BARNES et al.
CHANNEL et al.
feud between siblings over their aunt's estate, the
question presented is the propriety of the extensive relief
granted by the trial court on a motion for an interlocutory
injunction. Because most of the relief was not proper
interlocutory relief, we vacate the disputed parts of the
trial court's order and remand the case.
first seeds of the feud were sown on July 29, 2008, when
Huff gave Charles Barnes, Jr., her nephew, power of attorney
over her affairs, which he then handled until her death. By
2014, Huff had moved from her house into a nursing home. In
June 2014, she signed a quitclaim deed conveying the house to
Barnes, and he and his girlfriend, Madeline Jackson, moved
in. Huff died nine months later, on March 21, 2015, at the
age of 95.
will, which she executed in May 2009 - several years before
conveying the house to Barnes - directed that her house
should be sold and the sale proceeds, as well as the rest of
her estate (with the exception of specific monetary bequests
to a seminary and a church), divided per capita between
Barnes and his siblings Bernard, Mary, and Geraldine
(Appellees). The will named Barnes as the executor, but
Appellees objected to his appointment on the grounds that he
had not provided any accounting of his actions as Huff's
fiduciary and had misappropriated her personal property and
money. Appellees also alleged that Barnes had a conflict of
interest because he was "the grantee of the
decedent's home at a time when the decedent lacked the
mental capacity to convey the title of the property to
him." Barnes did not contest the objection to his
appointment as executor, and Bernard was appointed instead.
On February 2, 2016, Barnes filed a petition for declaratory
judgment against Appellees in the Fulton County Superior
Court, seeking to affirm the validity of the quitclaim deed.
April 14, 2016, Appellees, in their individual capacities and
in Bernard's capacity as executor, filed a tort action
against Barnes and Jackson (Appellants) in the same trial
court, alleging breach of fiduciary duty; fraud; theft by
taking, deception, and conversion, including while the estate
was unrepresented; civil conspiracy to commit theft and
misappropriation; and undue influence involving the quitclaim
deed. Appellees requested an accounting, a constructive trust
to hold funds misappropriated by Barnes, and an interlocutory
and permanent injunction ordering Appellants to immediately
turn over to the estate the money and property Barnes had
allegedly misappropriated and ordering that Barnes had
forfeited his rights as a beneficiary under Huff's will.
Appellees further requested that Appellants be evicted from
Huff's former residence and that a writ of possession for
the property be issued to Huff's estate, and they also
requested punitive damages and attorney fees.
next day, Appellees filed an emergency motion for "turn
over of estate assets and interlocutory injunction."
They alleged that the estate had "been attempting to
determine what assets exist, get possession of the assets,
and otherwise work with [Appellants]" to allow the will
to be probated, but Appellants were being uncooperative.
Therefore, Appellees filed the motion in "an attempt to
marshal and secure the remaining available assets" of
the estate while the tort action was pending. Appellees asked
the court to require Appellants to turn over all property,
including the house; to turn over or put into a constructive
trust all money belonging to the estate; and to provide an
accounting of all policies and annuities that were or had
been in Huff's name. Appellees also requested expedited
discovery in the form of "immediate videotaped
depositions, as well as authority to serve subpoenas for
[Appellants'] banking records and tax returns." On
June 29, 2016, the trial court entered an order consolidating
the declaratory judgment and tort actions and directing the
parties to mediation. The order also stayed discovery until
further order of the court. According to Appellants, Barnes
was unable to attend mediation because of his poor health; he
suffers from multiple myeloma and dementia and has been
September 12, 2016, Appellants filed a motion to withhold
ruling on the disposition of the real property until
completion of discovery and a hearing on the merits. The
trial court held a hearing on September 21, at which the
court expressed concern about Barnes's apparent theft
from Huff and said that the court wanted Barnes, who was not
at the hearing because he was in a rehabilitation center, to
appear and answer under oath questions about transfers from
Huff's bank account. Appellants' attorney said that
he wanted to produce evidence to explain the transfers and to
prove that Huff had the capacity to convey the residence to
Barnes when she signed the quitclaim deed. The court appeared
to reopen discovery, and the next hearing was scheduled for
October 11, 2016.
hearing, Appellants introduced affidavits of the notary and
the two witnesses who signed the quitclaim deed conveying the
property to Barnes. All three affidavits said that Huff was
"aware and very alert" when she signed the deed.
Appellees introduced three bank statements from Barnes that
he had provided to them, but noted that he had not provided
all of the statements they requested. Appellees called a
record keeper to authenticate documents showing Huff's
mental state; a nurse practitioner and a doctor, both of whom
had cared for Huff; and Barnes. One of the medical records
showed that Huff had been diagnosed with dementia by the time
the quitclaim deed was executed. The nurse testified that
Huff did not have the mental capacity to know what she was
signing when she signed the quitclaim deed, and the doctor
testified that Huff's short-term memory was so bad at
that time it was questionable whether she knew what was
actually going on. In his testimony, Barnes had difficulty
remembering who made most of the transfers from Huff's
account or where they went, but he claimed to remember that
Huff was of sound mind when she signed the quitclaim deed and
that she had been planning to give him the house for many
final witness was Bernard's wife, who had summarized the
estate's accounts. When Appellees sought to introduce
that summary, Appellants objected. The judge then asked
Appellees what relief they were seeking, to which their
counsel answered, "an injunction whereby the house and
everything that belong[s] to the estate comes back to the
estate." The judge then said to Barnes:
Your conduct is reprehensi[ble] and this is one of the most
disturbing cases I've seen [in] 20 years on the bench.
You robbed from this woman and you stole from her and you
changed her life insurance and your conduct is despicable. So
I [am] hereby going to enter an order striking the quitclaim
deed and then I'm going to order the house be sold in
accordance with the will, and he has until November 11th at 5
p.m. to vacate the premises. Submit me an order.
attorney asked to be heard, to which the judge responded:
I didn't believe a word your client had to say, by the
way. I have been doing this 20 years, and he's got
selective memory and he stole from this woman and he just
profited and it's just despicable. She was 90-something
years old and he wants to come in here and selectively
remember things. . . . There's nothing else I need to
hear. There's nothing you can tell me. Okay? So submit me
an order. I have been very patient.
judge concluded that Huff did not have capacity to enter the
quitclaim deed, that Barnes took advantage of her, and that
it was a violation of the power of attorney agreement for
Barnes to take the property. When Appellants' attorney
objected that Huff's capacity was a jury question, the
judge said: "You can appeal it. You can appeal it.
Because I'm using the equitable powers of this Court
because - you can just appeal it." Appellants'
attorney then began to argue that the court had not
considered the proper standards for interlocutory ...