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Madden v. Crawford

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

February 27, 2019

INEZ MARIE PRUEITT MADDEN Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
ROBERT CRAWFORD AND CYNTHIA SANDY CRAWFORD Defendants-Appellees

          Appealed from the Twenty-Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Bossier, Louisiana Trial Court No. 151837 Honorable R. Lane Pittard, Judge

          WALTER D. WHITE Counsel for Appellant

          DAVID L. WHITE Counsel for Appellees

          Before PITMAN, STEPHENS, and BLEICH (Pro Tempore), JJ.

          BLEICH, J. (PRO TEMPORE)

         Plaintiff, Inez Marie Prueitt Madden, filed a petition seeking to annul an inter vivos donation of immovable property she executed in favor of her son and daughter-in-law. She has appealed from the adverse judgment rendered by the trial court. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         FACTS/PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff, Inez Madden, is a widow in her mid-70s. Her first marriage was to Odell Crawford in 1960. They had a son, Robert Crawford, in 1961, and the marriage ended in divorce shortly thereafter. Plaintiff's second marriage was in 1964 to Donald Ray Madden. Together they had two children: Hope Madden Roussett, who currently lives in Texas, and Kathleen Madden, who predeceased both of her parents in 1976. Mr. Madden died in 2008. Mrs. Madden was placed in possession of a 1/2 interest in the immovable property obtained by the couple during the marriage, [1] and Hope was placed in possession of the other 1/2 interest, which she thereafter donated to Mrs. Madden.

         In 2014, Robert Crawford and his future wife Cynthia ("Sandy") moved to Louisiana from Texas to take care of Mrs. Madden and the property. With Mrs. Madden's consent and permission, Robert and Sandy moved onto the property and lived in the house located on the property with her until they could move into a mobile home on the property.[2] According to Defendants, Robert and Sandy Crawford, since they have lived on the property, they have continuously maintained the grounds. Mrs. Madden testified that Robert and Sandy helped her keep up the property. The Crawfords testified that they have also paid the property taxes, as well as utility bills, and spent money for "home improvements" to the property, all with Mrs. Madden's consent. According to all parties, prior to the instant suit, they and Mrs. Madden made decisions together about the property, and everyone "got along."

         Defendants further assert that, in return for their moving onto the property to help and provide support in the care of Mrs. Madden, she agreed to donate the property to them. According to Defendants, they all met with attorney Gray Kitchens for Mrs. Madden to explain what she wanted. Kitchens explained to Mrs. Madden the consequences of the inter vivos donation and suggested that she retain a lifetime usufruct for herself.[3]Plaintiff and Defendants went a second time to Attorney Kitchens' office to execute the donation and other estate planning documents on July 26, 2016. At that time, attorney Richard Ray met with the parties and notarized the donation, which was witnessed by a third attorney, Spencer Hays, and the law firm's secretary, Lindsay Hill.

         According to Mrs. Madden, the incident that prompted the instant litigation was her receipt of correspondence from the Bossier Parish Tax Assessor which indicated that her son Robert was the owner of the property. Mrs. Madden consulted with her daughter Hope and her close friend Judy McKenzie. After Hope failed in an attempt to have Robert and Sandy return the property, Mrs. Madden filed a petition to annul the inter vivos donation on December 22, 2016. Defendants filed an answer and reconventional demand to recover the amounts they spent to improve and maintain the property in the event the donation was annulled. Mrs. Madden filed several amending and supplemental petitions, as well as exceptions of prematurity and no cause of action. Mrs. Madden sought annulment of the donation as a donation omnium bonorum; on the basis of fraud/duress; and, for lack of donative capacity. Defendants amended their answer each time an amending and supplemental petition was filed. Defendants sought recovery under detrimental reliance/unjust enrichment theories.

         Trial was held April 17-18, 2018. The trial court rendered judgment in favor of Robert and Sandy Crawford and dismissed Mrs. Madden's action to annul, based upon its findings that Mrs. Madden knew what she was doing at the time the donation inter vivos was executed, and she only filed the action to annul because she regretted signing the donation. Plaintiff has appealed this adverse decision.

         DISCUSSION

         On appeal, Mrs. Madden has asserted several assignments of error. According to Plaintiff, the trial court ...


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