Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 07/27/2016
Format: 07/27/2016
In re Estate of Dennie Lamar Trent
E2015-00198-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas Wright

Barry Trent, the Executor of the Estate of Dennie Lamar Trent, appeals the order of the Chancery Court for Hawkins County (“the Trial Court”) finding and holding that the claim against the estate filed by Brenda Jefferson for an unpaid $50,000 debt as evidenced by a note is valid. We find and hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the Trial Court's findings, and we affirm.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 01/25/16
Sima Aryan v. Nicholas Aryan
M2014-02302-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip A. Robinson

Former husband filed a post-divorce petition seeking to hold former wife in contempt for her failure to pay and hold former husband harmless for indebtedness on the marital residence as required by the parties’ marital dissolution agreement. The trial court held former wife in contempt for her failure to pay, granted former husband a judgment of $2010.00 for the amount he paid in an attempt to keep the debt current, ordered former wife to sell the marital residence, and awarded former husband attorney’s fees. We hold the trial court’s ruling on contempt was in error because the trial court failed to make a threshold finding that former wife’s conduct was willful. On appeal, former wife asserts the trial court erred in requiring her to sell the former marital home. In support of its decision to require former wife to sell the home, the trial court reasoned that principles of equity demanded the result since former husband had no other remedy at law. We reverse the trial court, finding former husband was not without a remedy because he can file an action for breach of contract. The finding of contempt, judgment of $2010.00, and related award of attorney’s fees are vacated, and the portion of the order requiring former wife to sell the home is reversed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/21/16
Christopher A. Pendola, MD, PC et al v. Associated Neurologists of Kingsport et al.
E2015-00685-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge E.G. Moody

This is a breach of contract action in which the plaintiff filed suit after the practice refused to honor the buyout provision in the partnership agreement. The practice filed a counter-complaint, arguing that the plaintiff was liable for his share of the partnership's outstanding financial obligations. Following a bench trial, the court ordered the practice to remit payment. The practice appeals. We affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 01/21/16
Gary Finley v. Marshall County, et al.
M2015-00313-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

Property owner sought recognition that his property had a nonconforming use as a rock quarry. We have determined that the property owner’s previous appeal before the board of zoning appeals, for which he did not file a petition for writ of certiorari in chancery court, is res judicata as to the present matter.

Marshall County Court of Appeals 01/20/16
In re Macedonia Cemetery
M2013-02169-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This appeal involves a motion to set aside a declaratory judgment action involving a cemetery.  Service to the community at large was made by publication.  No answer, pleading, or response of any kind was filed within the time allowed by the court. Following a hearing, the trial court provided the Macedonia Cemetery Board of Trustees with the exclusive authority to oversee operation and maintenance of the cemetery.  The respondents filed a motion to set aside the judgment, claiming they had not received notice of the hearing.  The court denied the motion.  The respondents appeal.  We dismiss the appeal for failure to comply with Rule 27 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals, as such the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.  

Clay County Court of Appeals 01/15/16
Robin G. Jones et al v. Bradley County, Tennessee et al.
E2015-00204-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

This is a governmental tort liability action against Bradley County Fire Rescue and Bradley County (collectively Bradley County) arising out of a motor vehicle accident at a large intersection in Cleveland, Tennessee. Fire Rescue employee Matthew Mundall, responding to an emergency call in a Ford F-250 truck equipped with siren and emergency lights, began making a left turn against the red light after stopping or slowing in an attempt to make sure the oncoming traffic lanes were clear. Plaintiff Robin G. Jones, who had the green light and testified she did not hear or see the emergency vehicle, drove into the intersection and collided with the truck. After a bench trial, the trial court allocated 40% fault to Jones and 60% fault to county employee Mundall. The court awarded Jones a judgment against Bradley County in the amount of $207,366. Bradley County appeals, arguing that the court erred in its assessment of 60% fault against Mundall, and that the award of damages to Jones was excessive and unsupported by the evidence. We affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 01/15/16
Cardinal Health 108, Inc. et al v. East Tennessee Hematology-Oncology Associates, P.C. et al.
E2015-00002-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

This is a breach of contract action in which the trial court granted summary judgment to a creditor against defendant doctors. We affirm the grant of summary judgment

Washington County Court of Appeals 01/14/16
Doris Annette Christenberry v. J.G. Christenberry
E2015-00497-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge David R. Duggan

This appeal involves parties who were married for thirty-six years prior to divorcing in 2004. The wife claims that she received a judgment against the husband pursuant to their divorce entitling her to the sum of $24,000. The wife insists that because this judgment was never paid by the husband, she filed a lien against real property that was awarded to him in the divorce. Upon learning that the real property in question was scheduled to be sold at auction, the wife filed the instant action, seeking to stop the auction and enforce her lien. The trial court dismissed the wife's complaint and also dismissed and dissolved the underlying lien. Wife timely appealed. Having determined that the trial court's judgment of dismissal was erroneous, we reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Blount County Court of Appeals 01/14/16
Martin W. Bracey, Jr. v. Otis N. McDonald, et al.
M2014-01843-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

Plaintiff who was injured in a motor vehicle accident timely filed suit against the driver and the owner of the truck with which he collided. More than a year after the accident and seven months after suit was filed, Plaintiff amended the complaint to assert causes of action against additional parties. Upon motion, the court dismissed the claims against the additional defendants on the basis of the statute of limitations. Holding that the amended complaints do not contain factual allegations sufficient to relate the claims against the additional defendants back to the filing of the original complaint or to otherwise prevent the running of the statute of limitations, we affirm the judgment dismissing the additional defendants and remand to the trial court for further proceedings in accordance with the opinion herein.  

Wilson County Court of Appeals 01/13/16
Eric Holmes v. Shelby County Sheriff's Office, et al.
W2015-01618-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

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

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/12/16
In re Estate of Nathleene C. Skinner
M2015-00206-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Randall Kennedy

At issue in this appeal is whether the attorney-in-fact for Nathleene Skinner, the decedent, had the authority to incur post-mortem legal fees to defend an action by the decedent’s step-children to recover the cremated remains of their father, Roy Skinner. After Mr. Skinner died, his body was cremated, and Mrs. Skinner retained possession of his remains until her death. When Mrs. Skinner died, her body was also cremated, and her attorney-in-fact took possession of both her remains and her husband’s remains. While Mrs. Skinner’s estate was being administered in the probate court, the stepchildren of the decedent, the children of Roy Skinner, commenced a separate civil action to recover their father’s remains from the decedent’s attorney-in-fact. The estate of Mrs. Skinner was not brought into the action. The attorney-in-fact hired the plaintiff to represent him in the action to recover Mr. Skinner’s remains. After the action to recover the remains of Mr. Skinner was dismissed, the plaintiff filed a motion in the probate court to require Mrs. Skinner’s estate to pay his attorney’s fees. The executor of Mrs. Skinner’s estate opposed the motion. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion because there was “an insufficient showing that such fees were reasonable, necessary or for the benefit of this Estate.” The plaintiff appealed. We affirm the probate court’s determination that the services rendered by the plaintiff did not inure to the benefit of the estate of Mrs. Skinner. We have also determined that Mrs. Skinner did not grant her attorney-in-fact any post-mortem authority pertaining to her husband’s remains; therefore, her attorney-in-fact did not have the legal right to incur legal fees on her behalf to defend a civil action regarding Mr. Skinner’s remains. Accordingly, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/11/16
In re Aiden M., et al.
E2015-01241-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brad Lewis Davidson

This is an appeal by Amanda P. from an order terminating her parental rights to her two minor children, Aiden M. and Kaidence M. The order terminating the appellant's parental rights was entered on May 5, 2015. The Notice of Appeal was not filed until June 26, 2015, more than (30) days from the date of entry of the final order. Because the Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 01/08/16
Guyoka Bonner v. Sgt. Cagle, et al.
W2015-01609-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

An inmate sought a writ of certiorari challenging the decision of the prison disciplinary board, alleging both a violation of his due process rights and a violation of the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures. The trial court granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings based upon the Tennessee Supreme Court's holding in Willis v. Tennessee Department of Correction, 113 S.W.3d 706 (Tenn. 2003). We affirm the dismissal of the inmate's due process claim but reverse the trial court's decision to grant the motion for judgment on the pleadings of the inmate's claim related to the alleged failure to comply with the Uniform Disciplinary Procedures. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Lake County Court of Appeals 01/07/16
Janice Gail Mory v. Daniel Keith Mory
W2015-00423-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carma Dennis McGee

This appeal arises out of a divorce case. The husband asserts that the trial court erred in classifying, valuing, and distributing the parties’ marital property. Because the husband failed to comply with Rule 7 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, we deem his issues regarding the marital property division to be waived. The trial court’s decision is accordingly affirmed.

Henry County Court of Appeals 01/07/16
Richard Kolasinski v. Tennessee Department of Safety And Homeland Security, et al.
M2014-02487-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

Police seized a vehicle and commenced forfeiture proceedings. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security mailed notices of the forfeiture proceedings to the driver and the owner of the vehicle, but the postal service returned the notices undelivered. When no petition was filed asserting a claim to the vehicle, the Department entered an order of forfeiture. After learning of the order of forfeiture, the owner of the vehicle filed a petition for judicial review, but because the petition was filed sixty-one days after the entry of the order of forfeiture, the trial court dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We affirm.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
In re Martavious B. et al.
M2015-01144-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy R. Barnes

This appeal arises from the termination of Father’s parental rights on two grounds, severe child abuse and persistence of conditions, and the finding that termination of his parental rights was in the best interests of his children. Father appeals the trial court’s findings of persistence of conditions and that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate his parental rights; however, Father does not appeal the trial court’s finding of severe child abuse. Because Father did not appeal the ground of severe child abuse, the trial court’s finding on that ground is final. Only one statutory ground need be found for termination; therefore, the dispositive issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in finding that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate Father’s parental rights. The evidence in the record clearly and convincingly established that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate Father’s parental rights. Accordingly, we affirm the termination of Father’s parental rights.
 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
Lakeilia Johnson v. New Wave, LLC et al.
M2014-02447-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

Homeowner filed suit against Defendants alleging intentional misrepresentation as to contractor licensure, construction skills, and code compliance, breach of implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, and violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-6-136 for misrepresentation of licensure in connection with a $27,500 contractor agreement for home improvements. The trial court concluded that Defendants committed intentional misrepresentation, breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing, and violated Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-6-136. The trial court awarded Homeowner $18,100 in compensatory damages, $36,200 in punitive damages, and prejudgment interest at the rate of 5% per annum from the date the lawsuit was filed. Due to the lack of a transcript or a proper statement of the evidence, we must affirm. We also find this appeal is devoid of merit and so lacking in justiciable issues that it constitutes a frivolous appeal within the meaning of Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-1-122. Accordingly, on remand the trial court shall award just damages for the expenses Homeowner incurred as a result of this appeal.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
Carrie M. Thompson v. Stephen Matthew Thompson
M2014-02124-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Robert E. Corlew, III

Father appeals the parenting schedule that substantially restricts his parenting time. Without making any findings of fact, the trial court restricted Father’s parenting time to 48 hours per month, with no overnight visitation, until the child is three years old. Father contends the severe restrictions on his parenting time are not supported by the evidence. He further contends the trial court erred by severely limiting his parenting time without making any finding that he was guilty of conduct that affected his ability to parent pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-406(d). In all actions tried upon the facts without a jury, the trial court is required, pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01, to find the facts specially, state separately its conclusions of law, and enter judgment accordingly. The underlying rationale for this mandate is that it facilitates appellate review by affording a clear understanding of the basis of the trial court’s decision; in the absence of findings of fact and conclusions of law, this court is left to wonder on what basis the court reached its ultimate decision. In this case, the trial court did not identify the legal principles it applied or the factual basis for its decision; therefore, it failed to satisfy the Rule 52.01 mandate. Because the trial judge has retired and both parties wish to avoid the cost of a new trial, the parties have requested that we conduct a de novo review of the record, and we have determined that the transcript of the evidence is sufficient for this court to conduct a de novo review to determine where the preponderance of the evidence lies. See Gooding v. Gooding, __ S.W.3d __, No. M2014-01595-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 1947239, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2015). We find Father’s inappropriate statements and conduct concerning the child’s genitals are directly adverse to the best interests of the child. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-406(d). We also find that the evidence preponderates in favor of a finding of neglect and substantial nonperformance of Father’s parenting responsibilities to such a degree as to be adverse to the best interest of the child. See id. Accordingly, we affirm the parenting plan that substantially restricts Father’s parenting time.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
Deanne G. Roney v. Linda F. Nordhaus
M2014-02496-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

This is an appeal from the entry of a five-year order of protection. The general sessions court entered an ex parte order of protection on behalf of the Appellee against the Appellant. After a hearing, the general sessions court entered a one-year order of protection. Appellant appealed this order to the Circuit Court for Smith County. After a hearing, the trial court concluded that Appellant had violated the previous order of protection and extended the order of protection to five years. Because the trial court did not make sufficient findings of fact to support its conclusion that Appellant violated a previous order of protection, we conclude the trial court did not meet the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 52.01. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand.
 

Smith County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
Emma Jean Anderson v. James Kenneth Lowry, et al
M2014-01107-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ronald Thurman

This appeal originated from a boundary line dispute between adjacent landowners. In this boundary line dispute, the trial court: (1) determined the boundary line that divides the parties’ properties; (2) awarded treble damages to Appellee for timber that had been removed from the disputed property by the Appellant; (3) set aside the quitclaim deed recorded the day before the trial by Appellant as a fraudulent conveyance; and (4) awarded attorney fees to Appellee for the expenses incurred in prosecuting the petition to set aside the quitclaim deed as a fraudulent conveyance. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
 

Putnam County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
In re Estate of Sally Layton
E2015-00624-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John C. Rambo

In this case, we are called upon to determine whether an exception to a claim against an estate was timely filed. Sally Layton (the decedent) died intestate. On the day before the one-year anniversary of her death, Blounts Operator, LLC, dba Greystone Healthcare Center, the operator of a nursing home, petitioned the trial court for letters of administration on the decedent's estate. The court granted the petition the same day. Also on the same day, Blounts filed a claim against the estate. Elizabeth Layton, one of the decedent's children, later filed an exception to Blounts's claim. The exception was filed within five months of the first notice to creditors. The trial court held that the exception was timely filed. The court reduced the amount of the claim. Blounts appeals, arguing only that the exception was not timely filed. We affirm the trial court's judgment as to the timeliness of the filing of the exception.

Washington County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
James Anthony Moore v. Michael Gaut
E2015-00340-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi Davis

Plaintiff James Anthony Moore was at Defendant Michael Gaut’s residence to do maintenance on his satellite dish when he was bitten by Defendant’s dog, a Great Dane. The dog was in Defendant’s fenced-in backyard, Plaintiff was on the other side of the fence, and the dog bit Plaintiff on his face. The trial court granted Defendant summary judgment based on its finding that there was no evidence that Plaintiff knew or should have known that the dog had any dangerous propensities. On appeal, Plaintiff argues that the large size of the Great Dane, a breed Plaintiff characterizes as being in a “suspect class,” should be enough, standing alone, to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Plaintiff should have known the dog had dangerous propensities. We disagree and affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
In re Rainee M.
E2015-00491-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John C. Rambo

In this action, a minor child’s foster parents petitioned to adopt the child and terminate the parental rights of her biological father. A previous action seeking to terminate the father’s parental rights had been filed by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) in a different court. The prior case resulted in termination of the father’s parental rights, but the ruling was reversed on appeal. The foster parents filed the instant action during the pendency of the appeal in the first matter. The father filed a motion to dismiss the instant petition, which the trial court denied, proceeding to conduct a trial on the merits. Following the trial, the court took the matter under advisement and subsequently entered an order terminating the father’s parental rights. The father has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Washington County Court of Appeals 12/30/15
Melinda Kathleen Nichols Long v. Lionel Edson Long
M2015-00592-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

Appellant filed a petition to modify alimony and child support. During the hearing on the petition, the trial court modified an award of separate property. Because the trial court issued a judgment outside of the relief requested by the parties, we reverse and vacate.     

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 12/29/15
Dale Crafton (Roberts) v. James Frederick Roberts
W2015-00048-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

This appeal arises from post-divorce litigation between Dale Crafton Roberts (“Mother”) and James Frederick Roberts (“Father”). Primarily at issue is the validity of the trial court‟s adoption of a modified permanent parenting plan recommended by its divorce referee. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the modified permanent parenting plan that was adopted and remand for further proceedings that are consistent with this Opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/28/15