Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/19/2014
Format: 04/19/2014
Jere Eugene Pierce v. Larry A. Paschall, et al.
W2013-00478-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge David R. Farmer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tony Childress

This is a property boundary dispute. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff and found that Defendant did not acquire disputed property bordering the western edge of Plaintiff’s property and the eastern edge of Defendant’s property by adverse possession. The trial court also found that Defendant did not demonstrate laches. We affirm.

Lake County Court of Appeals 12/30/13
Anne Payne v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
E2012-02392-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Harold Wimberly

Winston Payne brought this action against his former employer, CSX Transportation, Inc., under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), alleging that CSX negligently exposed him to asbestos, diesel fumes, and radioactive materials in the workplace causing his injuries. The jury returned a verdict finding (1) that CSX negligently caused Payne’s injuries; (2) that CSX violated the Locomotive Inspection Act or safety regulations regarding exposure to asbestos, diesel fumes, and radioactive materials; and (3) that Payne’s contributory negligence caused 62% of the harm he suffered. The jury found that “adequate compensation” for Payne’s injuries was $8.6 million. After the jury returned its verdict, the trial court, sua sponte, instructed the jury, for the first time, that, under FELA, its finding that CSX violated a statute or regulation enacted for the safety of its employees meant that plaintiff would recover 100% of the damages found by the jury. The court sent the jury back for further deliberations. It shortly returned with an amended verdict of “$3.2 million @ 100%.” Six months after the court entered judgment on the $3.2 million verdict, it granted CSX’s motion for a new trial, citing “instructional and evidentiary errors.” The case was then assigned to another trial judge, who thereafter granted CSX’s motion for summary judgment as to the entirety of the plaintiff’s complaint. The second judge ruled that the causation testimony of all of plaintiff’s expert witnesses was inadmissible. We hold that the trial court erred in instructing the jury, sua sponte, on a purely legal issue, i.e., that the jury’s finding of negligence per se under FELA precluded apportionment of any fault to the plaintiff based upon contributory negligence, an instruction given after the jury had returned a verdict that was complete, consistent, and based on the instructions earlier provided to it by the trial court. We further hold that, contrary to the trial court’s statements, the court did not make any prejudicial evidentiary rulings in conducting the trial, and that its jury instructions, read as a whole, were clear, correct, and complete. Consequently, the trial court erred in granting a new trial. We remand to the trial court. We direct the first trial judge to review the evidence as thirteenth juror and determine whether the jury verdict in the amount of $8.6 million is against the clear weight of the evidence. If it is not, the trial judge is directed to enter judgment on that verdict. If, on the other hand, the trial judge finds that the larger verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, the court is directed to enter a final judgment on the jury’s verdict of $3.2 million. The trial court’s grant of summary judgment is rendered moot by our judgment. However, in the event the Supreme Court determines that our judgment is in error, we hold that the grant of summary judgment was not appropriate.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/27/13
Dominion Enterprises, F/K/A Trader Publishing Company v. Dataium, LLC, et al.
M2012-02385-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This case involves litigation between two business entities: Dominion Enterprises, f/k/a Trader Publishing Company (“Dominion”), the former employer of six of the seven individual defendants, and Dataium, LLC (“Dataium”), a company subsequently formed by those defendants. Dominion filed a complaint against the defendants, alleging numerous causes of action, including breach of covenants not to compete, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the duty of loyalty, breach of a non-solicitation agreement, and civil conspiracy. The trial court found that Dataium and two of the individual defendants were liable for breach of contract but dismissed Dominion’s other claims.  Dominion appeals.  We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/27/13
Earlene Gregory v. Michael Melhorn, et al
E2012-02417-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Frank V. Williams, III

Earlene Gregory brought this action against Michael Melhorn and his wife, Cynthia Melhorn, sellers of a house and real estate, alleging that the defendants falsely stated in their Tennessee Residential Property Disclosure statement that they were unaware of any defects in the exterior walls or basement or any flooding or drainage problems. The contract for sale of the property, executed and signed by plaintiff and defendants, provided that the warranty deed was to be made in the name of Earlene Singleton Gregory. During discovery, the parties discovered that the deed actually listed the plaintiff’s three sons as grantees. After defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff lacked standing because she did not own the property, plaintiff moved to amend the complaint to include a claim for reformation of the deed to reflect her intention at the time of sale, i.e., to retain a life estate in the property with a remainder interest in her sons. Plaintiff also filed a motion to allow her sons to intervene as plaintiffs on the ground that they held legal title to the property. The trial court denied plaintiff’s motions and granted defendants summary judgment, holding that plaintiff lacked standing because she did not own the property. The court further held that the proposed intervening plaintiffs, even if allowed to intervene, would lack standing because they were not parties to the contract. We vacate the trial court’s summary judgment. We hold that the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to allow plaintiff to amend her complaint under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 15.01, and by refusing to allow the plaintiff’s sons to intervene, as was their right under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 24.01.

Roane County Court of Appeals 12/27/13
Rene Annette Fields v. Jimmy Glenn Fields concurring and dissenting
E2012-02406-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

I do not take issue with any of the law as set forth in the majority’s opinion. I concur in the majority’s decision to affirm the Trial Court’s denial of the Appellant’s request to reduce the amount of the alimony. I do, however, respectfully dissent from the majority’s opinion affirming the Trial Court’s decision to increase the amount of the alimony.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 12/27/13
Rene Annette Fields v. Jimmy Glenn Fields
E2012-02406-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

This is a post-divorce case. Jimmy Glenn Fields (“Husband”) appeals the trial court’s order (1) denying his motion for a reduction in alimony and (2) granting the counter-motion of Rene Annette Fields (“Wife”) for an increase in alimony. Following a bench trial, the court held that Husband had failed to demonstrate his inability to return to work as a material change in circumstances justifying a decrease in his court-ordered alimony obligation of $1,100 a month. Rather, the court found that the proof demonstrated that Husband had the ability to pay, and that Wife had a need for, increased support. The court increased Husband’s obligation to $2,000 per month. We affirm.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 12/27/13
In re: M. R.
E2013-00716-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bill Swann

This case arises from juvenile proceedings concerning the minor child M.R. The Juvenile Court for Knox County (“the Juvenile Court”) found M.R. to be an unruly child. M.R. some time later filed a Petition to Vacate Orders and to Dismiss regarding the order finding M.R. to be an unruly child, citing constitutional, procedural, and jurisdictional defects. The Juvenile Court denied the petition to vacate. M.R. appealed to the Circuit Court for Knox County, Fourth Circuit (“the Circuit Court”). The State of Tennessee (“the State”) moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing the appeal was untimely. The Circuit Court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. We reversed the Circuit Court on appeal, and remanded for the Circuit Court to hear the appeal of the denial of the petition to vacate. M.R. filed an amended petition to vacate and later a motion for summary judgment. The State filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that M.R.’s claims could not be redressed by a Tenn. R. Juv. P. 34 petition to vacate. The Circuit Court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment. M.R. appeals. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/26/13
In re: A. W.
E2013-00715-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bill Swann

This case arises from juvenile proceedings concerning the then minor child A.W. The Juvenile Court for Knox County (“the Juvenile Court”) found A.W. to be an unruly child. A.W. some time later filed a Petition to Vacate Orders and to Dismiss regarding the order finding A.W. to be an unruly child, citing constitutional, procedural, and jurisdictional defects. The Juvenile Court denied the petition to vacate. A.W. appealed to the Circuit Court for Knox County, Fourth Circuit (“the Circuit Court”). The State of Tennessee (“the State”) moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing the appeal was untimely. The Circuit Court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. We reversed the Circuit Court on appeal, and remanded for the Circuit Court to hear the appeal of the denial of the petition to vacate. A.W. filed an amended petition to vacate and later a motion for summary judgment. The State filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that A.W.’s claims could not be redressed by a Tenn. R. Juv. P. 34 petition to vacate. The Circuit Court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment. A.W. appeals. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/26/13
In re: B. R.
E2013-00714-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bill Swann

This case arises from juvenile proceedings concerning the then minor child B.R. The Juvenile Court for Knox County (“the Juvenile Court”) found B.R. to be an unruly child. B.R. some time later filed a Petition to Vacate Orders and to Dismiss regarding the order finding B.R. to be an unruly child, citing constitutional, procedural, and jurisdictional defects. The Juvenile Court denied the petition to vacate. B.R. appealed to the Circuit Court for Knox County, Fourth Circuit (“the Circuit Court”). The State of Tennessee (“the State”) moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing the appeal was untimely. The Circuit Court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. We reversed the Circuit Court on appeal, and remanded for the Circuit Court to hear the appeal of the denial of the petition to vacate. B.R. filed an amended petition to vacate and later a motion for summary judgment. The State filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that B.R.’s claims could not be redressed by a Tenn. R. Juv. P. 34 petition to vacate. The Circuit Court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment. B.R. appeals. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/26/13
In re: T. W.
E2013-00717-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bill Swann

This case arises from juvenile proceedings concerning the then minor child T.W. The Juvenile Court for Knox County (“the Juvenile Court”) found T.W. to be an unruly child. T.W. some time later filed a Petition to Vacate Orders and to Dismiss regarding the order finding T.W. to be an unruly child, citing constitutional, procedural, and jurisdictional defects. The Juvenile Court denied the petition to vacate. T.W. appealed to the Circuit Court for Knox County, Fourth Circuit (“the Circuit Court”). The State of Tennessee (“the State”) moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing the appeal was untimely. The Circuit Court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. We reversed the Circuit Court on appeal, and remanded for the Circuit Court to hear the appeal of the denial of the petition to vacate. T.W. filed an amended petition to vacate and later a motion for summary judgment. The State filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that T.W.’s claims could not be redressed by a Tenn. R. Juv. P. 34 petition to vacate. The Circuit Court granted the State’s motion for summary judgment. T.W. appeals. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/26/13
In re: Eimile A.M.
E2013-00742-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

This case is before us once again after remand to the Trial Court for specific findings relative to the Trial Court’s termination of the parental rights of Christopher M. (“Father”) to the minor child Eimile A.M. (“the Child”). Upon remand the Trial Court entered its findings of fact. Father appeals the termination of his parental rights to the Child. We find and hold that clear and convincing evidence was not proven of grounds to terminate Father’s parental rights pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102 for willful failure to visit or willful failure to support. We, therefore, reverse the Trial Court’s order terminating Father’s parental rights to the Child.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/26/13
Christina Leigh Czerniak v. Anthony Kyle Czerniak
M2013-02637-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Thomas Gwin

Petitioner in a divorce proceeding filed a motion to disqualify the trial court alleging that the court made comments and exhibited conduct at a hearing which indicated that the court was biased against her and that she could not receive a fair trial. The trial judge denied the motion and the petitioner then filed this interlocutory appeal as of right pursuant to Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B. We affirm the denial of the motion to disqualify.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 12/23/13
Reid R. Crumpton v. Patricia G. Grissom, et al
E2013-00218-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

Reid R. Crumpton (“Plaintiff”) sued Patricia G. Grissom (“Affiliate Broker”), Ashley Carpenter, and Mary Bea Corbitt (“Managing Broker”) in connection with a real estate sales contract for real property containing both a house and a business. The Managing Broker filed a motion for summary judgment asserting, in part, that she was not personally involved in Plaintiff’s purchase of the real property at issue and had no knowledge of the details of the transaction, and, therefore, could not be held liable for the actions of the Affiliate Broker. After a hearing, the Trial Court entered an order granting the Managing Broker summary judgment and making its judgment final pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 54.02. Plaintiff appeals the grant of summary judgment to the Managing Broker. We find and hold that Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 62-13-101, et seq. creates a duty on the part of the Managing Broker, and that the Managing Broker failed to show that she met the standard of care sufficient to satisfy her duty. We, therefore, reverse the grant of summary judgment to the Managing Broker, and remand this case for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/23/13