Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 10/17/2018
Format: 10/17/2018
Delbert Collier v. Legends Park, LP, et al.
W2017-02313-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Felicia Corbin Johnson

This is a personal injury lawsuit. Plaintiff, while standing on a public street outside of his apartment, owned by Defendants, was approached from behind by an assailant. The assailant shot Plaintiff in each leg with an assault rifle and proceeded to rob him. Plaintiff sued Defendants for negligence, alleging that Defendants knew or should have known of the foreseeable presence of dangerous persons and that their failure to maintain the property in a safe condition was the direct cause of Plaintiff’s injuries. The trial court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff presented no proof that Defendants had notice of the assailant’s presence or an opportunity to prevent the shooting. We affirm, although on different grounds.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/03/18
Lawrence B. Hammet, II Et Al. v. Wells Fargo Bank NA
M2018-00352-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This is a residential foreclosure case. Homeowners appeal the trial court’s dismissal of their claims regarding the foreclosure of their home under Rule 12.02(6) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. Upon our review, we conclude that the Appellants’ claims should not have been dismissed on a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/02/18
City of La Vergne v. Brian Ristau
M2018-00542-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Howard W. Wilson

The case involves the defendant’s violation of a city ordinance. The city cited the defendant for parking his commercial semi-truck on his private driveway and on city streets, which the city claimed was cracking the sidewalk and bringing mud into the street. The municipal court found the defendant in violation of the ordinance, and the defendant appealed the municipal court’s decision to the circuit court. The defendant raised several state and federal constitutional issues regarding the ordinance, but the circuit court found his arguments to be without merit and affirmed the municipal court’s decision. Finding no error, we affirm the decision of the circuit court. 

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/02/18
In Re: Mason C.
E2018-00535-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

Appellant/Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to the minor child on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(ii); and (2) severe child abuse, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-113(g)(9). Mother also appeals the trial court finding that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because Appellee, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, does not defend the ground of abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, we reverse the trial court’s termination of Appellant’s parental rights on that ground. We affirm the termination of Appellant’s parental rights on the sole ground of severe child abuse and on the trial court’s finding that termination of her rights is in the child’s best interest.

Greene County Court of Appeals 10/02/18
In Re: Estate of Mattie L. Mettetal, Deceased
E2017-01258-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John C. Rambo

The petitioner, Ray W. Mettetal, Jr., filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to establish that the will of his mother, the deceased Mattie L. Mettetal, directs that the real property devised to him in the will should be administered as part of the estate. Petitioner asked the trial court to declare that the will required the administrator to pay the $40,057.35 in costs and improvements expended by petitioner on the real property out of the residuary of the estate. The court denied petitioner’s request. It held that the real property vested immediately in petitioner at the deceased’s death, and therefore it was not part of the probate estate for administration purposes. We affirm that decision. We reverse the trial court’s order to the extent it directs that attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses accrued in a prior appeal to this Court be deducted from petitioner’s distributive share of the estate.

Washington County Court of Appeals 10/02/18
Linda Sue Hassler v. Ridley David Hassler
E2017-02365-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry M. Warner

The parties negotiated, signed, and submitted to the trial court a marital dissolution agreement. The trial court approved and incorporated the MDA into its final judgment. Twenty-nine days after entry of the judgment, Ridley David Hassler (husband) filed a “motion to set aside” the final judgment and MDA. He told the trial court that he wanted to repudiate the MDA, arguing that it was ambiguous and that he and Linda Sue Hassler (wife) had differing interpretations of it. The trial court denied the motion, finding the MDA unambiguous, valid, and enforceable. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 10/01/18
Nedra Finney v. Franklin Special School District Board Of Education, Et Al.
M2017-02080-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

This is an appeal of the termination of a tenured teacher’s employment pursuant to the Tenure Act, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-5-501 to – 515. The Director of Schools of the Franklin Special School District filed Charges for Dismissal of the tenured teacher on the grounds of unprofessional conduct, incompetence, inefficiency, insubordination, and neglect of duty. The charging document alleged multiple incidents of unprofessional conduct based on a lack of adherence to required procedures, particularly in the area of special education laws and procedures. It further alleged that the teacher was placed on a Corrective Action Plan for the 2014-2015 school year, during which the teacher was found to be in violation of the plan on multiple occasions. Moreover, at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, the teacher was suspended for three days without pay as a result of an incident that occurred on May 11, 2015, during which the teacher improperly restrained a special education student, which violated the student’s individualized education plan. The charging document also identified, inter alia, an incident that occurred on October 28, 2015, when the teacher got into a physical altercation with a special education student who refused to return the teacher’s day planner and which resulted in the two falling to the floor. Following an evidentiary hearing, the Impartial Hearing Officer recommended dismissal on the grounds of unprofessional conduct. When the school board voted to sustain the Hearing Officer’s decision, the teacher sought review in chancery court. The chancery court affirmed the teacher’s dismissal based on the grounds of unprofessional conduct and incompetence. This appeal followed. Because the Hearing Officer did not find that the ground of incompetence had been proven, and that decision was not appealed, the ground of incompetence was not before the court. Therefore, it may not be considered as a ground for dismissal. However, we affirm the decision to dismiss the tenured teacher’s employment with the school district on the ground of unprofessional conduct.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
Rachel L. Bell v. Michael Gardner
M2017-01520-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R.Ash

A debtor in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case hired an attorney to represent him in his divorce. Several years later, the attorney filed suit against the debtor for unpaid legal fees. The debtor raised the statute of limitations as a defense. The attorney claimed she delayed filing suit after receiving a letter from the debtor’s bankruptcy counsel. The letter asked the attorney to “[p]lease cease collection pursuant to the automatic stay of 11 USC § 362.” Applying the doctrine of equitable estoppel, the trial court “decline[d] to apply the statute of limitations as unjust” and granted judgment to the attorney for the unpaid fees. Because the court erred in concluding that the debtor was equitably estopped from asserting his statute of limitations defense, we reverse.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
William James Jekot v. Pennie Christine Jekot
M2016-01760-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Howard W. Wilson

Following his retirement, an alimony obligor petitioned to terminate his alimony. The parties agreed that the obligor’s retirement represented a substantial and material change in circumstances since the original support decree. But the obligor also conceded his ability to pay the alimony. Following a hearing, the trial court determined that the obligor failed to meet his burden of proof and denied his request to terminate his alimony obligation. The court also awarded the obligor’s former spouse her attorney’s fees without specifying the basis for the award. On appeal, the obligor argues, among other things, that his former spouse had the burden of proving her continuing need for alimony once a substantial and material change in circumstances was conceded. We affirm the denial of the request to terminate alimony but vacate the award of attorney’s fees.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
Clair Vanderschaaf, Et Al. v. Victor Bishara, Et Al.
M2017-00412-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Howard W. Wilson

Following his retirement, an alimony obligor petitioned to terminate his alimony. The parties agreed that the obligor’s retirement represented a substantial and material change in circumstances since the original support decree. But the obligor also conceded his ability to pay the alimony. Following a hearing, the trial court determined that the obligor failed to meet his burden of proof and denied his request to terminate his alimony obligation. The court also awarded the obligor’s former spouse her attorney’s fees without specifying the basis for the award. On appeal, the obligor argues, among other things, that his former spouse had the burden of proving her continuing need for alimony once a substantial and material change in circumstances was conceded. We affirm the denial of the request to terminate alimony but vacate the award of attorney’s fees.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
Misty Oliver Allen v. Mario Pryor Allen
W2017-02332-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge David M. Rudolph

This is a post-divorce child custody and relocation action involving one child, who was seven years of age when the case was commenced. Following the parties’ divorce, the mother was designated as the primary residential parent of the child and was awarded 225 days of co-parenting time annually. The father was awarded 140 co-parenting days per year with the child. In response to notice that the mother intended to relocate to California with the child, the father filed a petition in opposition to relocation and a petition to modify custody. The mother subsequently filed an answer and a petition requesting injunctive relief and modification of the existing permanent parenting plan. After the father’s attorney failed to appear for the hearing or inform the trial court in advance of his whereabouts, the trial court dismissed the father’s petitions for failure to prosecute. The trial court subsequently granted the mother’s petition for injunctive relief and allowed the mother to move to California with the child. The father has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/28/18
In Re Estate of Ivy Lonzo Armstrong
M2017-00341-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael R. Meise

Heirs of intestate decedent appeal the probate court’s construction and interpretation of a trust agreement established by the decedent’s wife and the decedent’s wife’s will. The trust terminated at the death of the decedent and court awarded the assets remaining in the trust in accordance with the residual clause of the decedent’s wife’s will, rather than allowing the assets to go to Husband’s estate, as sought by the decedent’s heirs. We conclude that the trial court’s construction and interpretation of the instruments and distribution of assets aligns with the decedent’s wife’s expressed intent and accordingly, affirm the judgment.

Dickson County Court of Appeals 09/27/18
George A. Bavelis v. Ted Doukas Et Al.
E2017-02050-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

This is a fraudulent transfer case. Defendant-debtor purportedly orchestrated the removal and transfer of large sums of money to and from several different business entities—all of which are controlled by Defendant. Plaintiff-creditor sued, at first naming only Defendant and one entity; however, during the course of litigation, Plaintiff discovered two other entities possibly involved in Defendant’s scheme. After being added as defendants, these two additional entities moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s TUFTA claim against them pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), which the trial court granted. We reverse.

Knox County Court of Appeals 09/27/18
Waste Administrative Services, Inc. v. The Krystal Company, Et Al.
E2017-01094-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

We granted the Rule 9 application for an interlocutory appeal filed by The Krystal Company (“Krystal”) to consider whether certain communications between Krystal’s chief legal officer and David Jungling (“Jungling”), an employee of Krystal vendor Denali Sourcing Services, Inc. (“Denali”), are protected by attorney-client privilege. Waste Administrative Services, Inc. (“WASI”), which provided refuse service for Krystal, sued Krystal, Denali, and Jungling in the Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) alleging that Krystal breached their contract by unilaterally terminating it and that Denali and Jungling induced the breach. The Trial Court held that communications between Jungling and Krystal’s chief legal officer after June 9, 2014— at which time Krystal and Denali executed a master agreement—are protected by attorney-client privilege while prior communications are not. We hold that Jungling was the functional equivalent of a Krystal employee as of October 31, 2013 when he was told by Krystal’s President to “take lead” on Krystal’s dealings with WASI, and that his subsequent communications with Krystal’s chief legal officer qualify for attorney-client privilege belonging to Krystal. We, therefore, modify the judgment of the Trial Court and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Knox County Court of Appeals 09/27/18
Howard Hawk Willis v. Grand Jury Foreperson Beverly Johnson
E2017-02225-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri S. Bryant

The pro se appellant, a state inmate incarcerated on capital murder convictions, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Bradley County Chancery Court (“trial court”). Claiming to have information regarding a homicide other than those for which he was convicted, the petitioner requested that the trial court direct the Bradley County Grand Jury foreperson to grant him the right to testify before the grand jury pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-12-104 (2014). The petitioner subsequently filed a motion to be transported for a hearing, requesting that the trial court issue a habeas corpus ad testificandum. The State of Tennessee (“the State”) then filed a response in opposition to the petition for writ of mandamus. The petitioner responded by filing a motion to strike the State’s response, arguing that the State was not a proper party to this action. On October 26, 2017, the trial court entered an order dismissing the petition for writ of mandamus, finding, inter alia, that the petitioner possessed no mandatory right to appear before the grand jury. The petitioner has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 09/27/18
In Re: E.M.
E2017-02304-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

The Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of L.B.M. (mother) and J.W.H. (father) with respect to their only child, E.M. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence for terminating mother’s rights on the ground of severe child abuse. By the same quantum of proof, the court found that termination of mother’s rights is in the best interest of the child. Mother appeals the trial court’s order terminating her rights. We affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 09/27/18
Charles Stephen Perry et al. v. Winfield Scott Niles et al.
E2017-01891-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

Winfield Scott Niles (“Niles”) and Nancy Niles appeal the judgment of the Chancery Court for Greene County (“the Trial Court”) in this suit involving disputes regarding easements across real property owned by Niles located in Greene County, Tennessee. Niles raises issues regarding the Trial Court’s findings regarding the width and the permitted uses of the easements and the Trial Court’s finding that Niles was in contempt of court. We find and hold that the Trial Court did not err in determining the width and permitted uses of the easements. We further find and hold that the Trial Court did not err in finding Niles in contempt of court. Finding no error, we affirm the Trial Court’s February 28, 2017 Judgment.

Greene County Court of Appeals 09/26/18
In Re: C.T. ET AL.
E2017-02148-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. McAfee

J.S. (father) appeals the trial court’s adjudication that his children C.T. and L.T. were dependent and neglected and severely abused in the care of father and A.T. (mother). Mother, who did not appeal, testified, among other things, that father bought her illegal drugs while she was pregnant, and that she and father abused drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy. Father denied mother’s allegations. The twin children were born prematurely and tested positive for opana, an opioid, and oxycodone. The trial court expressly credited mother’s testimony and discredited father’s. On appeal, father bases his assertion of error solely on his argument that the trial court incorrectly assessed the credibility of the witnesses, and that the trial court should have believed him instead of mother. We affirm.

Union County Court of Appeals 09/26/18
Maria Kalis Buchanan v. Rodney M. Buchanan
E2017-02364-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

In this divorce action, the trial court entered a “Judgment and Parenting Plan” on July 10, 2017, which addressed, inter alia, issues regarding division of the parties’ assets and debts, co-parenting time with the parties’ minor children, child support, and alimony. Within thirty days of entry of the judgment, the parties filed competing motions, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 59, seeking amendment of the July 10, 2017 judgment. The trial court conducted a hearing regarding the Rule 59 motions on August 1, 2017; issued an oral ruling; and directed the mother’s counsel to prepare an order. On August 7, 2017, the father filed a petition seeking to modify the parties’ permanent parenting plan in order to reflect that one of the children had recently been spending minimal time with the mother. Subsequently, on September 11, 2017, the father filed a motion seeking recusal of the trial court judge, asserting that the judge had exhibited bias against the father or his counsel by the judge’s statements and actions during the August 1, 2017 hearing. On November 6, 2017, the trial court entered an order disposing of the Rule 59 motions. Later that same day, the trial court entered a separate order granting the recusal motion. The mother filed an appeal from the trial court’s order concerning the Rule 59 motions. On appeal, the father filed a motion to dismiss the appeal and a motion seeking this Court’s consideration of certain post-judgment facts. We grant the father’s motion to consider post-judgment facts and deny his motion to dismiss the mother’s appeal. Discerning no error in the trial court’s distribution of marital assets and allocation of debts, we affirm such adjudications in their entirety. We vacate, however, the trial court’s award of rehabilitative alimony and remand the spousal support issue to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We grant the mother’s request for an award of attorney’s fees on appeal, remanding that issue to the trial court for a determination of the appropriate amount of reasonable attorney’s fees to be awarded.

Washington County Court of Appeals 09/26/18
James Meng v. City of Memphis, Tennessee
W2017-01883-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

This appeal results from the trial court’s dismissal of a complaint for declaratory judgment on the ground of res judicata. In 2011, the City of Memphis issued environmental neglect citations to two adjoining property owners related to damage to the properties that required significant repair. The property owners agreed with the City that repairs were necessary but could not agree on the allocation of the cost of the repairs. The cases were eventually consolidated before the environmental division of general sessions court, and the court entered an order allowing the City of Memphis to proceed with the repair and charge the costs to both owners as tax liens. After the City of Memphis completed the repair, it charged each owner one-half of the cost of the repairs. One owner thereafter filed suit for a declaratory judgment in Shelby County Chancery Court, arguing that it did not owe one-half of the repair costs due to the fact that the repairs were necessitated by neglect to the other property. Following a trial, the trial court ruled in favor of the City of Memphis, finding that the property owner’s action was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/25/18
200 Linden Avenue Properties, G.P., et al. v. Cheyenne Johnson, Shelby County Assessor of Property, et al.
W2017-02372-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

Petitioner appeals from the Shelby County Circuit Court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the Respondents, Shelby County Assessor of Property and Shelby County Trustee, as to Petitioner’s claims challenging tax assessments issued by the Assessor of Property. We conclude that Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-5-1511 mandates that judicial review of property tax classification and valuation decisions are properly to chancery court. As such, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand with instructions to transfer this matter to the Shelby County Chancery Court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/24/18
Rafia Nafees Khan v. Regions Bank
E2017-02454-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

This is the third appeal arising from a disputed arbitration award. After the first appeal, this Court remanded the case to the trial court for the purpose of entering an order confirming the award in favor of Regions Bank (the Bank) “as to the Rafia N. Khan Irrevocable Trust.” The trial court subsequently entered an order confirming the award against “the Rafia N. Khan Irrevocable Trust” and “Rafia N. Khan as Trustee of the Rafia N. Khan Irrevocable Trust.” Over twenty months later, Rafia Khan filed an independent action in equity asking the trial court to set aside its judgment confirming the award. Pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6), the Bank filed a motion to dismiss and raised the affirmative defense of res judicata. The trial court granted the Bank’s motion to dismiss on the basis of res judicata. We vacate the trial court’s findings with respect to res judicata. Nevertheless, we affirm the court’s dismissal of the case because Ms. Khan’s complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Knox County Court of Appeals 09/24/18
William Thomas Fiala v. Kelly Lauren Fiala
M2017-01280-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

Mother appeals the trial court’s finding that a material change in circumstance occurred affecting the best interests of the child and that the child’s best interests were furthered by naming Father primary residential parent. We affirm the trial court’s judgment as modified. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/21/18
Taylor Sherrer Ex Rel Lilly S. Et Al. v. John B. Cleghorn Et Al.
M2018-00023-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Franklin L. Russell

This is a wrongful death case. Decedent was operating his motor vehicle in the early morning when he struck a bull in the middle of the road. As a result of the collision, Decedent’s vehicle careened off the road and flipped upside down into a nearby creek, where Decedent drowned. Plaintiffs, Decedent’s surviving spouse and children, sued Defendant, alleging that he was negligent in his ownership and control of the bull. Defendant denied ownership, possession, or control of the bull and moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. On appeal, Plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred at the summary judgment stage by weighing the evidence and making determinations as to the credibility of witnesses. We agree and reverse.

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 09/20/18
Courtney P. Brunetz v. Neil A. Brunetz
E2017-01391-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

In this post-divorce action involving the father’s petition to modify the parties’ existing permanent parenting plan and the mother’s subsequent counter-petition, the trial court increased the father’s co-parenting time by ten days during the summer, for a total of 130 parenting days per year, and granted the mother sole decision-making authority with respect to the children’s education and extracurricular activities. The father has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s ruling in all respects.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 09/20/18