Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/23/2014
Format: 04/23/2014
In Re: Caylee R.M.F.
E2013-00621-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Thomas R. Frierson, II

This is a parental termination appeal brought by the incarcerated biological father. The child at issue was placed with the petitioners shortly after her birth five years ago. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence to support the ground for termination and clear and convincing evidence that such termination was in the child’s best interest. The father appeals. We affirm.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 01/22/14
In Re: Robert D., et al
E2013-00740-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry M. Warner

This is a termination of parental rights action focusing on the two minor children (“the Children”) of mother, Sandra W. (“Mother”). A termination petition was filed by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) after the third custody proceeding involving the Children. The petition alleges the statutory grounds of abandonment, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and persistent conditions. Following a bench trial, the trial court granted the petition upon its findings, by clear and convincing evidence, that (1) Mother had abandoned the Children, (2) Mother had failed to substantially comply with the permanency plans, and (3) the conditions leading to removal still persisted. The court further found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Mother has appealed. We affirm.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 01/17/14
Lisa Womble v. University Health System, Inc. d/b/a University of Tennessee Regional Medical Center, et al
E2012-02664-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dale Workman

In the wake of her firing from the University of Tennessee Regional Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, a nurse brought an employment action raising numerous claims. At the time the nurse originally began working at the medical center, it was owned and managed by the University of Tennessee and she was considered an employee of the university. In 1999, the university executed a lease and transfer agreement pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 49-9-112, by which the operation of the medical center was transferred to a private, nonprofit corporation. Hospital personnel, like the nurse, who had been university employees prior to the transfer, were thereafter “leased” by the private, nonprofit corporation from the university. This interlocutory appeal stems from the trial court’s sua sponte ruling that Tennessee Code Annotated section 49-9-112(a) is unconstitutional. We reverse the determination of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/16/14
Carey P. Merrell v. The City of Memphis, Tennessee
W2013-00948-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This is a Governmental Tort Liability action. Plaintiff/Appellant was injured when his motorcycle hit a pothole. Appellant sued the Appellee The City of Memphis for negligence. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that Appellant had failed to rove that the City had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous condition on its roadway so as to lift immunity under ennessee Code Annotated §29-20-203(b). Accordingly, the court dismissed the lawsuit. We conclude that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that the City had no notice of this dangerous condition. Affirmed and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/16/14
Continental Casualty Company, et al. v. Theraco, Inc.
M2012-02100-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge David R. Farmer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

Continental Casualty Company (“CNA”) and Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (“Travelers”) filed this suit against Theraco, Inc.(“Theraco”) seeking compensation for additional workers’ compensation premiums.  Theraco’s insurance contracts with CNA and Travelers provided that it would pay premiums for employees and all other persons who posed a risk of workers’ compensation liability. Pursuant to the contracts, CNA and Travelers both charged Theraco premiums for physical therapists with whom Theraco had contracted. Theraco disputes that it is liable for paying premiums for the workers. After a hearing, the Department of Commerce and Insurance ruled that Theraco was not liable for the additional premiums because the physical therapists were independent contractors rather than employees. CNA and Travelers appealed the Department’s decision to the Chancery Court for Davidson County. The trial court upheld the Department’s ruling, not only concluding that the physical therapists were independent contractors, but also that they did not pose a risk of workers’ compensation liability. CNA and Travelers appealed to this Court. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for entry of a judgment consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/14/14
Sandra Buckler Hall, Individually and on behalf of her minor son, Felix Hall v. Paul D. Randolph Jr., M.D., Personal Representative and next of kin of Paul D. Randolph, Sr., M.D.
W2013-02571-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge David R. Farmer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

The trial court denied Defendant physician’s motion to recuse following the trial judge’s disclosure of an earlier patient-physician relationship with Defendant’s expert witness. Defendant filed an interlocutory appeal as of right pursuant to Rule 10B of the Tennessee Supreme Court Rules. Finding that the circumstances require recusal, we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/14/14
In Re: Kierra B., et al
E2012-02539-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark Toohey

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Sullivan County (“the Juvenile Court”) to terminate the parental rights of Amber B. (“Mother”) to the minor children Jayden B. and Kierra B. (“the Children,” collectively, or, “Jayden” and “Kierra” individually). DCS also sought to terminate the parental rights of Miguel C. (“Father”) to Kierra. After a trial, the Juvenile Court entered its order finding and holding, inter alia, that clear and convincing evidence was proven that grounds existed to terminate Mother’s parental rights to the Children pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1- 113 (g)(2) and (g)(3), and that clear and convincing evidence was proven that it was in the Children’s best interest for Mother’s parental rights to be terminated. The Juvenile Court also found and held that clear and convincing evidence was proven that grounds existed to terminate Father’s parental rights to Kierra pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113 (g)(1) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102 (1)(A)(iv), and that clear and convincing evidence was proven that it was in Kierra’s best interest for Father’s parental rights to be terminated. Mother and Father appeal. Apart from certain grounds of abandonment pertaining to Father which we reverse for lack of adequate evidence, we affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court terminating Mother’s parental rights to the Children and Father’s parental rights to Kierra.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 01/14/14
Estate of Minnie Bell Woodard v. James W. Franklin, et al.
M2012-01408-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Patricia J. Cottrell
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Charles K. Smith

A widow filed a complaint seeking a determination of the proper owner of a tract of real property held in her husband’s name. The widow lived on the property for over twenty years after her husband died.  She believed she was the proper owner until she became interested in selling the property and learned her name was not on the deed. The trial court ruled the widow acquired the property by common law adverse possession, and one of the husband’s heirs-at-law appealed. The husband’s great nephew asserted the widow had permission to remain on the property, and, therefore, could not obtain title through adverse possession. We disagree and affirm the trial court’s judgment. The widow possessed and used the property openly and exclusively for over twenty years, thereby putting the world on notice that she claimed ownership of the property.

Jackson County Court of Appeals 01/13/14
John Shell and Connie Shell v. Sherri Cole Williams v. Rick Shell
M2013-00711-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

The issues in this case involve the proper use and alleged interference with an easement created by express grant. The trial court concluded that the holders of the easement could use the easement for recreational purposes and that the servient landowner had interfered with the use of the easement by planting trees and placing boulders within the easement. We reverse and remand.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 01/13/14
Janice Hartline v. Robert Stephen Hartline
E2012-02593-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

In this domestic relations action, the trial court granted Wife a divorce on fault-based grounds against Husband and awarded her alimony in futuro in the amount of $3,800.00 monthly, health insurance costs, and attorney’s fees. Husband appeals the trial court’s awards of alimony and attorney’s fees, as well as the court’s valuation of his dental practice and division of marital assets. Wife raises a threshold issue of whether the trial court erred by granting a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 motion after the time had elapsed to file a notice of appeal. We affirm the grant of the Rule 60.02 motion. We reverse the valuation of the husband’s dental practice. We remand to the trial court for revaluation of the dental practice without consideration of professional goodwill, adjustment of the equitable division of marital assets based on revaluation of the dental practice, and clarification of the amount of attorney’s fees awarded to Wife in the trial court. We affirm the judgment in all other respects.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 01/13/14
Kermit L. Moore, Jr., et al v. State of Tennessee, et al.
M2013-00811-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge David R. Farmer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

Plaintiffs, eight Shelby County registered voters, filed an action for declaratory judgment challenging the constitutionality of the 2012 Senate Reapportionment Act on the ground that it divides more counties than necessary in contravention of Article II, Section 6, of the Tennessee Constitution. The trial court denied Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and subsequently granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss. The facts are not disputed and we hold that, as a matter of law, the Act is not unconstitutional. We affirm judgment in favor of Defendants.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/10/14
Dan Hampton v. Macon County Board of Education
M2013-00864-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wooten

A school administrator filed the instant lawsuit,alleging that his employment was terminated in violation of both the Open Meetings Act and his contract of employment. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant school board on the Open Meetings Act claims on the basis of laches, finding that the school administrator failed to bring his claim in a timely manner. The trial court also granted summary judgment as to the contract claim, finding that the school administrator could not prove damages. We reverse the trial court’s ruling with regard to the school administrator’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to the Open Meetings Act, but affirm as to the remainder of the trial court’s decision. Reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded.
 

Macon County Court of Appeals 01/10/14
Heather Michele Cohen and Adam Cohen v. Trisha Clarke and Michelle Julian
M2012-02249-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Derek Smith

This is an appeal of the trial court’s dismissal of Appellants’ defamation lawsuit. The trial court granted Appellees’ motions to dismiss under both Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), and under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02, for violation of Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 11 and 45. We conclude that the trial court erred in granting the Rule 12.02 motion when the Appellants’ motion to amend their pleadings was still pending. We further conclude that the trial court’s stated reasons for granting the Rule 41.02 motion are not sufficient to justify the drastic sanction of dismissal. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s order and remand for further proceedings. Vacated and remanded.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 01/10/14