State Supreme Court Reverses Verdict That Invalidated Marriage And Will

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Tennessee Supreme Court has sent a Hamblen County case back to chancery court for a retrial, after ruling that certain evidence regarding a will and a widow’s real estate holding was improperly admitted.

A jury verdict invalidated the marriage of Raymond Smallman and Linda Caraway, which occurred shortly before Mr. Smallman’s death, and his purported will offered for probate by Ms. Caraway.

In 2006, Mr. Smallman and Ms. Caraway met, began dating, and decided to marry, planning a June 2008 wedding.  In Spring 2008, Mr. Smallman was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, and the wedding plans were cancelled. Mr. Smallman’s radiation therapy and chemotherapy were unsuccessful and his health declined rapidly. In April 2009, Mr. Smallman executed a will at his attorney’s office, naming Ms. Caraway primary beneficiary of his estate valued at over a million dollars. Ms. Caraway moved into Mr. Smallman’s residence and took care of him as his health worsened.  On June 24, 2009, Mr. Smallman and Ms. Caraway were married at Mr. Smallman’s home. Mr. Smallman died of cancer 13 days later.

Ms. Caraway filed a petition as Mr. Smallman’s widow seeking to have his will admitted to probate.  Mr. Smallman’s two sons by an earlier marriage filed a declaratory judgment action asking the trial court to declare the marriage void and to find that Mr. Smallman died intestate.  The Smallman sons alleged that the marriage and the will were invalid because their father lacked the mental capacity to marry or execute a will, and because of Ms. Caraway’s undue influence and fraud.  At the trial, the court allowed the jury to hear evidence regarding the will of Ms. Caraway’s late mother, and of the value and extent of Ms. Caraway’s real estate holdings. The jury found for the Smallman sons on all issues, and the trial court invalidated the marriage and ruled that Mr. Smallman died intestate.

On Tuesday, the Tennessee Supreme Court in an opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee ruled that the evidence regarding Ms. Caraway’s real estate holdings and her mother’s will was irrelevant and prejudicial, and that the error in allowing the jury to hear it probably affected the verdict.  The court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for a new jury trial. 

To read the In Re Estate of Raymond L. Smallman opinion authored by Justice Sharon G. Lee and the separate concurring/dissenting opinion authored by Justice William C. Koch, Jr., visit the opinion section of 

Latest Hamilton County Jail Booking Report

Here is the latest jail booking report from Hamilton County: BARRERA, JAVIER ZAVALA  2715 WOODSIDE STREET CHATTANOOGA, 37407  Age at Arrest: 38 years old Arresting Agency: Chattanooga ASSAULT --- BROWNFIELD, STEVEN DERRICK  185 AZALEA AVE DAYTON, 37321  Age at Arrest: 32 years old Arresting Agency: Hamilton County THEFT OF PROPERTY UNDER ... (click for more)

Residents Concerned Over 7-Story Building On The Southside

Downtown Chattanooga residents expressed their concerns with the proposed seven-story apartment building on Cowart Street on the Southside at Tuesday night’s City Council Meeting. The apartment building, originally zoned at four stories before Belle Investment petitioned for seven, has not been adequately publicized, residents claimed.   Architect and planning professional ... (click for more)

An Extra Helping Of Gratitude

After being thankful for the grace of God, my family and good health, this year I have an extra helping of gratitude to live in a special place called Chattanooga.   We endured the trauma of terrorism on July 16 and emerged more united and stronger than ever before.  We claim our heritage and celebrate our diversity like no other city in America.  We honor our ... (click for more)

Why I Am Thankful, 2015

I can’t really remember when I first started this – sometime in the 1970s – but my favorite column every year comes during Thanksgiving when I literally pause and use my fingers to thank God for all His richest blessings. The year 2015 has been bountiful so here are just a few of the things I will carry in my heart as I take my place at today’s table: I AM THANKFUL that tomorrow, ... (click for more)

UTC Rallies to Top Arkansas State, 55-54

Just call ‘em the comeback kids, and kids – i.e. young ladies – who are plenty thankful for a win on Thanksgiving Eve. For the second time in three games, the UTC Mocs (4-2) rallied for a win as they handed previously unbeaten Arkansas State (3-1), 55-54, its first loss of the young season in McKenzie Arena Wednesday night before 1,189 fans. Down by as many as 17 (44-27) ... (click for more)

Jones Thankful For Resiliency, Resolve Of 2015 Vols

The day before families gather around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving, Tennessee football coach   spoke about what he and the Vols are thankful for. "It's a time to reflect and we have so much to be thankful and grateful for in really the resiliency and resolve that this football team has shown, the growing of this football team and the growing of this football program," ... (click for more)