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Succession of Bryant

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

April 10, 2019

SUCCESSION OF JERRY DALE BRYANT

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. CHARLES, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 10, 345, DIVISION "D" HONORABLE M. LAUREN LEMMON, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT, BRYANT WOODS Cassandra Butler

          Panel composed of Judges Susan M. Chehardy, Hans J. Liljeberg, and John J. Molaison, Jr.

          HANS J. LILJEBERG JUDGE

         Appellant, Bryant Woods, appeals the trial court's judgment ordering him to pay reimbursements to appellee, Deborah M. Weal, for funds expended to satisfy a mortgage and property taxes, as well as to complete repairs and maintenance on co-owned properties. For reasons set forth more fully below, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 28, 2011, appellee, Deborah M. Weal, filed a Petition for Possession relating to the succession of decedent, Jerry Dale Bryant. Ms. Weal filed the petition in her capacity as the administratrix of the succession of her mother, Florence Agnes Bryant.[1] The petition states Jerry Bryant died intestate in 2000, and Florence Bryant was his surviving spouse and sole heir. The petition further alleges that Florence subsequently died in 2005, and her daughter, Ms. Weal, was appointed as the administratrix of her estate. According to the petition, Florence and Jerry did not have any children during their marriage. It further alleged that Jerry had no other children and never adopted anyone.

         Ms. Weal requested that, as the administratrix of Florence's succession, the trial court place her in possession of two pieces of immovable property which Florence and Jerry acquired during their marriage: 1) 644 Turtlecreek Lane in St. Rose, Louisiana ("St. Rose Property") and 2) a home and property located in Kentwood, Louisiana ("Kentwood Property"). On February 28, 2011, the trial court entered a judgment of possession placing Ms. Weal into possession and ownership of the two properties in her capacity as the administratrix of her mother's succession.

         Over six years later on September 29, 2017, appellant, Bryant Woods, filed a Petition to Set Aside Judgment of Possession alleging that he is Jerry's biological son. The petition alleged that Jerry acknowledged his paternity of Mr. Woods in a child support proceeding pending in the same court, "State v. Jerry Bryant," Case No. 44, 635. Mr. Woods alleged that Ms. Weal knowingly misrepresented that Jerry had no children. Therefore, Mr. Bryant asked the trial court to set aside the February 28, 2011 Judgment of Possession, and award him full ownership of the Kentwood Property as Ms. Weal had previously sold the St. Rose Property.

         The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Mr. Bryant's petition to set aside the judgment of possession on May 14, 2018. Mr. Woods was represented by counsel and Ms. Weal appeared pro se. Mr. Bryant testified that he was born in 1991 and had a close relationship with his father. He explained that his father paid child support and he stayed with his father during the school year and his mother during the summer until he was eight years old. When he was nine years old, he moved back to his mother's home and his father died a year later. He testified that his father had two stepchildren, Nee-Nee, who is deceased, and Debbie (Ms. Weal). Because Ms. Weal was much older, she had already moved out of the house when Mr. Woods lived with his father. He testified that he spent time with Ms. Weal's children when they visited in the summer.

         Ms. Weal testified that she was not aware Mr. Woods was her brother until he filed to set aside the judgment of possession. Ms. Weal explained that she lived out of town when Mr. Woods lived with her parents. When she came home to visit, her mother told her that Mr. Woods was the child of a deceased niece that they were raising. Ms. Weal explained that as a result of this litigation, she learned her father had a relationship with another woman, Gilda Woods, and that Mr. Woods is her half-brother.

         Mr. Woods' mother, Gilda Woods, testified that she was aware her son had an interest in the St. Rose and Kentwood Properties, and after Florence Bryant died in 2005, she would check the tax records for the properties to make sure the taxes were current. Neither Gilda nor Mr. Woods provided an explanation as to why Mr. Woods waited over 17 years after Jerry's death to come forward regarding his interests in the estate.[2] Mr. Woods agreed that he and Ms. Weal were the only two people who had a "claim" to his father's property. He testified that he believed both properties were worth over $80, 000.00, and asked the trial court to award him "around $40, 000.00" for his half interest.

         On the other hand, Ms. Weal sought reimbursements from Mr. Woods for funds she expended to preserve and maintain the properties in their father's succession. She explained that after her father died, her mother did not have any money, requiring Ms. Weal to help her mother pay debts owed on the St. Rose Property. Starting on August 1, 2000, she paid $501.00 for six months ($3, 006.00) to satisfy a mortgage on the St. Rose Property. After her mother passed away in 2005, Ms. Weal learned about another loan owed to Bank One secured by the St. Rose Property. Ms. Weal paid $236.19 per month for 36 months ($8, 502.84) to satisfy this debt. She also testified that she paid taxes on the St. Rose Property from 2005 to 2008, in the amounts of $489.00, $512.00 and $529.00 ($1, 530.00), respectively. After 2008, she obtained a homestead exemption.

         Ms. Weal also testified that after Hurricane Gustav in 2008, the St. Rose Property required repairs. In 2009, she paid $5, 000.00 to repair the roof. In 2011, she paid $1, 200.00 to replace the floors in the kitchen, bathroom and one bedroom. She also experienced a ...


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