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Hill v. Durrett

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

March 19, 2019

REBECCA HILL, Personal Representative of the Estate of CARLYLE HERBERT HILL, III, Plaintiff,
v.
LINDA DURRETT, Defendant.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 15 January 2019.

          Appeal by defendant from order entered 9 November 2017 by Judge Kimberly Best-Staton in Mecklenburg County No. 17 CVD 1275 District Court.

          The Law Office of William L. Sitton, Jr., by William L. Sitton, Jr., for plaintiff-appellee.

          Plumides, Romano, Johnson & Cacheris, P.C., by Richard B. Johnson, for defendant-appellant.

          DAVIS, JUDGE.

         In this appeal, we consider the validity of an order granting a party's motion for summary judgment on a claim to annul a marriage. Rebecca Hill ("Plaintiff"), in her capacity as the personal representative of the estate of Carlyle Herbert Hill, III ("Hill"), sought to annul Hill's marriage to Linda Durrett, arguing that the marriage was invalid because the officiant - a minister ordained by the Universal Life Church - was not legally authorized to perform a wedding ceremony in North Carolina. Because North Carolina law does not permit a judgment of annulment to be entered by means of a summary judgment, we vacate the trial court's order.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Hill and Durrett took part in a wedding ceremony on 6 June 2015. The ceremony was officiated by Deborah Plante, who had received a Certificate of Ministry from the Universal Life Church on 20 July 2008. The parties separated on 17 August 2016.

         One day after the separation, Hill filed a complaint in Mecklenburg County District Court asserting claims for divorce from bed and board and equitable distribution. The complaint alleged that the parties were married on 6 June 2015. On 24 January 2017, however, Hill filed an amended complaint requesting an annulment of the marriage. In this complaint, he asserted that his marriage to Durrett was, in fact, void ab initio because Plante "is not a magistrate, an ordained minister in a religious denomination or a minister authorized to perform weddings." Based on this assertion, the complaint alleged that Hill was entitled to an annulment under North Carolina law.

         Hill died on 29 April 2017. Plaintiff was substituted as a party to the action by means of a consent order entered by the trial court on 14 July 2017.

         On 27 September 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion captioned "Plaintiff's Motion For Summary Judgment." The motion stated as follows:

NOW COMES PLAINTIFF, through the undersigned, who respectfully moves the court for an order granting an absolute divorce by summary judgment under Rule 56 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure because the pleadings, affidavits and exhibits of record in this action show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and plaintiff is entitled to judgment granting an annulment and declaring the marriage of Carlyle Herbert Hill, III and Linda Durrett void ab initio.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully requests that the Court enter summary judgment granting an annulment and grant to Plaintiff such other relief as seems just and proper.

         Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment was heard before the Honorable Kimberly Best-Staton on 26 October 2017. After hearing arguments from counsel with regard to an evidentiary matter, the trial court asked the attorneys for both parties whether live testimony would be received concerning the request for an annulment. The following exchange occurred:

[THE COURT]: Am I anticipating any type of -- I'm assuming I'm -- there should -- there's going to be testimony. Yes?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Correct.
[THE COURT]: All right. If I could have everyone who may testify, if you could stand, place your left hand on the Bible and raise your right.
[PLAINTIFF'S COUNSEL]: Your ...

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