final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit,
Martin County; James David Langford, Senior Judge; L.T. Case
D. Ferraro of Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, West Palm
Beach, for appellant.
Virginia P. Sherlock and Howard K. Heims of Littman, Sherlock
& Heims, P.A., Stuart, for appellee Sheila Stephens.
Mulvey appeals a final judgment finding tortious interference
with an expectancy and awarding $60, 000 in damages to the
appellee, Sheila Stephens. She raises two issues on appeal:
the court erred in denying her motion for judgment
notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) because the plaintiff
failed to introduce competent substantial evidence in support
of her tortious interference claim; and the amount awarded in
damages was inconsistent with the testimony. We agree that
there was no competent evidence to support a claim for
tortious interference with an expectancy. Because we reverse
the court's order denying Thelma Mulvey's motion for
JNOV and remand for entry of judgment in her favor, we need
not address the second issue.
Mulvey ("Decedent") died testate with two surviving
children and a spouse. His first wife and one son, Kevin
Mulvey, predeceased him. The Decedent's daughter, Sheila
Stephens ("Daughter"), sued the Decedent's
second wife, Thelma Mulvey ("Widow"). The Daughter
claimed the Widow exerted undue influence on the Decedent and
interfered with her expected inheritance. To provide a
general understanding of the issues, we break our background
discussion in three parts: First, we discuss the
Decedent's will and trust; second, the Daughter's
attempt to challenge the will in the probate court; and
finally, the trial at issue and the Daughter's claim for
tortious interference with expectancy.
The Decedent's Will and Trust
married to his first wife, the Decedent established a
revocable trust. The trust's assets included a piece of
property located in St. Lucie County, known to the family as
the "Ranch." The Decedent created the trust for the
ultimate benefit of his children and grandchildren. His son,
Kevin Mulvey, was the original trustee of the trust. After
Kevin Mulvey's death, the Daughter became the successor
1999, after his first wife died, the Decedent married the
Widow. Eight years later, after prior unsuccessful attempts
to sell the Ranch, the Decedent and the Widow sold a portion
of the Ranch to their friends. The initial sale price for the
Ranch was $1, 150, 000, but $758, 000 of the sale was in the
form of a mortgage given from the buyers to the Decedent.
Five months later, the mortgage was amended to prohibit the
Decedent and the Widow from "selling, transferring,
assigning or in any manner conveying any interest" in
the mortgage. A second modification agreement reduced the
principal due on the mortgage by $250, 000.
2008, the Decedent restated his trust. According to the
restated Trust, the Widow would receive $50, 000; Kevin
Mulvey would receive 16 acres of the Ranch; the Daughter
would receive $65, 000 cash; and his other son, Sean Mulvey,
would receive $65, 000 cash.
2010, the Decedent executed a self-proving will, which
revoked all previous wills. The 2010 will gave the Widow the
residue and remainder of the estate. Significantly, the 2010
will revoked a 2005 will, which was a pour-over will that
distributed all assets to the successor trustee of his Trust.
The Daughter's Challenge to the 2010 ...