Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/27/2016
Format: 05/27/2016
John A. W. Bratcher, Clerk And Master/Special Commissioner, et al v. Beverly M. Hubler, et al.
M2015-00060-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ben H. Cantrell

This appeal involves a suit to condemn an easement or right-of-way to access landlocked property. The plaintiff named as defendants all neighboring landowners, including the State of Tennessee and the Town of Smyrna. The State and the Town filed motions to dismiss, asserting sovereign immunity. The trial court denied the motions to dismiss but granted the State and the Town permission to seek an interlocutory appeal. This Court granted the applications for interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. We hold that the State and the Town are entitled to dismissal based on sovereign immunity and therefore reverse and remand for further proceedings.      

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/12/15
Susan Lynn Morgan v. John David Drauss
M2014-02035-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of a motion filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.02. The trial court denied the appellant’s request to elicit testimony from the appellee during the Rule 52.02 hearing and denied the appellant’s motion. We affirm.      

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/12/15
Rodney Glover v. Tennessee Department of Correction, et al.
W2014-02186-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal involves the dismissal of a petition for a writ of certiorari filed by a prison inmate. The prisoner raises several issues regarding violations of the Tennessee Department of Correction's (TDOC) uniform disciplinary procedures. The prisoner was found guilty of refusing to participate in his assigned educational class. After exhausting his administrative appeals, he filed an application for a writ of certiorari in the trial court. The trial court granted the writ of certiorari, and upon review of the record, granted the TDOC's motion to dismiss. The prisoner now appeals. Finding no error, we affirm.

Hardeman County Court of Appeals 10/09/15
Mark Thomas Church et al v. Charles Blalock & Sons, Inc. et al.
E2014-02077-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Seeley, Jr.

This action stems from a motor vehicle accident resulting in two fatalities that occurred at the intersection of the newly constructed State Route 91 and Old State Route 91 in Johnson County, Tennessee. Alleging that the design and construction of the intersection were negligent, the plaintiffs filed suit in the Johnson County Circuit Court against Johnson County and the general contractor who constructed the intersection. The plaintiffs also filed claims against the Tennessee Department of Transportation with the Tennessee Claims Commission, asserting that the intersection constituted a dangerous condition on a roadway. The claims filed with the Claims Commission were transferred to Johnson County Circuit Court, and all claims were subsequently consolidated in this action. Johnson County and the general contractor were later dismissed as defendants, such that the trial proceeded regarding the claims against the State only. Following a bench trial, the court granted judgment to the plaintiffs, determining the State to be 53% at fault and the deceased driver to be 47% at fault. The court awarded damages accordingly. The State timely appealed. We conclude that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s determination that the intersection constituted a dangerous condition on the roadway or that the risk involved was foreseeable. We therefore reverse the trial court’s judgment.

Johnson County Court of Appeals 10/09/15
Mitch Goree, et al. v. United Parcel Service, Inc.
W2014-01468-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

This appeal involves two employees‘ claims of racial discrimination and retaliation pursuant to the Tennessee Human Rights Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-101, et seq. After a five-day jury trial, the jury found in favor of both employees on their claims of racial discrimination and retaliation for engaging in protected activity. The jury awarded one employee $2,600,000 and the other employee $2,042,000 in back pay, benefits, and compensatory damages. The trial judge granted the employer‘s motion for remittitur of the jury verdict and suggested remittitur of the awards to $1,225,933.33 and $676,000, respectively. The plaintiffs accepted the remittitur under protest. The employer appeals, claiming that the trial court should have granted its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict because the plaintiffs failed to establish essential elements of their claims. Alternatively, the employer argues that a new trial is necessary due to erroneous jury instructions. The employees argue that the trial court erred in reducing the jury verdict. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/08/15
Melissa A. Phillips v. Burns Phillips et al.
E2015-00407-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This is an unemployment compensation case. The employee filed a claim for benefits following her termination from her employer. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development granted the claim. The Appeals Tribunal reversed the decision, finding that the employee was ineligible for benefits pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-7-303(a)(1)(A). The Board of Review upheld the reversal. The employee filed a petition for judicial review, and the trial court reversed the decision. The employer and the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development appeal. We affirm the trial court.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 10/08/15
Jonathan Mackey v. Elizabeth Anne Mayfield
E2014-02052-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

Father, the primary residential parent with substantially more parenting time, sought to relocate to Wisconsin with the parties’ minor son. After learning that Father was about to relocate, Mother filed a petition in opposition to the relocation alleging that she had not received notice of Father’s intent to relocate as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108(a) and contending that relocation was not for a reasonable purpose and not in the child’s best interest. After a hearing on the issue of notice, the trial court found that Mother received certified mail from Father more than 30 days prior to commencing this action, but it did not contain notice of Father’s intent to relocate; thus, the court allowed Mother’s challenge to the relocation to proceed. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108(g). Following a two-day trial on Mother’s petition, the court found that the testimony of Father and his wife was not credible, that Father did not have a reasonable purpose to relocate, and that relocation was not in the child’s best interest. The court also entered an order prohibiting Father from relocating with the child and designating Mother as the primary residential parent. Father appealed, contending that the trial court erred when it found that Mother had not received notice of his intent to relocate, and that the relocation did not have a reasonable purpose and was not in the child’s best interest. Because the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in all respects.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/08/15
In re Nolan G., et al.
M2014-01667-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sophia Brown Crawford

Two children came into the custody of the Department of Children’s Services in July 2012 after members of their extended family made allegations that their parents were abusing them. The children were adjudicated dependent and neglected, and subsequently, the Department instituted proceedings to terminate the parental rights of both parents. After a hearing, the court held that the parents had willfully abandoned their children by failure to support, substantial non-compliance, and persistence of conditions. Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/07/15
Michael Watson v. Karla Myers
M2014-01862-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

In this post-divorce dispute, Father argues that the trial court erred in failing to make him the primary residential parent because of Mother’s alleged failure to facilitate a close relationship between Father and the child. The trial court found a material change in circumstances, but concluded that a change in the primary residential parent was not in the best interest of the child. We affirm because the evidence does not preponderate against the decision of the trial court. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/07/15
Sandra Zoe Jeanette Naylor v. William Lee Naylor
W2015-01326-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Butler

Because the order appealed is not a final judgment, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Therefore, we dismiss this appeal.

Hardin County Court of Appeals 10/07/15
The Bank of New York Mellon v. Littleton Price
W2015-00327-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

Because the order appealed is not a final judgment, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Therefore, we dismiss this appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/07/15
In re Jaylah W., et al.
W2015-00993-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry McKenzie

In this termination of parental rights case, Mother appeals the trial court’s findings of the following grounds for termination: abandonment for failure to provide a suitable home; abandonment by an incarcerated parent; abandonment by willful failure to visit; abandonment by willful failure to support; substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans; and the persistence of conditions. Mother also appeals the trial court’s conclusion that termination was in the children’s best interest. We reverse as to the trial court’s findings of abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home and abandonment by an incarcerated parent. We vacate the trial court’s findings of abandonment by willful failure to support and substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans due to the trial court’s failure to make specific findings of fact. We affirm the trial court’s findings of abandonment by willful failure to visit and persistence of conditions. We also affirm the trial court’s finding that termination is in the best interest of the children. Accordingly, we affirm the termination of Mother’s parental rights.

Chester County Court of Appeals 10/07/15
Avenue Bank v. Guarantee Insurance Company
M2014-02061-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Appellee Avenue Bank (“the Bank”) filed suit against the Appellant Guarantee Insurance Company (“GIC”), alleging breach of contract with respect to a “Funds Held Agreement” entered into between the parties. Pursuant to the parties' agreement, the Bank agreed to disburse proceeds of a letter of credit to GIC. In turn, GIC agreed to hold the funds in a separate “Funds Held Account” and disburse the funds to pay unpaid premiums and certain claims that might become payable pursuant to policies of workers' compensation insurance. The agreement further provided that upon the resolution of all workers' compensation claims filed within the applicable statute of limitations period, GIC would, upon request of the Bank, return to the Bank any funds remaining in the Funds Held Account. Following the resolution of all claims filed within the limitations period, the Bank demanded the repayment of the remaining balance. GIC failed to comply with this demand. In its answer, GIC alleged that it was unable to perform in light of a Delaware court order concerning the liquidation of a third-party, Ullico Casualty Company (“Ullico”). It contended that the terms of the Delaware order barred disbursement of the funds at issue. The Bank ultimately moved for judgment on the pleadings by asserting that the undisputed facts showed that it was entitled to relief. The trial court granted the motion and concluded that the facts admitted by GIC's answer established the Bank's right to recover on its breach of contract claim. In doing so, the trial court rejected GIC's arguments that Ullico's liquidation and/or the Delaware court order had any effect on its performance. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/06/15
In re Chase R.
W2015-00493-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dan H. Michael

This is a Title IV-D child support case. Father/Appellant appeals the trial court's modification of his child support obligation on grounds that: (1) the Juvenile Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to modify the Circuit Court's child support order; and (2) the trial court erred in applying the Child Support Rules and Regulations in calculating Appellant's monthly child support obligation. Appellant also appeals the trial court's award of attorney's fees in this case. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/06/15
Wendy A. McCulley v. Robert McCulley
W2014-02178-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

This is a breach of contract case. In 2012, the parties entered into a contract to resolve an issue of past-due child support owed by Appellant to Appellee. The contract provided that Appellant would grant a remainder interest in his home to Appellee, reserving a life estate interest for himself. In exchange, Appellee agreed to forgive the past-due child support owed to her by Appellant. The contract provided, among other things, that Appellant would pay the taxes on the property during his lifetime and would make monthly payments to Appellee's attorney to repay Appellee's attorney's fees. In 2014, Appellee filed a petition alleging that Appellant breached the contract by, among other things, failing to pay the taxes on the property. After a hearing, the trial court found that Appellant breached the contract and that forfeiture of his life estate in his home was the appropriate remedy. On appeal, Appellant admits that he breached the contract but argues that the trial court erred in holding that forfeiture was an appropriate remedy. Because the trial court failed to provide any reasoning for its decision, we are unable to perform a meaningful review of this issue on appeal. We affirm in part but vacate the trial court's revocation of Appellant's life estate and remand for further findings and conclusions on that issue.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/02/15
American Casualty Company of Reading, Pennsylvania v. State of Tennessee
M2013-00898-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner, TN Claims Commission

Five groups of Pennsylvania-domiciled insurance companies filed complaints in the Tennessee Claims Commission seeking a refund of retaliatory taxes paid under protest. The Commissioner entered judgments denying the requested refunds, and the insurance companies appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgments. We granted permission to appeal to consider whether certain Pennsylvania workers’ compensation assessments result in a financial burden on Tennessee insurance companies doing business in Pennsylvania, thereby triggering the imposition of retaliatory taxes against the Pennsylvania insurance companies doing business in Tennessee. Because the workers’ compensation assessments must be paid by employer–policyholders in conjunction with their premium payments, the administrative task of collecting and remitting those payments does not qualify as a burden on the insurance companies for purposes of the retaliatory tax. The judgments of the Court of Appeals are, therefore, reversed.

Court of Appeals 10/02/15
In re Jatavious M.
W2015-00865-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Oscar C. Carr, III

This appeal involves the termination of a mother's parental rights to her severely disabled son. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that several grounds for termination exist and that termination is in the child's best interest. On appeal, the mother challenges only the best interest finding. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/01/15
Eileen F. Carman Ex Rel. Rodney Carman v. Tracy L. Carman-Thacker
M2015-01089-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge:
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Craig Johnson

The defendant appealed from a judgment entered on May 12, 2014, and a post-judgment order entered on October 2, 2014. Because the defendant did not file her notice of appeal within the thirty day time period required by Tenn. R. App. P. 4, we dismiss the appeal.  

Coffee County Court of Appeals 09/30/15
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Lisa Holt v. Jeremy B. Holt
M2014-01750-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jim T. Hamilton

The matters in dispute pertain to a retroactive child support judgment for a period of time prior to the filing of the child support petition. The trial court assessed a retroactive judgment that included a period of time prior to the filing of the petition, holding that the petition filed by the State on behalf of Mother was to “set” child support not to “modify” support. Father contends a prior support order was in effect when the petition was filed; thus, the trial court violated Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-101(f)(1) by awarding a judgment based on an increase in child support for several months prior to the filing of the petition. In the trial court the State insisted that the petition was to set support; however, on appeal, it concedes that a child support order was in effect when this petition was filed. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-101(f)(1) directs that a judgment for child support shall not be subject to modification as to any time period or amounts prior to the date a petition for modification is filed. Therefore, we vacate the retroactive child support judgment and remand for the trial court to calculate the judgment from the date the petition to modify support was filed.

Wayne County Court of Appeals 09/30/15
Mark A. Cohen v. Richard A. Demonbreun
M2014-02403-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carol Soloman

This appeal arises from the dismissal of suit for unpaid fees. An expert and an attorney entered into a services agreement in March 2005. The expert first invoiced for his services in January 2006. Additional services were rendered after that date, and the expert sent additional invoices. Despite repeated requests from the expert and promises from the attorney, invoices went unpaid except for a small partial payment. On September 19, 2013, the expert filed suit against the attorney in general sessions court and obtained a default judgment. Attorney then appealed to circuit court. On a motion for summary judgment, the trial court found that suit was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. We reverse. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/15
In re Americus C., et al.
M2014-02493-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James D. White

This appeal arises from the termination of parental rights to an adopted child. The boyfriend of the adoptive mother physically and sexually abused the child. Upon a petition filed by the Department of Children’s Services, the juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence that the adoptive mother had committed severe child abuse. The juvenile court also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the child’s best interest. The adoptive mother appeals claiming that she was not the perpetrator of the abuse and that she had not been given an opportunity to adjust her circumstances. We affirm the termination of parental rights. 

Clay County Court of Appeals 09/30/15
Austin Davis v. Covenant Presbyterian Church of Nashville, et al.
M2014-02400-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

A former church member brought suit against the pastor and other defendants not involved in this appeal. The trial court dismissed all of the plaintiff’s claims against the pastor with the exception of the causes of action for defamation and outrageous conduct. We have concluded that the plaintiff’s complaint does not make out claims for defamation or outrageous conduct. The decision of the trial court is, therefore, reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint in in its entirety.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/15
Marvin Dewayne Echols v. Elke Monika Echols
M2014-01856-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

This appeal arises from a divorce involving a challenge to the validity of the marriage. Marvin Dewayne Echols (“Husband”) filed suit for divorce against his wife Elke Monika Echols (“Wife”) in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County (“the Trial Court”). Husband later alleged that his marriage to Wife was void. Husband and Wife had married shortly after a German court had pronounced Wife divorced, and Husband’s position is that Wife’s divorce was not yet legally binding under German law when they married in Kentucky. The Trial Court, among other things, found the marriage valid and granted the parties a divorce. Husband raises several issues on appeal, chief among them the issue of the validity of the marriage in the first place. We hold that Husband failed to prove that his marriage to Wife was invalid. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court in its entirety.      

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 09/29/15
Frances E. Miller Ex Rel. Arnold Edward Miller, Sr. v. Cookeville Regional Medical Center, et al.
M2014-01917-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

Plaintiff filed this medical malpractice action on September 8, 2011, pursuant to the Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act (“the TMMA”) against Cookeville Regional Medical Center, which is a governmental entity subject to the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“the GTLA”). The Medical Center filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, relying upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Cunningham v. Williamson Cnty. Hosp. Dist., 405 S.W.3d 41 (Tenn. 2013), to support its assertion that Plaintiff’s suit was untimely filed because it was not filed within the one-year statute of limitations set forth in the GTLA, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-305(b) (2012). Plaintiff responded contending that the Cunningham decision should be applied prospectively only, so as to preserve Plaintiff’s claim as timely. The trial court found the decision in Cunningham controlling and dismissed the complaint as untimely filed. We affirm.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 09/29/15
In re Malina W., et al.
M2015-00326-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Deanna B. Johnson

In this termination of parental rights case, the father appeals the trial court’s termination of his parental rights to his two daughters on the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit and support the children in the four consecutive months preceding his incarceration and conduct prior to his incarceration that exhibited a wanton disregard for the welfare of the children. The father also asserts the court erred in finding that termination was in the children’s best interest. We fail to find clear and convincing evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that the father abandoned the children by failing to visit or support them in the four months preceding his incarceration; however, we affirm the trial court’s finding that father engaged in conduct prior to his incarceration that exhibited a wanton disregard for the welfare of the children. Likewise, we affirm the court’s best interest determination. The trial court’s finding that father’s parental rights should be terminated is affirmed.

Lewis County Court of Appeals 09/29/15