Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/27/2015
Format: 05/27/2015
Tammy Gipson v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, et al.
W2013-02872-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

I fully concur with the majority that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment should be reversed in light of the factual dispute over ownership of the automobile operated by Ms. Gipson at the time of the accident.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/04/14
Tammy Gipson v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, et al.
W2013-02872-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny W. Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

Following Appellant’s involvement in an automobile accident and the subsequent denial of coverage by her insurance company (the Appellee herein), Appellant brought the instant action against Appellee, alleging breach of contract, bad faith refusal to pay, violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, and intentional misconduct. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Appellee. Appellant appeals. We conclude that there is a dispute of material fact as to the ownership of the subject vehicle; this dispute of material fact precludes summary judgment. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s order and remand for a hearing on the merits. Reversed and Remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/04/14
Sherry Harper v. Bradley County, Tennessee
E2014-00107-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

The issue presented on this appeal is whether a plaintiff who brings a health care liability action against a governmental entity under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“the GTLA”) is entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations provided by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c)(Supp. 2014) under the current version of the Health Care Liability Act (“the HCLA”). This inquiry focuses on the effect of the 2011 amendment to the HCLA that expressly includes “claims against the state or a political subdivision thereof” within the definition of “health care liability action.” Applying the principles set forth by the Supreme Court in Cunningham v. Williamson Cnty. Hosp. Dist., 405 S.W.3d 41 (Tenn. 2013), we hold that the 2011 amendment demonstrates a clear intent on the part of the General Assembly to allow the GTLA’s one-year statute of limitations to be extended by 120 days in cases where a plaintiff satisfies the requirements of the HCLA. We affirm the judgment of the trial court denying defendant Bradley County’s motion to dismiss.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 11/03/14
In Re: Kadean T.
M2013-02684-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Burch

The father and step-mother of the child at issue commenced this action to terminate the parental rights of the child’s mother and for step-parent adoption. The trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by willful failure to support and by willful failure to visit the child, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i), and upon the determination that termination of Mother’s rights was in the best interest of the child, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(c)(2) and (i). The trial court further determined that step-parent adoption was in the best interest of the child. Mother appeals. We affirm the determination that Mother abandoned her child pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1113(g)(1) by willfully failing to visit her child and by willfully failing to support her child during the four-month period preceding the filing of this petition. However, because the trial court failed to provide written findings of fact as mandated by Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(k), we reverse the trial court’s determination that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the child. Accordingly, we remand the issue of the child’s best interest to the trial court with instructions to provide written findings of fact on the issue of the child’s best interest and to enter judgment consistent with its findings.

Dickson County Court of Appeals 10/31/14
James Cullum, et al v. Baptist Hospital System, Inc., et al
M2014-01905-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Jduge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda Jane McClendon

This is an interlocutory appeal as of right pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B from the trial court’s denial of a motion for recusal. Having reviewed the petition for recusal appeal pursuant to the de novo standard as required under Rule 10B, § 2.06, we affirm the trial court’s decision to deny the motion for recusal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/31/14
Christina June Quinn v. Scott Allen Diehl
M2014-00536-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

Mother and Father were divorced in 2009 and Mother was named the primary residential parent of their two children. Father later filed a petition to modify the parenting plan, and the court changed the primary residential parent designation to Father. Mother filed one petition to modify in 2012 and another petition in 2014 in an effort to become the primary residential parent again. The court entered orders denying each petition, and Mother appealed both orders. We affirm the trial court’s judgments in all respects.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 10/31/14
Christina June Quinn v. Scott Allen Diehl
M2013-00326-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

Mother and Father were divorced in 2009 and Mother was named the primary residential parent of their two children. Father later filed a petition to modify the parenting plan, and the court changed the primary residential parent designation to Father. Mother filed one petition to modify in 2012 and another petition in 2014 in an effort to become the primary residential parent again. The court entered orders denying each petition, and Mother appealed both orders. We affirm the trial court’s judgments in all respects.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 10/31/14
Adam Ellithorpe, et al v. Janet Weismark
M2014-00279-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

Parents and minor child brought this action against a licensed clinical social worker, alleging that the social worker provided counseling to the minor child in violation of a court order. The social worker moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to comply with the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act’s procedural requirements. The trial court found that the complaint sounded in health care liability and accordingly dismissed it in its entirety. We conclude that the trialcourtapplied an improper standard in dismissing the complaint,vacate the judgment, and remand for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/31/14
Kaitlyn Alexis McGinnis, et al. v. Aubie L. Cox, et al
M2014-00102-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones

Plaintiffs presented Defendants with an offer of judgment pursuant to Rule 68 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. Prior to Defendants’ acceptance, Plaintiffs attempted to rescind the offer. Defendants nevertheless accepted the offer within the time allowed by Rule 68 and attempted to enforce the offer of judgment. The trial court concluded that Plaintiffs were not entitled to revoke the offer of judgment and entered an order granting the motion to enforce the judgment. We affirm and remand.

Giles County Court of Appeals 10/31/14
Robert Koscinski v. Hamilton County Tennessee, et al
E2014-00097-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

This appeal arises from the termination of Robert Koscinski (“Koscinski”) from his employment as a corrections officer with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. Koscinski had been found to be unfit for duty based upon a psychological evaluation. Koscinski appealed his termination to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Civil Service Board “the Board”). The Board upheld Koscinski’s termination. Koscinski filed an application for writ of certiorari in the Chancery Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”). After hearing arguments, the Trial Court entered an order denying Koscinski’s writ of certiorari. Koscinski timely appealed to this Court. We find and hold that the Board applied the correct legal standard, and that the Board’s factual findings were supported by substantial and material evidence. We affirm the Trial Court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/31/14
Jackie D. Owens v. Hamilton County Sheriff's Department, et al
E2014-01766-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Neil Thomas, III

The judgment from which the pro se incarcerated appellant, Jackie D. Owens, seeks to appeal was entered on December 17, 2013. The Notice of Appeal was filed more than thirty (30) days from the date of entry of the December 17, 2013 judgment, even considering the date upon which it appears the appellant placed the Notice of Appeal in the mail for filing with the trial court clerk (August 26, 2014). See Tenn. R. App. P. 20(g). The appellee, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority, filed a motion to dismiss this appeal based upon the untimely filing of the Notice of Appeal. Because the Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal and grant the motion to dismiss.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/31/14
Cesar O. Rodriguez v. Amanda Lily Rodriguez
M2013-02648-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

Mother and Father were married for eight years and had two children when they were divorced in 2012. The trial court divided the marital assets, named Father the primary residential parent, and ordered Father to pay child support to Mother. Father appealed the trial court’s judgment, contending the child support worksheet contains incorrect information and that he should not be required to pay child support because he is the primary residential parent. He also argued the trial court erred in awarding Mother a full half of retirement benefits he earned during the parties’ marriage because Mother left him for periods of time during the marriage. Father contends those periods of separation should not be counted as time the parties were “together.” The record contains no transcript of the proceedings or statement of evidence that we can review to determine whether the evidence presented preponderates against the trial court’s findings and judgment. However, we agree with Father that the child support worksheet includes an incorrect figure representing Mother’s average parenting time. We remand the case for the trial court to correct that number and determine whether the correction results in a different child support award. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 10/30/14
TWB Architects, Inc. v. The Braxton, LLC, et al.
M2013-02740-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Burch

This appeal arises from a suit to enforce a mechanic’s lien. An architectural firm entered into an agreement with the developer of a condominium project to provide architectural and design services. The agreement stated that the firm would be paid a fee of two percent of construction costs if the condominiums were constructed. Later, the architect signed a contract to receive a penthouse as “consideration of design fees owed” on the first contract. The condominiums were constructed according to the plans drawn by the architectural firm. The developer was unable to deed the penthouse to the architect because it was encumbered by a security interest. The architect was never compensated. The architect filed suit to enforce a mechanic’s lien for the amount he was owed under the first contract. The trial court held the second contract was a novation, completely extinguishing the rights and obligations under the first contract. Finding there was a lack of intent for the second contract to completely extinguish the first contract and any lien rights arising from it, we reverse the trial court. We also find the suit was timely filed under the terms of the contract and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings

Cheatham County Court of Appeals 10/30/14
Brentwood Chase Community Association v. Triet Truong, et al.
M2014-01294-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal involves an action by a homeowners association to enjoin alleged violations of the association’s declarations. The trial court adjudicated a portion of the alleged violations and directed the entry of a final judgment pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 54.02. We have determined that the trial court has not disposed of “one or more claims” within the meaning of Tenn.R.Civ.P.54.02,meaning all claims byor against that party,see Bayberry Associates v. Jones, 783 S.W.2d 553, 557 (Tenn 1990); therefore, we reverse the portion of the order directing the entry of a final judgment, dismiss this appeal without prejudice to any party subsequently pursuing an appeal as of right pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 3, and remand for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/30/14
Bonnie Ellen Pierre v. Edward Joseph Pierre
E2013-01864-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Richard R. Vance

In this post-divorce case, Edward Joseph Pierre (“Husband”) appeals the trial court’s decision refusing to grant him relief under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02. Husband argues that the trial court’s divorce judgment based upon irreconcilable differences should be set aside and the case reopened because the parties’ marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”), which was duly approved by the trial court and incorporated into the judgment, allegedly fails to equitably divide the marital estate. Husband voluntarily signed the MDA before a notary public but declined to read it before he signed it. Finding no grounds for Rule 60.02 relief, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 10/30/14
Walter Allen Gault v. Jano Janoyan et al.
E2014-00218-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

This case concerns a boundary line dispute. Walter Allen Gault (“Plaintiff”) sued Jano Janoyan and Pinnacle Bank (“Defendants”) seeking a declaratory judgment 1 that, by way of adverse possession, he is the rightful owner of a triangle-shaped piece of land, 41.59 feet at its base and approximately 302 feet on each of its two sides. The disputed area is within the deed boundaries of the property owned by Janoyan, the Plaintiff’s next door neighbor. (See attached exhibit.) The parties’ properties are in Forest View, a residential subdivision in Knoxville. Defendants filed an answer and a counterclaim for ejectment and quiet title to the property. Both parties moved for summary judgment. After a hearing, the trial court granted summary judgment to the Defendants. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/30/14
Carol Payne McKinnis v. Sandra Kim Hammons
E2013-02733-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

Carol Payne McKinnis (“Seller”) brought suit against Sandra Kim Hammons (“Purchaser”) to enforce an oral contract for the sale of real property. Seller sought a judgment for the amount allegedly due under the parties’ agreement. Purchaser moved for summary judgment based on her contention that the action was barred by the Statute of Frauds as codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-2-101(2012). The trial court granted the motion. We vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Johnson County Court of Appeals 10/30/14
Sherry Harper v. Bradley County, Tennessee
E2014-00107-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

The issue presented on this appeal is whether a plaintiff who brings a health care liability action against a governmental entity under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“the GTLA”) is entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations provided by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(c)(Supp. 2014) under the current version of the Health Care Liability Act (“the HCLA”). This inquiry focuses on the effect of the 2011 amendment to the HCLA that expressly includes “claims against the state or a political subdivision thereof” within the definition of “health care liability action.” Applying the principles set forth by the Supreme Court in Cunningham v. Williamson Cnty. Hosp. Dist., 405 S.W.3d 41 (Tenn. 2013), we hold that the 2011 amendment demonstrates a clear intent on the part of the General Assembly to allow the GTLA’s one-year statute of limitations to be extended by 120 days in cases where a plaintiff satisfies the requirements of the HCLA. We affirm the judgment of the trial court denying defendant Bradley County’s motion to dismiss.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 10/30/14
Kimberly Modena Ray v. Roger Lee Ray
M2013-01828-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

This is an appeal from a divorce proceeding. The parties were married thirteen years and started a successful business during that time. The husband became disabled during the marriage and was no longer able to work. Following a two-day bench trial, the trial court valued the parties’ marital assets, including the business, and attempted to divide the marital property equally. The court ordered the wife to pay the husband $2,100 per month in alimony in solido for five years. It declined to award attorney’s fees to either party. On appeal, the wife raises several issues regarding the trial court’s valuation and division of marital property, and both parties challenge the alimony award.  The husband also seeks an award of attorney’s fees. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings. Specifically, we affirm the trial court’s division of marital property, and we vacate and remand for additional findings on the issues of alimony and attorney’s fees. We deny the request for attorney’s fees on appeal.

Warren County Court of Appeals 10/28/14
In Re: Jacob H.
M2013-01027-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry R. Brown

Mother of the parties’ only child filed this action to establish an arrearage judgment for child support owed by Father. At issue is the amount of unpaid child support for the period from April 1998 to September 2012. Mother claims she was entitled to an arrearage judgment in excess of $35,000; Father insists he paid the child support in full, although it is undisputed that he did not pay his support obligation as directed in the 1998 order to the juvenile court clerk. Father initially tendered payments to the clerk; however, at Mother’s request, which is undisputed, subsequent payments were mailed directly to Mother, some of which were remitted by Father’s mother during periods of financial hardship, and most of which were remitted by Father’s wife on a joint checking account with Father. The trial court gave Father credit for all payments remitted directly to Mother, whether remitted by his mother or his wife, for which there was documentary evidence, which totaled $23,742.91, but declined to give him credit for other claimed credits and awarded Mother an arrearage judgment in the amount of $17,337. The trial court, however, did not award prejudgment interest on the arrearage. The court also awarded Mother a portion of the attorney’s fees she had requested. On appeal, Mother contends, inter alia, the trial court erred by giving Father credit for payments that were not remitted through the clerk’s office and for payments remitted by his mother and his wife, for not awarding prejudgment interest on the arrearage, and for not awarding her all of her attorney’s fees. For his part, Father contends the trial court erred in not awarding him additional credit for child support payments made via one substantial money order and two income tax intercepts. We affirm the trial court in all respects with the exception of prejudgment interest, finding that awarding interest on a child support arrearage is not discretionary under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-101(f)(1). On remand, the trial court is instructed to award prejudgment interest on the child support arrearage judgment as mandated by Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-101(f)(1).

Sumner County Court of Appeals 10/28/14
In Re: Andrew O.
M2014-00114-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. B. Cox

Grandparents filed this petition to terminate Mother and Father’s parental rights and to adopt the child. Mother surrendered her parental rights, and the trial court found that Father abandoned the child by willful failure to visit and failure to support. The trial court also found termination of Father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. The evidence supports the trial court’s finding that Father abandoned the child by willful failure to visit, but the record does not clearly and convincingly establish that Father’s failure to support the child was willful. We also find that termination is in the child’s best interests; therefore, we affirm the termination of Father’s parental rights.

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 10/28/14
Rebecca A. Dixon Tatum v. Don Baron Tatum
E2013-02462-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

This appeal arises from a divorce action. Following a hearing, the trial court awarded a divorce to both parties on the ground of inappropriate marital conduct. The court also awarded transitional alimony to Wife. Wife appeals the court’s finding that she engaged in inappropriate marital conduct, while Husband appeals the court’s award of alimony to Wife. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 10/28/14
Romelio R. Ruiz v. Sheila Lea Ruiz
E2013-02142-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: JudgeW. Neil Thomas, III

In this divorce case, the appellant Sheila Lea Ruiz (Wife) argues (1) that the trial court erred in its calculation of the net marital estate, and (2) that the award of alimony to her should have been in futuro rather than for a fixed five-year period. We hold that, although the trial court unintentionally charged Husband twice with an indebtedness arising out of a loan he took out against his 401(k) retirement account, the overall division of the net marital estate is equitable when the true total value of the net marital estate is considered. Regarding alimony, we hold that, considering the relevant statutory factors, particularly the some 30- year duration of the marriage, the state of Wife’s health, the huge disparity in the parties’ earning capacities, Wife’s need for support, and Romelio R. Ruiz’s (Husband) ability to pay, the alimony award should be modified to make it an award in futuro. Accordingly, we modify the alimony award by changing it from $1,300 per month for five years to $1,000 per month in futuro until Wife dies or remarries. We remand this case to the trial court for a determination of Wife’s reasonable attorney’s fees at trial and on appeal, said awards to be in the nature of alimony in solido.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/27/14
Chris Tavino v. Victoria Ashley Spear Tavino
E2013-02587-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

This case involves a post-divorce petition to modify the parties’ permanent parenting plan as to their minor child and to terminate the child support obligation owed by the father. The parties were divorced in 2002. The original permanent parenting plan designated the mother as the primary residential parent, awarded co-parenting time to the father, and set the father’s child support obligation in the amount of $1,158.00 monthly. In April 2011, the father petitioned for a modification of the parenting plan and child support, averring that the oldest child had reached the age of majority and that the youngest child had been residing exclusively with the father since October 2009. In February 2012, the trial court entered an agreed permanent parenting plan designating the father as the primary residential parent and an agreed order terminating the father’s wage assignment but reserving the issue of child support. In July 2012, following a settlement conference and a subsequent hearing, the trial court entered another agreed order providing, inter alia, that the mother begin paying the father $409.00 monthly in child support. Additionally, the mother was ordered to pay $500.00 monthly toward a total award of $20,057.00 owed to the father, including a child support arrearage of $6,135.00, reimbursement for child support overpayments in the amount of $10,422.00, and $3,500.00 toward the father’s attorney’s fees. The mother’s counsel withdrew representation pursuant to the agreed order. Acting without benefit of counsel, the mother subsequently filed a petition in October 2012, averring that her income had been misrepresented for purposes of calculating her child support obligation. Following a bench hearing, the trial court entered an order in March 2013, finding that the mother had failed to allege a change in circumstances warranting a modification of her ongoing child support obligation. Approximately four months later, the mother, acting through her current counsel, filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 motion to alter or amend the judgment. In addition to requesting that the trial court set aside the July 2012 agreed order, the mother averred that the father was not parenting the minor child properly.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/27/14
Gary Guseinov v. Synergy Ventures, Inc, et al
M2014-00213-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Timothy L. Easter

This case involves the enrollment of a foreign judgment in Tennessee. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, effectively enrolling the foreign judgment pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution and Tennessee’s Uniform Foreign Judgment Enforcement Act. On appeal, the defendant argues that the grant of summary judgment was improper because he allegedly satisfied the foreign judgment.  He further argues that the trial court denied him due process when it declined to conduct an evidentiary hearing. We hold that satisfaction is not a defense to the enrollment of a foreign judgment pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution or Tennessee’s Uniform Foreign Judgment Enforcement Act. Further, we discern no due process violation from the trial court’s decision not to conduct an evidentiary hearing. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/21/14