Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 10/21/2017
Format: 10/21/2017
Ally Financial v. Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security
M2016-01894-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security forfeited a finance company’s interest in a vehicle after determining that the finance company failed to timely file a claim to contest the forfeiture after receiving notice. The finance company thereafter filed a petition for judicial review. The trial court reversed the forfeiture on the basis that the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security failed to prove that it sent proper notice to the finance company. We vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings before the administrative agency. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/07/17
Sarah Nichole Neveau v. Adam Paul Neveau
E2015-02221-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex A. Dale

This is an appeal from a divorce. The trial court granted the parties an absolute divorce and named the mother the primary residential parent of the parties’ minor child. The father filed this appeal challenging the designation of the mother as the primary residential parent and questioning the number of days of parenting time he received in the parenting plan. We find that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s designation of the mother as the primary residential parent; however, the evidence does preponderate against the parenting plan that greatly limits the parenting time awarded to the father. Because we have concluded that the evidence preponderates against the parenting plan, we remand this issue to the trial court to adopt a plan that affords the father additional parenting time and to modify the child support award to comport with the new parenting plan. We also conclude that the tax exemption should be awarded to the father until such time as the mother becomes employed, at which time the issue can be revisited.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 06/07/17
In Re E.C.
E2016-02582-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon M. Green

In this termination of parental rights action, Father’s parental rights were terminated based on the following grounds: (1) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the child; (2) that placing the child in Father’s legal and physical custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to the child’s physical and psychological welfare; (3) failure to establish or exercise paternity; and (4) abandonment by wanton disregard for the welfare of the child. We affirm the grounds of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the child and failure to establish or exercise paternity. However, we reverse with respect to the remaining grounds. We also affirm the trial court’s determination that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the best interest of the child. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Washington County Court of Appeals 06/06/17
In Re Gunner F.
M2016-01650-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge George L. Lovell

The trial court determined that the primary residential parent should be changed from mother to father without any change in the equal division of parenting time.  Because the trial court failed to address the best interest of the child in its order, we vacate and remand for the entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Maury County Court of Appeals 06/06/17
Samuel L. Graham, Jr., et al. v. The Family Cancer Center, PLLC, et al.
W2016-00859-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

This is a medical malpractice action. The plaintiffs timely filed suit against the defendants concerning the failure to timely diagnose the husband’s prostate cancer. After voluntarily dismissing the initial suit, the plaintiffs provided pre-suit notice before filing a second suit pursuant to the saving statute. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked sufficient expert testimony to establish their claim. The court agreed and granted summary judgment. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/05/17
Mitch Goree, et al. v. United Parcel Service, Inc.
W2016-01197-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

This is the second appeal of this employment discrimination case involving two plaintiffs. In the first appeal, Goree v. United Parcel Service, 490 S.W.3d 413 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015), perm. app. denied (Tenn. March 23, 2016), this Court reversed the judgment as to one plaintiff and affirmed the judgment as to the other plaintiff, the Appellant in the instant case. On remand, the trial court determined that the specific attorney’s fees chargeable to each plaintiff could not be determined and reduced the previous award of attorney’s fees and costs by 50%. Appellant appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/02/17
Dale J. Montpelier, et al. v. Herbert S. Moncier, et al. - DISSENT
E2016-00246-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s opinion in this case. I disagree with the majority’s conclusion that “the complaint fails to state a cause of action for abuse of process.” Applying the appropriate standard of review as correctly articulated by the majority, I believe the complaint does state a claim upon which relief can be granted as to the abuse of process claim.

Knox County Court of Appeals 06/01/17
Dale J. Montpelier, et al. v. Herbert S. Moncier, et al.
E2016-00246-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

This is a common law abuse of process case. The plaintiffs contend that the defendant attorney abused otherwise lawful process without authorization and for an improper purpose. The trial court dismissed this case as a matter of law for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12.02(6). We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 06/01/17
Walnut Run Homeowner's Association, Inc. v. Jerry Wayne Wilkerson
E2016-01084-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey M. Atherton

The owner of property in a residential subdivision appeals the order of the trial court prohibiting construction of an eight-foot wooden fence. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/01/17
Town of Collierville, et al. v. Town of Collierville Board of Zoning, et al.
W2016-02032-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

This is the third appeal in an ongoing dispute between the Town of Collierville and the owner of property on which two billboards are situated. On February 12, 2013, the Town filed a petition for writ of certorari, challenging a decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals. Because the petition for writ of certorari does not comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-8-106, the trial court and, therefore, this Court lack subject matter jurisdiction. We vacate the judgment of the chancery court and dismiss the petition.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
Daniel Paschedag v. Patricia L. Paschedag
M2016-00864-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

This is an appeal from the trial court’s designation of a child’s primary residential parent. After an analysis of the best interest factors set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-106(a), the court concluded that it would be in the child’s best interest to designate Mother as the child’s primary residential parent. Father appealed. Mother has requested attorney’s fees incurred in defending this appeal. We affirm the judgment of the trial court, grant Mother’s attorney’s fees incurred on appeal, and remand to the trial court to determine the proper amount of Mother’s award of attorney’s fees.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
Rodney And Tammy Henderson, et al. v. The Vanderbilt University - dissenting opinion
M2016-01876-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph p. Binkley, Jr.

“The law of negligent infliction of emotional distress has been called ‘one of the most disparate and confusing areas of tort law.’” Lane v. Estate of Leggett, No. M2016-00448-COA-R3-CV, 2017 WL 1176982, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2017) (citing Camper v. Minor, 915 S.W.2d 437, 440 (Tenn. 1996)). While this is a statement with which I agree, I must respectfully dissent from the majority opinion. I certainly do not dispute that the Plaintiffs in this case have suffered extreme emotional distress, nor do I mean to discount their grief and suffering as a result of the death of their daughter, Halle Henderson.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
Rodney And Tammy Henderson, et al. v. The Vanderbilt University
M2016-01876-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the defendant hospital on the ground that the plaintiffs could not establish that they witnessed or perceived an injury-producing event for purposes of their negligent infliction of emotional distress claims. We hold that the alleged failure of the defendant hospital to provide care to the plaintiffs’ daughter, despite repeated assurances from the hospital that it would occur, constitutes an injury-producing event that was witnessed by plaintiffs. Accordingly, the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ negligent infliction of emotional distress claims on this basis.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
Transfill Equipment Supplies & Services, Inc. v. Advanced Medical Equipment, LLC
M2016-00288-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

In this breach of contract case, Transfill Equipment Supplies & Services, Inc. (TESS) sued Advanced Medical Equipment, LLC (AME) for delinquent payments of (1) rent due on TESS’s equipment, (2) purchases of medical oxygen, and (3) the fair market value of rented equipment that AME had not returned to TESS. AME filed a separate lawsuit against TESS seeking damages for conversion of oxygen tanks. After consolidating the cases, the Sumner County General Sessions Court awarded damages to TESS and dismissed all of AME’s claims. AME appealed to the trial court. The court found that AME was guilty of breach of contract due to its failure to make timely payments. As a consequence, the court awarded judgment to TESS in the amount of $34,999.45. The trial court also found that TESS had not converted AME’s oxygen tanks. AME appeals. We affirm.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
Lemuel Lewis v. Lynn Moore, et al.
M2015-02473-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael Binkley

In this breach of contract action, the plaintiff entered into a contract with a sole proprietor whereby he purported to purchase 10% of the sole proprietorship. The contract entitled the plaintiff to 10% of the cash withdrawals made from the business's account. It further provided that, should the sole proprietor dissolve the business and form a new entity of which she was a majority owner, the plaintiff would be entitled to 10% of the cash withdrawals taken by the sole proprietor from the new entity. Two years later, the sole proprietor closed the business and formed a new entity, a limited liability company, with another individual. The plaintiff filed suit, alleging breach of contract and violations of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court found for the sole proprietor, concluding that the sole proprietor was free to close her business at will. It further found that the sole proprietor did not breach the express terms of the contract, nor did she breach her implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, in closing her business and forming the LLC. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
In Re James V., et al.
M2016-01575-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daryl A. Colson

This appeal involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her two sons.  The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that four grounds for termination were proven and that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate parental rights.  Mother appeals but only challenges the best interest determination.  We have also reviewed the evidence regarding each ground for termination.  We vacate the trial court’s finding regarding one ground for termination but otherwise affirm the trial court’s order and affirm the termination of the mother’s parental rights.

Overton County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
In Re: Candice H., et al
M2016-02305-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

This appeal arises from the termination of a father’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Jeffrey H. (“Father”) to his minor children Candice, Danonie, and Izabella (“the Children”). The Children had entered DCS custody after a domestic incident between Father and the Children’s mother. After a trial, the Juvenile Court entered an order finding by clear and convincing evidence that grounds existed to terminate Father’s parental rights and that termination is in the Children’s best interest. Father appealed. Finding it inapplicable to putative biological parent Father, we reverse the ground of failure to establish paternity found as regards the child Danonie. We affirm the rest of the Juvenile Court’s judgment terminating Father’s parental rights to the Children.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
L.J. Jackson, et al. v. CitiMortgage, Inc.
W2016-00701-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James R. Newsom

This appeal involves a dispute between a loan servicer and a family who subsequently defaulted on a mortgage for a piece of property. The loan servicer foreclosed and sold the property according to the express terms of the mortgage note and deed of trust after the family had been in default for multiple years and after multiple failed attempts to seek loan modification. The family sued for breach of contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory estoppel, and intentional misrepresentation, asserting that the loan servicer promised to postpone the foreclosure sale until after completion of the most recent loan modification review process. The trial court granted summary judgment to the loan servicer on all claims. The family appealed on all four issues. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
Eagle CDI, Inc., et al. v. Michael J. Orr, et al.
E2016-01399-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

This appeal involves a contract dispute between a general contracting company and a husband and wife who sought the company’s assistance to build a log cabin home. After the husband and wife defaulted on the original construction contract, the husband and wife and the company signed a second contract, a promissory note, for the remaining balance. The husband and wife subsequently defaulted on the promissory note. The trial court held that the husband and wife breached the second contract, the terms were clear and unambiguous, and a potential ambiguity in the first contract regarding a nonrefundable deposit and/or retainer was legally irrelevant in determining the amount owed under the second contract. Because the second contract was clear and unambiguous, we hold that the total sum owed by the husband and wife is proper despite any ambiguity in the first contract. Further, we hold that the trial court properly denied the husband and wife’s motion to amend their answer because of undue delay. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
David Lamar Hayes v. Glen Turner, Warden
W2016-01166-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal arises from the dismissal of a pro se inmate’s complaint for failure to prosecute. After filing his complaint in 2005, the plaintiff took no action in the case for more than 10 years. In 2015, the trial court directed the plaintiff to show cause why the case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute. Instead of providing an explanation for the delay, the plaintiff sought a default judgment against the defendant. The trial court then dismissed the case with prejudice. On appeal, we find no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s decision. We therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hardeman County Court of Appeals 05/31/17
Tysheka Barnett v. B.F. Nashville, Inc. DBA Wendy's Of Nashville
M2016-00762-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Tysheka Barnett brought this action solely against her employer, B.F. Nashville, Inc., dba Wendy’s of Nashville, alleging that Wendy’s general manager, William Rogers, sexually harrassed her during her employment at a Wendy’s restaurant. After a four-day bench trial, the court found that plaintiff had not met her burden of proof to show that the sexual conduct between her and Rogers was unwanted, and, therefore, she was unable to show harassment. On appeal, plaintiff primarily argues that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s determination that the sexual interaction in question was not unwelcomed by plaintiff. This ruling was driven and determined in large part by the trial court’s evaluation of the credibility, including demeanor, of the various witnesses. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/30/17
State of Tennessee, ex rel., Betty Ann Torres (Stone) Spurlock v. Cesar G. Torres
W2016-01633-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor W. Michael Maloan

In this child support action, the respondent father, who resides in Texas, filed a motion seeking to vacate the trial court’s previous child support orders, alleging that the court had no personal jurisdiction over him. The State of Tennessee (“the State”), acting on behalf of the mother, asserted that the father had consented to the court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction by previously seeking administrative review of the child support award. The trial court agreed, determining that its exercise of personal jurisdiction was proper. The father has appealed. Having determined that the trial court did not have a proper basis for the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the father, we reverse the trial court’s adjudication concerning personal jurisdiction. Because the trial court’s prior child support orders are void, we remand this matter to the trial court for a determination concerning whether exceptional circumstances exist that would justify denying relief from the prior void orders.

Weakley County Court of Appeals 05/30/17
Tom Watson v. Rosemarie Ralston-Good et al.
E2016-01505-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Neil Thomas, III

The plaintiff business owner, who provided carpet cleaning services, filed an action in the Hamilton County General Sessions Court (“general sessions court”) against a customer, alleging that the customer had failed to compensate him for services rendered. The customer subsequently filed a counterclaim against the business owner, alleging that he had ruined an oriental rug in her home and sprayed chemicals on her furniture. The general sessions court entered a judgment in favor of the customer. The business owner appealed to the Hamilton County Circuit Court (“trial court”). Following a de novo trial, the trial court also found in favor of the customer, determining that the business owner had damaged the customer’s carpet. The trial court awarded damages to the customer in the amount of $500.00. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/30/17
In Re: Lena G.
E2016-00798-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert G. Lincoln

This is a termination of parental rights case involving the child, Lena G. (“the Child”), who was fifteen years of age at the conclusion of trial. On October 8, 2013, the Washington County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) granted temporary legal custody of the Child to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). The Child was immediately placed in foster care, where she has remained since that date. Following a hearing, the trial court entered an order on June 11, 2014, adjudicating the Child dependent and neglected in the care of the parents. On November 19, 2014, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the Child’s mother, Sherry G. (“Mother”), and her father, Teddy G. (“Father”). The trial court admitted Mother’s hospital records as an exhibit during trial over her objection. Following a bench trial, the trial court terminated Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Child after determining by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the parents failed to provide a suitable home for the Child, (2) the parents failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the permanency plans, (3) the conditions that led to the removal of the Child from the parents’ custody still persisted, and (4) Mother was mentally incompetent to adequately care for the Child. The trial court further found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Child. Both Mother and Father have appealed. Having determined that the Child had not been removed from the parents’ home for six months by court order when the petition to terminate parental rights was filed, we reverse the trial court’s ruling regarding the statutory ground of persistence of conditions as to both parents. We conclude that the trial court erred in admitting Mother’s hospital records but determine this error to be harmless. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Child.

Washington County Court of Appeals 05/26/17
Joshlin Renee Woodruff by and through Dorothy Cockrell, et al. v. Armie Walker, M.D., et al.
W2016-01895-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle Atkins

The plaintiffs, a mother and her child, filed this health care liability action in September 2015. The complaint alleged that both plaintiffs suffered permanent injuries resulting from the defendant health care providers’ negligent care during the child’s birth in June 2012. The defendants moved to dismiss the mother’s claims based on expiration of the one-year statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-116(a)(1) and to dismiss the claims of both plaintiffs based on expiration of the three-year statute of repose in Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-116(a)(3). With regard to the statute of limitations, the plaintiffs argued that the mother’s claims were timely filed because the discovery rule delayed the accrual of her claims until March 2015 and because she had been “adjudicated incompetent” within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 such that the limitations period was tolled as to her claims. With regard to the statute of repose, the plaintiffs argued that their claims were timely filed because they were entitled to rely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), which extends the three-year statute of repose by 120 days when sufficient pre-suit notice is given. Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that neither the discovery rule nor Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-106 applied to the mother’s claims and that her claims were therefore filed after expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. Additionally, the trial court concluded that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient presuit notice because the medical authorizations included in their pre-suit notice did not permit the defendants to obtain their complete medical records. Specifically, the trial court found the authorizations insufficient because they did not permit the defendants to obtain relevant medical records from prenatal treatment that the mother received prior to the date of the delivery. The trial court therefore concluded that the plaintiffs were not entitled to rely on the 120-day extended filing period and their claims were filed after expiration of the three-year statute of repose. The trial court dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims, and the plaintiffs appealed. Having reviewed the record submitted on appeal, we hold that the trial court properly dismissed the mother’s claims based on expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. We further hold, however, that the trial court erred in dismissing the child’s claims based on expiration of the three-year statute of repose. Records from prenatal treatment that the mother received prior to the date of the delivery were the mother’s medical records, and the child could not have unilaterally authorized their release. As such, his failure to do so did not render the medical authorizations provided with his pre-suit notice insufficient. The defendants have not asserted any other deficiencies in the child’s pre-suit notice. Because the child provided sufficient pre-suit notice, he was entitled to rely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c), which extended the filing period by 120 days. The child’s claims were therefore timely filed prior to expiration of the extended statute of repose in October 2015. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Madison County Court of Appeals 05/26/17