Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 08/16/2017
Format: 08/16/2017
In Re Anna B. et al
M2016-00964-CCA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

This is a termination of parental rights case. Father appeals the termination of his parental rights, to two minor children, on the grounds of: (1) severe child abuse, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(4) and 37-1-102(22)(C); and (2) abandonment by willful failure to support and willful failure to visit, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(i).  Father also appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of his parental rights is in the children’s best interests.  Because Appellees did not meet their burden to show that Father willfully failed to provide support for the children, we reverse the trial court’s finding as to the ground of abandonment by willful failure to support.  The trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/01/17
Heather Lewis v. Michael James Parmerter
M2015-01335-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

Father appeals the order entered on the motion of the Mother of four children awarding her sole decision-making authority regarding the children’s religious upbringing and designating that the children attend her church, contending, among other things, that the mandate that the children attend Mother’s church violates his and the children’s freedom of religious expression, as protected by the Federal and Tennessee Constitutions. We hold that the court did not abuse its discretion in granting Mother sole authority regarding the children’s religious upbringing and modify the order to remove that portion specifying the church that the children are to attend.   

White County Court of Appeals 01/31/17
Kathaleen Moriarty King v. Hal David King
2016-01451-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

This appeal involves a 1997 divorce judgment that awarded the wife a percentage of the husband’s federal retirement annuity. The parties entered into a settlement agreement, later incorporated into a judgment, which provided that the wife would receive one-half of the marital portion of the husband’s retirement. The 1997 judgment contained no provisions regarding salary adjustments or cost-of-living adjustments applicable to the retirement annuity. In 2008, the husband’s attorney filed and the trial court entered a “Court Order Acceptable for Processing,” which provided for the wife’s fractional share of the husband’s retirement annuity but made no mention of salary adjustments applicable thereto. This order did provide, however, that the wife would be entitled to cost-of-living adjustments. Following his retirement in 2015, the husband filed a motion in 2016 seeking relief from the trial court’s prior final orders pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60. The trial court granted the motion, determining that the relief sought merely “clarified” but did not modify the earlier orders. The wife has appealed. We conclude that the trial court impermissibly granted relief to the husband pursuant to Rule 60.01, which had the effect of modifying the parties’ settlement agreement and the court’s prior orders. We therefore vacate the trial court’s order granting Rule 60 relief.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/31/17
F&M Marketing Services, Inc. v. Christenberry Trucking And Farm, Inc. et al.
E2016-00205-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

The question presented is whether the corporate veil of Christenberry Trucking and Farm, Inc. (CTF), should be pierced and its sole shareholder, Clayton V. Christenberry, Jr., be held personally liable for a debt owed by CTF to F&M Marketing Services, Inc. In 2012, F&M obtained a judgment against CTF for breach of contract. By that time, CTF, a trucking company, had suffered mortal setbacks primarily owing to the great recession. CTF was administratively dissolved that same year. CTF had no assets to satisfy the judgment. F&M brought this action, seeking to hold Mr. Christenberry personally liable for the debt. After a bench trial, the court held that F&M did not meet its burden of proving that CTF’s corporate veil should be pierced. F&M appeals. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/31/17
Jonathan D. Grigsby v. Alexandra Alvis-Crawford
W2016-00393-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William A. Peeler

This custody dispute involves the child born to Jonathan D. Grigsby (Father) and Alexandra Alvis-Crawford (Mother). In July 2014, the parties were residing together when Mother moved out of the house with the child and refused to let Father see or talk to him. Shortly thereafter, Mother had medical issues and was admitted to the hospital where she remained until September 2014. During this time, the child lived in the home of the maternal grandparents of the child. Because the maternal grandparents refused to allow Father to see or speak with the child, he filed a petition seeking an ex parte order for immediate custody of his minor child. Based on Father’s petition, the trial court entered an order finding that the grandparents were unlawfully keeping the child from Father. The trial court gave Father immediate temporary custody of the child. The trial court did not make a permanent custody determination at that time. In December 2014, Mother filed a petition for custody. In January 2016, the trial court held a hearing on Father’s amended emergency petition and Mother’s petition. The trial court found that it is in the best interest of the child to stay with Father. Accordingly, the court designated Father as the primary residential parent. Mother appeals. We affirm.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 01/31/17
In Re: C.H.
E2016-00702-COA-R9-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dennis "Will" Roach, II

This is a Tenn. R. App. P. 9 interlocutory appeal. Biological grandparents of a child at issue in a termination of parental rights action sought to intervene in the termination proceeding. The child had lived in the grandparents' home with them and the child's parents. The Department of Children's Services removed the child from that home and later sought to terminate the parental rights of the child's parents. The grandparents filed a motion to intervene. The trial court denied their motion, but granted their request for an interlocutory appeal. Thereafter, we also granted their request for interlocutory review. We affirm the decision of the trial court and now remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 01/31/17
Michael Sipes, et al. v. Terry Sipes, et al.
W2015-01329-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Tony Childress

This appeal concerns a dispute between a father and his adult son over the transfer of real property. In 1997, the father constructed a house on a portion of his two-acre tract of land for his son. Several years later, the son agreed to purchase the house. Subsequently, a disagreement led the parties to discover identical errors in the legal descriptions in the warranty deed executed by the father transferring the property to the son and the deed of trust securing the son’s purchase money loan. The trial court, upon its finding of mutual mistake, reformed the incorrect legal descriptions in the deeds, but the court also granted the father a right to use a shed and garden on the son’s land. We affirm the trial court’s reformation of the legal descriptions in the deeds. However, because we conclude that the evidence is less than clear and convincing that the parties intended the deeds to include the father’s right of use, we reverse the trial court’s decision to grant the interest.

Dyer County Court of Appeals 01/31/17
Parris Keane, et al v. John P. Campbell, III et al
M2016-00367-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This cause came on to be heard upon the record on appeal from the Davidson County Circuit Court, the briefs of the parties, and the arguments of counsel. Upon consideration of the entire record, this court finds and concludes that the trial court’s judgment should be affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/31/17
In Re Lydia N.-S.
M2016-00964-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Deanna B. Johnson

The minor child at the center of this appeal was born on April 3, 2012, in El Paso, Texas. Mother and child moved to Nashville, Tennessee, three months later. Father subsequently moved to Delaware. While living in Delaware, Father pled guilty to two counts of rape and was sentenced to concurrent twenty-five year sentences beginning June of 2013. Mother married Stepfather in late 2013, and in October 2014, Stepfather and Mother filed a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights and to allow Stepfather to adopt the child. The petition, as amended, alleged abandonment by failure to visit and failure to support, abandonment by failure to visit or support in the four months prior to Father’s incarceration, and Father’s incarceration under a sentence of ten or more years with the child being under eight years of age as grounds for termination. Following a trial at which Father, who was incarcerated, participated by telephone, the court terminated Father’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment and incarceration under a sentence of ten years or more and upon a finding that termination was in the child’s best interest; the petition for adoption was also granted. Father appeals the termination of his rights, stating that the court erred in denying a motion to continue so he could appear in person and in determining that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the minor child. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court as modified. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 01/31/17
Battery Alliance, Inc., et al. v. Allegiant Power, LLC, et al.
W2015-02389-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

In this dispute among competing battery distribution companies, the plaintiff companies appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant company and its employees. The plaintiffs also appeal the trial court's denial of their motion to dismiss the defendant company's counterclaim on jurisdictional grounds. Having determined that the trial court granted summary judgment without stating the legal basis for its decision prior to instructing the defendants' counsel to prepare a template for the court's order, we conclude that the trial court failed to fully comply with the procedural requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.04. We therefore vacate the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants and denying the plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery. We affirm the trial court‟s denial of the plaintiffs' motion to dismiss the defendant company's counterclaim. We remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, including a determination of the defendants' motion for summary judgment in compliance with Rule 56.04 and of the plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/30/17
Sandra Prewitt, et al v. Kamal Brown
M2016-00874-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

This appeal arises from a two-car accident. The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff’s vehicle sustained irreparable damage and that Defendant, the driver of the other vehicle, was 100% at fault. Prior to the commencement of this action, the automobile insurance carrier for Defendant, Allstate Insurance Company, paid the lien-holder of Plaintiff’s vehicle $7,852.57, the amount Allstate believed to be the fair market value of the vehicle. Thereafter, Plaintiff sued Defendant to recover the balance of the fair market value of her car and damages for loss of use. She also asserted a direct action against Allstate, alleging that Allstate reached a settlement with her lien-holder before exploring the full extent of her damages. The trial court dismissed the direct action against Allstate for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6), because Tennessee law does not permit a direct action against an insured’s insurance carrier “without first establishing that the insured . . . has become ‘legally obligated’ to pay damages.” Ferguson v. Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 218 S.W.3d 42, 52 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006) (quoting Seymour v. Sierra, 98 S.W.3d 164, 165 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002)). Following the dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims against Allstate, the trial court summarily dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant upon the finding that Plaintiff failed to present any evidence that the fair market value was more than Allstate paid on behalf of Defendant. The court also summarily dismissed Plaintiff’s claim for the loss of use of her car, because it could not be repaired and she never sought to rent a replacement vehicle. Plaintiff appealed. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/30/17
Jack Osborne, et al. v. Michael Hardin
E2016-01158-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge John C. Rambo
Jack Osborne, Margaret Howell, and Kathy Street (collectively “Plaintiffs”) sued Michael
P. Hardin (“Defendant”) seeking to extinguish any right Defendant had to a right-of-way
(“the Right-of-Way”) on real property located in Unicoi County, Tennessee. After a trial,
the Chancery Court for Unicoi County (“the Trial Court”) entered a judgment finding and
holding, inter alia, that the Right-of-Way is for the benefit of both Plaintiffs and
Defendant and neither may block or impede the other’s use of the Right-of-Way.
Plaintiffs appeal to this Court raising issues regarding whether the Trial Court erred in
setting aside a judgment by default and proceeding with trial, whether the Trial Court
erred in proceeding with trial in the absence of two of the Plaintiffs, and whether the Trial
Court erred in finding that Plaintiffs failed to prove adverse possession. We find and
hold that the Trial Court did not abuse its discretion in setting aside the judgment by
default, that Plaintiffs never objected to proceeding with trial in the absence of the two
Plaintiffs, and that Plaintiffs failed to prove adverse possession. We affirm the Trial
Court’s judgment.
 
Unicoi County Court of Appeals 01/30/17
Sandra Jo Robbins v. Robert Scholze Robbins
E2016-02396-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth
The Notice of Appeal filed by the appellant, Robert Scholze Robbins, stated that the appellant was appealing from a final judgment entered on July 28, 2016. However, there is no final judgment in the proceedings below and the case remains pending in the Trial Court. As such, we lack jurisdiction to consider this appeal.
 
Hamilton County Court of Appeals 01/30/17
Keith Lamont Farmer v. Tennessee Department of Correction, et al.
E2016-01327-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey F. Stewart
This appeal arises from a prisoner’s disciplinary hearing. Keith Lamont Farmer (“Farmer”), an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”), was convicted of a disciplinary offense. Farmer filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari seeking judicial review of the decision to discipline him. The Chancery Court for Bledsoe County (“the Trial Court”) dismissed Farmer’s petition on the grounds that it did not state that it was the first application for the writ, and, that it neither was sworn to nor verified. Farmer appeals to this Court. We affirm the Trial Court.
 
Bledsoe County Court of Appeals 01/27/17
In Re Property of Twyla Miles
W2016-00132-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

This appeal involves an in rem forfeiture proceeding which was initiated after the appellant’s property was seized as proceeds of illegal drug sales. The appellant did not file a claim in the forfeiture proceedings. On appeal, she asserts that she was denied due process because she did not receive notice of the forfeiture proceedings. The record does not support the appellant’s assertion that she was not afforded adequate notice. We, therefore, affirm the decision of the trial court forfeiting the appellant’s interest in the seized property.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/27/17
Spirit Broadband, LLC, et al v. Joseph Anthony Armes, et al
M2015-00559-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

This case arises from the sale of the assets of a small cable television system. DirecTV program channels constituted the majority of the system’s programming. Three years after the sale, DirecTV stopped providing its programming signal to the cable system, claiming the signal had been obtained illegally. The buyer of the cable system filed suit against DirecTV for breach of contract and defamation. After reaching a settlement with DirecTV, the buyer filed this action against the seller of the cable system, seeking damages for breach of contract and fraud and a declaratory judgment that the promissory note the buyer had executed as part of the purchase was not yet due and payable. The seller filed a counterclaim, seeking payment of the promissory note. After a bench trial, the trial court dismissed the buyer’s claims against the seller. The court also dismissed the seller’s counterclaim under the doctrine of unclean hands. After a review of the record, we conclude that the chancery court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the doctrine of unclean hands barred the seller’s counterclaim. Accordingly, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/27/17
In re I.G.
M2015-01974-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

This appeal pertains to an effort to set aside a default judgment. M.V. (Mother) filed a petition seeking a restraining order against M.A.G. (Father) and modification of their permanent parenting plan. Father was served with Mother’s petition. He did not file a response. Mother later filed a motion for a default judgment and mailed the same to Father. He did not respond or attend the noticed hearing. At the hearing, the trial court granted Mother’s proffered permanent parenting plan and awarded her attorney’s fees. The court mailed the final judgment to Father. Father then moved to set aside the judgment, claiming, in part, that he had not received Mother’s motion for default. The trial court denied his request after finding that the motion for default was mailed to Father’s address on file with the court and that Father had not asserted just cause as to why the final judgment should be set aside. Finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 01/27/17
Shirley M. Lurks, et al. v. The City of Newbern, Tennessee, et al.
W2016-01532-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

This is a premises liability case filed pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Appellant was walking down a sidewalk when she fell and sustained injuries. She and her husband brought suit alleging that she fell because the sidewalk was in a dangerous and defective condition due to the negligence of the City of Newbern. After a bench trial, the trial court found that the sidewalk in question was in a defective condition and that the upkeep of the sidewalk was the responsibility of the City of Newbern. However, the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence that the sidewalk was the cause of the fall. The trial court issued a memorandum opinion and final judgment order dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims. We affirm.

Dyer County Court of Appeals 01/26/17
Clear Water Partners, LLC v. Charles e. Benson, et al.
E2016-00442-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

A purchaser of property filed a complaint against numerous individuals asserting intentional interference with its business relationships and tortious interference with its contracts based on the individuals' alleged misconduct aimed at preventing the development of the property the purchaser was attempting to acquire. The defendants filed motions to dismiss based on Tennessee Rules of Procedure 10.03 and 12.02(6), which the trial court granted. The trial court also awarded the defendants their attorneys' fees pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-1003(c). The plaintiff appealed, and we find the plaintiff properly stated a claim for tortious interference with business relationships and civil conspiracy; the plaintiff did not state a claim for tortious interference with contracts; and the defendants are not entitled to an award of their attorneys' fees at this stage of the proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/26/17
Timothy Parker, et al v. James Mark Parker, et al
M2016-00528-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

This appeal arises from a will contest. The witnesses to the will failed to sign the body of the will, but they signed the self-proving affidavit in the presence of the testator. After the will was admitted to probate in common form, the contestants filed a complaint challenging the validity of the will. The contestants later filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the decedent did not comply with the execution requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104, because the witnesses did not sign the body of the will. The trial court granted the motion based on In re Estate of Bill Morris, No. M2014-00874-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 557970 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2015), holding that a will is not validly executed if the witnesses sign only the self-proving affidavit. The executor appealed. While this appeal was pending, the General Assembly passed an amendment to Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104, which states that wills executed prior to July 1, 2006, satisfy Tennessee’s due execution requirements if the witnesses to the will signed the self-proving affidavit. In this appeal, both parties ask this Court to determine whether the newly enacted amendment applies and, if so, whether it comports with Tennessee’s constitutional prohibition against retrospective laws. But for a few exceptions, we will not consider issues the parties did not present to the trial court. Because the General Assembly enacted this amendment while this appeal was pending, the trial court has not had the opportunity to consider these issues. In order to afford the trial court that opportunity, we vacate the judgment declaring the will invalid. Further, we remand to the trial court with instructions to reinstate the petition to admit the will to probate and to reinstate the amended complaint challenging the will, which will give the parties the opportunity to present these issues to the trial court.

Bedford County Court of Appeals 01/26/17
Stephanie N. Potts v. Tony Conatser
M2015-02351-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

Father appeals the modification of a parenting plan, which changed the designation of primary residential parent to Mother and decreased Father’s parenting time. We vacate the judgment and remand the case for entry of factual findings in accordance with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 01/26/17
Pinnacle Towers Acquisition, LLC, et al. v. Boris Penchion, et al.
W2016-00390-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

A landowner granted a perpetual easement over a portion of her real property to a telecommunications tower company. According to the contracting parties’ agreement, the landowner agreed to have the property subject to the easement (“Easement Property”) separately assessed for real property taxes so that the tax obligations could be paid by the company. After the landowner’s real property was separately assessed as two tax parcels, the company timely paid all real property taxes due on the Easement Property, but the landowner failed to pay real property taxes on the remainder of the tract. As a result, the larger parcel was sold to the county at a tax sale and later transferred to a third-party purchaser. Said purchaser thereafter refused to allow the telecommunications company access to the Easement Property. The company filed the instant action, seeking to have its easement declared valid and requesting an injunction to prevent the third-party purchaser from interfering with the easement. The company subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, determining that the easement was valid but declaring the third-party purchaser to be the owner of the Easement Property. The third-party purchaser timely appealed. Determining the underlying tax sale to be invalid, we vacate the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the company and remand this matter for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/25/17
In re S.P. et al.
M2016-00708-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

In this termination of parental rights case, the Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the rights of S.J.C.P. (Mother) with respect to her children, S.D.P. and C.D.P. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of four grounds supporting termination. By the same quantum of proof, the trial court held that termination of Mother’s rights is in the best interest of the children. Mother appeals. We modify the trial court’s judgment. As modified, the judgment is affirmed.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 01/25/17
In Re A. B., et al.
M2016-01286-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones

Father and stepmother petitioned to terminate the parental rights of mother to her two children. We have determined that the petitioners proved by clear and convincing evidence that mother’s actions prior to her incarceration exhibited wanton disregard for the welfare of the children and that it is in the best interest of the children for mother’s parental rights to be terminated.

Maury County Court of Appeals 01/24/17
Concord Enterprises Of Knoxville, Inc. v. Commissioner Of Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development
M2016-00118-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal arises from a determination by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“the Department”) that Concord Enterprises of Knoxville, Inc. (“Concord”), a pet grooming business, misclassified certain employees as independent contractors from 2006 through 2011 and, therefore, was liable for unpaid unemployment taxes from that period. Following a hearing, the Appeals Tribunal concluded that unemployment taxes were due, a decision affirmed by the Commissioner’s Designee. Concord petitioned for judicial review. The Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) affirmed the decision of the Commissioner’s Designee and dismissed Concord’s petition. Concord appeals to this Court. We find, inter alia, that the pet groomers at issue both performed their service at Concord’s place of business and performed pet grooming service that fell squarely within Concord’s course of usual business. Evidence both substantial and material supports the agency’s determination. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/20/17