Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 07/19/2018
Format: 07/19/2018
Quinton Clovis v. Raquel Hatter, Commissioner, Tennessee Department Of Human Services
M2017-00203-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Young

Quinton Clovis (“Plaintiff”) appeals the February 7, 2017 order of the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) ordering, inter alia, that the Tennessee Department of Human Services (“the Department”) reinstate Plaintiff’s food stamp benefits. We find and hold that Plaintiff is not an aggrieved party, and thus, lacks standing to appeal. We, therefore, dismiss this appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/08/18
Victoria Leanne Potts v. Timothy S. Potts
E2016-02283-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

This appeal involves a contentious continuing dispute over visitation with the parties’ young daughter. After numerous hearings, the trial court reluctantly continued limited structured visitation to the mother. The principal issue raised on appeal is whether the trial court’s rulings were in the best interests of the child. Having carefully reviewed the voluminous record before us, we find that the evidence supports the parenting plan determination and other rulings made by the court.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 02/08/18
Alecia Gaynell King McKay v. Michael Patrick McKay
M2016-01989-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Deanna B. Johnson

This post-divorce action primarily involves a provision in the parties’ marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”) concerning disposition of the marital residence. The parties were divorced in 2011. The wife filed a petition in March 2015, seeking, inter alia, to enforce the divorce decree and MDA by obtaining an order requiring the husband to vacate the marital residence so that she could reside there with the parties’ minor child and her three foster children. The MDA provides that the wife is to retain sole and exclusive possession of the marital residence until it is sold while the husband is to deposit one-half of the monthly mortgage payment into the wife’s personal checking account each month “in lieu of” spousal support. The MDA also provides that the marital residence would not be placed on the market for sale until January 1, 2013, but it does not supply a deadline by which the parties would have to place the home on the market. At the time that the wife commenced this action, the wife had vacated the home, and the husband had been residing there for approximately one year. Following a bench trial conducted in May 2016, the trial court granted the wife’s petition to enforce the MDA, entering an order directing the husband to vacate the marital residence immediately and to make needed repairs to the home. The court also found that a purported post-divorce oral agreement between the parties for the husband to purchase the wife’s share of the marital residence had not constituted a valid contract. Crediting the husband with $12,000.00 he had paid to the wife toward purchase of the marital residence as payment toward a spousal support arrearage, the trial court ordered the husband to pay additional spousal support arrears at a rate of $300.00 per month and to pay the wife’s attorney’s fees. Specifically at issue on appeal is a provision the trial court included in the order, directing that the wife, the parties’ minor child, and the wife’s three foster children could remain in the marital residence until the parties’ minor child, who was then eleven years of age, graduated from high school or became otherwise emancipated. Also finding that the husband had behaved in a harassing and intimidating manner toward the wife, the trial court granted the wife’s request for a restraining order in part, limiting the number of times each day the husband could text the wife and his minor child. Seeking to have the provision at issue set aside, the husband filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, which the trial court denied. The husband has appealed. Having determined that the trial court’s order impermissibly modified the MDA by creating an extended timeframe for sale of the marital residence not originally contemplated by the parties, we vacate the provision in the judgment allowing the wife to remain in the residence until the parties’ minor child graduates from high school or is otherwise emancipated. Inasmuch as the husband has raised this sole issue on appeal, we expressly do not disturb the remainder of the trial court’s judgment. We remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.      

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/07/18
Jessie Morgan v. Memphis Light Gas & Water
W2016-01249-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Felicia Corbin Johnson

Plaintiff, who fell in a puddle of water on property adjacent to a water tower located on property owned by defendant, a governmental entity, brought suit under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, alleging that the water that caused him to fall was caused by drainage from the water tower on defendant’s property. Following a trial, the court held that there was no dangerous or defective condition in the water tower, such that it was foreseeable that a person would be injured, and that the defendant had no actual or constructive notice of any dangerous condition that caused plaintiff to fall; as a consequence the Governmental Tort Liability Act did not operate to remove immunity. The court also held that plaintiff and the owner of the property where plaintiff fell were each at least 50 per cent at fault and, therefore, plaintiff could not recover. Plaintiff appeals; discerning no error we affirm the judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/06/18
Christopher O'Dneal, et al. v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton, et al.
W2016-01912-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

Plaintiff parents of infant who died in child birth appeal a jury verdict in favor of the medical provider defendants. During voir dire, the trial court denied Plaintiffs’ request for additional peremptory challenges under Tennessee Code Annotated section 22-3-104(b) on the basis that Plaintiffs were bringing their claim on behalf of the decedent infant. Based upon the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Beard v. Branson, 528 S.W.3d 487 (Tenn. 2017), we conclude that the trial court erred in treating Plaintiffs as a single “party plaintiff” and that Plaintiffs were entitled to eight peremptory challenges under the statute at issue. We also hold that under Tuggle v. Allright Parking Sys., Inc., 922 S.W.2d 107 (Tenn. 1996), the trial court’s error resulted in prejudice to the judicial process that necessitates a new trial. All other issues are pretermitted. Reversed and remanded.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 02/06/18
In Re Taya K.
M2017-00846-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David D. Wolfe

Mother and Stepfather filed a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights and to allow Stepfather to adopt the minor child. Following a hearing, the trial court terminated Father’s parental rights, finding that Father abandoned his child by willful failure to visit and support, and that Father failed to establish paternity of the child. The trial court also found that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. Father timely appealed. After review, we have determined that the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support two of the three grounds for termination, and to support the trial court’s conclusion that terminating Father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Thus, we affirm the termination of Father’s parental rights.

Dickson County Court of Appeals 02/06/18
Cheryl Dortch, Personal Representative of Estate of Latavius Dujuan Dortch v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals, et al.
W2017-01121-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

This is a health care liability case. Appellant/Plaintiff first filed suit against Appellees/Defendants for medical malpractice in April 2014. Defendants filed motions to dismiss based on Plaintiff’s failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements for health care liability claims. Before the trial court could hear Defendants’ motions to dismiss, Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary nonsuit, and an order was entered thereon. Plaintiff subsequently re-filed her case against Defendants in September 2016 in reliance on the one year savings statute. Defendants moved the court to dismiss Plaintiff’s suit based on the statute of limitations. The trial court granted Defendants’ motions and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice, holding that, because Plaintiff’s original presuit notice was defective, her first complaint was untimely and she could not rely on the savings statute to revive a time-barred cause of action. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/05/18
In Re Jabari B.
M2017-00557-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

This appeal involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her minor child. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of the mother’s parental rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to provide a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plan, and the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court further found that termination of the mother’s rights was in the best interest of the child. The mother appeals. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/02/18
Suntrust Bank v. Matthew Robert Ritter
E2017-01045-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Graham

A bank filed an action against a debtor to collect the outstanding balance on an installment loan approximately five and one-half years after the cause of action accrued. After finding that Florida’s five-year statute of limitations for actions on contracts applied, the trial court denied the bank’s motion for summary judgment and granted the debtor’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The bank appeals, and we reverse the trial court’s judgment.

Rhea County Court of Appeals 02/01/18
TWB Architects, Inc. v. The Braxton, LLC, Et Al.
M2017-00423-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor David D. Wolfe

This is the second appeal in a dispute over enforcement of a mechanic’s lien. An architect entered into an architect agreement with the developer to build a condominium project in Ashland City, Tennessee. The architect later entered into a purchase agreement with the successor developer to receive a penthouse as “consideration of design fees owed” on the first contract. The architect never received payment for its work and filed suit against the successor developer and its surety to enforce its mechanic’s lien for the amount owed under the architect agreement. The trial court held that the purchase agreement was a novation, extinguishing the rights and obligations of the parties under the architect agreement. In the first appeal, this Court found a lack of intent for a novation and, therefore, reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded the case for further proceedings. On remand, after additional discovery, the architect moved for summary judgment on its claim. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the architect. In this appeal, the developer argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on its defense of novation and multiple other defenses. We affirm the decision of the trial court.  

Cheatham County Court of Appeals 01/31/18
In Re Michael J.
M2016-01985-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

Putative father appeals the juvenile court’s adjudication of parentage, arguing that the court erred in considering a paternity test report previously entered as an exhibit in proceedings before a magistrate. Although the court erred in taking judicial notice of the report, we conclude the error was harmless. We also conclude that the preponderance of the evidence supports the court’s paternity determination. Thus, we affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 01/31/18
Starlink Logistics, Inc. v. ACC, LLC, Et Al.
M2014-00362-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

In this case, several entities were attempting to address the pollution issues of Sugar Creek and Arrow Lake. An Amended and Restated Consent Order was approved. StarLink Logistics, Inc., a property owner, appealed. Initially, this court reversed. After an appeal, the Supreme Court of Tennessee remanded for this court to review under the proper standard of review. We now affirm the trial court’s decision to approve the Consent Order.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/31/18
Mary L. Scales v. H. G. Hill Realty Co., LLC, Et Al.
M2017-00906-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

A customer slipped and fell at a grocery store and sued four different entities that owned and/or operated the store. When two of the defendants filed a motion to compel the plaintiff to respond to discovery responses, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed these defendants from the action. Then, in response to an answer to an amended complaint in which another defendant asserted the comparative fault of the dismissed defendants, the plaintiff filed a second amended complaint adding the dismissed defendants back in as named defendants pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119. The newly added defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted. The plaintiff appealed, and we reverse the trial court’s judgment. We hold that the statute permitted the plaintiff to add the formerly dismissed defendants back into the lawsuit.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/30/18
Eric Bernard Howard v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, Et Al.
M2017-00230-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

Eric Bernard Howard, an inmate at the Turney Center Industrial Complex, was charged with the disciplinary offense of defiance. The conduct at issue occurred at the institution’s medical clinic. Howard became angry, used profanity, and physically struck clinic property. After a hearing, he was found guilty by “alternate disciplinary officer” Rachel McCauley. Howard filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari with the trial court, alleging that he was denied due process at his hearing. He further asserted that the governing Uniform Disciplinary Procedures of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) were not followed. He says this resulted in substantial prejudice to him. The trial court found no due process violation, and ruled that any deviation from the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures was minimal and did not result in substantial prejudice. The trial court dismissed the petition. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 01/30/18
Andrew "Rome" Withers v. Rosalind D. Withers
W2016-01663-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This appeal revolves around a pro se litigant’s efforts to assume control of the assets of a trust and to replace the trustee. After the dismissal of his second petition related to the trust, the pro se litigant filed this appeal. We dismiss the appeal for failure to file a brief that complies with the appellate rules. We also grant the trustee’s request for attorney’s fees and expenses incurred on appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/30/18
In Re Alivia F.
M2016-02328-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

A mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights to her child. The chancery court found clear and convincing evidence of two statutory grounds for termination: abandonment by willful failure to support and persistence of conditions. The court also found that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. Because we conclude that the evidence was less than clear and convincing as to each ground for termination, we reverse.    

White County Court of Appeals 01/30/18
In Re: A'Reeyon L.
E2017-00261-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tom Greenholtz

This appeal arises out of a delinquency proceeding in Hamilton County Juvenile Court (“juvenile court”). The juvenile was accused of violating his probation by failing to report to his probation officer as required by the rules of his probation. Following a hearing and ruling by the juvenile court, the matter was appealed to the Hamilton County Criminal Court (“trial court”). Upon a bench trial and de novo review, the trial court found that the juvenile had violated his probation by failing to report to his probation officer. The trial court subsequently ordered that the juvenile be committed to the custody of the Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 37-1-131(a)(4). Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 01/30/18
In Re Catherine J.
W2017-00491-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Harold W. Horne

This is a termination of parental rights case involving the parental rights of the father, Clyde J. (“Father”), to his minor child, Catherine J. (“the Child”). On October 27, 2015, the Shelby County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) placed the Child into the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). The Child was immediately placed in foster care, where she remained at the time of trial. Following a hearing conducted on February 3, 2016, the trial court found the Child to be dependent and neglected as to Father due to improper guardianship. On August 4, 2016, DCS filed a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights. Following a bench trial before a special judge on January 26, 2017, the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Father had abandoned the Child by failing to visit the Child, failing to financially support the Child, and exhibiting wanton disregard for the Child’s welfare prior to his incarceration. The trial court also found clear and convincing evidence that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Child. The trial court entered a final judgment on February 13, 2017, terminating Father’s parental rights to the Child. Father has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/30/18
In Re Joel B.
M2016-01370-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon Guffee

A trial court designated the father of a child born out of wedlock as the primary residential parent and imputed additional income to the mother for purposes of child support after determining she was underemployed. The mother appealed the trial court’s judgment. During the pendency of the appeal, dependency and neglect proceedings in the trial court resulted in the child’s removal from the father’s residence and his placement with the mother in California. The dependency and neglect proceedings rendered moot the mother’s challenge of the trial court’s designation of the father as the primary residential parent, leaving the imputation of additional income to the mother as the only issue on appeal. Concluding the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allocating additional income to the mother for child support purposes, we affirm that aspect of the trial court’s judgment.

Maury County Court of Appeals 01/29/18
Harakas Construction, Inc. v. Metropolitan Government Of Nashville and Davidson County, Et. Al.
M2016-01540-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Harakas Construction, Inc. appeals the judgment of the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) granting summary judgment to Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) and Dale and Associates, Inc. (“Dale”). We find and hold that the Trial Court correctly granted summary judgment to Metro based upon sovereign immunity and that the Trial Court correctly granted summary judgment to Dale because Dale had negated essential elements of Harakas’s claim. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/29/18
In Re: Ke'Andre C., Et Al.
M2017-01361-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge George L. Lovell

This is a termination of parental rights case concerning two minor children. Mother is the biological parent of both children. Father is the biological parent of the younger child only. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that multiple grounds existed to terminate Mother’s parental rights to both children and Father’s parental rights to his child. Mother and Father appealed. We reverse the trial court’s finding as to one ground for termination asserted against Mother and one ground asserted against Father, but we otherwise affirm the termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights.      

Maury County Court of Appeals 01/29/18
In Re Michael O.
W2017-01412-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge William A. Peeler

The trial court terminated Father’s parental rights on the ground of abandonment by demonstrating a wanton disregard for his child’s welfare. DCS failed to offer evidence that Father knew of the child’s existence when Father was engaging in the behavior that demonstrated wanton disregard. Accordingly, we reverse the termination of Father’s parental rights.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 01/26/18
Homer L. Jones v. VCPHCS I, LLC
W2017-02142-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

Following the end of the three-year term of a commercial real estate lease, the tenant continued to occupy the leased premises and pay rent to the landlord. The landlord accepted the rent payments for six months and then notified the tenant that the amount of the required rent had increased. The tenant paid the increased rent but notified the landlord that it was ending its tenancy in thirty days. Contending that the tenant had in effect exercised its option to renew the lease for an additional three years, the landlord demanded that the tenant pay rent for the remainder of the renewal term. The tenant refused, and the landlord brought this action for breach of the lease agreement. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. Because the trial court found that the lease had not been renewed and the tenant properly terminated the resulting periodic tenancy upon thirty days’ notice, the court denied the landlord’s motion and awarded summary judgment to the tenant. We agree that the lease was not renewed, but because we conclude that the resulting periodic tenancy was year-to-year, the tenant was required to give at least six months’ notice prior to the end of the periodic tenancy. Thus, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/26/18
Deborah Lacy v. HCA Tristar Hendersonville Hospital, Et Al
M2017-01055-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Thompson

This action, which involves the plaintiff’s claims of assault and battery against her former co-workers and a medical doctor at the hospital where she was previously employed, is before this Court on appeal for the second time. See Lacy v. HCA Tristar Hendersonville Hosp., No. M2015-02217-COA-R3-CV, 2016 WL 4497953 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 25, 2016) (“Lacy I”). The first appeal arose from an involuntary dismissal, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02(2), following the close of the plaintiff’s proof during a bench trial. The plaintiff, proceeding without benefit of counsel, had filed a statement of the evidence, which was subsequently stricken from the record by the trial court upon an objection filed by the defendants. The first appeal came before this Court without a statement of the evidence in the record. Determining that the trial court had failed to resolve the parties’ conflicts concerning the plaintiff’s statement of the evidence, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24(c) and (e), and that the trial court had failed to make sufficient factual findings in its final order, this Court vacated the order of involuntary dismissal and remanded to the trial court for appropriate factual findings and a resolution of the conflicts concerning the statement of the evidence. Lacy I, 2016 WL 4497953, at *3. On remand, the defendants submitted a statement of the evidence, which, upon review, the trial court approved as accurate. The trial court then entered an order setting forth findings of fact and conclusions of law, determining that the plaintiff had failed to present proof of causation and damages during the bench trial. The trial court subsequently entered a final order dismissing the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. The plaintiff timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.  

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/26/18
Stuart Elseroad v. Kaitlin Cook
E2018-00074-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillian

This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, from the trial court’s denial of a motion for recusal. Petitioner contends the trial judge should have recused himself because Petitioner “was directly involved in a decision-making process that ultimately resulted in an effect on the [judge’s] finances.” Petitioner also contends recusal is required because “the Judge based his ruling almost exclusively on his own statements that he was unaware of the Petitioner’s involvement in his loan application process,” which statements made him “a material witness.” Having reviewed the petition for recusal appeal, pursuant to the de novo standard as required under Rule 10B, § 2.01, we affirm the trial court’s decision to deny the motion for recusal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/26/18