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Cox v. Parrish

Supreme Court of Alabama

June 21, 2019

Perry Eugene Cox, Jr.
v.
Jennie Jo Cox Parrish, Debra Cox McCurdy, and Shirley Cox Wise, as coexecutors of the Estate of Perry Eugene Cox, Sr.

          Appeal from Shelby Circuit Court (CV-16-900052)

          MITCHELL, Justice.

         This is an estate-administration case that is only partially before us. Perry Eugene Cox, Jr. ("Cox"), appeals a judgment made final by the Shelby Circuit Court ("the trial court") under Rule 54(b), Ala. R. Civ. P. Specifically, the trial court held that Cox's counterclaim against his sisters, Jennie Jo Cox Parrish, Debra Cox McCurdy, and Shirley Cox Wise, as coexecutors of the estate of their father, Perry Eugene Cox, Sr. ("the decedent"), was time-barred by Alabama's nonclaims statute, § 43-2-350, Ala. Code 1975 ("the nonclaims statute"). The trial court dismissed Cox's counterclaim and certified its judgment as final and appealable. Cox appealed. Because the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying its dismissal of Cox's counterclaim under Rule 54(b), no final judgment exists and we lack jurisdiction to decide this appeal. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Cox, the decedent, and Richard H. McCurdy formed Country Hills Estate, a general partnership ("the partnership"), in 1986.[1] In doing so, the partners executed a written partnership agreement. McCurdy withdrew as a partner shortly after the partnership was formed, leaving only Cox and the decedent as partners. Although the partnership acquired various assets such as livestock, vehicles, buildings, equipment, and real property through the years, its principal asset was approximately 260 acres of real estate in Shelby County ("the farm").

         The decedent died testate on March 22, 2013, and the Shelby Probate Court issued letters testamentary on April 18, 2013. On January 19, 2016, after removing the probate action to the trial court, the coexecutors of the decedent's estate sued Cox, seeking, among other things, a judgment declaring 1) that the partnership was dissolved by operation of law in 1999; 2) that the partnership agreement became void in 1999 upon the dissolution of the partnership; 3) that Cox is estopped from claiming any interest in the partnership, the farm, or any partnership assets based on positions Cox took in prior judicial proceedings; 4) that the farm is an asset of the estate, not the partnership; 5) that the estate holds title to the farm; 6) that any partnership assets remaining at the decedent's death are assets of the estate; and 7) that ownership of those assets is vested with the estate.[2] Cox answered the complaint and filed a counterclaim on February 25, 2016, asking the trial court to require the coexecutors to convey to Cox the decedent's partnership interest at book value pursuant to a buyout provision contained in the partnership agreement. The coexecutors subsequently filed a motion for a partial summary judgment on the dissolution of the partnership and the ownership of the partnership assets, including the farm.

         The trial court, in ruling on the coexecutors' motion for a partial summary judgment, dismissed Cox's counterclaim, holding that the partnership was dissolved in 1999 by operation of law and that at that time the partnership agreement became void.[3] The trial court, however, also granted Cox leave to amend his counterclaim. On March 13, 2017, Cox filed an amended counterclaim alleging that, regardless of whether the partnership was dissolved by operation of law in 1999, the partnership was subsequently revived, or, in the alternative, a new partnership was formed between Cox and the decedent following the dissolution of the original partnership, or, in the further alternative, dissolution of the partnership had been waived by the decedent. Based on these theories, Cox asked for a judgment declaring that he was entitled to 62.5% of the assets of the purported partnership.

         The coexecutors moved for a judgment on the pleadings as to Cox's amended counterclaim, arguing that the counterclaim was barred by the nonclaims statute.[4] The trial court agreed and accordingly entered a judgment for the coexecutors as to Cox's counterclaim. In the introduction to its order granting the coexecutors' motion for a judgment on the pleadings, the trial court stated that the coexecutors were "entitled to judgment as a matter of law in their favor on" their declaratory-judgment count concerning the partnership and its assets and on their count seeking to eject Cox from the farm. The body of the order, however, discussed only whether the nonclaims statute barred Cox's counterclaim and did not address any of the coexecutors' claims. In the conclusion of its order, the trial court, among other things: 1) granted the coexecutors' motion for a judgment on the pleadings, which requested a judgment only as to Cox's counterclaim; 2) dismissed Cox's counterclaim; and 3) certified its judgment as final under Rule 54(b). The coexecutors' declaratory-judgment claim and their additional claims remain pending in the trial court.

         Standard of Review

         In Centennial Assocs. v. Guthrie, 20 So.3d 1277, 1279 (Ala. 2009), this Court explained the appropriate standard for reviewing a Rule 54(b) certification:

"'If a trial court certifies a judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), an appeal will generally lie from that judgment.' Baugus v. City of Florence, 968 So.2d 529, 531 (Ala. 2007).
"Although the order made the basis of the Rule 54(b) certification disposes of the entire claim against Guthrie [the defendant], thus satisfying the requirements of Rule 54(b) dealing with eligibility for consideration as a final judgment, there remains the additional requirement that there be no just reason for delay. A trial court's conclusion to that effect is subject to review by this Court to determine whether the trial court exceeded its discretion in so concluding."

Discussion

         No party contests this Court's jurisdiction to decide this appeal. This Court is not limited, however, by the parties' jurisdictional arguments or the lack thereof. See Crutcher v. Williams, 12 So.3d 631, 635 (Ala. 2008); Reynolds v. Colonial Bank, 874 So.2d 497, 503 (Ala. 2003). The question of whether an order or judgment ...


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