Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/03/2016
Format: 12/03/2016
John Howard Story et al. v. Nicholas D. Bunstein et al.
E2015-02211-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

This is a legal malpractice case. Appellees, who are licensed attorneys, represented Appellants in the underlying lender's liability lawsuit. Following dismissal of all defendants in the underlying litigation, Appellants' filed a complaint for legal malpractice against Appellees. The trial court dismissed the legal malpractice case, inter alia, on the ground that the one-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice claims had expired. Tenn. Code Ann. §28-3-104(c)(1). Affirmed and remanded.

Knox County Court of Appeals 06/09/16
Joyce Bradley Watts v. Colin Wade Watts
M2015-01216-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

At issue is whether a trial court may award attorney’s fees that relate to a petition for criminal contempt when the contempt arises in the context of a child support proceeding. Mother filed a post-divorce petition asserting that Father was in criminal contempt for failing to satisfy his support obligations along with a petition seeking a judgment for child support arrearages and attorney’s fees. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found Father guilty of one count of criminal contempt and found that Mother was entitled to a judgment for the unpaid child support. When Mother submitted her application for attorney’s fees, Father objected arguing that an award of attorney’s fees for the prosecution of the criminal contempt petition would violate his rights under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-9-103(b) and Article VI, Section 14 of the Tennessee Constitution. Following a hearing, the court awarded Mother her attorney’s fees related to the child support judgment pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-103(c), which award is not at issue in this appeal. The court also awarded Mother the attorney’s fees she incurred in pursuit of the criminal contempt petition pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-103(c) because “the criminal contempt [petition] served a dual purpose of preserving the power and vindicating the dignity and authority of the law and the Court as well as collecting substantial amounts of child support for the benefit of the minor children.” While we recognize that a criminal contempt petition may serve as the catalyst for a delinquent parent to satisfy his or her child support obligations, the purpose of criminal contempt is to uphold the court’s authority, not to enforce the private rights of a party. Moreover, the criminal contempt statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-9-103(b), expressly limits the punishment that a court may award, and it makes no provision for the recovery of attorney’s fees. Because attorney’s fees incurred in a petition for criminal contempt are not provided for by statute or other rule and the purpose of criminal contempt is to uphold the court’s authority, not to enforce the private rights of a party, we reverse the award of attorney’s fees related to the petition for criminal contempt. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/08/16
Ronnie Gordon v. Tractor Supply Company
M2015-01049-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

Plaintiff appeals the summary dismissal of his claims for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and negligent supervision. Plaintiff was arrested and subsequently indicted for two criminal offenses based on statements given to police by two of Defendant’s employees at the Tractor Supply Company store in Lenoir City, Tennessee. When the criminal case went to trial, one of the charges was dismissed on the day of trial, and the jury found the defendant not guilty of the other charge. Thereafter, Plaintiff commenced this action asserting several claims. Following discovery, Defendant filed a motion to summarily dismiss all claims. The trial court granted the motion as to three of the claims: malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and negligent supervision. The plaintiff appealed. We affirm the dismissal of the false imprisonment claim. As for the claims for malicious prosecution and negligent supervision, we have determined that material facts are disputed. Therefore, we reverse the dismissal of the claims for malicious prosecution and negligent supervision and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 06/08/16
In re Estate of Bruce Chapman Bower
E2015-01510-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey D. Rader

This appeal arises over a dispute regarding the terms of a trust. Bruce Chapman Bower (“Decedent”) died having executed a trust (“the Trust”), the primary asset of which was a lake house. Decedent's son, Christopher R. Bower (“Successor Trustee”), served as Successor Trustee. Decedent's widow, Denise Bower (“Widow”), objected to the appointment of Successor Trustee, and the parties engaged in litigation over various terms of the Trust. The Probate Court for Sevier County (“Trial Court”) found that, under the Trust, Widow was entitled to exclusive use of the lake house as well as payments of $2,000 per month. Successor Trustee appealed to this Court. We reverse the judgment of the Trial Court in its interpretation of the terms of the Trust. We also modify the Trial Court's award of attorney's fees to Widow. The judgment of the Trial Court is modified, in part, and reversed, in part.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 06/08/16
Craig L. Beene v. Dan M. Alsobrooks
M2015-01876-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor David D. Wolfe

The petitioner sought a writ of mandamus to compel the district attorney general to furnish him with copies of records pertaining to his criminal case. The trial court dismissed the petition, finding that the district attorney general named in the petition had retired, that the statute did not require delivery of records to an incarcerated petitioner, and that the records had been provided in discovery and were no longer available to produce for inspection. The petitioner appeals. We affirm.

Dickson County Court of Appeals 06/07/16
State of Tennessee v. Carolyn Tillilie
W2015-00673-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

This is a Rule 3 appeal of an order requiring the Appellant to post security for the care of three horses. Appellant was charged with cruelty to horses and ordered to post security for the care of the horses pending the resolution of her criminal charges. Appellant appealed. We determine that this is a criminal matter and therefore dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Fayette County Court of Appeals 06/07/16
In re Jayvien O.
W2015-02268-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor W. Michael Maloan

This appeal involves the termination of a mother's parental rights. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that the mother abandoned her four-year-old son by willfully failing to visit him and that it was in the best interest of the child to terminate the mother's parental rights. The mother appeals. We affirm.

Obion County Court of Appeals 06/07/16
In re Milli L. et al.
E2015-00569-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights, asserting that the evidence does not sustain the grounds of abandonment by failure to support and persistence of conditions as found by the court and does not support the finding that termination of Mother’s rights was in the child’s best interest. Finding that the record clearly and convincingly supports the grounds found by the court, as well as the finding that termination of Mother’s rights is in the child’s best interest, we affirm the judgment.

Knox County Court of Appeals 06/07/16
In re Christian P. et al.
E2015-01860-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

This appeal involves the termination of a mother's parental rights to five minor children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of her rights on the statutory ground of the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court further found that termination was in the best interest of the children. The mother appeals. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/06/16
Guy Michael Kapustka v. Courtney Rose Kapustka
M2015-01984-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ross H. Hicks

In this post-divorce co-parenting action, the father filed a petition requesting modification of the parties’ permanent parenting plan and a finding of contempt against the mother in the Montgomery County Chancery Court which had entered the parties’ divorce decree. In response to the father’s petition, the mother filed a motion requesting that the trial court find Tennessee to be an inconvenient forum and that the court either dismiss the case or transfer it to Florida. Since entry of the divorce judgment, the mother and the parties’ minor child had resided in Florida. The father moved to Alaska at some point after entry of the divorce decree. The father filed a response objecting to the mother’s motion and asserting that Tennessee was not an inconvenient forum. Pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”), see Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-6-201, et seq., the trial court ultimately dismissed the father’s petition, determining that Tennessee was an inconvenient forum because no party resided in Tennessee, the mother’s alleged actions occurred in Florida, and the evidence necessary to resolve the issues would be unavailable in Tennessee. The father appeals, stating that the trial court erred in determining Tennessee to be an inconvenient forum and thereby dismissing his action. We affirm the trial court’s determination that Tennessee is an inconvenient forum. However, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-222(c), we reverse the dismissal of the father’s petition and remand to the trial court for issuance of a stay and imposition of conditions the court may consider just and proper.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 06/03/16
Angela Caldwell, as power of attorney f/u/b of Leathy M. Johnson v. Baptist Memorial Hospital, et al.
W2015-01076-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge D'Army Bailey

In this health care liability action, this Court granted the defendants' application pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 10 to address two issues. We have determined that: (1) the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) does not preempt Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(f); and (2) the trial court erred in denying the defendants' petition for a qualified protective order pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(f) because it is undisputed that the defendants complied with the procedural requirements of subsection (f), and the plaintiff did not file an objection as permitted under the statute. We, therefore, reverse the trial court's decision and remand for the entry of a qualified protective order.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/03/16
Judy Childress, et al. v. United Parcel Service Inc., et al.
W2016-00688-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge William B. Acree

This accelerated interlocutory appeal results from the trial court’s denial of Appellant’s motion for recusal. Because Appellants’ did not provide the mandatory affidavit in support of their motion for recusal as required by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we affirm the judgment of the trial court

Dyer County Court of Appeals 06/03/16
Jean Dedmon v. Debbie Steelman, et al.
W2015-01462-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

This interlocutory appeal requires review of a ruling on a motion in limine in a personal injury case. Prior to trial, the plaintiffs submitted expert testimony from a treating physician to establish the reasonableness of their claimed medical expenses. The defendants filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude evidence of what they deemed ―unreasonable‖ medical expenses. They argued that the Tennessee Supreme Court‘s decision in West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corporation, 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014), established a new standard in Tennessee for determining the reasonable amount of medical expenses as a matter of law. The trial court granted the defendants‘ motion in limine, thus excluding the testimony of the treating physician. For the following reasons, the trial court‘s order is reversed and this matter is remanded for further proceedings.

Crockett County Court of Appeals 06/02/16
Natalie Rowland Steward v. Brian Stacy Rowland
W2015-02147-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

This is a post-divorce case. Father appeals the trial court‘s decision not to hold Mother in contempt for failure to provide court-ordered insurance coverage for the child. Father also appeals the trial court‘s division of the child‘s uncovered medical bills and seeks reimbursement for monthly payments he made toward the child‘s insurance premiums while Mother failed to provide coverage. In addition, Father appeals the trial court‘s order requiring him to provide insurance for the child past the age of majority based on the child‘s medical disability and the judgment entered against him for Mother‘s attorney‘s fees. We conclude that Father is entitled to a credit for those insurance premiums he paid to Mother during the period of time the child was enrolled in TennCare. We reverse the trial court‘s order on attorney‘s fees. The order is otherwise affirmed.

Crockett County Court of Appeals 06/02/16
Dennis Vawter v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Company
W2015-00874-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

A 59-year old plaintiff who lost his job as a chemical operator, after working in that position for over 37 years, applied for the position of general operator with another company. Twelve individuals were hired by the other company, all of whom were younger than the 59-year old, and most of whom were less experienced. The plaintiff filed an age discrimination complaint against the company. The case was tried by a jury, and the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, awarding him compensatory damages of $100,000. The trial court awarded the plaintiff front pay in addition to the compensatory damage award. The company appealed, and we affirm the trial court's judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/02/16
Jean Dedmon v. Debbie Steelman, et al.- Concur
W2015-01462-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Joe G. Riley
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

I fully concur with the majority opinion by my learned colleague based upon existing case law, which we are bound to follow as an intermediate appellate court. I write separately to express my concerns relating to modern billing practices of medical providers and their effect upon present-day personal injury litigation . Were it not for existing case law which we are bound to follow as an intermediate appellate court, I would apply the West rationale to personal injury litigation.

Crockett County Court of Appeals 06/02/16
Omni Insurance Company A/S/O Lisa J. Earl v. Dennis R. Nickoloff
E2015-01450-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

This appeal arises from an accident involving an automobile and a pedestrian that occurred in Anderson County. The pedestrian's insurer, as subrogee of the pedestrian, filed the instant action, alleging that the defendant driver should be held liable for negligence and negligence per se. Following a bench trial, the trial court assessed liability against the driver and awarded the pedestrian's insurer $50,000.00 in damages. The driver timely appealed. On appeal, the driver filed a statement of the evidence, approved by the trial court, that contains insufficient evidence to support the trial court's judgment. We therefore reverse the trial court's judgment.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 06/02/16
Scott Elmer McCarter v. Debra Lynn Walker McCarter
E2015-00549-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ben W. Hooper

In this second appeal involving the instant divorce action, the wife appeals the trial court's enforcement of an enhanced judgment lien on behalf of her former counsel and the court's inclusion of certain tractor tires within the farm equipment previously awarded to the husband in the final judgment for divorce. Having determined that the record contains no proof of notice to the wife of the hearing at which the trial court awarded the enhanced judgment lien, we vacate the portion of the judgment enforcing the enhanced portion of the attorney's lien. We remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, including an evidentiary hearing addressing enforcement of the enhanced portion of the attorney's lien with notice to include the wife's former counsel. We affirm the trial court's judgment in all other respects.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 06/01/16
In re Hailey S.
M2015-00842-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ken Witcher

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights to his child. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of his rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to remit child support, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court further found that termination was in the best interest of the child. The father appeals. We affirm the judgment of the trial court as modified in this opinion.

Macon County Court of Appeals 05/31/16
In re Trenton W.
M2015-01223-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Louis W. Oliver

This appeal arises from the termination of a mother’s parental rights. When the child turned six months old, a juvenile court found Mother and Father’s child dependent and neglected and placed the child in the custody of the paternal grandparents. After having custody for nearly five years, the paternal grandparents filed a petition for termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights and for adoption in chancery court. The trial court terminated Father’s parental rights at a separate hearing. At the hearing on Mother’s parental rights, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence that Mother, who was incarcerated when the petition to terminate was filed, abandoned the child. The court also found it to be in the best interest of the child to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother appeals, and we affirm.  

Sumner County Court of Appeals 05/31/16
Ricky Flamingo Brown, Sr. v. State of Tennessee
M2015-00415-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner, TN Claims Commission

Inmate appeals the dismissal of his claim that funds awarded to him as a result of a claim he filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission were incorrectly applied to his overdrawn inmate trust account. Finding that the application of the funds in this manner did not violate the pertinent statutes, we affirm the judgment of the Commission.  

Court of Appeals 05/31/16
Delwin L. Huggins et al. v. R.Ellsworth McKee et al.
E2015-01942-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood
Appellant appeals the trial court‘s grant of summary judgment dismissing his claims
against a limited liability corporation surrounding the sale of the corporation and the
distribution of the proceeds to one member. Although we reverse the trial court‘s ruling
with regard to the application of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 48-237-101(d), we
otherwise affirm the trial court‘s ruling granting summary judgment to the corporation on
all claims asserted by Appellant.
 
Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/31/16
In re Jayden L. et al.
E2015-02054-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon M. Green

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights as to her three biological children. The trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by an incarcerated parent and persistent conditions. The trial court also found that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. We have reviewed the trial court’s findings as to the grounds for termination and the best interests of the children, and we conclude that they are supported by clear and convincing evidence and therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Washington County Court of Appeals 05/31/16
Larry Bachar v. Mike Partin, et al.
M2015-00724-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith

In suit arising out of a motor vehicle accident, Defendants appeal the jury’s finding that Defendant driver was 60 percent liable for the accident, the award of damages for lost past and future income, and the failure of the trial court to hold a hearing on alleged juror misconduct. Finding that the jury’s apportionment of liability and award of damages are supported by material evidence and that there is no factual basis for a hearing on jury misconduct, we affirm the judgment.

  

Franklin County Court of Appeals 05/27/16
In re Maison W.
M2015-02153-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

Deanna R.H.B. (“Mother”) appeals the order of the Chancery Court for Lincoln County (“the Trial Court”) finding and holding that it had been proven by clear and convincing evidence that grounds existed to terminate Mother’s parental rights to the minor child Maison W. (“the Child”) for persistent conditions pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3), and for severe abuse pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4), and that it was in the Child’s best interest for Mother’s parental rights to be terminated. We find and hold that the evidence in the record does not preponderate against the Trial Court’s finding by clear and convincing evidence that grounds existed to terminate Mother’s parental rights to the Child and that it was in the Child’s best interest to terminate Mother’s parental rights. We, therefore, affirm.

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 05/27/16