Jerald Lamar Harbin, Special Fiduciary of the Franklin N. Harbin and Edna F. Harbin Living Trust, Appellant,
Susan H. Williams, George T. Williams, Citifinancial Inc., and CFNA Receivables (SC) Inc., Defendants, Of whom Susan H. Williams is the Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2017-001924
Submitted October 1, 2019
From Greenwood County Donald B. Hocker, Circuit Court Judge.
Charles M. Watson, Jr., of Greenwood, for Appellant.
J. Jackson, of Clinton, for Respondent.
declaratory judgment action, Jerald Lamar Harbin, Special
Fiduciary of the Franklin N. Harbin and Edna F. Harbin Living
Trust, appeals the circuit court's denial of his motion
for a directed verdict on the issue of a co-settlor's
authority to transfer property from a trust to Susan H.
Williams. Jerald argues the trial court erred in (1) denying
his motion for a directed verdict; (2) submitting the issue
of a co-settlor's authority to the jury; and (3) denying
his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. We
January 16, 2000, Franklin N. and Edna F. Harbin created the
Franklin N. Harbin and Edna F. Harbin Living Trust (the
Trust). The same day, Franklin conveyed a farm on Old Laurens
Highway and the property at issue, the Harbins' home at
313 Lakeshore Drive (the home property), to the Trust.
Trust named Franklin and Edna as settlors of the Trust.
Article 2 of the Trust provided, "The Settlors shall act
as Trustees during their lives. Upon the death or incapacity
of either Settlor, the other Settlor shall act as Trustee
alone." Article 3 provided, "While both Settlors
are living, either may: (1) withdraw property from this Trust
. . . ." Article 4 provided for the Trust property to be
divided equally among the children of the Trustees
"[u]pon the death of both Settlors."
March 31, 2000, Franklin and Edna conveyed the farm from the
Trust to their son, Stephen Harbin. Franklin died on June 23,
2000. On November 30, 2005, Edna, acting as Trustee, conveyed
the home property to herself for life with the remainder to
her daughter, Susan Williams. On January 10, 2008, Edna and
Susan mortgaged the home property. Edna died on March 21,
Harbin was appointed Special Fiduciary of the Trust and filed
this action seeking a declaration that the home property was
part of the Trust. Jerald relied on Article 3, arguing it
required both settlors to be alive to withdraw property from
the Trust. Susan answered, demanding a jury trial.
pretrial hearing, Jerald agreed to a jury trial. Susan argued
the Trust was ambiguous. The trial court found there was
"no ambiguity in the Trust document. But, even if I were
to find an ambiguity, it would be a patent ambiguity and no
extrinsic evidence is allowed . . . ." The court stated
that although the Trust was subject to different
interpretations as to whether Edna had the authority to
transfer the home property, it was not "the same thing
as ambiguity," and the question of Edna's authority
was for the jury. Jerald argued, "[I]n light of your
rulings, there is nothing to submit to the jury." The
court disagreed. At trial, James Johnson, an attorney,
testified he represented Franklin and Edna. He reviewed the
Trust in 2000 and learned Susan and her husband were living
with and taking care of Franklin and Edna in the home
property. Johnson met with Franklin, Edna, and Susan to
discuss the home property. However, the deed transferring the
home property to Susan was not executed until 2005, after
close of all evidence, Jerald moved for a directed verdict on
the ground there was no genuine issue of material fact, and
he was entitled to a directed verdict as a matter of law. The
court found "the Trust document itself does create an
issue in (sic) fact." Thus, the court denied the motion.
The court charged the jury that the sole issue before it was
to determine whether Edna had the authority under the Trust
to transfer the home property. The jury found Edna had the
authority under the Trust to deed the property. This appeal