CYNTHIA LOU HORTON AND ANTHONY BRYCE BREWER, AS SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF PRENTICE BYARS YOUNG APPELLANTS/CROSS APPELLEES
DEBORAH ANN MITCHELL APPELLEE/CROSS APPELLANT
FROM THE MARION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 45CV-12-74]
HONORABLE JOHN R. PUTMAN, JUDGE
& Taylor Law Firm, P.A., by: Andrew M. Taylor and Tasha
C. Taylor, for appellants.
House, Downing & Lueken, P.A., by: Matthew R. House, for
J. GLADWIN, JUDGE
appeal stems from a dispute between three siblings over the
management and distribution of their mother's trust.
Deborah Mitchell (Deb), sued her siblings, Cynthia Horton
(Cindy) and Prentice Young (Butch), and Cindy and Butch filed
a counterclaim against Deb. Deb ultimately prevailed.
Thereafter, the circuit court awarded Deb attorney's fees
and later held Cindy in contempt of court for failing to
comply with its orders. Butch had died by the time the
contempt proceedings were held, and Bryce Brewer was
appointed as special administrator of Butch's
estate. Cindy and Butch appeal the circuit
court's judgment, the order awarding attorney's fees,
and the contempt finding against Cindy. Deb cross-appeals,
challenging a posttrial ruling wherein the circuit court
refused to void a mortgage on certain property that Cindy and
Butch had given to their lawyer. We affirm on direct appeal
and on cross-appeal.
Rena Byars Mitchell Revocable Trust (the Trust) was
established by Rena Byars Mitchell in June 2005. Pursuant to
the Trust, Rena, a widow with three living children- Deb,
Cindy, and Butch-served as the initial trustee.
Cindy, and Butch have been estranged for years. Their
strained relationship is apparent throughout this litigation.
Deb generally claims that Butch and Cindy, who lived on the
same property as Rena until Rena's death, abused drugs
and mistreated Rena during her life, while Butch and Cindy
accuse Deb of being absent from their mother's life.
health problems, Rena resigned as trustee of the Trust in
April 2008. The Trust delineated that on her resignation,
Butch, Cindy, and Deb would be appointed as cotrustees and
serve by majority agreement. This allowed two of the three
siblings, Butch and Cindy, authority to make decisions on
behalf of the Trust without Deb's approval.
Rena's resignation, Deb petitioned for guardianship of
Rena's estate and person, and Butch and Cindy petitioned
to become coguardians of Rena's estate and person.
Ultimately, Butch and Deb were appointed as coguardians.
Cindy admitted to long-term methamphetamine use at the
guardianship hearing. Later, Butch resigned after refusing to
submit to a drug test, and Deb became Rena's sole
2012, Rena died. Shortly after Rena's death, Deb filed a
complaint and then an amended complaint relating to
administration of the Trust and alleged the misappropriation
of Trust funds by Cindy and Butch. She made claims against
Cindy and Butch for breach of trust, breach of fiduciary
duty, conversion, fraud, breach of contract, civil action by
a crime victim, tortious interference, unjust enrichment,
removal of trustees, imposition of constructive trust and
equitable lien, and injunction. Generally, Deb claims that
Butch and Cindy used their powers as cotrustees to pay
themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the Trust
for which Deb contends there was little or no justification
or supporting documentation. Butch and Cindy counterclaimed
and alleged that Deb breached her duties as cotrustee.
three-day jury trial was held on July 27, 28, and 30, 2015.
At the conclusion of the trial, the jury rendered a verdict
in favor of Deb. The jury found Butch liable to Deb on behalf
of the Trust for $420, 000 in compensatory damages and $630,
000 in punitive damages and found Cindy liable for $205, 000
in compensatory damages and $310, 000 in punitive damages.
The jury also rejected Butch and Cindy's counterclaim.
This left pending several equitable claims to be decided by
the circuit court. After the jury was released, counsel for
Deb mentioned that he was concerned about the resolution of
Deb's pending injunction claim because, until it was
decided, Butch and Cindy could theoretically clean out the
Trust account. The court responded by saying there would be
no action on the Trust over the weekend and directed the
parties to promptly prepare a judgment for its approval.
than two months passed, and on October 5, 2015, a judgment
memorializing the jury's verdict was entered. That same
day, the circuit court entered a decree addressing many of
Deb's equitable claims. The decree included language that
"in the event" Butch and Cindy "have withdrawn
any money from the trust or disposed of any trust property,
they are given ten (10) days from the date this decree is
filed . . . to return said funds or property to the
Butch and Cindy filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding
the verdict and a motion for new trial or remittitur. Deb
responded, and the circuit court denied the motions. Butch
and Cindy filed a notice of appeal of the judgment and the
denial of their posttrial motions. Later, a judgment for
prejudgment interest was entered, and Butch and Cindy filed
an amended notice of appeal to include this order. Finally,
the circuit court entered an order awarding attorney's
fees and costs to Deb, and Butch and Cindy timely appealed
record on appeal was filed in our court. However, the appeal
was dismissed without prejudice due to lack of finality.
There were several pending claims that had not been resolved.
The case was remanded to the circuit court, and the circuit
court administratively dismissed the unresolved claims. Butch
and Cindy timely appealed.
circuit court also held a contempt hearing based on a motion
filed by Deb. Deb claimed that Cindy and Butch had violated
the circuit court's July 2015 oral order not to engage in
any Trust transactions over the weekend following the jury
trial. She also claimed that Cindy and Butch had violated the
circuit court's decree, which required them to return any
funds or property they may have withdrawn from or disposed of
from the Trust. Also, in the contempt motion, Deb sought to
have a mortgage on Trust property that Cindy and Butch
executed in favor of their attorney as payment for his
attorney's fees declared null and void. Shortly after Deb
filed the motion, Butch died, and Bryce Brewer was appointed
as special administrator of his estate.
contempt hearing, Deb proceeded against only Cindy since
Butch had died. The circuit court held Cindy in contempt and
ordered her to reimburse the Trust for $41, 054.32 that she
and Butch had taken in violation of the court's posttrial
orders. The circuit court denied Deb's request to cancel
the mortgage Butch and Cindy executed in favor of their
attorney. Butch and Cindy timely appealed from the contempt
order, and Deb cross-appealed.
Cindy and Butch filed a motion to modify the judgment, and
Deb filed a motion for reconsideration of the contempt order.
Both motions were deemed denied, and the parties timely filed
a final notice of appeal and cross-appeal.
appeal, our court must decide several issues. On direct
appeal, Cindy and Butch contend (1) the doctrine of laches
barred Deb's claims, (2) the language of the Trust barred
Deb's claims, (3) the jury verdict contained a
mathematical error, (4) the punitive-damages award should be
reversed, (5) the award of attorney's fees should be
reversed, and (6) the finding of contempt against Cindy
should be reversed. On cross-appeal, Deb contends the circuit
court erred when it declined to rule that Butch and
Cindy's mortgage of the trust property should be canceled