Court of Appeals of Texas, Seventh District, Amarillo
ESTATE OF GUS W. RIEFLER, DECEASED
Appeal from the County Court at Law Cooke County,
Texas Trial Court Nos. PR17203, PR17203-1,
PR17203-2, Honorable John H. Morris, Presiding
QUINN, C.J., and PIRTLE and PARKER, JJ.
C. Parker Justice
Ayers, in his capacity as the Guardian of Mary Theresa Ayers,
appeals from the trial court's order approving a
settlement agreement arising during mediation and from the
court's final judgment giving effect to that settlement.
We will affirm.
and Procedural Background
Riefler, Jr., died on November 10, 2014, leaving a will which
bequeathed his entire estate to Pauline Riefler, his wife of
fifty-plus years. Pauline had predeceased him in January of
2014. The will named no contingent beneficiary, resulting in
Riefler had no biological children. He was survived by a
sister, Mary Theresa Ayers, and by Pauline's daughter,
Claudia Jonas ("Claudia"), who had been raised in
Riefler's household since the age of five. He was also
survived by two nieces and a nephew, the children of his
sister Nellie Nelson, who had predeceased him.
filed an application for letters of independent
administration and an application for determination of
heirship (Cause No. PR17203), and a petition alleging that
she was the child and sole heir of Gus W. Riefler, Jr.,
pursuant to the doctrine of adoption by estoppel (Cause No.
PR17203-1) in the County Court at Law of Cooke County, Texas.
Claudia sought to have her son, Danny Joe Jonas, Jr.,
appointed as independent administrator.
Ayers, husband of Mary Theresa Ayers and acting in his
capacity as her guardian, answered, specially excepting to
Claudia's pleadings and denying her status as
Riefler's heir. Ayers then filed his own application to
declare heirship, seeking to have himself appointed as
independent administrator (Cause No. PR17203-2). Ayers
attached to his pleadings an "Order Proving Authority to
Act in Pending Litigation" from the Dallas County
Probate Court, in which the guardianship proceeding involving
Mary Theresa Ayers was pending. The order provided that Ayers
was "approved to act on behalf of Mary Theresa Ayers in
all those legal proceedings currently pending in Cooke County
involving the estate of Gus W. Riefler, Jr." The order
also stated, "The Court further ORDERS that any
settlement of the above matter be submitted to this Court for
review before disposition of the Cooke County
died on January 8, 2016. A suggestion of death was filed
identifying her four children as her heirs and requesting
that they be substituted in her place in the pending actions.
In response, Ayers filed motions to dismiss. Various other
pleadings were filed, but they are not relevant to this
April 7, 2016, and before the trial court had ruled on any
matters, the parties attended mediation. Those parties were
Danny Joe Jonas, Jr., Jonathan Paul Jonas, William Clifford
Jonas, and Jeremy Matthew Jonas (the four children of Claudia
Jonas); Paula Jackson, Anita Hawley, and James Timothy
Nelson (Riefler's nieces and nephew through
his sister Nellie); and Ronald Ayers, Guardian of Mary
Theresa Ayers. Ronald Brian Ayers, son of Mary Theresa and
Ronald Ayers, also attended mediation. All parties except for
Jackson and Hawley, both of whom supported the Jonas
family's claims, were represented by counsel at
mediation lasted for approximately ten hours and was
facilitated by former statutory probate judge Nikki DeShazo.
At the conclusion of the mediation, a settlement was reached
which was executed by all the parties. The parties signed
both a "Rule 11 & Settlement Agreement" and a
"Compromise Family Settlement Agreement and Mutual
Release Arising During Mediation." Both agreements
referenced all three pending causes.
other things, the parties agreed to consent to a judgment
declaring Claudia Jonas as the child and sole heir-at-law of
Riefler, to the appointment of Danny Joe Jonas, Jr., as
Independent Administrator of Riefler's estate, and to the
distribution of estate property. With regards to
distribution, the agreement provided that Ayers, as Guardian
of Mary Theresa Ayers, and James Timothy Nelson would receive
$440, 000.00, and that the Jonas brothers would receive the
rest and remainder of Riefler's estate (approximately
20, 2016, Danny Joe Jonas, Jr., filed the two agreements in
all three cause numbers, along with an application requesting
that the trial court approve them. Ayers filed an objection
to the application, raising three grounds: first, he
contended that he was under the influence of prescription
medication when he signed the agreements; second, he alleged
that approval of the settlement agreement by the Dallas
County Probate Court was necessary before the County Court at
Law of Cooke County could approve it, and that "he will
not request" such approval; and third, he claimed that
he was misled as to the value of estate assets.
filed amended objections on June 9, 2016. He again alleged
that approval from the Dallas County Probate Court was
required, stating, "this Court should take no action
until the mediation agreement is reviewed and approved by
Dallas Probate Court." He also claimed that none of the
Jonas brothers "have legally qualified as heirs of
Claudia Jonas" and therefore they had no authority to
proceed in the case. Ayers reiterated his objections based on
alleged fraud and medical impairment.
16, 2016, the Jonas brothers, individually and as heirs of
Claudia Jonas, filed an amended petition in Cause No.
PR17203-1. The brothers requested a finding that Claudia was
Riefler's child under the doctrine of adoption by
estoppel and entitled to a share of his estate, or, in the
alternative, that Ayers breached the settlement agreement of
April 7, entitling them to specific performance or damages.
trial court held a hearing on the application to approve the
settlement and the objections to the application on June 21,
2016. All parties were present. On June 24, the court signed
an order approving the agreement. Danny Joe Jonas, Jr., filed
a motion for entry of judgment. The trial court heard that
motion on July 8, at the hearing to appoint Danny Joe Jonas,
Jr., as Independent Administrator. Ayers was not present at
the July 8 hearing. The trial court entered a final judgment
in Cause No. PR17203-1 on July 8, 2016, and Danny Joe Jonas,
Jr., was appointed and qualified as Independent
same day, Ayers filed a response objecting to the entry of
judgment. He argued that the agreement required the approval
of the Dallas County Probate Court before the trial court
could approve the settlement. He maintained, "This has
not been accomplished as agreed by the parties and therefore
the Order of June 24, 2016 is premature." Ayers again
urged that he was misled and that he was under the influence
of medication which impaired him at the mediation. Ayers also
filed an objection and motion to vacate judgment on the
grounds that he did not receive notice of the July 8 hearing.
Joe Jonas, Jr., filed objections to Ayers's motion to
vacate the final judgment and a reply to Ayers's response
to the motion for entry of judgment. He also filed a motion
to dismiss Ayers's application to declare heirship and
for appointment of independent administrator in Cause No.
trial court set Ayers's objection and motion to vacate
final judgment for hearing, which was held on July 25.
Following the hearing, on August 2, the court denied
Ayers's request to vacate the judgment and entered a
final judgment in all three causes. In its final judgment,
the court accepted and gave full effect to the agreements
signed by the parties at mediation.
filed this appeal. He appeals the trial court's June 24
order approving the Rule 11 & Settlement Agreement, the
July 8 final judgment in Cause No. PR17203-1, and ...