Appellate Court Held That It Did Not Have Jurisdiction Over A Probate Court’s Order Denying A Motion For Summary Judgment And Motion To Vacate Appointment Of A Successor Administrator
In Janine v. McAfee, parties fought over who should be the administrator of an estate. No. 01-20-00717-CV, 2021 Tex. App. LEXIS 10101 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] December 23, 2021, no pet. history). A man and woman divorced in 1983 and executed a post-divorce settlement agreement that purported to divide their assets. The man died in 1997, and his sister was his executor. The woman died in 2011, and her daughter became the executor of her estate. The daughter filed suit on behalf of the woman’s estate regarding the ownership of certain assets. The sister of the man was elderly, and her daughter became the successor administrator of his estate. Then the man’s granddaughter intervened in the man’s estate and filed a motion to vacate the appointment of executrix’s daughter as successor administrator and filed a no-evidence motion for summary judgment, alleging that she should be appointed the successor administrator. The trial court denied both motions, and an appeal followed.
The court of appeals held that it did not have jurisdiction over either order. Regarding jurisdiction, the court held:
Probate proceedings, however, present “an exception to the ‘one final judgment’ rule[.]” “[I]n such cases, ‘multiple judgments final for purposes of appeal can be rendered on certain discrete issues.'” This exception reflects the necessity of reviewing “‘controlling, intermediate decisions before an error can harm later phases of the proceeding[.]'” The Texas Supreme Court in De Ayala v. Mackie, 193 S.W.3d 575, 578 (Tex. 2006) reaffirmed the test for finality of orders in probate proceedings first adopted in Crowson v. Wakeham, 897 S.W.2d 779, 783 (Tex. 1995). The Court in De Ayala explained: “If there is an express statute, such as the one for the complete heirship judgment, declaring the phase of the probate proceedings to be final and appealable, that statute controls. Otherwise, if there is a proceeding of which the order in question may logically be considered a part, but one or more pleadings also part of that proceeding raise issues or parties not disposed of, then the probate order is interlocutory.”
Id. Regarding the summary judgment motion, the court held that the denial of the motion did not dispose of an issue:
The probate court ultimately held Alma “[had] raised genuine issues of material fact and that Contestant, Natalie Janine Garnes’s No-Evidence Summary Judgment Motion should be denied.” Thus, because the probate court held genuine issues of material fact exist, the issue concerning Natalie’s qualification to serve as independent administratrix of Carl’s estate has not been finally adjudicated. Indeed, there is no indication in the record that the probate court has ruled on Natalie’s Application to Appoint.
Regarding the motion to vacate, the court similarly held that the order did not dispose of an issue:
While the probate court’s denial of Natalie’s Motion to Vacate means Alma cannot be removed due to any alleged lack of notice, a question remains over whether Alma should be removed and Natalie appointed in her place based on Natalie’s claim she has a superior right to be appointed as successor dependent administratrix of Carl’s estate under Sections 304.001 and 361.103 of the Texas Estates Code and Alma’s contention Natalie is unsuitable to serve, an issue that was not resolved by the probate court’s ruling on Natalie’s Motion for Summary Judgment.