Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 06/25/2016
Format: 06/25/2016
Richard G. Davis v. Tennessee Rural Health Improvement Association
M2015-00573-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Plaintiff policy holder filed suit against defendant insurance company after the insurance company denied his claim for benefits. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the plaintiff’s failure to utilize the appeals procedure outlined in the contract for insurance before filing a lawsuit. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Tracey Melinda Cook v. Tracy Dean Iverson
M2014-01206-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Robbie T. Beal

Father and Mother divorced in February 2012. Later that same year, Father’s employer notified him that his high-paying sales job would be eliminated. Due to his unemployment, Father filed a petition to modify his alimony and child support obligations. The trial court concluded there was a material change in circumstances and reduced Father’s monthly alimony and child support obligations. Father argues on appeal that the trial court erred by applying an incorrect legal standard; not reducing his alimony and child support obligations further; and declining to reduce his alimony in futuro obligation retroactive to the date of his petition. As an additional issue, Mother argues that the trial court erred in measuring any change in circumstances from the final decree of divorce rather than an agreed order addressing payments to Mother entered after Father learned that he was losing his job. Both Father and Mother seek an award of their attorney’s fees incurred on appeal. After a review of the record on appeal, we conclude that the trial court correctly found a material change in circumstances but erred in imputing income to Father. Therefore, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
In re Telisha B., et al.
M2014-02442-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jim T. Hamilton

Three children were removed from their home as a result of a petition filed by the Department of Children’s Services, alleging that the stepfather was guilty of sexual abuse of the oldest child. After the children were removed from the home, it was found that the Mother knew of but had failed to report previous abuse. The children were subsequently adjudicated dependent and neglected; the Department later filed a petition for termination of the Mother’s parental rights. Her parental rights were terminated as to all three children on the grounds of severe child abuse and persistence of conditions. Mother appeals the court’s holding that termination of her parental rights was in her children’s best interests. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment.

Lawrence County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Cassidy Lynne Aragon v. Reynaldo Manuel Aragon - Dissent
M2014-02292-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

Because I find the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding that Father lacked a reasonable purpose for relocating, I respectfully dissent. As noted by the majority, we have defined “reasonable purpose” to mean “a significant purpose, substantial when weighed against the gravity of the loss of the non-custodial parent’s ability to participate fully in their children’s lives in a more meaningful way.” Redmon v. Redmon, No. W2013-01017-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 1694708, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2014). In my view, such precedent represents a departure from the natural and ordinary meaning of the words found in Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108, otherwise known as the Parental Relocation Statute. Giving the words “reasonable purpose” their natural and ordinary meaning, from this record, I find that Mother failed to show Father lacked a reasonable purpose for relocating with their child. As such and because no other Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108(d)(1) ground was present that would prevent relocation, I would reverse the trial court and remand with instructions to approve the relocation.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Cassidy Lynne Aragon v. Reynaldo Manuel Aragon
M2014-02292-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

Father and Mother were divorced in April 2010; a parenting plan was entered into providing that the parties would share equal parenting time. In March 2012, pursuant to the parental relocation statute at Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108, Father notified Mother that he intended to relocate to Tucson, Arizona, for an employment opportunity and filed a petition requesting to modify the parenting plan and relocate. Mother filed a petition in opposition to relocation, stating, inter alia, that Father’s proposed move served no reasonable purpose. The trial court determined that Father’s move served no reasonable purpose; the court did not make the best interests determination as required by the relocation statute. Father appealed and this court vacated the judgment and remanded the case for the court to consider the best interests of the child and to make findings in that regard. On remand, the court made findings relative to the factors as designated in the relocation statute and concluded that relocation was not in the best interests of the child. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the decision of the trial court.        

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Steve Hollar v. Deicy C. Hollar
M2014-02370-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John J. Maddux, Jr.

In this divorce action, Husband appeals the trial court’s decision to invalidate the parties’ antenuptial agreement and the trial court’s classification and division of the marital estate. The trial court declined to enforce the antenuptial agreement because, inter alia, Wife could not read the agreement - she could not speak or read English - and she was not represented by counsel. Finding that the evidence does not preponderate against any of the trial court’s findings, we affirm.
 

Pickett County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Billy Carl Tomlin, et al v. Betty Baxter, et al
M2014-01746-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This appeal arises from a judgment for a post-foreclosure deficiency owing on a promissory note. The dispositive issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying Defendants’ motion for relief under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 from the final judgment. After Defendants filed an answer to the complaint, they subsequently failed to comply with orders of the court, and, upon motion of Plaintiffs, a default judgment on liability was entered in 2012. The hearing on damages, which was set to be heard four weeks later, was continued by agreement more than a dozen times over two years while the parties attempted to reach a settlement. No settlement was reached, and the hearing on damages was held in May 2014, during which Plaintiffs introduced evidence to establish their damages; however, neither Defendants nor their counsel appeared. Following the evidentiary hearing on damages, the court awarded Plaintiffs damages of $153,328.26, and a final judgment was entered. Three months later, Defendants filed a “Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment” under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02, seeking to set aside the May 2014 order on the grounds of excusable neglect. The trial court denied relief. On appeal, Defendants contend the court erred in denying their motion because their failure to attend the damages hearing can be justified by confusion and lack of notice. They also contend the court erred in awarding default judgment because they filed a joint answer to the complaint. We conclude that the damages judgment Defendants sought to have set aside was not a default judgment, but was a final judgment following an evidentiary hearing. Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Rule 60 relief from the damages judgment because Defendants failed to establish excusable neglect for not attending the 2014 hearing. We also hold that, although Defendants filed an answer to the complaint, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in entering a default judgment as to liability because Defendants failed to defend the claim in the time frame as ordered by the court. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 55.01. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court in all respects. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
In re Darius S.
M2014-02525-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

In this post-divorce custody dispute, Father challenges the trial court’s decision to make Mother the primary residential parent. Because Father failed to file a transcript or a statement of the evidence, we must affirm the decision of the trial court.   

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
In re Andrea R.
M2014-01895-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sophia Brown Crawford

This is the second appeal from a 2008 petition filed by Mother to set Father’s child support obligation for the parties’ five-year-old child, to make an upward deviation to pay for private school, and to determine the amount of retroactive support owed. Father responded, contending that an upward deviation for private school was not appropriate. He also contended that he should be credited for voluntary payments he made throughout the retroactive period. The trial court established Father’s current support obligation, which included an upward deviation for private school; however, the court made no findings to justify the deviation as required by Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1240-2-4-.07(2)(a)(1). Father appealed the upward deviation. We reversed and remanded with instructions for the trial court to “make the requisite findings of fact to determine, inter alia, whether private schooling for the child is appropriate based upon the facts of this case.” In re Andrea A.R., No. M2011-00574-COA-R3-JV, 2012 WL 397475, at *7-8 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 7, 2012). On remand, Mother sought to introduce additional evidence about the appropriateness of private school. The trial court declined to accept additional evidence, relied on the evidence introduced in the first trial, and, based on its written findings of fact, concluded that deviating from the child support guidelines was not appropriate because the parties could not afford private school. The trial court also established Father’s child support obligation for each of the six years preceding the filing of the petition to set support, calculated Father’s total obligation for the retroactive period, determined that Father’s voluntary payments exceeded that obligation, and held that no arrearage was owed. Because Mother filed a new petition to modify the current support obligation, which was consolidated with the above petition, the trial court allowed each party to introduce evidence of their current income. Based on that evidence, the court imputed income to Mother because she failed to provide reliable evidence of her income and modified Father’s child support obligation, which was established pursuant to the guidelines without a deviation. Mother appealed, raising several issues. We affirm in all respects.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Teresa Patterson v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP
W2015-00236-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

This appeal arises from the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the defendant-property owner in a premises liability suit. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Virginia Louise Burke et al v. Huntsville NH Operations LLC d/b/a Huntsville Manor
E2014-02068-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. McAfee

The notice of appeal in this matter was filed with the trial court after expiration of the thirty-day deadline provided in Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 4. This Court subsequently ordered the appellants to show cause why the appeal should not be dismissed as untimely. In response, the appellants filed a motion with the trial court, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.01, seeking alteration of the filing date on the notice of appeal. The trial court granted such relief while the appeal was pending in this Court, despite the absence of a remand. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, which was deferred to the panel deciding this case. We conclude that absent a remand from this court, the trial court was without jurisdiction to act on the Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.01 motion while this appeal was pending. We therefore dismiss this appeal as untimely.

Scott County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
In re C.J.A.H.
E2013-02131-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Neil Thomas, III

T.L. (Father) appeals the trial court's judgment terminating his parental rights with respect to his daughter C.J.A.H. (the Child). The court terminated Father's rights on the ground of abandonment by willful failure to support. It did so after an ex parte hearing at which neither Father nor his attorney was present because neither had received notice of the hearing. After subsequent hearings, where Father was present with counsel and introduced evidence, the trial court entered a second order “reaffirming” its earlier termination decision, relying on proof from both the ex parte hearing and later hearings. We hold that the trial court erred in relying on evidence presented at the ex parte hearing. We further hold that the evidence preponderates against the trial court's finding that Father's failure to pay child support was willful. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and dismiss the petition for termination with prejudice.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Theodore Franklin Davis v. Knox County, Tennessee
E2015-00076-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

We granted this interlocutory appeal in order to consider whether Knox County can rely upon the defense of quasi-judicial immunity with respect to the allegations against it in the complaint filed by the plaintiff Theodore Franklin Davis. At an earlier time, Davis entered into a plea agreement in criminal court. In the agreement, he consented to comply with all of the requirements of the Knox County Pretrial Services Office during his six-month probation. One of the requirements was that he would wear a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring unit (the SCRAM) to track his alcohol consumption. Pretrial Services – a department of the Knox County Sheriff's Office and an agent of Knox County – installed and monitored the device. Davis alleges that the agents of Pretrial Services were negligent in the installation of, and their refusal to adjust, the SCRAM. He alleges that the SCRAM exacerbated his diabetic condition. Knox County raised the defense of quasi-judicial immunity and later moved to dismiss. The trial court denied Knox County's motion, holding that it was not entitled to raise the defense of quasi-judicial immunity. We hold that Knox County is entitled to assert the defense of quasi-judicial immunity under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-206 (2012). Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's judgment and dismiss the plaintiff's complaint.

Knox County Court of Appeals 11/30/15
Kenneth Kuhn, et al v. Pam Panter dba Valley Mini Storage
M2015-00260-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith

This is negligence case. Appellees rented a storage unit from Appellant. The storage unit flooded, and the flooding destroyed Appellees’ personal property. Appellees filed suit against Appellant in general sessions court, claiming negligence and gross negligence. Appellees prevailed in general sessions court, and Appellant appealed the case to the trial court. After a bench trial, the trial court found the exculpatory clause in the parties’ rental agreement was void. The trial court also found that the Appellant’s rental of the unit to the Appellees, despite its knowledge of the obvious condition of flooding and advertising its units as dry, constituted gross negligence. We affirm.

Franklin County Court of Appeals 11/25/15
Robert Emilio Cisneros v. Lindsey Dianna Cisneros
M2013-00213-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Franklin L. Russell

This is a consolidated appeal from two separate actions arising from numerous competing petitions filed by the parents of two minor children. Due to the fact that the parents represented themselves during much of the trial court proceedings and at all times on appeal, the procedural history is muddled, the record is incomplete, and the briefs are of little assistance. The salient facts and procedural history are that a petition for divorce was filed in 2011 at which time both parties were represented by counsel. In December 2012, the trial court entered a final judgment whereby it declared the parties divorced, awarded Mother custody, and set child support. Father appealed, but soon thereafter he filed several petitions to modify custody and support. Mother answered and filed a petition for civil contempt against Father. The trial court found Father in civil contempt for failing to pay child support; he was incarcerated but released when the arrearage was paid. The court also entered a permanent injunction prohibiting Father from having contact with Mother. Father appealed several decisions in the second case. Based on post-judgment facts we agreed to consider, we are advised that Father filed an emergency petition in May 2015 to be granted custody due to Mother’s drug problems. After a hearing, the trial court awarded Father temporary custody, and the children remain in Father’s exclusive custody. Because Father has custody of the children, we are unable to provide Father meaningful relief with respect to this issue. The issues that are currently justiciable include: (1) whether the trial court is biased against Father; (2) the initial award of child support; (3) finding Father in civil contempt; (4) the injunction against Father; and (5) attorney’s fees awarded Mother. We affirm the trial court in all other respects.
 

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 11/25/15
Memphis Bonding Company, Inc. v. Criminal Court of Tennessee 30th District, et al.
W2015-00562-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This appeal involves a challenge to a local rule of the criminal court in Shelby County. The lawsuit was filed in the chancery court. After a hearing, the chancery court concluded that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the matter and entered a temporary injunction prohibiting the criminal court and its ten judges from enforcing a section of the local rule. We granted an application for an extraordinary appeal filed by the criminal court and its judges. We reverse the chancery court's exercise of subject matter jurisdiction, vacate the temporary injunction and remand for dismissal of the complaint.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/25/15
Christopher Michael Rigsby v. Marcy Leanne Rigsby
E2014-02095-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jacqueline S. Bolton

In this divorce case, the trial court entered a final decree of divorce based upon the sole statutory ground of irreconcilable differences, adopting and approving the parties‟ signed and notarized marital dissolution agreement and signed temporary parenting plan. The trial court subsequently entered two different parenting plans, designating the second plan as the permanent parenting plan. The mother has appealed the entry of the subsequent parenting plans. Determining that the trial court lacked authority to enter a temporary parenting plan concomitant with a final decree of divorce, we vacate the later plans and reinstate the original temporary parenting plan, designating it to be the controlling permanent parenting plan in this action.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/25/15
In re Analilia R.
E2015-00479-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice Hope Snider

This appeal concerns the termination of a father’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Hamblen County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Luis M. (“Father”) to the minor child Analilia R. (“the Child”). After a trial, the Juvenile Court found that clear and convincing evidence established the ground of persistent conditions against Father, and that the evidence was clear and convincing that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the Child’s best interest. Father appeals, arguing DCS failed to meet its burden of proof on the ground of persistent conditions. DCS raises its own issue of whether the Juvenile Court erred in failing to find the ground of substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court in its entirety.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 11/24/15
In re Raven P.
M2015-01544-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Betty K. Adams Green

This is an appeal from a juvenile court order assessing a portion of the mother’s attorney’s fees against the father’s counsel. Because the father’s counsel did not file her notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the judgment as required by Tenn. R. App. P. 4, we dismiss the appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/24/15
Carolyn Primm v. Tennessee Board of Appeals, et al
M2015-02205-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T.Perkins

The plaintiff has appealed from a final order entered on September 25, 2015, dismissing her Petition for Judicial Review. Because the plaintiff did not file her notice of appeal within the thirty day time period required by Tenn. R. App. P. 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/24/15
Central Woodwork, Inc. v. Cheyenne Johnson, Shelby County Assessor of Property
W2015-00040-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

Taxpayer appealed the Shelby County Assessor of Property's tax assessment regarding unreported tangible personal property and raw materials to the Tennessee State Board of Equalization. The administrative judge ruled partially in favor of taxpayer but against taxpayer regarding the raw materials. Taxpayer appealed to the State Board's Assessment Appeals Commission, and the administrative judge's ruling was upheld. Taxpayer then challenged the Appeals Commission's ruling in the chancery court. The chancery court reversed the Appeals Commission's ruling, finding that taxpayer was not a manufacturer and that its inventory should not have been assessed as raw materials. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/24/15
Pamela Rose Beeler v. Barry Allen Beeler
E2014-02216-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Frank V. Williams, III

This appeal arises from a divorce and the entry of a permanent parenting plan. Pamela Rose Beeler (“Mother”) filed for divorce from her husband Barry Allen Beeler (“Father”) in the Circuit Court for Knox County, Fourth Circuit (“the Trial Court”). After a prolonged and contentious legal battle, the Trial Court granted the parties a divorce. The parties ultimately reached a settlement regarding the custody of their three minor children, which was announced in open court. Father appeals, arguing that, despite his agreeing to the settlement, he actually opposes the settlement and that the final judgment should be overturned. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court. We further find this appeal frivolous and remand to the Trial Court for a determination of reasonable attorney's fees to be awarded to Mother.

Knox County Court of Appeals 11/24/15
Akilah Louise Wofford, et al. v. M.J. Edwards & Sons Funeral Home Inc., et al.
W2015-00092-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This appeal concerns the enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate a dispute between a consumer and funeral home. The trial court refused to compel arbitration, finding no meeting of the minds as to the arbitration agreement. On appeal, the funeral home argues that this Court should consider not only the signed agreement, but also another document allegedly incorporated by reference into the parties‘ contract in compelling arbitration. We hold: (1) the additional document providing details regarding arbitration was not incorporated by reference into the parties‘ contract; and (2) the arbitration provision actually contained in the parties‘ contract is unenforceable because it is beyond the expectations of an ordinary person. Affirmed and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/23/15
Stephen Leon Kelley v. Kenneth D. Varner et al.
E2015-00165-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Pamela A. Fleenor

Stephen Leon Kelley (“Plaintiff”) filed suit seeking, among other things, to have the 1958 divorce decree of Mary Joyce Long Kelley v. Joseph Gordon Kelley, Jr. (“the Divorce Decree”) set aside so that Plaintiff could be declared one of only two heirs at law of Mary Joyce Long Kelley (“Deceased”) entitled to inherit by intestacy. The Chancery Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”) dismissed Plaintiff’s suit pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, among other things. Plaintiff appeals to this Court. We find and hold that Plaintiff’s collateral attack upon the Divorce Decree cannot be sustained because the Divorce Decree is not void upon its face. We, therefore, affirm the Trial Court’s order dismissing Plaintiff’s suit.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/23/15
Fredrick Sledge v. Tennessee Department of Correction, et al
M2014-02564-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

Fredrick Sledge (Petitioner), an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), challenges TDOC’s calculation of his release eligibility date. The chancery court (the trial court) granted TDOC summary judgment, finding that “the undisputed facts and law establish [Petitioner’s] sentence has been correctly calculated.” Because the criminal court’s order sentencing Petitioner awarded him 3,521 days of pretrial jail credit, while TDOC’s calculation of his release eligibility was based upon only 516 days of credit, there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the correct calculation of his release eligibility date. We vacate the trial court’s summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/20/15