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Who Has the Burden of Proof to Establish the “Unsound Mind” Exception to the Statute of Limitations

In the recent case of Rodney Draughon v. Joycie Johnson, the Texas Supreme Court determined who would bear the burden of proof to negate the “unsound mind” tolling of the statute of limitations for a quiet title lawsuit. A “quiet title” suit is a lawsuit to establish legal title to real property.

The Court summarized the case as this: “In this quiet title action, a person who alleges a mental incapacity seeks to prevent his aunt from evicting him from property he inherited, contending that a deed to the aunt he had signed years earlier is void due to his lack of capacity. The aunt moved for traditional summary judgment based on the statute of limitations, and the nephew invoked the unsound-mind tolling statute. The question before us is whether the aunt had the burden to negate unsound-mind tolling in order to conclusively establish her affirmative defense and obtain summary judgment.”

In 2018, Ms. Johnson filed an eviction petition against Mr. Draughon to evict him from the house where he was living. The Justice of the Peace ordered him to vacate. Mr. Draughon filed a declaratory judgment seeking to quiet title to the property. He claimed he owned the property by inheritance. Ms. Johnson however introduced a 2006 warranty deed that he had signed that conveyed the property to Ms. Johnson. Mr. Draughon claimed he did not have the mental capacity at the time to sign the deed and that Ms. Johnson was aware of his incapacity, so the deed was invalid.

Since the deed was recorded over 11 years before the declaratory judgment suit was filed, Ms. Johnson claimed that the four-year statute of limitations barred the claim that the deed was invalid due to mental capacity. Mr. Draughon responded with the affidavits of a medical professional and several laypeople who all swore to his incapacity in 2006.

The Court determined that, in the context of summary judgment, once Mr. Draughon had asserted the claim of incapacity as a response to the statute of limitations defense, it was the burden of the party opposing that response to negate the proof of incapacity. specifically,the Court held: “In this case, Johnson moved for traditional summary judgment on limitations and Draughon
raised the unsound-mind tolling statute. Johnson therefore had the burden to ‘conclusively negate’ Draughon’s assertion of mental incapacity. … Because Johnson offered no evidence regarding Draughon’s soundness of mind, she failed to carry her burden, and the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s order granting her summary judgment