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Mulvey v. Stephens

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

June 27, 2018

THELMA MULVEY, Appellant,
v.
SHEILA STEPHENS, JAMES CAMPBELL and NANCY J. CAMPBELL, husband and wife, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, Martin County; James David Langford, Senior Judge; L.T. Case No. 432015CA000686CAAXMX.

          Joshua 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.

          KUNTZ, J.

         Thelma 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.

         Background

         Jack 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.

         i. The Decedent's Will and Trust

         While 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 trustee.

         In 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.

         In 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.

         In 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.

         ii. The Daughter's Challenge to the 2010 ...


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