Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 09/26/2016
Format: 09/26/2016
West Warren-Viola Utility District v. Jarrell Enterprises, Inc.
M2013-02217-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson

Utility district brought action to condemn a parcel of real property which was located outside the district’s boundaries in order to construct a water storage tank, associated piping, and an access road. The trial court denied the petition, and the district appeals. Finding that the district is given the power in the Utility District Law to construct and maintain its system, and that the unrebutted evidence shows that the district was not attempting to expand the boundaries of its service area, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for a hearing on the damages due the property owner.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 04/26/16
Darren Dwayne Bracey v. Kimberly Ann Roberts Bracey
M2014-01865-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

In this divorce action, Wife contends the trial court erred in the division of marital property and by declining to award her alimony. Wife also contends the trial court erred by permitting her counsel of record to withdraw, denying her recusal motion, and denying her requests for disability modifications. We affirm the trial court in all respects. We also find Wife’s appeal frivolous and remand for the trial court to award Husband his reasonable and necessary fees and expenses incurred on appeal.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 04/26/16
Linda Beard v. James William Branson, et al - Rehear
M2014-01770-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curium
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Burch

In an opinion filed on March 31, 2016, we reversed the judgment of the trial court on the grounds that the wrongful death claims were barred by the statute of limitations because the only complaint filed prior to the running of the limitations period was void. The appellee, Linda Beard (“Plaintiff”), timely filed a petition for rehearing pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 39 in which she contends the filing of the pro se complaint by the decedent’s surviving spouse, Denver Hartley, tolled the statute of limitations even if his filing constituted the unauthorized practice of law. She also contends the pro se complaint filed by Mr. Hartley was voidable, not void; therefore, the deficiency could be remedied pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 11. Further, she contends the amended complaint, which was duly signed by a licensed attorney, should relate back to the filing of Mr. Hartley’s pro se complaint pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 17.01.

Houston County Court of Appeals 04/26/16
Vincente Acosta v. Kity Sonia Acosta
E2015-00215-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J.B. Bennett

This is a divorce case. On appeal, Vincente Acosta (Husband) argues that the trial court erred in reopening the proof shortly after the conclusion of a nonjury trial. The court did so for the purpose of receiving additional evidence on the subject of spousal support. Husband also argues that the trial court erred in ordering him to pay Kity Sonia Acosta (Wife) alimony in futuro of $1,500 per month. We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in reopening the proof and thereafter awarding Wife spousal support in futuro. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/26/16
Amy Wong Chan v. Henry Wah Chan
E2015-00597-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Headrick

Amy Chan (Wife) and Henry Chan (Husband) were granted a divorce in 2005, and the division of their marital assets was reserved for a future hearing. Some ten years later, in 2015, the trial court entered an order decreeing a division as outlined in a proposal by Wife. Husband appeals, maintaining that the trial court had previously ruled from the bench that the assets would be divided based upon a proposal filed by him. We affirm.

Blount County Court of Appeals 04/26/16
Healthcare Horizons, Inc. DBA Healthcare Horizons Consulting Group, Inc. v. James Guy Brooks
E2015-00488-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

James Brooks began working for Healthcare Horizons, Inc. in October 2013. He was required to sign a confidentiality and non-solicitation agreement (CNSA). The CNSA provides that disputes regarding the agreement would be settled by binding arbitration; there were exceptions – claims requesting equitable or injunctive relief were to be resolved by litigation in Knoxville. In March 2014, Healthcare Horizons terminated Brooks. He subsequently accepted a position with a new firm founded by John Graham, the former president of Healthcare Horizons. Graham had also executed a CNSA while working for Healthcare Horizons. His agreement provided that all disputes arising out of that agreement would be settled exclusively by binding arbitration. In November 2014, Healthcare Horizons filed a complaint against Brooks, alleging a breach of his CNSA and misappropriation of trade secrets. Brooks filed a motion to compel arbitration or, in the alternative, to stay the case pending resolution of an ongoing claim of Healthcare Horizons against Graham. The trial court denied Brooks’ motion. He appeals. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/26/16
Kenneth M. Spires et al v. Haley Reece Simpson et al.
E2015-00697-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

The surviving spouse in this wrongful death action appeals the trial court's dismissal of him as a plaintiff. The decedent and surviving spouse had one child together, who was eighteen months old at the time of the decedent's fatal automobile accident in October 2010. The decedent and surviving spouse were living apart, and the child had been residing solely with the decedent. On November 18, 2010, the surviving spouse, acting on behalf of the decedent, the child, and himself, filed the instant action in the Monroe County Circuit Court (“trial court”) against the seventeen-year-old driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident and her parents, who were the owners of the vehicle. Also in November 2010, the Monroe County Juvenile Court granted custody of the child to the maternal grandmother.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 04/26/16
Cooper Singletary, et al. v. Gatlinburlier, Inc. et al.
E2015-01621-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

This is a premises liability action. A visitor fainted and fell into an antique, glass display case located in a retail store in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The glass in the case shattered, piercing her chest and causing her death. Her husband sued the retail store and the mall in which it operated for negligence. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, finding that the injuries were not reasonably foreseeable. We affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 04/25/16
Rodney Bibbs v. Tennessee Board of Parole
M2015-01755-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

Appellant is an inmate in the Tennessee prison system; he is serving a life sentence, with the possibility of parole, for first degree murder. Appellee, the Tennessee Board of Parole, declined to recommend the Appellant for parole, citing as its reason the seriousness of his offense. Appellant filed a common law writ of certiorari in the Davidson County Chancery Court challenging the Board’s decision to deny him parole. The chancery court dismissed the petition. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/22/16
In re Izzabella B.
M2015-00963-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Thomas Gwin

This is an appeal from an order designating a primary residential parent, setting visitation and child support, and changing the child’s last name to that of Father. The juvenile court found that naming Father as primary residential parent was in the child’s best interest and determined that the child’s last name should be changed. Mother appealed both the designation of primary residential parent and the changing of the child’s last name. We affirm.     

Wilson County Court of Appeals 04/22/16
Paul B. Schodowski, D.P.M. et al v. Tellico Village Property Owners Association, Inc. et al.
E2015-01145-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Frank V. Williams, III

This case originated with the filing of a declaratory judgment action by the plaintiffs, Paul B. Schodowski, D.P.M., and Sharon Ann Ziegler (“Plaintiffs”), against the Tellico Village Property Owners' Association and its individual board members, Alan Hart, Ginny Ranck, Tom Lee, Claire Frazer, Joe Marlette, Cap Purvis, and Bob Coates (collectively, “TVPOA”). Plaintiffs alleged that the restrictive covenant regarding payment of annual assessments applicable to their lot in the Tellico Village development should not be enforced. TVPOA filed a motion to dismiss, asserting, inter alia, that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), determining that the restrictions were enforceable as written and that Plaintiffs had notice of the restrictions when they purchased their lot. Plaintiffs have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' complaint.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 04/22/16
Rodger Lee Moon v. Carolyn O'Day Moon
E2015-01470-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

Husband and Wife were married for approximately three years when Husband filed a complaint seeking a divorce. Wife filed a counter-complaint seeking a divorce as well. The trial court awarded Wife a divorce, classified the parties‟ assets as separate or marital, and divided the marital estate. The trial court also awarded Wife transitional alimony for a period of two years. Husband appealed, arguing the trial court erred in (1) classifying a boat he purchased before the marriage as marital property; (2) dividing the marital estate in an inequitable manner; and (3) awarding Wife transitional alimony. On appeal, we affirm the trial court‟s judgment in all respects and grant Wife‟s request for the attorney‟s fees she incurred in defending Husband‟s appeal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/21/16
In Re: Matthew T.
M2015-00486-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Prsiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Collins

The parents of a son born in May 2013 appeal the termination of their parental rights. In December 2013, the son was removed from his parents’ custody after law enforcement discovered that he was living in a home with two methamphetamine labs. After a hearing, the juvenile court entered an order finding that the son was dependent and neglected and that the parents had committed severe abuse as defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-102(b)(21). Parents did not appeal this order. Three permanency plans were created, all of which required the parents to maintain contact with the Department of Children’s Services, notify the Department of changes in their address or phone number, submit to and test negative on unannounced drug screens, and pay child support. In August 2014, the Department filed a petition for termination of parental rights. The trial court conducted a hearing, which the parents did not attend even though they knew of the date. An employee of the Department was the only witness to testify. She testified that the parents had not updated their contact information, maintained contact with the Department, or engaged in much visitation with their son. In addition, the father did not complete a drug treatment plan, admitted to using illegal drugs, and tested positive for drugs. After the hearing, the court found that the following grounds for termination had been established by clear and convincing evidence: abandonment, substantial noncompliance with a permanency plan, persistence of conditions, and severe abuse. The court also found that termination of parental rights was in the son’s best interest. Parents appealed. In accordance with In re Carrington H., --- S.W.3d ---, No. M2014-00453-SC-R11-PT, 2016 WL 819593, at *12-13 (Tenn. Jan. 29, 2016), we have reviewed the trial court’s findings related to all of the grounds for termination and the best interest of the child and conclude that termination is appropriate based on abandonment, substantial noncompliance, severe abuse, and persistence of conditions. We also hold that termination is in the son’s best interest. Accordingly, we affirm. 

Smith County Court of Appeals 04/20/16
Robin Ann Longstreth v. Phillip Andrew Longstreth
M2014-02474-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Robert E. Corlew, III

The issues on appeal arise from a final decree of divorce following a 27-year marriage in which Wife is clearly the economically disadvantaged spouse. The trial court awarded Wife the divorce, divided the property, and awarded Wife alimony in futuro and approximately one-third of the attorney’s fees she requested. Both spouses appeal. Husband contends the trial court erred by awarding Wife alimony in futuro, insisting she could be rehabilitated. Husband also contends Wife had sufficient resources to pay all of her attorney’s fees. Wife challenges the division of property and seeks to recover all of the attorney’s fees she incurred at trial and in this appeal. Both parties challenge the trial court’s decision to include, sua sponte, a mathematical formula pursuant to which alimony will be modified in the future based solely on the parties’ future income thresholds. We agree with the parties that the trial court erred by incorporating an automatic modification of alimony that is based solely on future income thresholds. We affirm the award of alimony in futuro to Wife; however, we vacate that portion of the alimony award that purports to automatically modify alimony based on future income thresholds. We affirm the division of property. We find that Wife should be awarded $18,105.75 of the $29,141 in attorney’s fees and litigation expenses she claims she incurred at trial. Therefore, we modify the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees Wife incurred at trial. As for Wife’s fees incurred on appeal, we find that she is entitled to recover the reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 04/20/16
William W. York v. Tennessee Board Of Parole
M2014-02283-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

This appeal arises from the denial of parole. The Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole found that the inmate’s release from custody would depreciate the seriousness of the crime of which he was convicted. The inmate filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari, alleging violations of the Ex Post Facto Clause of the state and federal constitutions. The trial court dismissed the petition. On appeal, the inmate alleges the same state and federal constitutional violations. He also argues that the trial court erred in not letting him conduct discovery and in relying on an affidavit filed in support the Board’s decision. We affirm.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/19/16
Mitchell L. Bowers v. Tennessee Department of Corrections, et al
M2015-01937-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda Jane McClendon

Plaintiff contends the trial court erred by dismissing this action for failure to prosecute. The trial court dismissed the action because the case had been pending for more than one year but no summons had been issued. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/19/16
Elizabeth Mesmer Cocke v. Thomas Lawrence Hunt Cocke
M2015-01440-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

This is an appeal of an order granting a reduction in child support. Mother appeals the trial court’s finding that she is voluntarily underemployed and alleges that the trial court improperly modified the parties’ parenting plan sua sponte. We conclude that the trial court did not modify the parenting plan in this case and affirm the order of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/19/16
Jana Hill v. Michael Gannon, et al.
M2015-00528-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

This is a wrongful termination case. Appellant appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on her claims of intentional interference with at-will employment and civil conspiracy on the part of Appellees. Because Appellant has not averred facts sufficient to make out a claim for intentional interference with at-will employment, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on that claim. In the absence of an underlying tort, we also affirm the trial court’s dismissal of Appellant’s claim for civil conspiracy. Affirmed and remanded.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 04/18/16
Lindsay Meghan Crutchfield v. State of Tennessee
M2015-01199-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Robert N. Hibbett

A hearing-impaired student attending a state university was required to live in a dormitory on campus. The university installed a bed shaker and strobe light in the student’s room that would be triggered by the presence of smoke or by a doorbell installed outside the room. The student’s room also had a speaker above the door that was wired into the building’s fire alarm system that sounded an alarm if the dormitory’s fire alarm was activated. On a morning in September 2011, the speaker in the student’s room that was located above the door was activated in response to a false alarm in the dormitory. Believing the sound caused her to suffer further hearing loss, the student sued the State, arguing the State was negligent by subjecting her to the loud alarm. The case was tried by the Tennessee Claims Commission, which found the State liable for the student’s further hearing impairment. The State appealed, and we reverse, holding the student failed to prove proximate cause.

Court of Appeals 04/18/16
Kenneth R. Vaught v. Green Bankshares, Inc., et al.
E2015-01259-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

This appeal arises from an effort by a former bank employee to collect certain deferred compensation payments. Kenneth R. Vaught ("Vaught") filed a complaint against his former employer, Green Bankshares, Inc., and its wholly owned subsidiary, Greenbank ("Greenbank"), in the Chancery Court for Knox County ("the Trial Court"). Both sides agree Vaught is entitled to certain deferred compensation. The issue is the amount. According to Greenbank, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation ("FDIC") and Troubled Asset Relief Program ("TARP") regulations prevent payment of the total amount requested by Vaught as it would constitute a prohibited "golden parachute." After a trial, the Trial Court found in favor of Vaught, awarding him the full amount. Greenbank appeals. On appeal, FDIC, amicus curiae, argues that the additional deferred compensation payment to Vaught constitutes a prohibited golden parachute. We hold that the Trial Court‘s judgment places Greenbank in the untenable position of having to either disobey the Trial Court‘s judgment or flout federal regulations and FDIC. We vacate the judgment of the Trial Court, remand this case to the Trial Court, and order a 60 day stay, during which time Vaught may pursue, should he elect to do so, other avenues of relief, including via the Administrative Procedure Act ("the APA") to challenge FDIC‘s determination.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/18/16
Deborah C. Russell v. HSBC Mortgage Services, Inc., et al
M2015-00197-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

A homeowner alleges that a mortgage company promised her favorable terms to induce her to refinance her mortgage but the actual loan did not contain the terms discussed. She further alleges that company representatives led her to believe, after she received copies of some of the loan documents, that the discrepancy in the loan terms was a “mistake” that would be corrected. The homeowner filed this case against several entities, including the mortgage company. In the order at issue in this appeal, the trial court granted the defendants summary judgment on all of the homeowner’s causes of action and on their counterclaim. We have concluded that the trial court properly granted summary judgment on the claim for violation of the Truth in Lending Act. With regard to the homeowner’s claims for intentional and negligent misrepresentation, we find that there remain genuine issues of material fact and that the trial court therefore erred in granting summary judgment.     

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/15/16
Richard Jeronimus v. Zoila Maria Jeronimus
M2014-02207-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

Divorce proceeding in which Husband contends that the trial court erred in dividing the marital assets and debts, in setting parenting time, and determining that Wife is the economically disadvantaged spouse. Wife contends that the court erred in not ordering Husband to formulate and sign the letter of instruction transferring assets from his IRA account; in not awarding a higher amount in transitional alimony; in failing to designate a party to be responsible for processing the qualified domestic relation orders for two retirement accounts; and in granting the divorce based on Husband’s Amended Complaint for divorce. Wife asks this court to impose restrictions on Husband’s ability to initiate future litigation. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court.  

Williamson County Court of Appeals 04/15/16
Tennessee Department of Correction v. David Pressley
M2015-00902-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

Employee of the Tennessee Department of Correction filed an administrative appeal challenging the termination of his employment. The board of appeals reduced the termination to a fourteen-day suspension. On appeal to the trial court, the chancery court ruled that the burden of proof was improperly allocated to the Tennessee Department of Correction in the hearing before the board of appeals. We reverse the decision of the chancery court and conclude that the board of appeals properly allocated the burden to the Tennessee Department of Correction. We further conclude that no substantial and material evidence in the record exists to support the board of appeals’ finding that the employee committed negligence in the performance of his duties. We also reverse the board of appeals’ decision denying the employee’s request for attorney’s fees in the prosecution of his appeal to the board of appeals and remand to the board of appeals for a determination of those fees. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/14/16
Covenant Health v. Tennessee Health Services And Development Agency, et al.
M2014-02538-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal arises out of the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency’s decision to grant a certificate of need to a company to acquire and operate a linear accelerator; the decision was opposed by another company that operated a linear accelerator. After a contested case hearing, an administrative law judge issued an initial order holding that the certificate of need should not have been granted. On the applicant’s appeal, the agency reviewed the initial order and reversed it. The company which contested the application filed a petition for review in chancery court, where the Chancellor reversed the agency’s decision, finding that it was not based on substantial and material evidence. On appeal to this court, we conclude that substantial and material evidence existed to support the agency’s decision to issue the certificate of need. We therefore reverse the order of the chancery court and remand the case for entry of an order affirming the agency’s decision.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/14/16
Dustin Scott Roberts v. William R. Ray
E2015-01522-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

This is a legal malpractice action in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant attorney failed to conform to the applicable standard of care in drafting a prenuptial agreement. The trial court granted the defendant attorney's motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appeals. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/13/16