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Pepper v. Whitehead

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 9, 2015

Estate of Nell G. Pepper, by the administrator for both Estates, Norma Deeble; Estate of Sterling Gary Pepper, by the administrator for both Estates, Norma Deeble, Plaintiffs - Appellants
v.
Nancy Pease Whitehead; Pease Family Partnership, Defendants - Appellees

Submitted December 10, 2014

Page 857

Appeal from United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa - Des Moines.

For Estate of Nell G. Pepper, by the administrator for both Estates, Norma Deeble, Estate of Sterling Gary Pepper, by the administrator for both Estates, Norma Deeble, Plaintiffs - Appellants: Matthew Grant Sease, Kemp & Sease, Des Moines, IA.

For Nancy Pease Whitehead, Pease Family Partnership, Defendants - Appellees: Joan M. Fletcher, Fred Richard Lyford, Patrick E. Shanahan, Dickinson & Mackaman, Des Moines, IA; Dennis C. Waldon, Lavin & Waldon, Chicago, IL.

Before WOLLMAN, COLLOTON, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 858

WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

Before us once again is the controversy regarding the ownership of the collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia amassed by the late Sterling Gary Pepper, Jr.

In Estate of Pepper v. Whitehead, 686 F.3d 658 (8th Cir. 2012), we set forth at length the factual and procedural background of this litigation, reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment, and remanded the case for further proceedings. What follows here is a summary of the factual and procedural history set forth in our earlier opinion and an account of the evidence presented at the trial that was held on remand.

Sterling Gary Pepper, Jr. (Gary) owned an extensive collection of Elvis Presley (Elvis) memorabilia. When he moved into a nursing home in 1978, he told Nancy Pease Whitehead (Nancy) to " keep it." Gary died two years later. Nancy and her sister maintained the collection until 2009, when the Pease Family Partnership (the Partnership) put it up for auction, at which it sold on October 19, 2009, for more than $250,000.

The Estate of Nell G. Pepper and the Estate of Sterling Gary Pepper (the Estates) filed suit, alleging that Gary retained ownership of the collection and that his ownership interest passed to his heirs upon his death. Following a four-day trial, a jury found that Gary had made a conditional gift to Nancy. Accordingly, when Gary died, Nancy's ownership interest was no longer subject to Gary's reversionary interest, thus entitling the Partnership to the proceeds of the auction. The Estates appeal, arguing that the evidence did not establish a conditional gift and that the district court[1] should have granted their motion for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, their motion for a new trial. We affirm.

I.

We state the facts in the light most favorable to the verdict. Structural Polymer Grp., Ltd. v. Zoltek Corp., 543 F.3d 987, 991 (8th Cir. 2008) (standard of review).

Gary was born on May 5, 1931. He lived in a modest two-bedroom bungalow with his parents in Memphis, Tennessee. Gary suffered from cerebral palsy and needed assistance with everyday tasks, including eating and walking. His mother, Nell Lucas Pepper (Nell), cared for Gary during his younger years. By all accounts, Gary was an ambitious person. He started a newspaper-clipping service when he was a teenager and later served as president of an Elvis fan club and as a correspondent to other Elvis fan clubs.

Through his clipping service, Gary met Elvis, and the two became friends. During an October 1960 interview, Elvis said, " When I'm back in Memphis, Gary is with me almost every night. We go out and see the town and have a big old time. He was the first one to greet me at the train when I got back from the Army." A photograph accompanying the article shows Elvis, who was dressed in costume for his movie Flaming Star, standing next to Gary, who was seated in a wheelchair and grinning ...


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