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Campbell v. J.R.C.

Supreme Court of Alabama

October 19, 2018

Patricia Campbell
v.
J.R.C., J.L.C., R.L.C., and J.H.S., minors, by and through their Guardians ad Litem, and the Estate of Remano L. Campbell, deceased

          Appeal from Mobile Circuit Court (CV-12-901861) AA

          SELLERS, JUSTICE.

         Patricia Campbell appeals from an order of the Mobile Circuit Court adjudicating J.R.C., J.L.C., R.L.C., and J.H.S., minor children, as the heirs of the estate of her son, Remano L. Campbell. We affirm.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Remano died intestate in October 2011, the victim of a homicide perpetrated by his wife, Eugenia Campbell. At the time of his death, Remano was the insured under a $200, 000 life-insurance policy issued by United of Omaha Life Insurance Company ("Omaha"). The policy lists Eugenia as the beneficiary, and Eugenia filed a claim for the proceeds of the policy. Because of the circumstances surrounding Remano's death and, more specifically, the existence of a pending criminal investigation, Omaha, pursuant to Rule 22, Ala. R. Civ. P., filed an interpleader action against Eugenia and Remano's estate, depositing the proceeds from the policy plus interest into an escrow account with the circuit court and requesting that the court determine the heirs of Remano's estate, who would possibly be entitled to the proceeds of the policy.[1] The circuit court thereafter appointed an administrator ad litem to represent Remano's estate pursuant to § 43-2-250, Ala. Code 1975.[2]

         In August 2016, Eugenia pleaded guilty in connection with Remano's murder; accordingly, the proceeds of the insurance policy were payable as though she had predeceased Remano. § 43-8-253(c), Ala. Code 1975.[3] Because Eugenia is not considered to be Remano's surviving spouse, the proceeds of the insurance policy would pass to Remano's issue; if there is no surviving issue, then to his parent or parents equally. See § 43-8-42, Ala. Code 1975. In this case, Remano and Eugenia were legally married in June 2002. During their marriage, Remano and Eugenia had three children--J.R.C., J.L.C., and R.L.C. (hereinafter referred to collectively as "the Campbell children"). Eugenia also had another child, J.H.S., who was born approximately 18 months before her marriage to Remano and who lived with Remano and Eugenia throughout their marriage.

         Following Eugenia's conviction, Patricia, Remano's mother, petitioned the Mobile Probate Court for letters of administration. In her petition, as amended, Patricia alleged that she was an heir of Remano and that the Campbell children and J.H.S. were only purported heirs because, she claimed, they were not Remano's biological children. Virginia G. Chouinard, the guardian ad litem for the minor children, objected to Patricia's petition, asserting that, because Patricia was challenging the legitimacy of the minor children, she would have a conflict representing Remano's estate.

         In January 2017, the administrator ad litem of Remano's estate filed a complaint in the interpleader action, seeking a judgment declaring that the Campbell children and J.H.S. were Remano's heirs and thus were entitled to the life-insurance proceeds. The circuit court, at the administrator ad litem's request, appointed Chouinard, the guardian ad litem for the minor children in the probate court, as the guardian ad litem for the minor children in the circuit court.

         In February 2017, the probate court issued letters of administration to Frank H. Kruse, the general administrator of Mobile County ("the administrator"), who intervened in the interpleader action and petitioned the circuit court to appoint a separate guardian ad litem for J.H.S. and, following a hearing, to enter an order determining the heirs of the estate. The circuit court appointed Mary Carol Ladd as the guardian ad litem for J.H.S.

         In June 2017, the administration of Remano's estate was removed from the probate court to the circuit court, where it was consolidated with the interpleader action.[4]

          In July 2017, Patricia petitioned the circuit court, pursuant to the Alabama Uniform Parentage Act, § 26-17-101 et seq., Ala. Code 1975 ("the AUPA"), for an order establishing the paternity of the Campbell children and J.H.S. After conducting a hearing, the circuit court entered an order adjudicating the Campbell children and J.H.S. to be Remano's heirs and further finding that Patricia lacked standing to challenge the paternity of the children.[5] Accordingly, the circuit court ordered disbursement of the insurance proceeds in the interpleader action and directed that the estate administration be remanded to the probate court. Patricia filed a postjudgment motion, which was denied. This appeal followed.

         II. Standard of Review

"To the extent the circuit court made factual findings based on oral testimony, those factual findings are entitled to deference by this Court under the ore tenus standard of review. Under that standard, '"we must accept as true the facts found by the trial court if there is substantial evidence to support the trial court's findings."' Allsopp v. Bolding, 86 So.3d 952, 959 (Ala. 2011) (quoting Beasley v. Mellon Fin. Servs. Corp., 569 So.2d 389, 393 (Ala. 1990)). This standard is based on a recognition of the trial court's unique position of being able to evaluate the credibility of witnesses and to assign weight to their testimony. See, e.g., Justice v. Arab Lumber & Supply, Inc., 533 So.2d 538, 543 (Ala. 1988). The deference owed a trial court under the ore tenus standard of review, however, does not extend to the trial court's decisions on questions of law. Appellate review of questions of law, as well as whether the trial court has properly applied that law to a given set of facts, is de novo. See, e.g., Ex parte Graham, 702 So.2d 1215, 1221 (Ala. 1997)."

Wehle v. Bradley, 195 So.3d 928, 934 (Ala. 2015).

         III. Analysis

         We begin our analysis with the Campbell children, who were born during Remano and Eugenia's marriage. As indicated, the circuit court concluded that Patricia lacked standing under the AUPA to challenge the paternity of those children. The AUPA addresses judicial determinations of paternity in general and excepts from its scope matters concerning legitimation and adoption.[6] See § 26-17-103, Ala. Code 1975. See also Clemons v. Howard, 124 So.3d 738, 746 (Ala. Civ. App. 2013)(holding that the AUPA also excepts from its scope § 43-8-48(2)b., Ala. Code 1975, a part of the Uniform Probate Code, providing that, "'[i]f, for purposes of intestate succession, a relationship of parent and child must be established to determine succession by, through, or from a person[, ]' a child born out of wedlock is the child of the father if '[t]he paternity is established by an adjudication before the death of the father or is established thereafter by clear and convincing proof'"(emphasis omitted)).

         In this case, it is undisputed that the Campbell children were not adopted or born out of wedlock; thus, any issue concerning their paternity can be resolved by applying the applicable provisions of the AUPA. Specifically, because the Campbell children were born during the legal marriage of Remano and their mother, they are entitled to the presumption of paternity stated in § 26-17-204(a)(1), Ala. Code 1975, a part of the AUPA. Section 26-17-204(a)(1) provides that "[a] man is presumed to be the father of a child if ... he and the mother of the child are married to each other and the child is born during the marriage." The presumption of paternity established by § 26-17-204(a)(1) may be rebutted in an appropriate action by clear and convincing evidence. See § 26-17-601 et seq., Ala. Code 1975. Section 26-17-602, Ala. Code 1975, identifies a broad range of individuals and agencies who have standing to bring a paternity action, including in § 26-17-602(7) "any interested person." Patricia asserts that, because she is a potential heir of Remano's estate, she has standing to challenge the paternity of the Campbell children. Although § ...


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