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 TNCourts.gov. 


Warrants Taken For Girl, 16, After Woman Stabbed Twice During Altercation On Woodside Street

Warrants have been taken for the arrest of a 16-year-old girl after Heidi Swafford, 19, was stabbed twice in an altercation outside a house on Woodside Street on Tuesday afternoon. Warrants were issued against the juvenile for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault. The Chattanooga Police Department was notified by a local hospital that a female had arrived ... (click for more)

TDOT Road Worker Killed While Flagging Traffic

A Tennessee Department of Transportation worker was fatally injured Wednesday along State Route 54 near US 412 in Crockett County. James “Pee Wee” Hopkins, an operations technician, was flagging traffic around a maintenance crew when he was struck by an oncoming vehicle. No other TDOT workers were injured. The crash is under investigation. Mr. Hopkins, 63, had been with ... (click for more)

Judge Steelman Was Unfairly Criticized In Handling Of School Bus Driver Rape Case - And Response

We are blessed to have freedom of speech in our society, but I am always amazed at the number of folks who voice such strong antagonistic opinions about things without any apparent first-hand knowledge.   As any who wish to criticize the system should know, people get arrested and charged for criminal offenses every day.  The ultimate charge and penalty which results ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Our Horses Vs. DesJarlais

It is well-known that shortly after the despicable “Big Lick” faction of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry put on a very-pointed fundraiser for the equally repugnant Congressman Scott DesJarlais (R-Jasper) two years ago, the misguided doctor has repeatedly tried to bully and strong-arm the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the behalf of the vermin who sadistically torture the ... (click for more)

Williams Hired To Lead Restart Of Owls Boys' Basketball

Jay Williams has been hired as Ooltewah’s head boys’ basketball coach, a program rocked by a rape scandal last December that eventually led Hamilton County School officials to disband the varsity team and cancel more than half its schedule. Williams, who has strong ties to Ooltewah High School, previously coached at LaFayette School and Northwest Whitfield high schools in Northwest ... (click for more)

TSSAA Sets Future Division I, Division II Classifications

The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Board of Control has released the minutes from Wednesday’s meeting in Hermitage pertaining to football classification period for the 2017-18 and run through 2020-2021 1.  Roll Call 2.  Division I and Division II Classification The Board of Control voted the following for the classification period that ... (click for more)