursuant to N.C.R. Civ. P. 54(b) or (2) if the trial court's decision deprives the appellant of a substantial right ...." CBP Resources, Inc. v. Mountaire Farms, Inc. , 134 N.C. App. 169, 171, 517 S.E.2d 151, 153 (1999) (quotations omitted). An appellant's substantial right is deprived if it is "lost, prejudiced or [will] be less than adequately protected" without an immediate appeal pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 1-277(a) or 7A-27(b)(3)(a). J & B Slurry Seal Co. v. Mid-South Aviation, Inc. , 88 N.C. App. 1, 6, 362 S.E.2d 812, 815 (1987).

¶ 14 In this case, the trial court's judgment was final as to some but not all of the claims; however, the trial court did not certify the order so there is no immediate appeal authorized under Rule 54(b). In order for the Appellants to have a right of appeal, the trial court must have deprived Appellants of a substantial right that would be lost, prejudiced, or less than adequately protected absent immediate review. See J & B Slurry Seal Co. , 88 N.C. App. at 6, 362 S.E.2d at 815. Appellants contend that their substantial rights are prejudiced, including: (1) the right to not receive inconsistent verdicts in two potential trials; and (2) the right to have a jury determine all factual issues where a genuine issue of material fact exists.

1. Inconsistent Verdicts

¶ 15 We first consider Appellants’ argument that the interlocutory orders affect their right to not receive inconsistent verdicts. We disagree. Appellants argue in their statement of grounds for appellate review: "In a trial limited to Appellee's remaining claims, a jury could find Appellants not liable. If the summary judgment at issue here were then reversed on appeal, a second jury could find Appellants liable on those same claims."

¶ 16 Rule 28(b)(4) of the North Carolina...

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