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In re Succession of Bailey

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

June 26, 2019

IN RE: SUCCESSION OF ADDIE VAUGHN BAILEY and JAMES CURTIS BAILEY

          Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2001-0722. Honorable B. Scott Leehy, Judge

          LAW OFFICE OF ANTHONY J. BRUSCATO, APLC By: Anthony J. Bruscato Counsel for First Appellant, Ollie Mae Bailey

          PLEASANT, WILLIAMS & BANKS-MILEY LAW GROUP, LLC By: Kristen B. Pleasant Counsel for Second Appellant, James Henry Bailey and Julia Bailey Godfrey

          E. ROLAND CHARLES Appellee In Proper Person

          Before MOORE, COX, and STEPHENS, JJ.

          COX, J.

         This appeal arises out of the Fourth Judicial District Court, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana. Ollie Mae Bailey ("Ollie") appeals the district court's judgment in favor of her siblings, James Henry Bailey ("James") and Julia Bailey Godfrey ("Julia"), concluding that their mother's judgment of possession ("JOP") is null and void based on deficiencies in the probating of the testament. Although the district court's ruling was in James's and Julia's favor, they have also appealed, arguing that this Court remand the case for further proceedings. For the foregoing reasons, we respectfully reverse the district court's judgment nullifying Mrs. Bailey's JOP and remand the case for further proceedings.

         FACTS

         James Curtis Bailey and Addie Vaughn Bailey ("Mr. and Mrs. Bailey," respectively) owned a house in community in Monroe, Louisiana. They had four children: James, Julia, Jesse Bailey, and Ollie. Their son, Jesse Bailey, predeceased them and had no children. Mr. Bailey died without a will on July 30, 1992. His one-half interest in his community property, including the house, passed equally to his three remaining children, subject to the usufruct of Mrs. Bailey. Mrs. Bailey died on June 8, 1999. In addition to her community property, Mrs. Bailey left behind a money judgment that had been settled, but not yet paid to her.

         At the time of their parents' deaths and at the time of this suit, James lived in Houston, Texas; Julia lived in Oakland, California; and, Ollie lived in Monroe. Mr. and Mrs. Bailey's successions were filed together and they share a JOP, but Mr. Bailey's estate is not in dispute; only Mrs. Bailey's estate is the subject of this appeal. For simplicity, the remainder of this opinion will only refer to the JOP as Mrs. Bailey's JOP, as that is the only portion in dispute.

         Before a check could be issued on Mrs. Bailey's money judgment, her succession needed to be completed. Anthony Bruscato, Mrs. Bailey's settlement attorney, began the succession proceedings. Included in the record is the unfiled will of Mrs. Bailey and an unfiled request to have it probated. Mr. Bruscato testified, and his records confirmed, that he retrieved the will from the judge's office before it was signed because he received a letter stating James and Julia planned to contest the will.

         Roland Charles testified that he was hired in person by Julia and James to open their mother's succession. He stated that he was previously contacted by Julia via telephone to check for the existence of a will for her mother. Mr. Charles stated that he sent a letter to Ollie notifying her that he was hired by her siblings. He testified that he was then contacted by Mr. Bruscato to notify him that he had already begun the succession for Mrs. Bailey, and Mr. Bruscato sent him copies of the will and filings. Mr. Charles stated that because Mr. Bruscato had already begun working on the succession, he did not work on it. Mr. Charles stated that once the succession proceedings began, James and Julia came in to his office a second time to sign the verification documents. He testified that he did not check their ID's when notarizing their signatures and could not state whether or not the two people in the courtroom were the same people who came to his office. He noted that this all transpired 17 years ago so he could not be certain. Mr. Charles also testified that he did not recall having a Houston, Texas, address on file for James.

         Mrs. Bailey's JOP, which was filed on February 14, 2001, stated, "Considering the testament of the deceased, which has been probated… recognizing Ollie Mae Bailey Walker as the sole heir of the succession of Addie Vaughn Bailey." (Emphasis added.) Sixteen years later, on January 31, 2017, James and Julia filed a petition to annul Mrs. Bailey's JOP based on fraud and/or ill practices. The record reveals that the petition for possession was filed jointly by Ollie, James, and Julia, but now James and Julia dispute their signatures.

         James testified that in 2016, some extended family mentioned that his great-niece would inherit the house. James said he questioned how she would inherit because he thought he and his two sisters owned the house together. He stated that he decided to hire a title abstractor, Carolyn Williams, to research the property ownership. Ms. Williams researched the Ouachita Parish property records and sent James a copy of all the relevant title and probate documents. James testified that when he reviewed the records, he noticed the ...


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