Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 09/30/2020
Format: 09/30/2020
In Re Paisley H. Et Al.
E2020-00174-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Stokes

Father appeals the trial court’s decision to allow grandparent visitation. We vacate and remand the trial court’s order because the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact for us to review its decision regarding its subject matter jurisdiction.

Meigs County Court of Appeals 09/10/20
In Re A.V.N.
E2020-00161-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey D. Rader

This case involves a petition to terminate the parental rights of a mother and father. The petitioners alleged four grounds for termination against both parents: (1) abandonment by failure to visit; (2) abandonment by failure to support; (3) persistence of conditions; and (4) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to parent. The trial court found all four grounds were proven by clear and convincing evidence. The trial court also found that it was in the best interest of the child to terminate both of the parents’ rights. The mother and father appealed separately. We reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 09/10/20
Craftique Construction, Inc. v. Anthony G. Justice, Et Al.
E2018-02096-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Frank V. Williams, III

This is an appeal of a case involving a contract dispute. Because the notice of appeal was not timely filed, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 09/09/20
Staci L. Hensley v. Stokely Hospitality Properties, Inc.
E2019-02146-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex H. Ogle

In this premises liability case, the plaintiff appeals the trial court’s dismissal of her claims against a hotel based on her failure to satisfy the notice requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 15.03 for amending her complaint to add a new party. We affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 09/09/20
In Re Treylynn T., et al. - Dissent
W2019-01585-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

In this case, the trial court ruled, and the majority affirms, that Mother’s conviction for child endangerment is preclusive evidence that she committed severe abuse in this dependency and neglect action. Because I believe that the majority opinion fails to consider the effect of the diversion that Mother received, I must respectfully dissent.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 09/09/20
In Re Treylynn T., et al.
W2019-01585-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

This is a dependency and neglect case. Appellee Tennessee Department of Children’s Services received a referral of possible child abuse. Following Appellee’s investigation, the children were placed in foster care. Both parents were arrested on child abuse charges. Thereafter, Appellee initiated a dependency and neglect action in the juvenile court. In her criminal case, Appellant/Mother entered a best interest/Alford plea to the charge of child endangerment. Subsequently, the juvenile court found the children dependent and neglected. On de novo review, the trial court found that: (1) Mother’s Alford plea was dispositive of her guilt on the child endangerment charge; (2) Mother committed severe child abuse under Tennessee Code Annotated section 37-1-102 (b)(27)(C); and (3) the children were dependent and neglected. Mother appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 09/09/20
In Re Ky'Auri M.
E2019-02276-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

A review of the record on appeal reveals that the order appealed from does not constitute a final appealable judgment. As such, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 09/08/20
James Warlick Ex Rel. Jo Ann Warlick v. Linda Kirkland
M2019-01576-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

This is an action to set aside a quitclaim deed. In the Complaint for a Declaratory Judgment, the attorney-in-fact for the plaintiff alleges that the plaintiff was not competent to execute the quitclaim deed, that she did not intend to convey title to the property, and she did not receive consideration for the conveyance. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case-in-chief and upon the motion of the defendant, the court directed a verdict in favor of the defendant. The court found, inter alia, there was no competent evidence to support the allegations that the plaintiff was not competent to execute the quitclaim deed, that fraud occurred, or that a fiduciary duty owed to the plaintiff was breached, and there was no proof presented that the parties lacked a meeting of the minds. This appeal followed. We affirm.

Marshall County Court of Appeals 09/04/20
In Re Estate of Johnny Baxter Vaughn, Jr.
M2019-01611-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Stella L. Hargrove

In her proposed final accounting, the administrator of an intestate estate sought court approval for, inter alia, the decedent’s funeral expenses and routine administrative expenses, including her attorney’s fees. She also sought to recover the costs she incurred to repair and sell the decedent’s house pursuant to an agreed order. The administrator is the decedent’s widow, and the remaining heirs, who are the decedent’s children from a prior marriage, opposed her request for reimbursement. The court denied her claims for post-death expenses finding “they were not timely filed because any request for reimbursement was required to be filed pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-307.” The court also denied the administrator’s request to recover her attorney’s fees upon the finding that the legal services did not benefit the estate. We affirm the denial of the administrator’s request to recover her attorney’s fees. However, we have determined that the other “claims” for reimbursement of post-death expenses are not subject to the limitation provisions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-307. This is because the statute pertains to debts and liabilities incurred by or on behalf of the decedent prior to his death. All of the expenses at issue were incurred after the decedent’s death; therefore, we reverse the trial court’s ruling that the administrator’s post-death “claims” were time-barred pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-307. Because the court has supervisory authority to determine the reasonableness and necessity of expenses incurred for the benefit of and in the administration of the decedent’s estate, we remand with instructions for the trial court to determine whether each post-death expense was reasonable and necessary in light of all the relevant circumstances and to enter judgment accordingly.

Maury County Court of Appeals 09/04/20
In Re Kash F.
E2019-02123-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Lane Wolfenbarger

This action involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her minor child. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to establish the following statutory grounds of termination: (1) wanton disregard for the child’s welfare; (2) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan; (3) severe child abuse; and (4) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to parent. The court also found that termination was in the best interest of the child. We affirm the trial court.

Grainger County Court of Appeals 09/04/20
In Re: Katrina S.
E2019-02015-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

Trista S. (“Mother”) appeals the termination of her parental rights on the grounds of (1) persistence of conditions; (2) failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume custody of the child; and (3) mental incompetence. Mother also appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of her parental rights is in the best interests of the child. Because the record contains clear and convincing evidence supporting the grounds for termination and the best interests determination, we affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 09/03/20
State of Tennessee ex Rel. James R. Wilson v. Howard Gentry, Et Al.
M2019-02201-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Don R. Ash

The petitioner sought a writ of mandamus to compel the production of the audio recordings from his post-conviction proceeding pursuant to the Tennessee Public Records Act. The trial court dismissed the petition, finding that the recordings were exempt from disclosure. The petitioner appeals. We affirm.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/02/20
William Chase Knipper v. Erin Elizabeth Enfinger
W2019-02130-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry McKenzie

Mother appeals the trial court’s rulings changing the surname of the child, denying awards of retroactive child support and uncovered medical expenses, and allowing Father to seek modification of the residential schedule without showing a material change in circumstances. We vacate the trial court’s award of a deviation of child support because the trial court did not make the required findings under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-2-311 and the Child Support Guidelines. As to the remaining issues, we reverse.

Chester County Court of Appeals 08/31/20
Steven Kampmeyer, Et Al. v. State of Tennessee
M2019-01196-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Robert N. Hibbrett

Appellants, Husband and Wife, filed a complaint for damages, including Wife’s loss of consortium claim, with the Tennessee Claims Commission.  The State filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss Wife’s loss of consortium claim because she did not file notice of her claim with the Division of Claims Administration within the applicable statute of limitations.  The Claims Commission dismissed Wife’s claim for failure to comply with the notice requirement. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-402(b).  Discerning no error, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 08/28/20
In Re Trinity H.
M2020-00440-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ken Witcher

This appeal concerns the termination of a father’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Macon County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of James H. (“Father”) to his minor daughter Trinity H. (“the Child”). After a trial, the Juvenile Court entered an order terminating Father’s parental rights on the grounds of wanton disregard, severe child abuse, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody. The Juvenile Court found also that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the Child’s best interest. Father appeals. With respect to wanton disregard, the Juvenile Court found only that Father committed criminal acts resulting in his incarceration, which by itself is insufficient to establish the ground. We, therefore, vacate the ground of wanton disregard. However, we find that the other two grounds were proven by clear and convincing evidence and, by the same standard, that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the Child’s best interest. We vacate, in part, and affirm, as modified.  

Macon County Court of Appeals 08/28/20
Marvin Duane Julian v. Debra Ann Julian
M2019-01573-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Craig Johnson

In this divorce case, Husband/Appellant appeals the trial’s courts award of $200,000.00 to Wife/Appellee under the parties’ prenuptial agreement. This award was based on the trial court’s finding that Husband’s net worth is at least $400,000.00. In their agreement, the parties waived alimony; nonetheless, Husband sought an award of alimony in the trial court. The trial court held that Husband did not meet his burden to show that he was a public charge so as to overcome his waiver of alimony. Because the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings, we affirm. 

Warren County Court of Appeals 08/28/20
Deborah D. Bartley Et Al. v. Tiny Nunley, Individually And As Administratrix Of The Estate Of Anthony Gene Nunley
E2019-01694-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

This appeal arose from a dispute between relatives concerning the ownership of improved real property. The property at issue was conveyed in 2000 via warranty deed to a married couple, William and Jewel Nunley, and their adult son, Anthony Gene Nunley, each as tenants in common. Following William Nunley’s death in 2007, Anthony Nunley purchased his mother’s interest in the property, executing a promissory note in the amount of $112,509.00 and a deed of trust secured by title to the property. In 2015, Jewel Nunley and Anthony Nunley executed a document stating that the remaining balance on the note was $37,509.00. Anthony Nunley (“Decedent”) died intestate in June 2016. Decedent’s surviving spouse, Tiny Nunley, filed a petition in the probate division of the Carter County Chancery Court (“probate court”) and was granted letters of administration to act as the personal representative (“Personal Representative”) of Decedent’s estate (“the Estate”). Jewel Nunley filed a claim against the Estate for the balance owed on the promissory note, which was later settled and released by agreement. Personal Representative filed an action in the probate court to reform the deed and quiet title to the subject real property. Two of Decedent’s three adult sisters objected and filed an action in the Carter County Chancery Court (“trial court”) to partition the property. The probate court transferred the reformation action to the trial court, treating Personal Representative’s petition to reform the deed and quiet title as a compulsory counterclaim to the partition action. The plaintiffs asserted that via the 2000 deed, the property was conveyed in part to William Nunley as a tenant in common with his one-third interest in the property then passing to his wife, Jewel Nunley, and their four children, including Decedent, through intestate succession.

Carter County Court of Appeals 08/28/20
Volodymyr Helyukh, Et Al. v. Buddy Head Livestock & Trucking, Inc.
M2019-02301-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

The dispositive issue in this personal injury action is whether the claims against the defendant trucking company for the tortious acts of its employee/truck driver are time-barred under Abshure v. Methodist Healthcare-Memphis Hospitals, 325 S.W.3d 98 (Tenn. 2010) or saved by the commencement of a new action under Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-1-105, Tennessee’s “savings statute.” After the plaintiffs commenced the new action, the company filed a motion to summarily dismiss the complaint, asserting the plaintiffs’ claims against the employee were procedurally barred before the new action was commenced. The trial court denied the motion because the first action was instituted before the plaintiffs’ right of action against the employee became extinguished by operation of law, and the second complaint was timely filed pursuant to the savings statute. For the same reason, we affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 08/28/20
Richard Alan Ellis v. Donica Ann Woods Ellis
W2019-01869-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

This is the second appeal in this divorce case. In Ellis v. Ellis, No. W2017-02287-COA-R3-CV, 2019 WL 410704 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 31, 2019), we vacated the trial court’s award of alimony in futuro to Wife and its award of alimony in solido for Wife’s attorney’s fees. Contrary to our mandate, on remand, the trial court failed to consider Wife’s relative earning capacity in relation to the award of alimony in futuro. Although the trial court affirmed its previous award of alimony in solido, it failed to consider payments Wife made from pendente lite support she received from Husband. Accordingly, we modify the trial court’s award of alimony in futuro to reflect Wife’s earning capacity, and we modify the award of alimony in solido to reflect payments made from pendente lite support.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/27/20
Amelia Johnson, et al. v. Millington Municipal Schools
W2019-01547-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

Appellants filed suit against Appellee under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, alleging that Appellee breached its duty to protect Appellant/student, who was injured in a fight on school grounds. The trial court held that Appellants failed to meet their burden to show negligence and denied relief. The appellate record contains no transcript or statement of the evidence for our review as required by the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. Accordingly, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s findings. Affirmed and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/27/20
C & C Tenn. Properties, LLC v. Reeves & Reeves Properties, LLC
E2018-01488-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

This appeal concerns a legal dispute between a landlord and a commercial tenant. The trial court found that the landlord, a recent purchaser of the commercial property, had breached the pre-existing lease. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 08/26/20
In Re Estate Of Donald Cowan
M2019-01597-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Randall Kennedy

The estate of the decedent appeals the trial court’s decision to grant the widow’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion to dismiss the estate’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The complaint, filed in 2019, sought rescission of a quitclaim deed executed by the decedentin 1990 that created a tenancy by the entirety with his wife. The complaint alleged that the decedent executed the deed shortly after the marriage in consideration of and reliance on “a contract” between the spouses. The complaint alleged that the contract obligated the husband “to create a tenancy by the entirety” and, in return, the wife was “obligated to cohabit with him and to provide the love, affection and companionship that was essential for a ‘long and enduring marriage.’” Although the couple remained married until the decedent’s death in 2018—28 years after they married—the complaint alleged that the 1990 deed should be rescinded for the failure of consideration and the failure of a condition subsequent. The complaint additionally asserted that the wife was unjustly enriched by the conveyance and asked that a constructive trust be imposed on the property. The trial court dismissed the complaint, finding that it did not allege facts that would give rise to any obligation upon the wife because the deed unambiguously evinced the husband’s intent to convey the property as a gift. The court also found, inter alia, the complaint was barred by the statute of limitations applicable to each claim, the doctrine of gross laches, and the statute of frauds. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/25/20
In Re Rukia B. Et Al.
E2020-00422-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. McAfee

Nathan B. (“Father”) and Kendra B. (“Stepmother”) appeal the judgment of the Campbell County Circuit Court (the “Trial Court”) denying their petition for termination of the parental rights of Hannah B. (“Mother”), as to Mother’s two biological children. Because the Trial Court’s final order does not contain sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law as to the best interests of the children, this Court is unable to engage in meaningful appellate review, and the judgment of the Trial Court is vacated and remanded.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 08/24/20
Tina Rogers Et Al. v. Adventure House LLC Et Al.
E2019-01422-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John B. Bennett

This negligence action arose from approximately 102 events of food poisoning or illness purportedly related to numerous patrons (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) who dined at or visited Adventure House, LLC d/b/a River Drifters Restaurant and River Drifters Adventure Center (“the Restaurant”), located on real property owned by Robert L. Newman (“the Premises”). Plaintiffs filed suit against the Restaurant; Mr. Newman; and Charles and Renee Eich, the owners of the Restaurant. Upon Plaintiffs’ motion to certify the action as a class action, the Hamilton County Circuit Court (“trial court”) denied Plaintiffs’ motion upon a determination that Plaintiffs had failed to carry their burden to prove the commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation elements required by Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 23.01. The trial court further determined that if those elements were met, the class could maintain its certification pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 23.02(1)(b). However, based on its determination that the class did not satisfy the threshold certification requirements under Rule 23.01, the trial court denied Plaintiffs’ motion to certify the litigation as a class action. Plaintiffs have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 08/24/20
Church of God in Christ, Inc., et al. v. L.M. Haley Ministries, Inc., et al.
W2019-01411-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This appeal concerns a dispute over church property. David A. Hall (“Bishop Hall”), a bishop with The Church of God in Christ, Inc. (“COGIC”), tried to assert control over New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ (“New Jerusalem Church”), a COGIC member church, but was blocked by parties opposed to his pastorate. Bishop Hall, COGIC and New Jerusalem Church (“Plaintiffs,” collectively) sued these opponents (“Defendants,” collectively) in the Chancery Court for Shelby County (“the Trial Court”). Plaintiffs later filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Trial Court granted. Defendants appeal. Defendants argue, among other things, that under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, the Trial Court and this Court lack subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate this dispute. However, we find this case amenable to resolution under the hybrid neutral-principles approach articulated by our Supreme Court in a factually similar case. The undisputed material facts show that New Jerusalem Church’s property is held in trust for COGIC and that Bishop Hall is the duly appointed Jurisdictional Bishop with rights of pastor at New Jerusalem Church. Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/24/20