C. J., ANDREWS and RAY, JJ.
Maxey sued her siblings, sister-in-law, and niece, seeking to
impose a constructive trust on real property formerly
belonging to her mother. Following the close of evidence at
trial, the trial court directed a verdict for the defendants.
Maxey appeals, asserting that questions of fact remain for
resolution by the jury. We agree and reverse.
court properly grants a motion for directed verdict where
"there is no conflict in the evidence as to any material
issue and the evidence introduced, with all reasonable
deductions therefrom, . . . demand[s] a particular
verdict." Troutman v. Troutman, 297 Ga.App. 62
(676 S.E.2d 787) (2009). We review a directed verdict ruling
under the "any evidence" standard, construing the
evidence most favorably to the non-moving party. See id.
viewed, the evidence shows that Dewitt Hugh Sapp, Sr.
("Hugh Sr.") and Gloria June Sapp had five
children: Maxey, Dewitt Hugh Jr. ("Buddy"), Larry,
Ann, and Karen. In 1975, Hugh Sr. and Gloria executed a joint
will providing that if one of them died, the survivor would
inherit the other's property. The will further stated:
"Upon the death of the survivor of either of us the
remainder of our estate, if any, real and personal, is
devised and bequeathed to our children, share and share
alike, among our five children."
his lifetime, Hugh Sr. amassed an estate that included
ownership of all stock in Sapp's Saw Shop, Inc., a
business he began in 1961, and five tracts of real property.
Hugh Sr. died in 2001, leaving the business and land to his
wife. Gloria subsequently conveyed her interest in the
corporation to Larry, although she remained a corporate
officer and its registered agent.
2007, a Sapp's Saw Shop employee sued Larry and the
corporation, alleging that Larry had invaded her privacy and
caused her emotional distress by installing surveillance
equipment in an employee bathroom. Gloria, who was seriously
ill with cancer and undergoing treatment at the time, was
upset by the lawsuit, expressing concern that her property
might be lost through the litigation. Shortly after the legal
proceedings began, Gloria transferred the five tracts of land
that she had inherited from Hugh Sr. to Buddy and his wife,
Sharon Sapp. Approximately six months later, on December 12,
2007, Gloria died.
learned about the property transfer while meeting with her
siblings a few days after Gloria's funeral. Buddy told
her that Gloria had transferred the land to protect it from
the litigation and that once "the lawsuit was over . . .
[the property] would be divided up equally" amongst the
siblings, as their mother had intended. The siblings then
agreed on the property division, identifying parcels for each
years later - after the lawsuit had been dismissed - Buddy
and Sharon deeded to Karen and Ann the parcels of property
that they had selected. Karen then deeded her property to her
daughter, Kara. No transfer, however, was made to Maxey, and
the 17 acres earmarked for her remained in Buddy's name.
According to Buddy, Maxey was causing "trouble, "
threatening to hire a lawyer if he did not transfer the
property, and he refused to "convey under threats."
subsequently filed suit, seeking a declaration that Buddy and
Sharon held the five tracts in a constructive trust for the
benefit of Gloria's children. She also requested that the
deeds conveying property to Ann, Karen, and Kara be cancelled
so that the land could be distributed properly. The case
proceeded to trial, and the defendants moved for a directed
verdict after the close of evidence, asserting that Maxey had
not proven her constructive trust theory. The trial court
agreed, directed a verdict for the defense, and later denied
Maxey's motion for new trial. This appeal followed.
constructive trust is a trust implied whenever the
circumstances are such that the person holding legal title to
property, either from fraud or otherwise, cannot enjoy the
beneficial interest in the property without violating some
established principle of equity." OCGA § 53-12-132
(a). In other words, equity does not allow "one with a
legal interest in a piece of property a windfall recovery
when the beneficial interest should flow to another."
Ansley v. Raczka-Long, 293 Ga. 138, 141 (3) (744
S.E.2d 55) (2013) (punctuation omitted). Parol evidence
regarding the nature of the transaction, the circumstances,
and the parties' conduct may be presented to support a
constructive trust finding. See Edwards v. Edwards,
267 Ga. 780, 781 (2) (482 S.E.2d 701) (1997). Generally,
however, a constructive trust cannot be imposed on real
property "based solely on a broken verbal promise to
hold or transfer the land for the benefit of another."
Parris v. Leifels, 280 Ga. 135, 136 (625 S.E.2d 390)
(2006). A broken verbal promise may form the basis for a
constructive trust on land only "if it was fraudulently
made with the intention of being broken and for the purpose
of thereby obtaining title." Id. (punctuation
directing a defense verdict, the trial court concluded that
Maxey had not established the fraud necessary to impose a
constructive trust based on a broken verbal promise.
Maxey's allegations, however, did not rest
solely on evidence that Buddy and Sharon broke a
promise to hold the property for the siblings' benefit.
She also offered evidence that Gloria had always intended for
her children to share in the property and transferred it to
Buddy simply to protect it from a legal judgment. And
testimony supported the conclusion that the siblings agreed
on an appropriate distribution plan after Gloria's death,
a plan that Buddy followed with respect to Karen and Ann, but
refused to apply to Maxey because he thought she was causing
trouble for the family.
circumstances parallel those confronted by our Supreme Court
in Edwards v. Edwards, supra. The grandmother in
Edwards intended to bequeath real property to her
three grandsons, but conveyed the land to her daughter to
qualify for government assistance benefits. Following the
grandmother's death, the daughter deeded parcels of the
property to two of the grandsons. The land intended for the
third grandson, however, included the house in which the
daughter and her husband lived, and the parties had agreed
that the third grandson would receive this property only
after their death. The daughter eventually died, leaving the
property to her husband, who remarried and put the land up
for sale, spurring litigation.
Supreme Court found that material issues of fact remained as
to whether the daughter and husband had agreed to hold the
property in trust for the third grandson, noting that
"[t]o allow the [husband] to sell the property while
holding it for [the grandson's] ultimate benefit would
result in the [husband's] unjust enrichment."
Edwards, supra at 782. Although two justices
dissented, asserting that the grandson had not shown fraud,
id. at 783-784, the majority found the evidence sufficient to
sustain a constructive trust theory. See Id. at 782.
The evidence presented in this case - particularly the
circumstances of the ...