Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/22/2018
Format: 04/22/2018
The Coal Creek Company v. Anderson County, Tennessee, Et Al.
E2017-00661-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Weaver

This appeal concerns whether a tax on certain property containing oil and gas deposits constitutes an unlawful additional severance tax. The Coal Creek Company (“Coal Creek”) appealed the tax assessments of various county property assessors (“Assessors”). After administrative proceedings and appeals, the Tennessee Assessment Appeals Commission reinstated the original assessments. Coal Creek filed suit in the Chancery Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) seeking judicial review of the Appeals Commission’s decision. Following a bench trial, the Trial Court entered an order dismissing Coal Creek’s complaint. Coal Creek appeals to this Court. We hold, inter alia, that the taxes assessed upon Coal Creek’s property relative to oil and gas remaining in the ground are property taxes, not a severance tax. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/05/17
In Re: Liam S., Et Al.
E2016-02461-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dennis Roach, II

This appeal involves the termination of a mother and father’s parental rights to their two minor children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of each parent’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. Relative to Mother, the court found clear and convincing evidence existed to support the additional grounds of abandonment for failure to visit and to pay child support. The court further found that termination of each parent’s rights was in the best interest of the children. The parents appeal. We affirm the trial court’s judgment as to grounds for termination but vacate the trial court’s judgment as to the best interest of the children and the trial court’s judgment terminating the mother and the father’s parental rights.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 10/04/17
In Re The Estate of Jimmy L. Smith
E2016-02254-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dwaine Thomas

In this appeal, the trial court determined that the woman who claimed to be the decedent’s common law wife had failed to establish her status as his wife and heir. The alleged widow asserts that she presented satisfactory evidence to prove that she was the common law spouse. As modified, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 10/04/17
In Re Isabella G., Et Al.
M2016-02105-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

Parents appeal the termination of their parental rights to their two children. The juvenile court found clear and convincing evidence of five grounds against the father and three grounds against the mother and that termination of parental rights was in the children’s best interest. DCS concedes on appeal that persistence of conditions was not an appropriate ground for terminating mother’s parental rights and that abandonment by failure to visit was not an appropriate ground for terminating father’s parental rights. We agree. As to the remaining grounds, we conclude that DCS failed to prove abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home and persistence of conditions as to the father. But the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support the grounds of abandonment for wanton disregard for the welfare of the children and substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plans as to both parents. We further conclude that the record contains clear and convincing evidence that termination is in the children’s best interest. Thus, we affirm the termination of parental rights.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/03/17
Kristina Abolins, Et Al. v. Frank Santas, Et Al. - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2017-00357-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Young

I concur in the majority’s holding that the trial court was within its discretion to place a condition on the grant of the motion to set aside the default judgment. I also concur in the conclusion that the attorney’s fees and expenses assessed by the trial court were reasonable. But I respectfully dissent from the grant of an additional thirty days for Frank Santa and Alta Horizon, Inc. (“Defendants’) to comply with the trial court’s January 10, 2017 order. Although the conduct of counsel might justify such relief, in my view, this Court lacks that authority.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/03/17
Kristina Abolins, Et Al. v. Frank Santas, Et Al.
M2017-00357-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Young

This appeal concerns an order to set aside a default judgment. Kristina Abolins and Christopher Heath Hawkins (“Plaintiffs”) sued Frank Santas (“Santas”), doing business as Gunner Inc., and Alta Horizon, Inc. (“Defendants,” collectively), asserting a number of causes of action arising out of Defendants’ work on a renovation project at Plaintiffs’ home. After several months with no responsive filing from Defendants, Plaintiffs moved for default judgment. The Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) granted Plaintiffs’ motion for default judgment. Defendants filed a motion to set aside default judgment, raising certain defenses and taking issue with service of process. The Trial Court entered an order granting the motion to set aside on the condition that Defendants pay Plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees and expenses. Defendants did not pay, and instead appealed to this Court. We find no abuse of discretion by the Trial Court. We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/03/17
Joe Mitchell v. State of Tennessee
M2016-02044-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner, TN Claims Commission

Joe Mitchell (“Mitchell”) appeals the July 22, 2016 order of the Claims Commission for the Middle Division (“the Claims Commission”) granting summary judgment to the State of Tennessee (“the State”) on Mitchell’s claim for negligence. We find and hold that the State made a properly supported motion for summary judgment negating an essential element of Mitchell’s claim, i.e., injury or loss, and that Mitchell failed to produce evidence showing a genuine disputed issue of material fact. We, therefore, affirm the grant of summary judgment.

Court of Appeals 09/29/17
Patrick R. Miller v. Vanderbilt University - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
M2015-02223-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

I concur in so much of the majority opinion that affirms the trial court’s exclusion of testimony regarding Mr. Miller’s health insurance status and grant of a directed verdict on the claim for punitive damages. I dissent from the grant of a directed verdict on the remaining claims, however, because I believe the proof introduced was sufficient to establish a prima facie case of liability.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/29/17
Patrick R. Miller v. Vanderbilt University
M2015-02223-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

In this health care liability action, after the plaintiff presented his case-in-chief, the trial court granted a directed verdict for the defendant hospital first on the claim for punitive damages and second on all remaining issues. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court erred: (1) in ruling that he had failed to produce material evidence that a specific agent of the defendant hospital had deviated from the standard of care and that deviation had caused an injury that would not otherwise have occurred; (2) in denying his motion to reopen the proof; and (3) in excluding evidence that he was uninsured. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/29/17
In Re Douglas H.
M2016-02400-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

The legal custodians of Mother’s two children filed this petition to terminate her parental rights to the children on grounds of abandonment and severe child abuse. We affirm the termination of Mother’s parental rights to both children on at least one ground, but reverse as to some of the grounds found by the circuit court. We agree with the circuit court’s decision that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the best interest of the children.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 09/29/17
Michael Lee Givens v. Tristine Ann Givens
E2016-00865-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

Michael Lee Givens (“Husband”) sued Tristine Ann Givens (“Wife”) for divorce. The case was tried, and the Circuit Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”) entered its order on January 12, 2016, inter alia, granting a divorce and distributing the marital property. Wife appeals raising issues regarding the classification and distribution of the marital property. We find and hold that the Trial Court erred in categorizing the real property located on Taggart Drive (“Taggart”) as Husband’s separate property. We, therefore, modify the categorization of Taggart to reflect that Taggart is marital property and remand this case for an equitable distribution of the marital estate taking Taggart into account as a marital asset. We affirm the remainder of the Trial Court’s judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 09/29/17
Nancy Youngblood Ex Rel. Estate of Daniel Vaughn v. River Park Hospital, LLC
M2016-02311-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley

On July 11, 2015, Daniel Vaughn, an 86-year-old patient, was recovering from surgery in the intensive care unit of the defendant River Park Hospital. A nurse brought Mr. Vaughn some coffee, after which she left the room. He spilled the coffee on himself, suffering burns to his body. Nancy Youngblood, the executor of Mr. Vaughn’s estate, brought this action alleging that, given his condition, he “should not have been left alone to manage an extremely hot beverage.” River Park, arguing that her claim is a health care liability action subject to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101 et seq. (2012 & Supp. 2017), moved to dismiss based on plaintiff’s failure to provide pre-suit notice and a certificate of good faith as required by the THCLA. Plaintiff argued that her claim does not fall within the definition of a “health care liability action.” The trial court disagreed and dismissed her action. We hold that the trial court correctly held her claim to be a health care liability complaint. Accordingly, we affirm. 

Warren County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
Annie Davis, et al. v. Grange Mutual Casualty Group, et al.
M2016-02239-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This case involves the interplay between the statute of limitations, Rule 3 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, and Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-1206(d), allowing direct actions against uninsured motorist insurance carriers. The trial court granted the defendant uninsured motorist insurance carrier’s motion to dismiss. Discerning no error, we affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
Heather Kailoni Lawson (Stewart) v. Michael Sherman Stewart
M2016-02213-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This is a post-divorce proceeding commenced by Mother to modify an existing permanent parenting plan. The trial court entered a default judgment, and then, without conducting an evidentiary hearing, adopted the parenting plan attached to Mother’s petition, decreased Father’s visitation time, and increased his monthly child support obligation. Father filed a motion to set aside the default judgment, which the trial court treated as a motion to alter or amend the judgment, and denied the motion. Father timely appealed. Because the trial court’s order does not contain sufficient findings regarding the modification, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. 

White County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
In Re Hailey C., et al.
M2016-00818-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

This is an appeal of the termination of a father’s parental rights to his two minor daughters. The father is currently serving a thirty-four year prison sentence for criminal acts committed against his daughters. The children’s mother filed a petition to terminate the father’s rights to the children. Following a bench trial, the court below held that statutory grounds existed to terminate the father’s parental rights and that it was in the children’s best interest to do so. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
In Re Estate of Ruby C. Roggli, et al.
M2016-02562-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Justin C. Angel

Decedent’s nephews by marriage filed a petition seeking to recognize and establish a copy of a lost will as Decedent’s last will and testament. The trial court determined that the will was still in existence at the time Decedent lost testamentary capacity, and that Decedent did not have exclusive access and control of her will. Appellants appeal the trial court’s order establishing the lost will. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Franklin County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
Fredrick Sledge v. Tennessee Department of Correction, et al.
M2016-01664-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

Appellant, an inmate in the custody of Appellee Tennessee Department of Correction, appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his petition for declaratory judgment. Specifically, Appellant challenges the Tennessee Department of Correction’s calculation of his jail credit on his criminal sentence. We conclude that the calculation of Appellant’s jail credit comports with the judgment of the criminal court. Affirmed and remanded.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
In Re L.M.H., et al.
E2017-00604-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

In this termination of parental rights case, the Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of J.M.F. (father) with respect to L.M.H. and K.K.F. (the children). DCS alleged the following grounds for termination: (1) persistence of conditions; and (2) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan. DCS also sought to terminate father’s rights with respect to L.M.H. on the ground of severe child abuse. The trial court entered an order finding clear and convincing evidence supporting each ground for termination. By the same quantum of proof, the trial court found that termination of father’s rights is in the best interest of the children. Father appeals. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
Shayla Nicole Purifoy v. Devine Mafa
W2015-00102-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

After a lengthy hearing, the trial court granted an order of protection to the appellee based upon its finding that the appellant was stalking and harassing her. The trial court denied the appellant’s counter-petition for an order of protection. The appellant raises ten issues on appeal. For the following reasons, we affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
In Re Grace N.
M2016-00453-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

This appeal stems from a juvenile court proceeding in Davidson County. Mother challenges the entered parenting schedule and raises a number of issues pertaining to the trial court’s child support calculations. For the reasons expressed herein, we affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate in part and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/27/17
In Re Estate of James Keith Owen
M2017-00656-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tolbert Gilley

In this case challenging the trial court’s interpretation of the notice requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-306(d), we find the notice issue moot because the trial court found that the petitioner’s claim was without merit.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 09/27/17
In Re Preston L.
M2016-02338-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

Mother and stepfather filed a parental termination action against the father of a minor child, and the trial court terminated the father’s parental rights on the following grounds: (1) incarceration under a sentence of ten years or more and the child was under the age of eight when the sentence was entered; (2) willful failure to support during the four months prior to incarceration; and (3) wanton disregard. We reverse the trial court’s determination that the petitioners presented clear and convincing evidence to support grounds of willful failure to support and wanton disregard. We affirm as to the ground of incarceration under a sentence of ten years or more and as to the trial court’s best interest determination.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 09/27/17
Yuletide Office Supply, Inc. v. Justin Miller, et al.
W2017-01210-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

Because the order appealed is not a final judgment, we must dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/26/17
Oliver Wood et al. v. Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee, Inc.
E2016-01452-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

In 2009 and 2010, the legislative bodies of Jefferson County, Jefferson City, and Dandridge enacted resolutions requesting that the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce create a non-profit corporation to be called the Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee (EDOC). Its purpose was to promote economic development in the county. In 2013, a group of citizens filed this action seeking a declaration that EDOC is subject to the provisions of the Tennessee Public Records Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503 (2012), and the Open Meetings Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 8- 44-101 et seq. (2016). After a bench trial, the court denied the plaintiffs’ requested relief. They appealed. We find and hold that the undisputed facts establish that EDOC performs a governmental function, recieves a substantial amount of taxpayer funding, and is significantly involved with and regulated by the governing city and county legislative bodies. In light of our duty to broadly construe and interpret the Public Records and Open Meetings Acts in favor of governmental transparency and accountability, we hold that the EDOC is subject to these acts. The judgment of the trial court is reversed.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 09/26/17
Erika Louise Dewald v. Baya Paul Dewald
M2016-01598-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Thomas Gwin
This is a divorce case involving numerous pleadings. Because the order appealed is not final in that it fails to adjudicate husband’s petition for contempt and motion for sanctions, this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the appeal. Tenn. R. App. P. 3(a). Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.
 
Wilson County Court of Appeals 09/22/17