ILNews

Man wasn't competent to sign contract

Jennifer Nelson
July 28, 2009
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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a neighbor of a mentally ill man shouldn't have been able to purchase the man's farm because the man was incompetent when he signed the sales contract.

In James Nichols v. Estate of Ernest M Tyler,  No. 45A04-0811-CV-640, the appellate court determined the trial court didn't err when it concluded Ernest Tyler was incompetent in February 2005 to convey his farm nor did it err by determining James Nichols failed to rebut the presumption of undue influence over Tyler with regard to the real property transfer.

Tyler had a history of mental illness and was in and out of hospitals his entire life. He could answer simple questions but never carried on a conversation. Tyler lived with a brother on a farm near Nichols. Once the brother died, Tyler's family asked Nichols to look after him.

As a result of a check scam, Nichols brought Tyler to Nichols' attorney and had Tyler sign a durable power of attorney appointing Nichols as his attorney in fact, which allowed Nichols to deal with the bank directly regarding the scam. The attorney also helped Tyler form a revocable living trust and transferred the farm and farmhouse to the trust. Nichols was the trustee. Tyler then signed a contract, which sold the property in the trust to Nichols. Nichols agreed to pay Tyler $200 a month until Tyler's death. Tyler's family knew nothing about the check scam, trust, or real estate sale. The attorney was unaware of Tyler's mental health history.

The family became concerned after they discovered Nichols held the only key to Tyler's home, Tyler lived in filth, and Nichols controlled Tyler's mail and phone line. He prevented family members from visiting unannounced and videotaped their meetings with Tyler. A doctor evaluated Tyler and found he had Alzheimer's disease, but couldn't say whether he was competent when he signed the contract. Family members eventually gained guardianship over Tyler, who died several months later.

At the trial challenging the contract of sale, the court found Tyler was incompetent at all times, he had an extensive history of mental illness, the doctor who examined him testified Tyler was incompetent at the time he entered into the agreements at issue, and Nichols' undue influence resulted in Tyler deeding his property to a trust and selling it to Nichols.

The trial court didn't err in finding Tyler was mentally incompetent when he signed the contract of sale, wrote Judge Elaine Brown. The Court of Appeals refused to reweigh the evidence as to the doctor's testimony. The trial court found the doctor's expert opinion was sound, she wrote. The Court of Appeals also rejected Nichols' argument that Tyler's competency should be compared to the standards for competency to stand trial in criminal cases because the standard to be used in the instant case is like that in making a will, she wrote. The evidence shows prior to and after making the contract, Tyler had a lack of mental capacity based on his history of hospitalization and his poor living conditions and hygiene.

Nichols also failed to rebut the presumption of undue influence of Tyler. Undue influence can be proven by circumstantial evidence, which there was enough of in the instant case for the trial court to find he unduly influenced Tyler into selling his property for inadequate consideration. Nichols isn't a credible witness and many of his arguments were merely an invitation to reweigh the evidence, which the appellate court cannot do, wrote the judge.

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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