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Dixon v. Joyner

Court of Chancery of Delaware

July 14, 2014

Dixon
v.
Joyner

Draft Report: June 30, 2014

Submitted: March 10, 2014

Register of Wills Folio No. 149218

Dear Mr. Dixon and Ms. Allen:

The petitioner, Lloyd Dixon III ("Dixon"), filed a Petition for Decree of Distribution (the "Petition") under 12 Del. C. § 2331 alleging that the defendant, John Douglas Joyner ("Joyner"), breached his duties as administrator of the estate of Letha D. Copeland (the "Decedent"). Joyner maintains that he complied with his duties as administrator of the Decedent's estate (the "Estate") and has responded to all of the issues raised by Dixon. For the reasons that follow, I recommend that the Court enter an order granting summary judgment in favor of Joyner.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

On January 3, 2010, the Decedent died intestate in New Castle County, Delaware. The Decedent was survived by her son, Dixon, her daughter[2], Joan Akins ("Akins"), and her brother, Joyner. Dixon is serving a life sentence at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, DE. The whereabouts of Akins currently are unknown.[3] The Decedent's husband, William Copeland, daughter, Sonja Terrell, and son Maurice Dixon predeceased her.[4]

On September 28, 2010, the Estate was opened and Joyner was appointed as its administrator.[5] On December 31, 2010, Joyner filed an inventory of the Estate with the Register of Wills.[6] On October 31, 2011, the Register of Wills issued a Rule to Show Cause directed to Joyner under Court of Chancery Rule 194 because the accounting Joyner filed was incomplete.[7] Dixon initially filed the Petition and an application (the "Application") to proceed in forma pauperis before Joyner filed a complete accounting. I dismissed the Petition without prejudice and denied the Application under 12 Del. C. § 2332(a) because the statute requires that an accounting be filed before a Petition for a Decree of Distribution may be filed.[8]

On November 23, 2011, Joyner filed a complete accounting (the "Accounting") pursuant to 12 Del. C. § 2301(a).[9] According to the Accounting, the Estate consisted of personal property valued at $7, 000. After closing costs, debts, and funeral expenses were deducted from the assets, the Estate had a balance of $1, 693.24. The Decedent also owned real property at 5 Leafy Lane, Newark, DE 19702 (the "Property") valued at $175, 000, according to Joyner's inventory, at the time of the Decedent's death.[10] Joyner managed the Estate's account from October 18, 2010 to December 4, 2011.[11] On December 1, 2011, Joyner closed the Estate.[12]

On December 19, 2011, Dixon filed an insufficient "Notice regarding Personal Representative's Commissions and Fees: [sic] And Beneficiary's Exceptions Thereto" with the Register of Wills.[13] I informed Dixon that he must file exceptions to the Accounting according to Court of Chancery Rule 197, along with a Petition in compliance with 12 Del. C. § 2332, before the Court could schedule a hearing on the exceptions and Petition.[14] On March 26, 2012, Dixon filed an amended list of specific exceptions explaining the grounds for each exception.[15] In essence, Dixon alleges that Joyner has failed to (1) file an inventory of the assets within 90 days after the estate was opened, including any or all jointly held property; (2) pay over $6, 000 in taxes, fees, and bills; (3) pass the title to real property to the Decedent's heirs immediately upon her death; (4) sell the real property to raise sufficient funds to pay the Estate's debts, expenses, and taxes; (5) provide any life insurance proceeds that might have become an estate asset; (6) apprise the beneficiary of any trust established by the Decedent; (7) correctly represent that Akins was Dixon's niece and not his sister; and (8) produce the documents that the Property was in foreclosure which led to injury to the probate estate.

On April 20, 2013, I granted Dixon leave to proceed in forma pauperis.[16] On April 23, 2013, Dixon filed the Petition as a pro se litigant.[17] In addition to Dixon's claims in his exceptions to the Accounting, Dixon alleges that Joyner has failed to (1) make final distribution to the Decedent's heirs eight months after her death; (2) carry out the process provided by law for transferring the Decedent's property to her heirs; and (3) meet his responsibilities as administrator because Dixon continues to receive notices from bill collectors. Dixon further alleges that Joyner intentionally failed to disclose the Decedent's other assets, including furniture, appliances, two automobiles, personal bank accounts, and seven other properties. Finally, Dixon alleges that Joyner made no arrangements to liquidate the real estate and attempted to get Dixon to sign a waiver before closing the Estate. In his answer to the Petition, Joyner denies all of Dixon's allegations.[18]

The Property was in foreclosure when Joyner became administrator of Decedent's Estate.[19] As of April 23, 2013, active foreclosure proceedings were pending, the mortgage was 49 months overdue, and a payment of $66, 439.24, plus foreclosure costs and fees, was required to reinstate the mortgage.[20] As of May 31, 2013, the remaining balance of the Estate was $10.79.[21] On January 31, 2014, Joyner moved for summary judgment.[22] Joyner states there are no disputes of material fact and Dixon has not brought forth evidence to substantiate any of his claims. Joyner further states that Dixon is not the sole beneficiary to the Decedent's estate.[23] Dixon filed a memorandum in opposition to Joyner's motion for summary judgment. The scheduling order entered by the Court specifically provided for discovery, and Dixon propounded discovery in connection with that schedule.[24]

ANALYSIS

Summary judgment should be awarded if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."[25] When considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence are to be viewed in light most favorable to the non-moving party.[26] A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists.[27] If the movant makes such a showing, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to submit sufficient evidence to show that a genuine factual issue, material to the outcome of the case, precludes judgment before trial.[28] The non-moving party must do more than simply assert the existence of a disputed factual issue.[29] Rather, the ...


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