Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 01/19/2020
Format: 01/19/2020
Alan O. Tennessee Department of Children's Services
E2019-01053-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan

The Appellant filed suit complaining that the Department of Children’s Services denied him an administrative hearing concerning the determination that he was a child abuser. The trial court ultimately dismissed the Appellant’s petition for review, noting that there had already been a prior judicial determination, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Appellant had committed severe child abuse. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/19/19
Battery Alliance, Inc. v. Clinton Beiter, et al.
W2018-02117-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

Defendants appeal the trial court’s denial of its motion for relief from a default judgment. In support of its motion, defendants raised three grounds: (1) that the judgment was void due to improper service of process; (2) that the judgment was void due to improper notice related to the motion for default judgment; and (3) the judgment should be set aside due to mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect. A thorough review of the record indicates that the trial court exercised its independent judgment to adjudicate only the first of the three grounds alleged. As such, we vacate the denial of the motion and remand for consideration of the remaining grounds.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/19/19
Jonathan M. Thomas v. Kevin Millen
W2019-00086-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

Tenant appeals the dismissal of his appeal from general sessions court for failure to post a bond constituting one year’s rent. Because the posting of a bond constituting one year’s rent is non-jurisdictional, we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/19/19
Todd Goldman v. Nicole Griffin
M2019-00138-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: M2019-00138-COA-R3-CV

This is a consolidated appeal concerning the trial court’s dismissal of two orders of protection in this domestic relations action.  We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Timothy Rosebrough v. Karen Caldwell f/k/a Karen Rosebrough
W2018-01168-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

In this post-divorce custody action, the mother filed a motion seeking to modify the permanent parenting plan to designate her the primary residential parent. During trial, the parents requested that the Trial Court modify the residential parenting schedule. Following trial, the Trial Court entered an order denying the mother’s request to be designated primary residential parent but granting the parties’ request to modify the parenting schedule. Most of the Trial Court’s order consisted of its detailed recitation of the testimony presented during trial, without finding which testimony was credible or otherwise making sufficient findings of fact regarding the evidence presented to support its ruling as to changing the primary residential parent. As such, we find and hold that the March 9, 2018 order does not comply with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01 by including sufficient findings of fact concerning the mother’s motion to modify the permanent parenting plan to designate her the primary residential parent. We, therefore, vacate that portion of the Trial Court’s judgment and remand for the Trial Court to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law in compliance with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01. Because the Trial Court did make sufficient findings of fact as to the parenting schedule and it was not raised as an issue on appeal, the Trial Court’s judgment regarding modification of the residential parenting schedule is affirmed.

Madison County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Ritchie Phillips Et Al. v. Mark Hatfield
E2019-00628-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor E. G. Moody

In this declaratory judgment action involving neighboring landowners in a residential development, the trial court determined that the restrictive covenants applicable to the development would prevent the defendant from constructing a commercial business on his property. The trial court accordingly entered an injunction preventing the defendant from constructing a business on his real property. The defendant has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Jimmy Wayne Helton v. Earl Lawson
E2018-02119-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence after he was injured in a construction accident on the defendant’s property. The defendant claimed that he was not the employer of the plaintiff. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant and awarded the plaintiff no damages. The plaintiff appeals. We reverse the jury’s verdict only as to damages.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Lisa Priestas, et al. v. Kia Properties, LLC, et al.
W2019-00728-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

In this premises liability case, Mr. Priestas, an independent contractor, filed suit against Appellees, the owner/landlord and lessee of a convenience store, seeking damages for injuries he sustained during an attempted robbery at the store. The trial court granted Appellees’ motion for summary judgment, finding that: (1) the lessee did not breach its duty because: (a) Mr. Priestas was an independent contractor; (b) he was aware of the danger at the store; and (c) he was warned that the store had been robbed on several occasions; and (2) the owner/landlord was not liable because of the general rule of non-liability of a landlord for harm caused to a third party on leased premises. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Catrice Thomas Dye v. Willie B. Dye, Jr.
W2019-02011-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

The issue in this Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B interlocutory appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying a mother’s motion for recusal based upon alleged bias due to the court’s prior employment of and actions by the guardian ad litem. We find no error in the trial court’s ruling.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Donna Felecia Watson v. Quince Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC, et al.
W2019-00261-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This is an appeal from the trial court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration. The subject arbitration agreement was executed in connection with a patient’s admission to a nursing home facility and signed by the patient’s son. The trial court found that the son lacked authority to bind his mother to the agreement. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/17/19
Linda L. Rozen, et al. v. Wolff Ardis, PC
W2019-00396-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

Appellants filed a legal malpractice action against their former law firm after two civil judgments were not renewed after a ten-year period. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled that the appellants’ claim was filed beyond the statute of limitations. The trial court also found that no attorney-client relationship existed to impose a duty on the law firm to renew the civil judgments before they expired. We find no reversible error in the trial court’s ruling regarding the statute of limitations. As such, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/17/19
Bonnie R. Lovell v. Warren County, Tennessee
M2019-00582-COA-r3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry R. Tidwell

A woman was incarcerated after being arrested and charged with several crimes.  Prior to trial, the charges against her were dropped and she was released.  Within a year of her release, the woman filed a claim against the county for false imprisonment.  The county moved for summary judgment, asserting that the complaint was barred by the one-year statute of limitations.  The trial court granted the county’s motion and the woman appealed.  We reverse the trial court’s judgment and hold that the statute of limitations for false imprisonment claims does not begin to run until the imprisonment ends.

Warren County Court of Appeals 12/16/19
Dora Nesbitt Jones v. Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC
W2019-00448-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This appeal involves an arbitration agreement executed in connection with a nursing home admission. At the time of admission, Appellee, daughter of the resident, signed the admission contract and separate voluntary arbitration agreement on behalf of her mother. Appellee later sued the nursing home, on behalf of her mother, for injuries sustained in a fall, and the nursing home sought to enforce the arbitration agreement signed by Appellee. The trial court denied Appellant’s motion to compel arbitration, finding that Appellee lacked authority, under the power of attorney, to bind her mother to the agreement. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/16/19
Scott Foltz v. Barnhart Crane and Rigging Company
W2018-02198-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

Appellant/employee brought this retaliatory discharge case against Appellee, his former employer. Appellant alleged that he was fired in retaliation for claiming workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that Appellant failed to meet his burden to show a causal connection between the filing of his workers’ compensation claim and the termination of his employment. In the alternative, the trial court found that Appellee provided legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its decision to terminate Appellant’s employment, and Appellant failed to meet his burden to show that the proffered reasons were pretext. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/16/19
Shelby County, Tennessee v. Gary Morris, Jr., et al.
W2019-00049-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

This appeal arises from Shelby County’s decision to terminate Appellee’s employment for non-compliance with the County’s residency requirement. The Civil Service Merit Board (“CSMB”) reversed the termination of Appellee’s employment and reinstated him with back pay. On appeal, the Shelby County Chancery Court affirmed the CSMB’s ruling. Finding no error, we affirm the decision of the Chancery Court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/16/19
Chris Schaeffer v. Amanda Patterson
W2018-02097-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge David S. Walker

Father appeals the trial court’s decision allowing Mother to relocate with the parties’ daughter from the Memphis area to Blytheville, Arkansas. Father also appeals the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees to Mother. Applying the amended version of Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-108 based on the parties’ stipulation, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that relocation was in the child’s best interest. We also affirm the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees but decline to award attorney’s fees on appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/13/19
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