Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/26/2017
Format: 04/26/2017
John C. Wells, III v. State of Tennessee
E2015-01715-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William O. Shults, Commissioner

The plaintiff is an inmate who filed a claim with the Claims Commission after the Tennessee Department of Correction made the determination that inmates were prohibited from possessing small electric heating appliances known as “hotpots.” He sought compensation for the loss of his hotpot “under the Takings Clause of the State and Federal Constitutions.” The Commission dismissed the plaintiff's claim because it did not have subject matter jurisdiction over takings claims involving only personal property. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 9-8-307(a)(1)(V); 12-1-202 (defining “private property” as “real property, or improvements to real property . . . .”). The plaintiff appealed, contending that the definition of “private property” was unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Horne v. Dep’t of Agric., --- U.S. ----,135 S. Ct. 2419, 192 L. Ed. 2d 388 (2015), which held that the government is required to pay just compensation under the Takings Clause when it physically takes possession of either real or personal property. We have determined that the Commission did not have authority to decide the plaintiff's facial challenge to the constitutionality of the statute. We have also determined the plaintiff would not be entitled to compensation even if his constitutional challenge to the statute was successful. Consequently, we affirm the dismissal of his claim.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 12/01/16
Donald Crockett, et al. v. Sumner County Board of Education, et al
M2015-02227-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

A thirteen year-old child slipped off bleacher seats at a middle school and injured his leg when he was using the seats as steps in July 2012.  The child and his parents sued the school for negligence, and the school asserted the defense of comparative negligence.  The trial court applied the Rule of Sevens, concluded the school rebutted the presumption of no capacity for negligence, and determined that the child was solely responsible for his injury.  The trial court also determined that the school was not liable for negligent supervision of the child.  The parents and child appeal, and we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
Joan Stephens, et al. v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., et al
M2016-00509-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

This case arises out of a workplace injury. The injured worker and her husband filed this lawsuit asserting various causes of action against numerous defendants. The trial court dismissed one of the defendants upon finding that the defendant was entitled to workers’ compensation immunity. The trial court certified its order of dismissal as final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02. Plaintiffs appeal, claiming that the defendant waived the affirmative defense of workers’ compensation immunity, that the trial court applied the wrong standard for a motion to dismiss, and that the particular claims asserted are not barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the workers’ compensation law. We affirm.  

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
Bill Frank Brainerd v. Alisa Rheanne Brainerd
M2015-00362-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jane W. Wheatcraft

In this appeal arising from the parties’ divorce, the husband challenges the trial court’s valuation of his interest in a limited partnership, division of the marital estate, awards of transitional alimony and alimony in solido, child support order, and adoption of the wife’s proposed permanent parenting plan. The husband also appeals the trial court’s denial of his motion for a restraining order. We conclude that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s valuation of the husband’s interest in the limited partnership. We also conclude that the trial court did not err in denying Husband’s motion for a restraining order. However, because the trial court failed to provide sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law, we are unable to effectively review the remainder of the issues raised by the husband on appeal. Therefore, we vacate the judgment of the trial court with regard to these remaining issues and remand for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
Deborah Lacy v. Kevin Mitchell, D.C., et al.
M2016-00677-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal arises from the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s complaint based on her failure to comply with the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”). On appeal, the plaintiff contends that she was not obligated to comply with the THCLA’s procedural requirements because her complaint did not assert a health care liability claim. Having reviewed the complaint, we conclude that it asserts two separate and distinct claims: one health care liability claim and one non-health care liability claim. We therefore affirm the trial court’s dismissal of the health care liability claim, vacate the trial court’s dismissal of the non-health care liability claim, and remand the case for further proceedings.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In Re: Emily M.
M2015-01017-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Davenport

This appeal arises from the change in the designation of the primary residential parent and the modification of a residential parenting schedule. Mother appeals, contending that certain factual findings made by the court are unsupported by the record and that the court erred in restricting her parenting time. The court’s findings are supported by the record and did not abuse its discretion in reducing Mother’s parenting time; accordingly, we affirm the judgment.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In re Addison B.
E2016-00966-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Dennis Roach, II

This appeal involves the termination of a father's parental rights. The father is currently serving an eight-year sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of attempted child rape, with the victims being the child at issue and her older half-sister. The trial court terminated the father's parental rights upon finding by clear and convincing evidence that six grounds for termination were proven and that termination was in the best interest of the child. We vacate the trial court's findings as to three grounds but affirm the trial court's findings regarding the remaining three grounds and affirm the best interest finding. We accordingly affirm the trial court's order as modified and uphold the termination of the father's parental rights.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In re Gabriella D. DISSENT
E2016-00139-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

I fully concur in the majority's affirmance on the ground of severe abuse as to Gabriella D. Because I cannot agree that Foster Parents have shown clear and convincing evidence sufficient to forever sever the parent-child relationship at issue in this case, however, I must respectfully dissent from the majority's decision to reverse the trial court and grant Foster Parents' petition to terminate Mother's parental rights.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In re Gabriella D.
E2016-00139-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams
This is a termination of parental rights case involving Gabriella D., who was age seven at the time of trial. The mother, Carla D. ("Mother"), and the father, Julius D. ("Father"), have three children currently involved in termination actions: Chance D., Gabriella D., and Jude D. (collectively, "the Children"). Mother and Father have an extensive history with child welfare agencies and the courts in both Tennessee and Georgia.1 In March 2012, the Hamilton County Juvenile Court ("juvenile court") granted temporary legal custody of the Children to the Tennessee Department of Children‘s Services ("DCS"). Upon their placement in DCS custody, the Children were placed in the home of Karen P. and Thomas S. (collectively, "Foster Parents").2 DCS did not seek a finding of severe child abuse against Mother in the dependency and neglect action in juvenile court. Foster Parents filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and to adopt Gabriella D. ("Gabriella") in the Hamilton County Circuit Court ("trial court") on July 31, 2013. Foster Parents concomitantly filed separate termination of parental rights actions involving Gabriella‘s two siblings, Chance D. ("Chance") and Jude D. ("Jude"). Following a bench trial, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Mother had committed severe child abuse against Chance while he was in her custody. The trial court recognized that the determination of severe child abuse against Chance was a ground for termination of Mother‘s parental rights to Gabriella. The trial court also found, however, that Foster Parents had not proven by clear and convincing evidence that the conditions leading to the removal of the Children persisted or that termination of Mother‘s parental rights was in Gabriella‘s best interest.3 The trial court thereby denied the petition to terminate Mother‘s parental rights to Gabriella. Foster Parents have appealed. We affirm the trial court‘s finding that the statutory ground of severe child abuse was proven by clear and convincing evidence. However, having determined that Foster Parents also proved by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother‘s parental rights was in the best interest of Gabriella, we reverse the trial court‘s denial of the termination petition. We therefore grant Foster Parents‘ petition for termination of Mother‘s parental rights to Gabriella. We remand this matter to the trial court for an adjudication regarding Foster Parents‘ petition for adoption.
 
Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
Bryan R. Hanley v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al. - Dissenting
M2016-01223-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s holding. As the majority notes, a charge against an inmate be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, defined at TDOC Policy No. 502.01(IV)(I) as “[t]he degree of proof which best accords with reason and probability and is more probable than not.” As the majority also notes, the evidence upon which Mr. Hanley’s conviction rested consisted of the two knives and Corporal Story’s statement, the salient portion of which is quoted in the majority opinion. Corporal Story did not testify and the only live witnesses were Mr. Hanley, who denied that the knives were his, and Duane Brooks, an inmate who testified in support of Mr. Hanley’s contention that the knives were left by a previous occupant of the cell.    

Hickman County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
Bryan R. Hanley v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al.
M2016-01223-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

An inmate was found guilty of possession of a deadly weapon when two knives were found in the door of his cell. After exhausting his administrative remedies, the inmate petitioned for a common law writ of certiorari asserting several issues relating to violations of due process and the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures. The trial court granted his petition, denied his discovery request, and dismissed the writ of certiorari. The inmate now appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In re Jude D. - DISSENT
E2016-00097-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

I fully concur in the majority's affirmance on the ground of severe abuse as to Jude D. Because I cannot agree that Foster Parents have shown clear and convincing evidence sufficient to forever sever the parent-child relationship at issue in this case, however, I must respectfully dissent from the majority's decision to reverse the trial court and grant Foster Parents' petition to terminate Mother's parental rights.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In re Jude D.
E2016-00097-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams
This is a termination of parental rights case involving Jude D., who was age five at the time of trial. The mother, Carla D. ("Mother"), and the father, Julius D. ("Father"), have three children currently involved in termination actions: Chance D., Gabriella D., and Jude D. (collectively, the Children). Mother and Father have an extensive history with child welfare agencies and the courts in both Tennessee and Georgia.1 In March 2012, the Hamilton County Juvenile Court ("juvenile court") granted temporary legal custody of the Children to the Tennessee Department of Children‘s Services ("DCS"). Upon their placement in DCS custody, the Children were placed in the home of Karen P. and Thomas S. (collectively, "Foster Parents").2 DCS did not seek a finding of severe child abuse against Mother in the dependency and neglect action in juvenile court. Foster Parents filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and to adopt Jude D. ("Jude") in the Hamilton County Circuit Court ("trial court") on July 31, 2013. Foster Parents concomitantly filed separate termination of parental rights actions involving Jude‘s two siblings, Gabriella D. ("Gabriella") and Chance D. ("Chance"). Following a bench trial, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Mother had committed severe child abuse against Chance while he was in her custody. The trial court recognized that the determination of severe child abuse against Chance was a ground for termination of Mother‘s parental rights to Jude. The trial court also found, however, that Foster Parents had not proven by clear and convincing evidence that the conditions leading to the removal of the Children persisted or that termination of Mother‘s parental rights was in Jude‘s best interest.3 The trial court thereby denied the petition to terminate Mother‘s parental rights to Jude. Foster Parents have appealed. We affirm the trial court‘s finding that the statutory ground of severe child abuse was proven by clear and convincing evidence. However, having determined that Foster Parents also proved by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother‘s parental rights was in the best interest of Jude, we reverse the trial court‘s denial of the termination petition. We therefore grant Foster Parents‘ petition for termination of Mother‘s parental rights to Jude. We remand this matter to the trial court for an adjudication regarding Foster Parents‘ petition for adoption.
 
Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
in re Chance D. - DISSENT
E2016-00101-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

I fully concur in the majority's affirmance on the ground of severe abuse as to Chance D. Because I cannot agree that Foster Parents have shown clear and convincing evidence sufficient to forever sever the parent-child relationship at issue in this case, however, I must respectfully dissent from the majority's decision to reverse the trial court and grant Foster Parents' petition to terminate Mother's parental rights

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In re Chance D.
E2016-00101-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams
This is a termination of parental rights case involving Chance D., who was age four at the time of trial. The mother, Carla D. ("Mother"), and the father, Julius D. ("Father"), have three children currently involved in termination actions: Chance D., Gabriella D., and Jude D. (collectively, "the Children"). Mother and Father have an extensive history with child welfare agencies and the courts in both Tennessee and Georgia.1 In March 2012, the Hamilton County Juvenile Court ("juvenile court") granted temporary legal custody of the Children to the Tennessee Department of Children‘s Services ("DCS"). Upon their placement in DCS custody, the Children were placed in the home of Karen P. and Thomas S. (collectively, "Foster Parents").2 DCS did not seek a finding of severe child abuse against Mother in the dependency and neglect action in juvenile court. Foster Parents filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and to adopt Chance D. ("Chance") in the Hamilton County Circuit Court ("trial court") on July 31, 2013. Foster Parents concomitantly filed separate termination of parental rights actions involving Chance‘s two siblings, Gabriella D. ("Gabriella") and Jude D. ("Jude"). Following a bench trial, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Mother had committed severe child abuse against Chance while he was in her custody. The trial court also found, however, that Foster Parents had not proven by clear and convincing evidence that the conditions leading to the removal of the Children persisted or that termination of Mother‘s parental rights was in Chance‘s best interest.3 The trial court thereby denied the petition to terminate Mother‘s parental rights to Chance. Foster Parents have appealed. We affirm the trial court‘s finding that the statutory ground of severe child abuse was proven by clear and convincing evidence. However, having determined that Foster Parents also proved by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother‘s parental rights was in the best interest of Chance, we reverse the trial court‘s denial of the termination petition. We therefore grant Foster Parents‘ petition for termination of Mother‘s parental rights to Chance. We remand this matter to the trial court for an adjudication regarding Foster Parents‘ petition for adoption.
 
Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In re Cannon B.
E2016-01826-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Henry E. Sledge
This is an appeal by the appellant, Abigail T., from an order terminating her parental rights to her minor child. The order terminating the appellant’s parental rights was entered on July 19, 2016. The Notice of Appeal was not filed until August 19, 2016, more than thirty (30) days from the date of entry of the final order. The Attorney General, on behalf of the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, has filed a motion to dismiss this appeal based upon the untimely filing of the Notice of Appeal. Because the record confirms that the Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal and grant the motion to dismiss.
 
Loudon County Court of Appeals 11/30/16
In re M.E.T.
W2016-00682-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Harold W. Horne

The Department of Children's Services filed a petition in July 2015 to terminate the parental rights of M.G.H. (Father) with respect to his child, M.E.T. (the child). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of grounds supporting termination for Father due to abandonment by an incarcerated parent and persistence of conditions. The court also found, by the same standard of proof, that termination is in the best interest of the child. Father appeals. We affirm the trial court's holding as modified.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/29/16
In re Estate of David Larry Letsinger
E2016-00144-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex A. Dale

After her husband passed away in 2013, Rose Letsinger filed a petition in the trial court seeking letters of administration for his estate. First Choice Community Credit Union filed a claim against the estate for an unpaid credit card balance. Letsinger1 excepted to the claim and filed a motion to dismiss the claim, asserting that the Credit Union had failed to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-307 (Supp. 2012) by failing to attach an itemized statement of its claim. The trial court agreed. It held that the Credit Union had failed to include an itemized statement. Accordingly, it dismissed the claim. The Credit Union filed a motion to alter or amend, arguing that it had filed with its claim what appears to be the deceased's last monthly statement. It contended that its filing satisfied the itemized statement requirement. The trial court denied the motion. The Credit Union appealed. Later, it filed a motion to dismiss its appeal. We granted the motion. Following this, Letsinger filed a motion seeking to compel the Credit Union to disburse to the estate the funds in the deceased's account with the Credit Union. The trial court granted the motion. The Credit Union appeals. We affirm.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 11/29/16
Tim Grace v. Jeanna Grace d/b/a Grace Trucking
W2016-00650-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles C. McGinley

The plaintiff in a breach of contract action filed a motion to enforce a settlement agreement allegedly agreed to by the defendant. The defendant argued that there was no acceptance of the plaintiff's settlement offer; rather, the defendant contended that she responded to the plaintiff's offer with a counter-offer, which she revoked prior to its acceptance. The trial court found that the parties had entered into an enforceable settlement agreement but denied the plaintiff‟s request for attorney's fees. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Decatur County Court of Appeals 11/29/16
Dorothy Holmes v. Christ Community Health Services, Inc., et al.
W2016-00207-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

The plaintiff filed this action alleging medical malpractice against a physician who examined the plaintiff five days after injury to her shoulder, as well as the facility wherein the physician practiced. The plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that the defendant physician failed to properly diagnose a fracture dislocation in her shoulder, causing a delay in appropriate treatment. The plaintiff‘s subsequent treating physician opined in his deposition and via affidavit that if the plaintiff‘s injury had been diagnosed earlier, the plaintiff would likely have avoided an extensive surgical procedure, resultant infection stemming from such surgery, and residual impairment to her shoulder. The trial court excluded this testimony as speculative, granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant physician and hospital. The plaintiff has appealed. We determine that the trial court erred in excluding the causation evidence as speculative. We therefore vacate the court‘s grant of summary judgment in favor of the co-defendants.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/29/16
Paul Housewright, et al. v. Dr. Ronald K. McCormack, et al.
E2016-00272-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

This appeal concerns the validity of a warranty deed in which the decedents conveyed a parcel of property for the benefit of a church. The deed contained a reversionary clause requiring the property to revert back if no longer used for the benefit of the church. The same parcel was included in another deed that did not contain a reversionary clause but was recorded before the original deed. The church listed the property for sale approximately 67 years later. The decedents' heirs filed suit. The defendants sought summary judgment, claiming that ownership of the property was established through the deed recorded first. The court granted summary judgment. We affirm.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 11/29/16
Stanley Creekmore, Administrator For The Estate of Alma B. Long v. Jason S. Hackler, et al.
E2016-00405-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Elizabeth C. Asbury

This is the second appeal of this property dispute concerning a mother's reservation of a life estate in property conveyed to her son pursuant to a warranty deed. The mother initially brought suit against the son to enforce her right to possession. She later sought to amend her complaint in an attempt to attack the validity of the deed. Before ruling upon the motion to amend, the trial court granted summary judgment based upon the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations for ejectment actions. This court reversed in Long v. Creekmore, No. E2012-01453-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 1320515 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 28, 2013). Upon remand, the trial court denied the motion to amend the complaint and dismissed the action following the death of the mother and son. The administrator of the mother's estate appeals. We affirm the trial court.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 11/29/16
Mark Henderson v. City Of Mount Pleasant, Tennessee et al.
M2016-00639-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David L. Allen

Petitioner, the interim city manager for the City of Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the votes of two commissioners to terminate his employment were void due to a conflict of interest. He contends their votes were void because ethics complaints filed by Petitioner against the two commissioners were pending at the time of the vote. The trial court dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6), upon the finding that the petition failed to allege facts which would show that the commissioners had a personal financial interest in the outcome of the vote on Petitioner’s employment. Petitioner appealed; we affirm.

Maury County Court of Appeals 11/28/16
Security Equipment Supply, Inc. v. Richard H. Roberts, Commissioner Of Revenue, State of Tennessee
M2016-00423-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

At issue is whether a taxpayer’s sales are properly classified as “retail sales” or “wholesale sales” under the Business Tax Act, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 67-4-701 to -730, and Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1320-04-05-.47. Following an audit, the Tennessee Department of Revenue determined that the taxpayer misclassified its sales as “wholesale sales,” when they should have been classified as “retail sales,” and assessed the taxpayer with $74,088.10 in tax liability. After paying the assessment, the taxpayer filed suit seeking a refund. The chancery court held that the sales in question were “retail sales” within the context of the statute and denied the request for a refund. We conclude that the business activities were properly classified as retail sales; therefore, we affirm the judgment of the chancery court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/28/16
Christopher Dylan Thompson v. Best Buy Stores, L.P.
E2015-02304-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

Plaintiff Christopher Dylan Thompson ingested several doses of a liquid form of a drug, which he says was estazolam, before reporting to work for his employer, defendant Best Buy Stores, L.P. At work, he appeared tired and slow, and a manager told him to clock out and end his shift early. On his way home, plaintiff was involved in a car accident. He brought this negligent entrustment action, alleging that defendant breached a duty by not stopping him from leaving his place of employment in his own vehicle. The trial court granted defendant summary judgment, holding defendant “had no duty to prevent [plaintiff] from leaving the premises driving his own vehicle,” and relying on Lett v. Collis Foods, Inc., 60 S.W.3d 95 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001), a factually similar case decided by this Court. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/28/16