Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 06/27/2017
Format: 06/27/2017
Rainbow Ridge Resort, LLC, et al. v. Branch Banking And Trust Co.
E2015-01221-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

The facts in this case implicate the doctrine of res judicata. In 2012, a real estate development limited liability company and its members filed suit in the Sevier County Circuit Court against their mortgage lender, Branch Banking and Trust Company (the bank). In that action, the developers alleged, inter alia, that the bank was guilty of fraud, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. That suit involved four separate parcels of real property. While the case in circuit court was pending, the bank sued three individuals in the Sevier County Chancery Court, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the priority of a security interest in one of the parcels of property at issue in the circuit court case. In the chancery court action, the bank joined the developers as parties. In response, the developers filed a counterclaim in which they repeated allegations included in the circuit court case and asserted other claims derived from the same set of facts. The two cases were later consolidated. In each case, the bank filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The court heard both motions at a single hearing. On June 8, 2015, the trial court filed two orders – one in the circuit court suit and one by interchange in the chancery court action – granting the bank's motions. The developers appealed only the circuit court order. Unchallenged, the chancery court order became final. The bank later moved to dismiss this appeal, arguing that the doctrine of res judicata barred further litigation. We deferred a ruling on the bank's motion. We now hold that the motion has merit. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment dismissing this case. We do so based upon the doctrine of res judicata.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Civis Bank v. The Willows At Twin Cove Marina Condominium And Home Owners Association, Inc.
E2016-00140-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Elizabeth C. Asbury

This case involves a residential development on Norris Lake in Campbell County called The Willows at Twin Cove Marina. The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for the development grants certain rights to the individual/entity described in the document as the “Declarant.” As pertinent to this case, those rights include an exemption from payment of maintenance assessments to the homeowner's association under certain circumstances. The original owner of the development defaulted on construction loans, resulting in a foreclosure sale of certain portions of the development property and the personal property of the original owner. Civis Bank, the successor owner of the property sold at foreclosure, brought this action asking the trial court to declare it to be the “Declarant,” and thereby exempted from assessments levied by the defendant homeowner's association. Both sides moved for summary judgment. The trial court held that Civis did not meet the applicable definition of “Declarant” in the Declaration. We agree. Accordingly, we affirm the court's grant of summary judgment to the homeowners' association.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Mitchell Hunter Oakes v. Patricia Marie Oakes
E2016-00274-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sam E. Benningfield, Jr.

In this divorce case, Mitchell Hunter Oakes appeals the trial court’s division of the marital estate. Husband’s appellate brief contains no case citations or references to the record. Furthermore, there is no authority cited other than the statute addressing a division of marital property. These multiple deficiencies are clear violations of Tenn. R. App. P. 27(a). In addition, Husband’s brief does not contain a table as required by Court of Appeals Rule 7. As we have held on numerous occassions, deficiencies such as these constitute a waiver of any issues raised by the offending party. Because of these omissions, this appeal had no reasonable chance of success. Accordingly, we agree with his former spouse, Patricia Marie Oakes, that his appeal is frivolous in nature. Therefore, Wife is entitled to recover from Husband her reasonable fees and expenses incurred on appeal. Appeal dismissed.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Billy Coffey, et al. v. Hamblen County, et al. - Concurring and Dissenting
E2016-01116-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

I fully concur in the majority’s opinion with the exception of the majority’s determination that “we simply cannot agree with the trial court’s classification of the claim at issue as a consumer claim when Plaintiffs filed suit pursuant to a contract between the County and EMS for the failure to provide services as promised in the service agreement.” I instead believe that the language of the AHLA, as set out in the majority’s opinion and applicable to this issue, is broad enough to cover an alleged failure to provide services as promised in the service agreement. Specifically, I believe the definition in the AHLA, as quoted by the majority, defining a Consumer Case to be “a dispute between a Health Care Entity and a Consumer concerning: (a) the delivery of care or treatment by the Health Care Entity. . .” is broad enough to cover a failure to deliver the required care or treatment.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Billy Coffey, et al. v. Hamblen County, et al.
E2016-01116-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

This is a breach of contract action in which the plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of the decedent, who died as a result of suicide in the county jail. The plaintiffs sought damages from the designated emergency medical services provider pursuant to a contract between the provider and the county. The provider filed a motion to stay and compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of the contract. The plaintiffs argued that the arbitration provision in the contract was invalid because it did not contain the required notice advising the parties of the waiver of trial by jury and appeal. The trial court agreed and denied the motion. We reverse and remand for arbitration

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Christina Lee Cain-Swope v. Robert David Swope
M2015-00872-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

In this divorce action, the wife appeals, contending the trial court erred in calculating her child support obligation by failing to impute income to the husband and by not deviating downward from the child support guidelines for the private school tuition and expenses she pays. The wife also contends the trial court erred in awarding the husband alimony in futuro in the amount of $2,400, and ordering her to pay $10,000 of the husband’s attorney’s fees. The wife further contends the trial judge made statements during opening arguments regarding the issue of alimony that indicated bias. As for child support, the wife is correct in stating that the trial court did not consider a deviation in child support for extraordinary educational expenses; however, the wife did not request a deviation and the parties agreed that the wife is not required to pay for private school tuition after the divorce. Accordingly, we find no error with the trial court not considering a deviation based on the possibility that the wife may or may not incur extraordinary educational expenses in the future. As for the amount of alimony to be paid, the trial court’s findings of fact concerning the wife’s ability to pay and the husband’s need for alimony fail to satisfy the mandatory requirements of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. Therefore, we vacate the award of alimony in the amount of $2,400 per month and remand for the trial court to make findings of fact and state separately its conclusions of law concerning the wife’s ability to pay and the husband’s need for alimony, and direct the entry of a judgment setting the appropriate amount of alimony in futuro. We affirm the trial court in all other respects.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/23/16
Gregory A. Snow v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al
M2016-01148-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

An inmate was relocated from one cell to another in 2012 as part of a large-scale inmate reassignment, and two knives were found in the door to the inmate’s cell in 2015. The inmate was charged with the possession of a deadly weapon and was found guilty by the disciplinary board following a hearing. The inmate claimed he did not know anything about the knives and that he did not believe the cell was searched prior to his reassignment, as the prison policies require. The inmate exhausted his administrative appeals before filing a petition for writ of certiorari. In an effort to prove his cell was not searched prior to his reassignment and that the evidence did not support his conviction, the inmate sought permission to discover documents from the State, which the trial court denied. The trial court granted the writ of certiorari but denied the inmate any relief. The inmate raises several issues on appeal. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 12/22/16
In re Heaven J.
W2016-00782-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dan H. Michael

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights to his daughter. The trial court terminated the father’s parental rights upon finding by clear and convincing evidence that several grounds for termination were proven and that termination was in the best interest of the child. We conclude that the record contains insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s findings as to grounds for termination. We accordingly reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/22/16
Vernon Lockhart v. Commissioner of The Tennessee Department of Safety
M2016-00083-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell

This appeal arises from a civil forfeiture. Vernon Lockhart (“Lockhart”) was charged and later convicted on a number of criminal counts related to the distribution of large amounts of marijuana. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (“the Department”) declared as forfeited certain of Lockhart’s properties alleged to be derived from illegal drug transactions. An Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”) found in favor of the Department by a preponderance of the evidence, a decision which was affirmed on appeal by the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”). Lockhart appeals to this Court, arguing, in large part, that the evidence used against him should have been suppressed and that the ALJ and Trial Court erred by failing to conduct an analysis of his suppression issue independent of the resolution of that issue in the criminal court proceedings. We hold, inter alia, that the ALJ’s order of forfeiture was supported by a preponderance of the evidence and that the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars Lockhart from re-litigating whether the evidence should have been suppressed as that issue has been resolved finally on appeal in his criminal proceedings. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court upholding the ALJ’s order declaring Lockhart’s designated properties forfeited to the state.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. Estate of Richard M. Archie and Jessica Cossitt
W2016-01287-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

This appeal involves a dispute regarding a household exclusion clause in an automobile insurance policy. Following a motorcycle accident in which the defendant was injured while riding as a passenger of the insured, the insurance company filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the exclusion relieved it of liability for the defendant’s claims because the defendant was residing in the insured’s household at the time of the accident. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that the defendant was not residing in the insured’s household at the time of the accident for purposes of determining liability coverage and denied the insurance company’s request for declaratory relief. The insurance company appealed. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
Moufak Sakaan v. FedEx Corporation, Inc., et al.
W2016-00648-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

The Plaintiff filed suit against a number of corporate and individual Defendants alleging claims for intentional and negligent misrepresentation. After filing answers to the complaint, the Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings on the basis that the asserted claims were time-barred. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the Plaintiff’s case with prejudice. Discerning no error in this decision, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
Erin Alford Fuller v. Roger Darnell Fuller
E2016-00243-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri S. Bryant

This appeal stems from a divorce action involving, inter alia, issues of proper valuation of a marital asset, child support, and alimony. The trial court found that the “trail” income from the father's financial planning business was a divisible marital asset, valuing it according to the evidence presented. The trial court set child support and alimony based on its determination of the father's income as an average of the prior two years' gross revenues from his business. The father has appealed. We determine that the trial court properly classified and valued the father's trail income from his business. We also determine, however, that the trial court erred by including in the father's income, for child support and alimony purposes, the amount of the trail income distributed as a marital asset. We vacate the trial court's determination regarding the amount of child support and alimony to be paid by the father. We remand this matter for a proper determination regarding the father's income, as well as an appropriate calculation of child support and determination of alimony in favor of the mother resulting therefrom. We determine the father's issue regarding the allocation of days in the permanent parenting plan to be moot. We affirm the trial court's judgment in all other respects. We decline to award attorney's fees on appeal to either party

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
In re Linette B.
E2016-01316-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin
This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the termination of her parental rights on the grounds of: (1) failure to substantially comply with the requirements of the permanency plan; and (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal from Appellant’s custody. The trial court also found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Appellant’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Discerning no error, we affirm.
 
Knox County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
Dement Construction Company, LLC v. Lucas C. Nemeth, et al.
M2015-02204-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

This case arises from landowners’ counter-suit for damages allegedly resulting from a construction company’s use of the landowners’ property to store excess topsoil from a road construction project. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the construction company, finding that the construction company was not responsible for the alleged damage to the property. The landowners appeal, asserting that the trial court made erroneous evidentiary rulings and failed to properly instruct the jury. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 12/20/16
In re Estate of Elwood R. Darken
M2016-00711-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James G. Martin, III

The sons of the decedent challenge the executrix’s administration of the decedent’s estate, contending that she breached her fiduciary duty by, inter alia, refusing to provide them with certain documents and by converting personal property they claim their father intended for them. They also claim that the antenuptial agreement their father entered into with the executrix prior to their marriage established a trust that nullifies the specific bequest in their father’s will that gives his tangible personal property to the executrix. The executrix denied breaching any of her duties or converting any assets. She also disputed the contention that the antenuptial agreement created a trust. The trial court found that the executrix had not breached her fiduciary duties or converted any assets and that the antenuptial agreement did not create a trust. The court also ordered that the estate pay the fees of the attorney who represented the executrix in her fiduciary capacity. The decedent’s sons appeal, challenging each of the foregoing rulings. They also contend that the trial court erred in limiting their cross examination of the executrix at trial. We affirm in all respects.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/20/16
Hannah Turner Ex Rel. Liam Turner v. Charles Michael Howe, et al.
M2015-02386-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Justin C. Angel

This appeal involves in personam jurisdiction over the Appellees, Georgia and Alabama corporations. The trial court granted Appellees’ Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(2) motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. Appellants appeal. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Marion County Court of Appeals 12/20/16
Kobie Turner v. City of Memphis
W2015-02510-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

Appellee sued the City of Memphis, alleging that he was injured in a car accident caused by a police officer employed by the City. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled in Appellee’s favor, awarding him $90,000.00 in damages. Appellant appeals. On appeal, Appellant argues that the trial court erred when it found that Appellee had proven that Appellant was the proximate cause of Appellee’s injuries and when it awarded Appellee what Appellant deemed to be an excessive amount of damages. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/20/16
In re Lynx C.
E2016-01568-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin
This appeal involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) removed the child at issue from the mother’s home prior to his first birthday. Four months later, DCS filed a petition to terminate the mother’s parental rights. The juvenile court found clear and convincing evidence of two grounds for termination and that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. We, however, conclude that DCS did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that the mother abandoned the child by willful failure to support. Because the record contains clear and convincing evidence of the remaining ground— abandonment by willful failure to visit—and that termination was in the best interest of the child, we affirm.
 
Knox County Court of Appeals 12/20/16
Aarene Contracting, LLC v. Krispy Kreme Doughnut
E2016-01155-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela A. Fleenor

A contractor sued an owner for violations of the Prompt Pay Act, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 66-34-101 et seq., and notified the owner of its violations by Federal Express and e-mail. The owner moved for summary judgment on the ground that the contractor failed to strictly comply with the notice provision requiring notice be sent by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. The trial court found strict compliance was required and dismissed the contractor's claims under the Act. The contractor appealed, and we reverse the trial court's judgment, holding substantial compliance is sufficient under the facts of this case.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/20/16
In Re Casey C., et al
M2016-01344-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the termination of her parental rights to three minor children on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home; (2) abandonment by willful failure to support; and (3) persistence of the conditions that led to the children’s removal from Appellant’s custody. The trial court also found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Appellant’s parental rights is in the children’s best interests. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 12/19/16
Monica Chamberlain v. Myra Danielle Brown
E2015-01658-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas Jenkins

Monica Chamberlain (“Grandmother”) sued Myra Danielle Brown (“Mother”) seeking to be awarded grandparent visitation with Mother's child Talan B. (“the Child”) pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-306. After a trial, the Circuit Court for Greene County (“the Trial Court”) entered its judgment awarding Grandmother visitation with the Child after finding and holding, inter alia, that Grandmother had proven that Mother had denied visitation, that Mother had failed to rebut the presumption that denial of visitation may result in irreparable harm to the Child, that Grandmother and the Child had a significant existing relationship, and that visitation was in the best interest of the Child. Mother appeals to this Court. We find and hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the Trial Court's findings, and we affirm

Greene County Court of Appeals 12/19/16
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc. - Dissent
E2016-02178-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

I cannot concur in the majority’s conclusion that Judge Stanley’s “personal extrajudicial knowledge” created “an appearance of impropriety . . . under Canon 2.11 of the Code of Judicial Conduct necessitating recusal.” Therefore, I respectfully dissent

Carter County Court of Appeals 12/19/16
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc. - Concurring
E2016-02178-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

I concur in the opinion as authored by Judge Stafford and write separately to reiterate the conclusion that nothing in the record leads me to believe that the trial judge is biased or prejudiced for or against any party or that there was any improper motive in the court’s contact with Dr. Mulkey. As gatekeeper of the expert opinion evidence proffered at trial, the court has the responsibility under Tenn. R. Evid. 702 and 703 to determine whether the evidence “will substantially assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact at issue and whether the facts and data underlying the evidence indicate a lack of trustworthiness.” McDaniel v. CSX Transp., Inc., 955 S.W.2d 257, 265 (Tenn. 1997). The record fully supports the trial court’s statement that the purpose of the call to Dr. Mulkey was to gain basic knowledge of the field of rehabilitation counseling, a discipline taught at the University of Tennessee. My concern, and what leads me to conclude that recusal is appropriate in this case, is the limited and specific nature of the court’s inquiry and how that inquiry could reasonably create the appearance of impropriety

Carter County Court of Appeals 12/19/16
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc.
E2016-02178-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

When asked to rule on the defendant‘s motion for physical examination by a certified rehabilitation counselor, the trial judge telephoned the director of a university department for information regarding the program in order to determine whether rehabilitation counselors "are even qualified to testify as experts." The trial judge disclosed the communication on the record and granted the examination. Later, the defendant filed a motion to recuse. The trial judge denied the motion and this accelerated interlocutory appeal followed. Because the trial judge learned information concerning facts in dispute from an extrajudicial source, we conclude that recusal is required by Canon 2.11 of the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct

Carter County Court of Appeals 12/19/16
In Re Jakob., et al
M2016-00391-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

Upon petition of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“the Department”), the trial court terminated the parental rights of Mother. We reverse the trial court’s determination that Mother willfully failed to support her children prior to her incarceration and its determination that she failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the family permanency plans created in this case. However, clear and convincing evidence supports the remaining grounds for termination relied upon by the trial court, as well as the trial court’s determination that the termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the children’s best interest. Accordingly, we affirm the termination of Mother’s parental rights.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 12/15/16