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In re Estate of Mooney

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

August 20, 2019


          On Appeal from the Probate Court No 1 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 458, 180

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Higley, and Landau.


          Evelyn V. Keyes Justice

         In this probate dispute, appellee Charles Achord sought to admit the will of his mother, Carolyn F. Mooney, to probate and to be named independent administrator of her estate. Appellant, Dan Reardon, intervened and sought a declaratory judgment that he and Mooney had been informally married since 1997. Achord moved for summary judgment, arguing that, regardless of whether an informal, or "common-law," marriage between Mooney and Reardon had existed, Reardon had settled, waived, or released any claim he may have had to Mooney's property due to an "Agreement Dissolving Partnership" that Mooney and Reardon had entered into in 2005. The trial court rendered summary judgment in favor of Achord and dismissed Reardon's petition in intervention.

         In two issues, Reardon argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because (1) Achord's summary judgment motion did not address Reardon's claim of an informal marriage to Mooney; and (2) the "Agreement Dissolving Partnership" only addressed any interest Reardon may have had in Mooney's property, but it did not address his interest in their community property resulting from their informal marriage, and therefore the Agreement could not serve as the basis for summary judgment.

         We affirm.


         Carolyn F. Mooney died on May 23, 2017, at the age of 71. The day after she passed away, her only son, Charles Achord, filed an application to probate her will, executed on July 27, 2009, and to be appointed independent executor of her estate. Achord alleged in the application that Mooney was not married at the time of her death and that no marriage involving Mooney was dissolved after the date of her will. Mooney's will included the following statement under a heading entitled "Identity of the Family": "At the time of the execution of this Will I am not married, however, I have a companion whose name is DAN REARDON and I have one child whose name is CHARLES W. ACHORD." Mooney devised her entire estate to Achord, with the provision that if Achord did not survive her, $40, 000 would go to Reardon and the remainder of her estate would go to a man named Jeffrey Witt.

         On June 16, 2017, before the trial court admitted the will to probate, Reardon filed a petition in intervention. Reardon alleged that, although they had never formally married, he was Mooney's surviving spouse. He alleged that he met Mooney in 1997, that they quickly began a personal relationship, that "shortly thereafter" they agreed to be married, and that they "constantly held each other out as married" until Mooney's death. Reardon also alleged that he and Mooney had started a trucking business together, CFM Trucking, Inc., and both of them were listed as signatories on the company's bank account. According to Reardon, he and Achord did not get along, and Achord caused trouble in Reardon's relationship with Mooney, leading to a brief separation. Reardon alleged that he and Mooney "quickly reunited" and they did not get divorced, although Mooney did remove Reardon as a signatory on the company's bank account. Reardon sought declarations from the trial court that (1) he informally married Mooney in 1997; (2) he was Mooney's husband at the time of her death; and (3) he was entitled to one-half of his and Mooney's community estate. Reardon also sought the imposition of a constructive trust over the assets that constituted his portion of the community estate.

         In a separate filing, Reardon objected to the appointment of Achord as the independent executor. Reardon alleged that Achord had been "hostile" to him since before Mooney's death, that, following Mooney's death, Achord had disconnected at least one utility at the home Reardon and Mooney had shared, and that Achord denied that Reardon had an interest in Mooney's estate. He argued, "[Achord] would be an unsuitable executor of [Mooney's] will until such time as the merits of [Reardon's] assertion of his interest in [Mooney's] estate as her common-law spouse are decided."

         Achord moved to strike Reardon's petition in intervention, arguing that Reardon lacked standing to intervene in the administration of Mooney's estate because he was not an "interested person" in the estate and had no justiciable interest in the proceedings. In this pleading, Achord acknowledged that Mooney and Reardon had had a personal relationship, but he alleged that Mooney had never considered herself to be married to Reardon. He attached several exhibits, including deeds, deeds of trust, the July 27, 2009 will, and federal income tax returns in which Mooney referred to herself as a "single woman" or as "single."

         Achord also attached a document entitled "Agreement Dissolving Partnership" (the Agreement) that was dated April 22, 2005, and was signed by both Mooney and Reardon. The Agreement stated, in relevant part:


Carolyn Faye Mooney, a single woman and as CFM Trucking Inc., referred to in this agreement as the First Partner, and Dan Reardon, a single man, referred to in this agreement as the Second Partner, agree to follows:
Alleged Partnership
1.01. Alleged First Partner [Mooney], residing at [Mooney's address], and CFM Trucking Inc. is a corporation wholly owned by Carol[yn] Faye Mooney and operating under the laws of the State of Texas, with [its] principal place of business being Harris County Texas and alleged Second Partner [Reardon], residing in Harris County Texas[, ] have been since 1999 and now are alleged Partners both personally and professionally in all joint business dealings either under the name of Carolyn Faye [Mooney] and or CFM Trucking Inc. Even though[] there were no and is no business relationship in existence between the parties, the alleged First Partner Carolyn Faye Mooney both individually and as President of CFM Trucking, Inc. recognize[s] that there was a personal relationship with alleged [S]econd Partner that was a benefit to her and her Corporation CFM Trucking, Inc. In order to fairly compensate the Second Partner for his efforts that benefitted Carolyn Faye Mooney as well as CFM Trucking, Inc. the First Partner (Grantee) is voluntarily entering into this agreement with the Second Partner (Grantor) and in return the Second Partner for the Consideration, Grantor quitclaims to Grantee all of Grantor's right, title, and interest in and to any Property of the First alleged Partner Carolyn Faye Mooney and CFM Trucking, Inc including but not limited to stock, trucks, real estate, bank accounts, accounts receivables to have and to hold it to Grantee and Grantee's heirs, successors, and assigns forever. Neither Grantor nor Grantor's heirs, successors, or assigns will have, claim, or demand any right or title to the Property or any part of it.

         Mooney and Reardon agreed to dissolve the alleged partnership, effective April 15, 2005, and Mooney agreed to pay Reardon $100, 000 and to transfer title to three vehicles to him. The Agreement stated, "This Agreement shall be binding on and inure to the benefit of the parties and their respective heirs, executors, administrators, legal representatives, successors, and assigns when permitted by this Agreement." The Agreement also included a provision stating that it "supersedes any prior understandings or written or oral agreements between the parties respecting the subject matter of this Agreement." Both Mooney and Reardon signed the Agreement, and underneath the blanks for their respective signatures, the Agreement stated, "CAROLYN FAYE MOONEY, a single woman, individually And as President of CFM Trucking, Inc.," and "DAN REARDON, a single man."

         The trial court denied Achord's motion to strike Reardon's petition in intervention.

         On September 5, 2017, Achord answered Reardon's petition in intervention, specifically denying Reardon's allegation that he had been Mooney's common-law spouse. He also asserted the affirmative defenses of "compromise and settlement" and "release/waiver," stating, "Regardless of whether any marriage may have existed, [Reardon] compromised and settled any claims he may have to Carolyn's estate in the 'Agreement Dissolving Partnership' dated April 22, 2005 . . . ." Achord also sought a declaration from the trial court that (1) no marriage, whether formal or informal, existed between Reardon and Mooney, and (2) regardless of whether a marriage existed, Reardon "compromised and settled any claims he may have to any part of Carolyn's estate in the 'Agreement Dissolving Partnership' dated April 22, 2005, which was made binding upon [Reardon] and inured to [Achord's] benefit."

         A. Summary Judgment Proceedings

         Achord then moved for traditional summary judgment. The motion stated:

         The scope of the motion relates to the following:

A. [Achord's] affirmative defense of compromise and ...

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