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Hodge v. Waggoner

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 27, 2018

JIMMIE HODGE, as Guardian, for and on behalf of PAUL R. WELCH, an incapacitated person, Interpleader/Defendant-Cross Claimant-Appellant,
v.
KATHY WAGGONER and TERESA VITEK, Co-Personal Representatives of the Estate of BARBARA SUE CHITWOOD, deceased, Interpleader/Defendants-Cross Defendants-Respondents.

          Appeal from the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Twin Falls County. Hon. Randy J. Stoker, District Judge.

         District court grant of summary judgment, affirmed.

          Randslaw, PLLC, Twin Falls, for appellant. Kirk A. Melton argued.

          Williams, Meservy & Lothspeich, LLP, Jerome, for respondents. John B. Lothspeich argued.

          BURDICK, CHIEF JUSTICE.

         The estate of Paul Robert Welch (Welch) appeals the Twin Falls County district court's grant of summary judgment to the estate of Barbara Sue Chitwood (Chitwood). Chitwood was murdered in August 2015, at which time a dispute arose over ownership of funds Chitwood and Welch held at Farmers Bank in two bank accounts designated as "JOINT - WITH SURVIVORSHIP (and not as tenants in common or community property)[.]" Farmers Bank interpled the funds with the district court and initiated this action to resolve the dispute. Law enforcement's investigation into Chitwood's death led to Welch being charged with murdering Chitwood. Accordingly, in the interpleader action, Chitwood asserted Idaho's slayer statute, Idaho Code section 15-2-803, precluded Welch from taking the funds.

         The district court ruled on summary judgment that the funds went to Chitwood, concluding Chitwood's slayer statute defense was dispositive. Welch appeals the district court's ruling concerning the funds. We affirm.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Welch's wife, Lillian, died in December 2012. Lillian and Welch never divorced, but they separated several years before Lillian died. Indeed, in 2005, Welch began cohabiting with Chitwood, with whom Welch had an intimate relationship. Chitwood and Welch never had a ceremonial marriage, but they cohabited and dated until Chitwood's death in August 2015.

         During Lillian and Welch's marriage, they maintained a joint checking account at Farmers Bank. The checking account was designated "JOINT - WITH SURVIVORSHIP (and not as tenants in common)[.]" In July 2012, Welch opened a savings account with Farmers Bank. He designated the savings account as a "pay-on-death" account and identified Chitwood as the beneficiary in the event of Welch's death.

         After Lillian's death in December 2012, Welch modified the checking and savings accounts (collectively, the Joint Accounts). He first modified the savings account. Specifically, in January 2013, Welch added Chitwood to the savings account and changed the designation from "pay-on-death" to "JOINT - WITH SURVIVORSHIP (and not as tenants in common or community property)[.]" Six months later, in June 2013, Welch modified the checking account by removing Lillian and adding Chitwood as a joint-account holder. Welch did not otherwise change the checking account, leaving in place the "JOINT - WITH SURVIVORSHIP" designation that had been in place from when Welch held the account with Lillian. Though Chitwood was designated as a joint-account holder, Welch contributed 100% of the Joint Accounts' funds.

         Chitwood was murdered on August 21, 2015, at the home where she resided with Welch. Detective Rick Van Vooren investigated the murder. In doing so, Van Vooren interviewed Welch. Welch "initially claimed that two intruders came into the home seeking to rape [Chitwood] and demanded money." Welch, however, "eventually confessed to shooting Chitwood twice in the head with the .22 pistol located in the master bedroom of the residence." Welch then "shot himself in the face with the .22 pistol" and was admitted to the hospital. Welch confirmed that "his statements of intruders was [sic] untrue." Ultimately, based on Welch's confession and "the evidence adduced from [Van Vooren's] investigation, [Van Vooren] concluded that Paul Welch murdered Barbara Sue Chitwood." Thereafter, Welch was indicted for first-degree murder.

         Shortly after Chitwood died, her children claimed ownership of the funds in the Joint Accounts-then totaling over $130, 000. Farmers Bank placed a hold on the Joint Accounts and initiated this interpleader action to determine ownership of the funds. Chitwood answered the interpleader complaint by alleging, as her first and only affirmative defense, that Welch "is not entitled to the joint accounts' proceeds identified in the Farmers Bank Complaint because of Idaho Code Section 15-2-803[, ]" which is Idaho's "slayer statute." Welch, by contrast, answered the interpleader complaint by alleging that the slayer statute did not apply. Neither party requested a jury trial.

         Welch first moved for summary judgment in November 2015, arguing he owned 100% of the Joint Accounts and the slayer statute did not cause him to forfeit his property. The district court disagreed, concluding that triable questions of fact surrounded whether the slayer statute precluded Welch from taking the Joint Accounts.

         Welch filed a renewed motion for summary judgment in June 2017. Again, Welch argued he owned 100% of the Joint Accounts and the slayer statute did not cause him to forfeit his property. The district court again disagreed and, this time, granted summary judgment to Chitwood as the non-movant. The district court specifically held that the slayer statute precluded Welch from taking the Joint Accounts and, as such, awarded the Joint Accounts to Chitwood.[1]Welch timely appeals the grant of summary judgment to Chitwood concerning ownership of the Joint Accounts.[2]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court has explained that, when it reviews a summary judgment on appeal,

it does so under the same standards employed by the district court. "The fact that the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment does not change the applicable standard of review, and this Court must evaluate each party's motion on its own merits." Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Idaho R. Civ. P. 56(c).[3] Where the case will be tried without a jury, "the trial court as the trier of fact is entitled to arrive at the most probable inferences based upon the undisputed evidence properly before it and grant the summary judgment despite the possibility of conflicting inferences." This Court freely reviews the entire record that was before the district court to determine whether either side was entitled to judgment as a matter of law and whether inferences drawn by the district court are reasonably supported by the record.

Borley v. Smith, 149 Idaho 171, 176-77, 233 P.3d 102, 107-08 (2010) (citations omitted).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Welch appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to Chitwood, as the non-moving party, concerning the Joint Accounts. "This Court has determined '[s]ummary judgment may be rendered for any party, not just the moving party, on any or all the causes of action involved, under the rule of civil procedure,' thus allowing trial courts flexibility in determining the form of relief granted in summary judgment orders." Harwood v. Talbert, 136 Idaho 672, 677, 39 P.3d 612, 617 (2001) (citations omitted). "The party against whom the judgment will be entered must be given adequate advance notice and an opportunity to demonstrate why summary judgment should not be entered."[4] Id. at 678, 39 P.3d at 618 (quoting Idaho Endowment Fund Inv. Bd. v. Crane, 135 Idaho 667, 671, 23 P.3d 129, 133 (2001)). "In instances where summary judgment is granted to the non-moving party, this Court liberally construes the record in favor of the party against whom summary judgment was entered." Id. at 677-78, 39 P.3d at 617-18.

         Welch asserts the district court erred in two primary ways: (1) by finding that Welch was a "slayer" under the slayer statute; and (2) by ...


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