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Davis v. Stern, Agee & Leach, Inc.

Supreme Court of Alabama
965 So. 2d 1076 (2007)


Facts

Sterne, Agee & Leach, Inc. (Sterne) (defendant) serviced an individual retirement account (IRA) owned by Robert Davis. In December 2001, Sterne received a change-of-beneficiary (COB) form bearing Robert’s signature, purporting to change the beneficiary of his IRA from his wife, Mary Davis (plaintiff), to his sons (defendants). Sterne did not take steps to verify Robert’s signature. Soon thereafter, Robert died. Upon request, Sterne distributed the IRA funds to Robert’s sons as the beneficiaries on his account. After learning of the disbursement, Mary requested three previous COB forms with Robert’s signature from Sterne. Mary provided the three previous COB forms, along with the December 2001 COB form, to handwriting expert Steven Slyter for a comparison and evaluation of the signatures. After review, Slyter concluded that the signature on the December 2001 COB form was not Robert’s and had been forged. Mary brought suit against Sterne and the sons, claiming conversion and wrongful transfer. Sterne moved for summary judgment, contending that Sterne had orally confirmed the beneficiary change with Robert. In response, Mary presented Slyter’s opinion concluding that the December 2001 COB form’s signature was a forgery. The trial court granted Sterne’s motion. Mary appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Stuart, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (See, J.)

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