Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Rufus G. King III, Trial Judge)
Before Ferren,* Acting Chief Judge, and Farrell, Associate Judge, and Gallagher, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gallagher
GALLAGHER, Senior Judge: Appellant (a grandson) brought an action to set aside his grandfather's transfers of real and personal property to his son (appellee) on grounds that his grandfather lacked the necessary mental capacity to transfer his realty and personalty and that these transfers resulted from undue influence by his son (appellee). At the end of the grandson's case, *fn1 the trial court concluded that there was no evidence to support his claims that his grandfather lacked the mental capacity to convey the real property and that the transfer resulted from undue influence by the son (appellee). The trial court then entered a directed verdict in favor of the son as to the grandfather's conveyance of realty, but allowed the jury to determine whether the grandfather had made a gift to his son with respect to funds initially deposited into joint bank accounts. The jury rendered its verdict in favor of the grandson, but it was then overturned by the trial court which granted the son's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Appellant here contests the foregoing trial court's rulings. We affirm the trial court's directed verdict as to the conveyance of realty, but reverse the trial court's entry of judgment notwithstanding the verdict with respect to the gift of funds initially deposited in the joint bank accounts.
In May of 1987, Harold Jewett, an 89-year old retired patent lawyer and widower, executed a will which divided his estate equally between Eugene Jewett, his son (appellee), and Bolten Uckele, his grandson (appellant). By December of that same year, however, Harold Jewett had transferred the bulk of his savings to joint bank accounts with his son, Eugene Jewett, as a joint signatory, Eugene subsequently withdrew the funds from these joint bank accounts and invested the money in joint stock accounts naming himself and his father, Harold Jewett, as co-owners. *fn2 In October of 1988, Mr. Jewett executed a deed which transferred ownership of his residence on 42nd Street, Northwest in the District, to his son. After Harold Jewett's death in February 1990, appellant Bolten Uckele (the grandson) filed a complaint against Eugene Jewett (the son) in the Superior Court alleging fraudulent transfer of the real and personal property and seeking to quiet title on the real property.
At trial, appellant's evidence in contesting the transfers consisted of the testimony of family members who had visited Harold Jewett. Leslie Jewett, Eugene Jewett's ex-wife, testified that after Harold Jewett recovered from an illness in late 1985, he exhibited signs of short term memory loss and had difficulty recognizing his relatives. She also stated that in 1986, Mr. Jewett was unconcerned about the cleanliness of either himself or the household which was described as being "infested with roaches." Fletcher and Lyon Jewett, Eugene Jewett's sons, also testified about Harold Jewett's failure to recognize family members and the general uncleanliness of his house. Fletcher further stated that on one occasion, appellee Eugene Jewett previously indicated that he resented sharing Eunice Jewett's (Harold Jewett's wife's) estate with Uckele and vowed that it would not happen again. Fletcher and Lyon also testified that appellee did not have a close "father and son" relationship with Harold Jewett. Ms. Lily O'Dell, a housekeeper who was hired in February of 1986, testified that at one time, Mr. Jewett initially refused to accept the delivery of his own carpets and drapes which had been sent to the dry-cleaners. She stated that he finally accepted the drapes and carpets. Ms. O'Dell indicated that her last visit with Harold Jewett was in January of 1987.
In opposition, Dr. Joel Guiterman, who had performed a physical examination of Harold Jewett on September 20, 1989, testified that Mr. Jewett's responses to the mental status portion *fn3 of the exam were appropriate. Kip and Scott Shuda, two tenants who had lived with Harold Jewett from August 1989 to May 1990, stated that Mr. Jewett had no problem recognizing them and that he had a good rapport with appellee. In addition to this testimony, Eugene Jewett stated that his father gave him the house as well as the funds deposited into the joint bank accounts. There was also evidence demonstrating that Harold Jewett had managed his personal finances *fn4 and handled his medical affairs *fn5 at the time he conveyed his property to appellee.
At the close of plaintiff's case, defense counsel for Eugene Jewett filed a motion for directed verdict on the ground that there was no evidence to establish a prima facie case of either mental incapacity or undue influence. In granting this motion, the trial court stated:
The question is could a jury on this evidence soundly conclude or reasonably conclude that . . . Jewett lacked capacity to make these gifts in 1987 and '88.
The evidence in brief put on by the plaintiff is that he lived in filthy conditions, that he was not attentive to his health in the sense of making sure that the roaches stayed out of his food. That he had difficulty recognizing his grandchildren.
There is no evidence put on by the that [Harold Jewett] was unable to . . . recognize the nature and extent of his property. . . . evidence is completely overwhelmed in the Court's view by the evidence that he in fact was paying bills, negotiating with the District over disputed bills, tax bills, keeping track of minor amounts of money, making detailed notes . . . . Even in '88, and I believe some of the notes bore dates in '89, there was no indication in any of them that he lacked the ability to recognize the nature and extent of his property or to determine the natural beneficiaries of his bounty and make decisions about what he was going to do.
And so as to the capacity, that is, the ability to make a gift or a conveyance, if he chose, I find that there isn't sufficient evidence in this record, even construing the evidence as a whole, looking at the evidence as a whole from a vantage point most favorable to the plaintiff, for a jury to reasonably conclude that . . . Jewett lacked the capacity to make the gifts. It just isn't there. *fn6
At the Conclusion of all the evidence, however, the trial court submitted the case to the jury to determine the remaining issue of whether Harold Jewett had made a gift to his son with respect to the funds initially deposited in the joint bank accounts. *fn7 The jury found that Harold Jewett did not make a gift of these funds to his son. Eugene Jewett then moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. This motion was granted by the trial court. In granting the motion, the trial court explained that the evidence establishing a gift was ...