United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
In re STATE FARM LIFE INSURANCE POLICY No. LF-1748-2856
K. EPPS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
in turn below are additional pretrial matters raised in the
proposed pretrial order (doc. no. 85), Claimant LaTasha
Jefferson's motions in limine (doc. no. 87), and the
State Farm Life Insurance Company is no longer a party to the
case, and there is accordingly no party designated as a
plaintiff, the caption shall now read In re: State Farm
Life Insurance Policy No. LF-1748-2856. The parties at
trial shall be referred to as Claimant Jefferson on the one
hand, and Claimants Turner and Whitaker on the other.
Burden of Proof
Turner and Whitaker bear the burden of establishing by a
preponderance of the evidence the decedent lacked the
capacity to contract at the time he executed the contested
change of beneficiary form on March 23, 2016. Georgia
“courts start with the general rule that every man is
presumed to have all his mental faculties and to be of normal
and ordinary intelligence, and where it is contended that one
who executed a contract was not competent to execute it, the
burden is upon him who asserts the incompetency.”
Nelson v. State Farm Life Ins. Co., 344 S.E.2d 492,
494 (Ga.Ct.App. 1986) (internal quotations and citations
Turner and Whitaker also bear the burden of establishing by a
preponderance of the evidence the 2016 form was procured by
exertion of undue influence. A rebuttable “presumption
of undue influence arises as a matter of law where the
grantee . . . stands in a confidential relationship with the
grantor . . . and the grantor is of a weak
mentality.” Long v. Waggoner, 558 S.E.2d 380,
382 (Ga. 2002) (emphasis in original) (quotation omitted).
“[I]f one party introduces evidence of circumstances
which under the law causes a presumption of undue influence
to arise, the burden of going forward with the
evidence shifts to the other party.” Horton v.
Hendrix, 662 S.E.2d 227, 231 (Ga.Ct.App. 2008) (internal
quotations and alterations omitted) (emphasis in original)
(citing Trustees of Jesse Parker Williams Hosp. v.
Nisbet, 14 S.E.2d 64, 75 (Ga. 1941)).
“rebuttable presumption, once established, does not
vanish in the face of evidence contrary to the presumed fact.
Regardless of how much counter evidence the opponent has
presented to rebut the presumed fact, the presumption remains
alive through jury instructions and can only disappear if the
jury decides to discount it.” Baker v. Baker,
627 S.E.2d 26, 28 (Ga. 2006) (internal quotations and
citations omitted)); see also Bailey, 630 S.E.2d at
399 (explaining presumption does not vanish in face of
contrary evidence and is alone sufficient to support
jury's finding of undue influence); Miller v.
Miller, 366 S.E.2d 682, 684 n.6 (Ga. 1988) (same).
even where such a presumption has been established, the party
asserting a claim of undue influence always bears the
“ultimate burden of persuasion.” Horton,
662 S.E.2d at 231; see also Miller, 366 S.E.2d at
683 (explaining rebuttable presumption requires opposing
party to go forward with evidence rebutting presumption but
does not shift original burden of persuasion).
Claimants Turner and Whitaker bear the burden of proof, they
shall enjoy all the procedural benefits afforded to
plaintiffs. They shall be seated closest to the jury. They
shall be first to present opening statements, their case in
chief, and closing arguments. They shall have the right to
rebut Claimant Jefferson's closing argument.
Marijuana and Alcohol Use by the Decedent or Any Party or
Court GRANTS IN PART Jefferson's motion
in limine as to drug and alcohol use. The parties may not
introduce evidence of general substance use, but may
introduce evidence the decedent was under the influence of
alcohol or marijuana at the time he executed the change of
beneficiary form or evidence Jefferson provided marijuana and
alcohol to the decedent.
evidence of substance abuse is highly prejudicial character
evidence in violation of Rules 403 and 404. Fed.R.Evid. 403;
404(b); see also Harless v. Boyle-Midway Div., Am. Home
Prod., 594 F.2d 1051, 1058 (5th Cir. 1979) (“[T]he
evidence that [the juvenile decedent] had smoked marijuana on
one occasion was precisely the type of highly prejudicial
evidence that should be excluded under Federal Rule of
Evidence 403.”). However, evidence the decedent was
under the influence of alcohol or marijuana at the time he
executed the change of beneficiary form goes to his capacity
to contract, and the provision by Jefferson of marijuana or
alcohol to the decedent may show undue influence.
See 40.070 Mental Capacity; Contractual Capacity,
Test of, Georgia Suggested Pattern Jury Instructions - Civil
40.070 (“The degree of mentality necessary for a party
to execute a valid contract is that the party must be
possessed of mind and reason (equal to) (capable of) a clear
and full understanding of the nature and consequences of
his/her act in making the contract.”); Trotman v.
Forrester, 621 S.E.2d 724, 725 (Ga. 2005) (“Undue
influence which ...