Texas Supreme Court Orders and Opinion (3/18/16)

Posted by Rich PhillipsIn its weekly order list issued on March 18, 2016, the Texas Supreme Court issued one per curiam opinion. The Court did not grant any new petitions.The per curiam opinion was issued in No. 14-0406, Stevens v. Beard (which was consolidated with No. 14-0407, also styled Stevens v. Beard). The two cases arose from disputes about the construction of the wills of Vencie Beard and Melba Beard, a married couple. Mr. Beard shot and killed Mrs. Beard and then took his own life. Their wills both contained an identical provision providing for certain distributions to be made if both spouses died ” in a common disaster or under circumstances making it impossible to determine which of us died first.” The executor of both estates sought a declaratory judgment that the Beards did not die in a “common disaster.” The trial court disagreed and found that they did die in a common disaster. The court of appeals affirmed. In a per curiam opinion, the Supreme Court reversed and rendered judgment that they did not die in a “common disaster.” The Supreme Court noted that the phrase “common disaster” has a well-established legal meaning, which includes the inability to determine which spouse died first. Because it was undisputed that Mrs. Beard died before Mr. Beard, the Court held that they did not die in a common disaster as the term was used in the wills.