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Watson v. The University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C.

Supreme Court of Alabama

April 27, 2018

Homer L. Watson, as personal representative of the Estate of Mary Fejeran, deceased
v.
The University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C., and Graham C. Towns, M.D.

          Appeal from Jefferson Circuit Court (CV-14-904645)

          SELLERS, JUSTICE.

         Homer L. Watson, as personal representative of the estate of Mary Fejeran, deceased, appeals from the summary judgment entered by the Jefferson Circuit Court in a wrongful-death action in favor of the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, P.C., and Graham C. Towns, M.D. (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the defendants"). We affirm.

         The facts are undisputed. On November 8, 2012, Fejeran died. Watson thereafter petitioned the Russell Probate Court for letters of administration, seeking to be appointed the personal representative of Fejeran's estate. On August 22, 2013, the probate court issued letters of administration to Watson.

         In March 2014, Watson petitioned the probate court for a final settlement of Fejeran's estate, representing that he had discharged in full all legal claims against the estate, that he had made a final distribution of all the personal assets of the estate, and that he was requesting a final order discharging and releasing him and the surety on his bond from further liability as personal representative of the estate.

         On March 24, 2014, the probate court entered a judgment of final settlement, indicating that Watson and his surety were "discharged from all further liabilities."

         On November 7, 2014, Watson, after being discharged and released as the personal representative of Fejeran's estate, filed a wrongful-death action against the defendants under § 6-5-410, Ala. Code 1975. Watson claimed in that action that he was "the duly qualified Administrator" of Fejeran's estate. The two-year limitations period for bringing a wrongful-death action under the statute expired on November 8, 2014.

         On March 7, 2017, the defendants filed a motion for a summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, Ala. R. Civ. P., on the basis that Watson lacked the representative capacity to bring the wrongful-death action. In support of their summary-judgment motion, the defendants attached a copy of the March 24, 2014, final-settlement order indicating that Watson had been discharged as the personal representative of Fejeran's estate.

         On March 23, 2017, Watson moved the probate court to clarify its March 24, 2014, order or, alternatively, to correct a clerical error in the order pursuant to Rule 60(a), Ala. R. Civ. P. Watson specifically alleged in his motion to clarify and/or to correct that his petition for final settlement sought relief only for liability arising from estate-administration activities and that the petition did not seek closure of the estate or termination of his letters of administration. On the same day, the probate court entered an order, dated March 23, 2017, purporting to clarify and/or to correct its March 24, 2014, order:

"1. In response to the Administrator's motion for clarification, the Court declares that the meaning and intent of its March 24, 2014, order was to grant a discharge from liabilities for estate administration activities, but to otherwise leave Mr. Watson's letters of administration in full force and effect. Thus, on November 7, 2014, when an action for Mary Fejeran's wrongful death was commenced in Jefferson County, Alabama, Homer L. Watson was, on that date, the Administrator of Mary Fejeran's estate with active, open letters of administration from this Court in full effect.
"2. To the extent that some other court might find the clarification stated in paragraph 1, above, insufficient in some way, this Court grants additional, further, or alternative relief under Rule 60(a) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure. ... Even though the order of March 24, 2014, said only that the Administrator was discharged from 'liabilities, ' to the extent that some other court might read the ... order to be an ultimate closing of the Estate and a full termination of the letters of administration, this Court declares such language to be a clerical mistake. To make the order of March 24, 2014, speak the truth of what was intended, paragraphs 1 and 3 of the order are hereby amended to state (amending language underscored):
"'1. That said Petition for Final Settlement, seeking a discharge from liabilities for the administration of estate debts and property, be and is hereby confirmed; and
"'3. The Petitioner, the Administrator and his surety be discharged from all further estate-administration liabilities, but that the letters of administration remain in force ....'"

         On August 15, 2017, Watson filed a motion in opposition to the defendants' motion for a summary judgment, arguing that the March 24, 2014, order did not terminate his letters of administration. In support of his motion, Watson attached the March 23, 2017, order purporting to clarify and/or to correct the March 24, 2014, order and, more specifically, stating that Watson's ...


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