IN RE: ESTATE OF RAYMOND L. SMALLMAN - Articles

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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Feb 26, 2013

Head Comment: With Dissenting Opinion

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Donald Capparella, and Candi Henry, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Linda Caraway.

Attorneys 2:

Douglas T. Jenkins, Rogersville, Tennessee; W. Lewis Jenkins, Jr., Dyersburg, Tennessee; and Denise Terry Stapleton, Morristown, Tennessee, for the appellees, Mark Smallman and Jeffrey Smallman.

Judge(s): LEE

The primary issue we address in this appeal is whether certain evidence was erroneously admitted at trial and if so, whether it more probably than not affected the jury’s verdict. This case arose out of the death of Raymond Smallman and the ensuing dispute between his two sons from a previous marriage and Linda Caraway, whom he married two weeks before his death. Mr. Smallman’s sons challenged the validity of their father’s marriage to Ms. Caraway and the validity of the lost will that Ms. Caraway sought to have established. Ms. Caraway claimed to be Mr. Smallman’s surviving spouse and the sole beneficiary of his estate pursuant to the terms of his will. The case went to trial, and the jury was allowed to hear evidence about Ms. Caraway’s real estate holdings and her late mother’s will. The jury found in favor of Mr. Smallman’s sons. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We granted Ms. Caraway permission to appeal to address whether Mr. Smallman’s sons had standing to contest the validity of their father’s second marriage and whether the introduction of evidence regarding Ms. Caraway’s late mother’s will and her real estate holdings was error and if so, whether it more probably than not affected the jury’s verdict. We hold that Ms. Caraway waived her argument that Mr. Smallman’s sons lacked standing to contest the validity of her marriage to their father. We further hold that the trial court erred in allowing into evidence testimony regarding Ms. Caraway’s real property holdings and her late mother’s will. Because this evidence more probably than not affected the jury’s verdict, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for a new trial.