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O'Neal v. O'Neal

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

July 5, 2017

BARBARA G. O'NEAL, by and through G. Elvin Small, III, Guardian of the Estate of Barbara G. O'Neal, Plaintiff,
v.
PAMELA SUE O'NEAL; PAMELA SUE O'NEAL, as Trustee of Barbara O'Neal Land Trust; PAMELA SUE O'NEAL, as Trustee of Barbara O'Neal Farm Land Trust; PAMELA SUE O'NEAL, as Trustee of Barbara O'Neal Barco Land Trust; BARBARA O'NEAL LAND TRUST; BARBARA O'NEAL FARM LAND TRUST; BARBARA O'NEAL BARCO LAND TRUST; and LORI ANN CHAPPELLE, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 1 May 2017.

         Appeal by defendants from order entered 8 August 2016 by Judge Walter H. Godwin in Currituck County Superior Court. No. 16 CVS 110

          G. Elvin Small, III, for plaintiff-appellee.

          John M. Kirby for defendants-appellants. [1]

          ZACHARY, Judge.

         Barbara G. O'Neal was adjudicated incompetent and defendant Pamela Sue O'Neal was appointed as Barbara's general guardian. Pamela was later removed from that position. An attorney was then appointed guardian of Barbara's estate, and the Currituck County Department of Social Services was appointed guardian of Barbara's person. Shortly before Pamela was removed as Barbara's guardian, Barbara executed a power of attorney appointing Pamela as her attorney-in-fact. Acting as Barbara's attorney-in-fact, Pamela executed three deeds transferring real property owned by Barbara to different land trusts. The guardian of Barbara's estate revoked the power of attorney. Barbara, by and through the guardian of her estate (plaintiff), [2] then brought an action to have the power of attorney and the deeds declared void. After plaintiff filed her complaint and defendants filed their answer, the superior court entered an order granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of plaintiff. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the superior court's order.

         I. Background

         Pamela is the granddaughter of Barbara. In July 2011, Pamela filed a petition to have Barbara, who was seventy-nine years old at the time, adjudicated incompetent. The petition stated, inter alia, that Barbara suffered from "a long history of prescription substance abuse[, ]" that she had been transferred "to Currituck House Assisted Living, " and that she suffered from "[m]ajor [d]epression with chronic anxiety, seizure disorder, memory loss, hypothyroidism[, ] and diabetes." Pamela also alleged that Barbara lacked the capacity to handle her financial affairs or to "resist attempts of financial exploitation" by others. As a result, the Currituck County Clerk of Superior Court entered an order on 17 August 2011, which adjudicated Barbara incompetent, retaining no rights or privileges. The order also appointed Pamela as Barbara's general guardian.

         Four years later, the clerk revoked Pamela's letters of general guardianship in an order entered 12 October 2015. The clerk found that, as "the sole heir at law of Barbara O'Neal[, ]" Pamela had a "private interest in [Barbara's estate, ]" and that "this private interest might tend to hinder or be adverse to Pamela O'Neal in the carrying out of her duties as General Guardian[.]" However, on 10 October 2015, two days before the clerk's revocation order was entered, Barbara executed a durable power of attorney appointing Pamela as her attorney-in-fact. The power of attorney was recorded in the Office of the Currituck County Register of Deeds on 30 October 2015. That same day, two quitclaim deeds were executed by Pamela as attorney-in-fact for Barbara. The first deed conveyed certain real property owned by Barbara to the "Barbara O'Neal Land Trust[, ]" and the second deed conveyed a 13.10-acre parcel owned by Barbara to the "Barbara O'Neal Farm Land Trust[.]" On 10 November 2015, Pamela, as attorney-in-fact for Barbara, executed a quitclaim deed conveying Barbara's interest in a 87-acre parcel to the "Barbara O'Neal Barco Land Trust." Pamela was named trustee of all the aforementioned land trusts. All three deeds were recorded in the Office of the Currituck County Register of Deeds.

         On 18 November 2015, attorney G. Elvin Small, III was appointed the guardian of Barbara's estate. Acting on behalf of Barbara, Small revoked the October 2015 power of attorney executed in favor of Pamela. Pamela then procured Barbara's signature on a second power of attorney on 4 December 2015, again naming Pamela as Barbara's attorney-in-fact. The second power of attorney, which was also revoked by Small, was not used to conduct any transactions on Barbara's behalf.

         On 1 April 2016, Small, as guardian of Barbara's estate, instituted the present action in Currituck County Superior Court seeking, inter alia, a judgment declaring both of Pamela's powers of attorney as well as the 30 October 2015 and the 10 November 2015 deeds to be null and void. In her answer to plaintiff's complaint, Pamela admitted that Barbara had been adjudicated incompetent on 17 August 2011, and that Barbara's competence had not been restored. In June 2016, plaintiff filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.

         A hearing was conducted by Judge Walter H. Godwin, who entered an order granting plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The superior court's order, filed 8 August 2016, provided that the two powers of attorney executed by Barbara appointing Pamela as attorney-in-fact were void ab initio, as were the three deeds that Pamela executed as Barbara's attorney-in-fact in October and November 2015. The superior court ruled that these instruments were void because they were "executed by Barbara G. O'Neal, a person who was adjudicated incompetent on August 18, 2011, and whose legal competency has not been restored, or they . . . were executed on her behalf by the attorney in fact named in a power of attorney executed by said incompetent person." Pamela and the other named defendants appeal from the superior court's order granting judgment on the pleadings in favor of plaintiff.

         II. Standard of Review

         This Court reviews a trial court's ruling on a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings de novo. Toomer v. Branch Banking & Trust Co., 171 N.C.App. 58, 66, 614 S.E.2d 328, 335 (2005). Because "[j]udgments on the pleadings are disfavored in law, . . . the trial court must view the facts and permissible inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Groves v. Community Hous. Corp., 144 N.C.App. 79, 87, 548 S.E.2d 535, 540 (2001) (citation omitted). Even so, judgment on the pleadings "is appropriate when all the material allegations ...


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