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Prigmore v. Mantooth

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

December 31, 2019

ANAHID PRIGMORE, Appellant
v.
TINA S. MANTOOTH, Appellees

          On Appeal from the Probate Court No. 4 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 449332

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Lloyd, and Kelly.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Peter Kelly, Justice.

         This is a probate proceeding concerning the estate of Vahak A. Khoikan. Appellant Anahid Prigmore is Khoikan's sister. Appellee Tina S. Mantooth was Khoikan's common-law wife, and she is the mother of Khoikan's only child, J.K., a minor. Mantooth argues that this court lacks jurisdiction over this appeal because the notice of appeal was untimely filed. We agree, and we dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

         Background and Procedural History

         Vahak Khoikan died intestate on May 24, 2016, leaving an estate worth approximately $10 million. He was survived by his common-law wife, Mantooth; his son, J.K.; and his sister, Prigmore. Mantooth filed an application for determination of heirship and for letters of administration. The trial court appointed an attorney ad litem to represent the interest of any heirs who were unknown or under a legal disability, including J.K.

         Prigmore filed a cross-application for letters of administration, seeking to be appointed administrator of the estate and asserting that, as J.K.'s paternal aunt, she was a person "interested" in his welfare. See Tex. Est. Code § 22.018. Prigmore also filed an answer in "the interest of the decedent's minor son and for his protection as the sole heir" of Khoikan's estate. She specifically denied that Mantooth was Khoikan's spouse, but she admitted that J.K. was Khoikan's son and that she had no pecuniary interest in her brother's estate.

         Mantooth filed a motion in limine challenging Prigmore's standing. She argued that Prigmore is not her brother's legal heir and that Prigmore was not otherwise an "interested person" because she did not represent J.K. in any capacity and she had no pecuniary interest in the estate or in J.K.'s welfare. On April 6, 2018, the trial court granted Mantooth's motion, dismissed Prigmore's cross-application for letters of administration, and struck Prigmore's pleadings from the record.

         Also on April 6, the trial court signed: (1) a judgment declaring heirship and finding that Mantooth is Khoikan's surviving spouse and J.K. is his son; (2) an order approving a family settlement agreement and mutual release and appointing a permanent dependent administrator; (3) an order setting aside J.K.'s house as his homestead and ordering that it may not be used to satisfy any debts of the estate; (4) an order denying Prigmore's motion for discovery via subpoenas; and (5) an order denying Prigmore's motion for genetic testing of J.K.[1] On April 19, 2018, the trial court withdrew the April 6, 2018 judgment declaring heirship in order to correct an error, and it signed a new judgment declaring heirship. On May 4, 2018, Prigmore filed a motion for new trial, which was denied on May 15, 2018. On July 31, 2018, Prigmore filed a notice of appeal.

         In her brief, Prigmore asserts that she is appealing from all the orders signed on April 6, 2018, as well as the April 19, 2018 judgment declaring heirship and the May 15, 2018 denial of her motion for new trial. In her brief, Prigmore argues that there is a disputed question of fact about whether Mantooth was Khoikan's common-law wife. Prigmore also argues that the trial court erred by holding that she lacked standing, and by "holding categorically that a blood relative without a pecuniary interest lacks standing" under section 22.018 of the Texas Estates Code.

         Jurisdiction

         Mantooth asserts that this court lacks jurisdiction because the notice of appeal was untimely filed. In particular, Mantooth argues that the April 6, 2018 order granting the motion in limine, dismissing Prigmore's claims, and striking her pleadings was a final order for the purpose of appeal and that the July 31 notice of appeal was untimely. We agree.

         Ordinarily, appeals may be taken only from final judgments. Lehmann v. Har Con Corp., 39 S.W.3d 191, 195 (Tex. 2001). "Probate proceedings are an exception to the 'one final judgment' rule; in such cases, 'multiple judgments final for purposes of appeal can be rendered on certain discrete issues.'" De Ayala v. Mackie, 193 S.W.3d 575, 578 (Tex. 2006) (quoting Lehmann, 39 S.W.3d at 192). Because not every interlocutory order in a probate case is appealable, the Texas Supreme Court has adopted the following test for determining finality:

If there is an express statute, such as the one for the complete heirship judgment, declaring the phase of the probate proceedings to be final and appealable, that statute controls. Otherwise, if there is a proceeding of which the order in question may logically be considered a part, but one or more pleadings also part of that proceeding ...

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