Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/13/2019
Format: 12/13/2019
Dominique Clarke v. Kymberly Ash
M2019-00217-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

This appeal involves a petition for contempt and to modify a permanent parenting plan.  Having carefully reviewed the record before us, we conclude that the notice of appeal was not timely filed.  Because the notice of appeal was untimely, we dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 12/13/19
Wheeler Bonding Co., Inc. v. 1st Stop Bonding LLC, Et Al.
M2019-00064-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Following a nonsuit by the original plaintiff, one of the original defendants was granted a default judgment with respect to his counterclaim.  The original plaintiff thereafter moved to set the default judgment aside after the entry of final judgment, and later, attempted to re-file its previously nonsuited claims.  After the trial court denied the motion to set aside and entered an order striking the original plaintiff’s re-filed claims, this appeal followed.  We reverse the denial of the motion to set aside and vacate the default judgment. The striking of the re-filed claims is affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/13/19
Betty Caitlin Nicole Smith v. Zachary Taylor Daniel
M2019-02083-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Christopher V. Sockwell

This is an appeal from the denial of a motion for recusal.  After carefully reviewing the record provided by the pro se appellant, we affirm the decision of the trial court denying the motion for recusal. 

Maury County Court of Appeals 12/13/19
John W. Harris, Jr. v. Robin L. Steward
W2019-00231-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

This appeal arises from Appellant’s lawsuit against his former attorney, Appellee, for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and double billing. The trial court dismissed Appellant’s lawsuit on its finding that his claims were barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/13/19
J. Philip Harber v. Marquerita Annette Dixon, Et Al.
E2019-00028-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

This appeal arises from an acrimonious dispute between former friends over real property. William M. Pruitt and his wife Shirley J. Pruitt (“the Pruitts,” or “Mr. Pruitt” and “Mrs. Pruitt”) live in a house next to three parcels of land once owned variously by Mr. Pruitt’s stepfather and mother, both of whom died intestate. J. Philip Harber (“Mr. Harber”), former attorney for the Pruitts, paid Mr. Pruitt’s fellow heirs for quitclaim deeds with the aim of acquiring their interests in the subject parcels. Mr. Harber then filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) to determine the interests of the parties and sell the three parcels. The Trial Court found in favor of Mr. Harber and ordered a partition by sale for division. The Pruitts appealed to this Court. On appeal, the Pruitts rely on several theories to argue that Mr. Harber never acquired an interest in the land. The Pruitts argue further that, even if Mr. Harber acquired an interest, the Trial Court should have applied the doctrine of unclean hands to deny him his requested relief because he sued them out of spite. We find and hold, inter alia, that Mr. Pruitt is but one of many heirs to his deceased parents’ land; that the other heirs never lost their interests in the land; and, that the other heirs were at liberty to sell their interests in the land to Mr. Harber, which they did. Although there is considerable evidence that Mr. Harber was motivated by spite in bringing this action, that alone does not compel application of the unclean hands doctrine, particularly as fraud is not alleged. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 12/12/19
Tennesseans For Sensible Election Laws v. Tennessee Bureau Of Ethics And Campaign Finance, Registry Of Election Finance, And Davidson County District Attorney General
M2018-01967-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal involves a constitutional challenge to two Tennessee statutes that are part of Tennessee’s campaign finance law.  Prior to trial, the chancery court granted several motions in limine that effectively excluded all of the testimonial and documentary evidence proffered by the State in defense of the statutes.  With no evidence presented by the State, the trial court concluded that the State failed to meet its burden of proof as to the constitutionality of the two statutes.  Consequently, the trial court held that Tennessee Code Annotated sections 2-10-117 and 2-10-121 violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, section 19 of the Tennessee Constitution.  The State appeals.  The State first argues that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the State’s evidence.  Additionally, the State argues that the constitutional challenge to one of the statutes has become moot due to a statutory amendment.  Finally, the State argues that the remaining statute is constitutional.  For the following reasons, we affirm and remand for further proceedings.   

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/12/19
In Re Jaydin A. Et Al.
M2018-02145-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles B. Tatum

Father appeals the trial court’s decision to terminate his parental rights on grounds of abandonment by an incarcerated parent and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume custody. The evidence at trial showed that due to Father’s repeated criminal conduct, including two instances where Father fled the State to escape justice, he has had no contact with his daughter for approximately 95% of the child’s life. Because we conclude that the evidence was clear and convincing as to both grounds for termination and best interest, we affirm.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 12/12/19
In Re Jonathan S.
M2018-02072-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Golden
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

This is the second appeal of a case involving a father’s petition to modify the parties’ parenting plan, wherein he requested that he be named the primary residential parent.  At the close of father’s proof during the initial trial, mother moved for a directed verdict.  Finding that father’s evidence was insufficient to establish a material change in circumstances, the trial court granted mother’s motion and dismissed father’s petition.  Father then appealed to this Court.  We concluded that father did present sufficient evidence to establish a material change.  Accordingly, we reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the case so that mother could present her evidence.  Following the entry of this Court’s decision—but prior to the remand trial on father’s first petition—father filed a second petition to modify the parenting plan, raising new allegations.  The parties agreed to consolidate the two matters and further agreed to a bifurcated trial in which the remand trial on father’s first petition would be conducted first, followed by a trial on father’s second petition.  Additionally, the parties agreed to a timeframe regarding the presentation of evidence, whereby mother, during the remand trial on father’s first petition, would be limited to evidence that arose prior to the date of the initial trial; all evidence arising after that date would be covered in the trial on father’s second petition.  Ultimately, the trial court found that father proved a material change in circumstances and that it was in the best interest of the child that he be named the primary residential parent.  Consequently, the trial court mooted father’s second petition.  Mother appealed.  We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/12/19
John J. Hasenbein v. Katherine J. Hasenbein
M2018-00070-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

This is an appeal in a divorce proceeding, wherein the mother contends that the trial court erred in awarding the father the divorce on the ground of inappropriate marital conduct and in its holdings as to the factors at Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-106 in naming the father the primary residential parent.  Father appeals the court’s ruling on a motion he filed seeking to further specify the parents’ responsibilities relative to the transportation of the children.  Upon consideration of the record, we vacate that portion of the judgment that holds that factors (11) and (12) at section 36-6-106(a) are not applicable and remand the case for further consideration in that regard and, if necessary, to reconsider the designation of the primary residential parent; in all other respects we affirm the trial court’s judgment. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 12/12/19
Kelly Colvard Parsons v. Richard Jearl Parsons
W2018-02008-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

Wife/Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of relief on her post-divorce petition for contempt and breach of contract. The parties’ MDA awarded Wife 50% of Husband/Appellee’s FERS Supplement, which was subsequently terminated due to Husband’s yearly earned income being in excess of the FERS cap of $15,120.00. Because the parties’ MDA did not preclude Husband from earning income in excess of the cap, and did not include a provision for such occurrence, the trial court properly denied Wife’s petition. Although the trial court sua sponte modified child support to award an additional amount equal to the lost FERS Supplement, it did so in error. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s grant of Husband’s motion to alter or amend the award of additional child support. Because the MDA allows the prevailing party to recover attorney’s fees and expenses, we reverse the trial court’s denial of Husband’s reasonable fees and expenses, and remand for determination of same, and for entry of judgment thereon. Reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/12/19
Kenneth Ray McElroy Et Al. v. Connecticut General Life Insurance Company Et Al.
E2018-01038-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey Hollingsworth

An insured sued for breach of contract after his insurance company denied payment for a surgical procedure. The insurance company moved for summary judgment, arguing that the insured could not establish a breach of contract because the procedure was excluded from coverage in the medical benefits plan. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurance company and dismissed the complaint. Because the insurance company was entitled to a judgment of dismissal as a matter of law based on the undisputed facts, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/12/19
Hallysah Ibsen as Administrator of the Estate of Elaine Kelly, and Robert Kelly v. Summit View of Farragut, LLC et al.
E2018-01249-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

In this healthcare liability action, the defendants filed a motion for a qualified protective order allowing them to conduct ex parte interviews with some of the plaintiffs’ treating healthcare providers pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(f). After the trial court granted the qualified protective order allowing the interviews, plaintiffs’ counsel wrote a letter to plaintiffs’ treating providers concerning the interviews. The defendants then filed a joint motion for sanctions asserting that the letters sent by plaintiffs’ counsel violated the trial court’s order by attempting to prevent the treating providers from participating in the interviews. The trial court granted monetary sanctions against the plaintiffs and their counsel and ordered plaintiffs’ counsel to send retraction letters to plaintiffs’ treating providers. The plaintiffs appeal. We have determined that the order on appeal is not a final order and, therefore, dismiss the appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/11/19
C & C North America Inc. d/b/a Consentino v. Natural Stone Distributors LLC et al
W2019-00030-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

Appellant appeals the trial court’s order quashing its attachment and garnishments, whereby Appellant sought payment of its judgment from interpleaded funds that were owed to Appellee. Affirmed.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/10/19
Jennifer Erdman v. Mark Erdman
M2018-01668-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Golden
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson
This is a divorce case. For most of the parties’ marriage, the wife was a homemaker and the husband worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative. After husband was granted a divorce, the wife filed an appeal with this Court raising several issues for our review.  Among other things, the wife takes issue with the trial court’s classification and division of property and its decision to deny her alimony. For the reasons stated herein, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for such further proceedings as are necessary and consistent with this Opinion.
 
Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/10/19
Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB v. United States Department Of Justice, Et Al.
E2018-01250-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Nichole Cantrell

Plaintiff Wilmington Savings Fund Society brought this action for foreclosure on property owned by defendants Reginald Hall and Rhonda Hall, requesting that the trial court declare its debt from a loan secured by deed of trust to have priority over debts allegedly owed by the Halls to other named defendants. The trial court granted plaintiff summary judgment and Reginald Hall appealed. Plaintiff argues on appeal that the trial court’s judgment was not final and therefore this Court does not have jurisdiction. We hold that the trial court did not adjudicate all of the claims raised by the parties. Accordingly, this appeal is dismissed for lack of a final judgment.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 12/10/19
Loring Justice v. Kim Nelson Et Al.
E2018-02020-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter C. Kurtz

Loring Justice and Kim Nelson are the divorced parents of a minor child. They have been in litigation over the child since 2004. This appeal arises from a lawsuit filed by Mr. Justice (plaintiff) against Ms. Nelson, Robert Bodine, and two unidentified coconspirators (defendants). In his original complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendants were liable for: conspiracy to commit the crime of extortion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with parental rights. Defendants filed motions to dismiss, which the trial court granted. Exactly thirty days later, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. He alleged additional facts and new causes of action, including: fraud, coercion, attempted tortious interference with parental rights, and violations of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. Defendants filed a “response” to the amended complaint. They argued that the court should deny plaintiff leave to amend his original complaint. The court treated defendants’ “response” as a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, which the court then granted. We hold that the court erred when it treated defendants’ “response” as a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. We also hold that the court failed to provide adequate justification for dismissing the amended complaint sua sponte. Accordingly, we vacate the order of dismissal and remand for further proceedings.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 12/10/19
Jennifer Moore-Pitts Et Al. v. Carl A. Bradley, DDA, MAGD
E2018-01729-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

This appeal concerns a healthcare liability action filed by Jennifer Moore-Pitts and David Pitts ("Plaintiffs") in the Knox County Circuit Court ("Trial Court") against Carl A. Bradley, DDS, MAGD ("Defendant"). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' action on the basis of noncompliance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26- 121(a)(2)(E), which requires that pre-suit notice include a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization allowing the healthcare provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider that is sent a notice.' Approximately forty healthcare providers, including Defendant, received pre-suit notice from Plaintiffs. On the medical authorization provided to Defendant, Plaintiffs left blank the name of the individual or entity authorized to make the disclosure of medical records to Defendant but provided an attachment of the names and addresses of the other providers receiving notice. The Trial Court found that Plaintiffs' medical authorization provided to Defendant was not sufficient to allow Defendant to obtain Ms. Moore-Pitts' s medical records from the other providers who received the pre-suit notice. As such, the Trial Court found that Plaintiffs could not rely on Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(c) to extend the statute of limitations for 120 days. Because Plaintiffs' action was filed one year and 118 days after the cause of action accrued, the Trial Court determined that Plaintiffs' action was untimely. The Trial Court, therefore, granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/09/19
Angela Dotson v. State of Tennessee
E2019-00325-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William A. Young

Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting a health care liability claim against the state and attached a certificate of good faith. The Tennessee Claims Commission found that the certificate of good faith failed to satisfy the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26- 122 because it was not specific as to the state health care provider. Despite this finding, the court concluded that the statute was satisfied because the complaint contained the certificate of good faith language and identified the state health care provider. The state then filed this interlocutory appeal. We reverse.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/03/19
In Re Bryson B. Et Al.
E2019-00729-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Wylie Richardson

This is a termination of parental rights case involving four minor children. In October 2017, temporary custody of the children was granted to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”), and the children were placed in foster care. The McMinn County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) subsequently adjudicated the children dependent and neglected in December 2017. DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the mother and father on December 7, 2018, alleging, as statutory grounds for termination, abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, abandonment by failure to support, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, persistence of the conditions leading to the children’s removal from the parents’ home, and failure to assume custody or financial responsibility for the children.1 Following a bench trial, the trial court granted the petition as to the mother upon finding that DCS had proven by clear and convincing evidence the grounds of (1) persistence of the conditions leading to removal, (2) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and (3) failure to assume custody or financial responsibility for the children.2 The trial court also found clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. The mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 12/02/19
ELIZABETH JANE KNIZLEY v. ANDREW CARLTON KNIZLEY
M2018-00490-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

Finding agreement in the midst of a divorce can be difficult, but leading up to and during the trial in their divorce, husband and wife entered into certain stipulations.  Among those, according to wife, was a stipulation that she would receive alimony in futuro of some amount.  Following the trial, the trial court awarded wife transitional alimony.  On appeal, wife argues that the court improperly created a dispute when none existed by ignoring the parties’ stipulation.  For his part, husband argues that parties cannot stipulate to a type of alimony and, in any event, there was no such stipulation.  After a review of the record, we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/27/19
Cheryle Luane Levoy v. Jason Hunter Levoy
M2018-01276-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

In this post-divorce dispute, the mother filed a criminal contempt petition against her ex-husband, alleging multiple violations of a permanent parenting plan.  The husband responded with a petition for temporary emergency custody.  The trial court granted temporary custody to the father and scheduled a hearing on both petitions.  After the hearing, the court found the father guilty of 12 counts of criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt and sentenced him to 120 days in jail.  Finding no credible evidence to support the father’s custody petition, the court dissolved the temporary custody order.  On appeal, the father argues that the trial court erred in finding him guilty of criminal contempt.  Because the evidence is sufficient to support a finding of criminal contempt, we affirm.

Overton County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
Floyd Rodney Burns v. State of Tennessee
E2018-02174-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William A. Young

This appeal arose from a claim filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission (“the Commission”) against the State of Tennessee (“the State”), seeking an award of damages for defamation allegedly committed by a district attorney general through statements made to the media concerning the claimant. The State filed, inter alia, a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the claimant filed, inter alia, a response objecting to the motion. Following a hearing, the Commission denied the State’s motion to dismiss upon finding, in pertinent part, that the Commission did not have the authority to extend absolute immunity to district attorneys general. Upon the State’s application, the Commission and this Court each granted permission for interlocutory review. Having considered the certified question of whether the absolute privilege afforded to state officials for statements made in the course of their official duties, as recognized in Jones v. State, 426 S.W.3d 50 (Tenn. 2013), extends to district attorneys general, we determine that the privilege does not apply and accordingly affirm the Commission’s judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
Tennessee Funding, LLC v. William H. Worley
M2018-01099-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey F. Stewart

Two parties claim the authority to exercise the declarant’s rights under a declaration of restrictive covenants for a residential subdivision.  The original declarant, the developer of the subdivision, granted a security interest in all personal property associated with the subdivision, including “contract rights” and general intangibles, to the bank that financed the subdivision.  After the developer defaulted, the bank conducted a public sale of the personalty securing its debt and was the highest bidder at the sale.  A few months later, the developer fell into receivership, and the receiver sold the declarant’s rights under the declaration to a lot owner “free and clear of all liens and liabilities.”  The bank filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment regarding entitlement to the declarant’s rights and damages.  The lot owner moved for judgment on the pleadings.  The lot owner argued that the bank could not prove a superior claim because it had consented to and subordinated its security interest to the declaration.  The bank moved for partial summary judgment on its request for a declaratory judgment.  The trial court denied the motion for judgment on the pleadings and granted partial summary judgment to the bank.  We affirm. 

Marion County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
In Re Kolton C.
E2019-00736-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri Bryant

This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the trial court’s termination of her parental rights to the minor child on the grounds of: (1) severe child abuse, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4); and (2) abandonment by willful failure to visit and to support, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1), § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i). Mother also appeals the trial court’s determination that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because Appellee did not meet her burden to show that Mother failed to support the child, we reverse the trial court’s termination of parental rights as to this ground. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of severe child abuse and failure to visit, and on its finding that termination of Appellant’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
William Cooper v. Board of Parole
M2018-01392-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This is an appeal from the judgment of the chancery court denying an inmate the relief requested in his petition for writ of certiorari.  The inmate is serving two concurrent life sentences, with the possibility of parole, for offenses of first degree murder.  The Tennessee Board of Parole declined to grant parole to the inmate, citing seriousness of the offense.  The chancery court concluded that the Board did not act arbitrarily, fraudulently, illegally, or in excess of its jurisdiction, in denying the inmate parole.  For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court’s order of dismissal. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/26/19