Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/20/2014
Format: 04/20/2014
In Re: Hannah W., et al.
E2013-02384-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dennis Humphrey

The Juvenile Court terminated the parental rights of Ralph D.M. (“Father”) to the minor twin children Alexis W. and Hannah W. (“the Children”) on the grounds of abandonment by willful failure to visit pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1) and § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i), substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1- 113(g)(2), and persistent conditions pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3). Father appeals the termination of his parental rights asserting that he is neither the biological father nor the legal father of the Children and, therefore, had no parental rights to the Children to be terminated. We find and hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the Juvenile Court’s finding by clear and convincing evidence that Father is the Children’s legal father, that grounds existed to terminate Father’s parental rights, and that the termination of Father’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. We affirm the termination of Father’s parental rights to the Children.

Roane County Court of Appeals 04/03/14
Alissa Owen (Formerly Haas) v. Darin Haas
M2013-00950-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael R. Jones

Wife appeals the trial court’s denial of her Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60 petition to set aside the marital dissolution agreement and permanent parenting plan in their final decree of divorce; she contends she entered into the agreements under duress due to coercion by her husband. The trial court concluded the marital dissolution agreement and permanent parenting plan were not entered into under duress; the court also found that the permanent parenting plan was in the best interests of the children. Finding the trial court applied the correct legal standards and the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 04/01/14
Maury Bronstein, IRA v. Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc.
W2011-01391-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge David R. Farmer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter L. Evans

The trial court vacated an arbitration award in favor of Respondent Morgan Keegan on the ground of evident partiality. Finding Petitioner failed to introduce evidence to support allegations of evident partiality, we reverse and remand to the trial court for confirmation of the arbitration award.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/01/14
Stanley Don Runyon v. Melanie Fortner Runyon
W2013-02651-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Holly M. Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

This is a Rule 10B appeal of the denial of a petition for recusal. In this divorce case, the trial court bifurcated the issues and conducted a 15-day evidentiary hearing solely on the parties’ parenting arrangement. Months later, the trial court entered an order designating the father as the primary residential parent and giving the mother supervised parenting time. The mother was denied permission for an interlocutory appeal from the parenting order. Several months after that, the mother discovered that, in the course of drafting the parenting order, the trial judge’s office had an ex parte exchange with the guardian ad litem to confirm a minor factual matter. The mother alleged that the trial judge had violated ethical rules against such ex parte communications and filed a motion asking the trial judge to recuse herself. The trial court denied the motion to recuse. The mother filed this accelerated interlocutory appeal of the denial of her recusal motion pursuant to Rule 10B of the Tennessee Supreme Court Rules. We decline to adjudicate whether there was a breach of any ethical rules. As to the trial judge’s denial of the motion for recusal, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/31/14
Bradford E. Holliday, et al. v. Homer C. Patton, et al.
W2013-00545-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Kenny W. Armstrong

Bradford E. Holliday, Michael A. Holliday, and Clayton E. Holliday (collectively “Plaintiffs”) sued Homer C. Patton and Jeffrey B. Presley (collectively “Defendants”) for breach of contract and specific performance. Plaintiffs filed motions for summary judgment, which the Trial Court granted after finding and holding, inter alia, that the release provision contained in an amended agreement executed by Defendants “contains broad release language which the Court finds to be adequate to release claims of fraud asserted now by the Defendants in this action.” Defendants appeal to this Court raising issues regarding whether the release was sufficient to waive claims of fraud and whether the Trial Court erred in finding that Defendants could not have reasonably relied upon representations made by Bradford E. Holliday. We find and hold that the release language contained in the amended agreement was insufficient to release claims of fraud and that there are genuine issues of material fact as to the issue of reasonable reliance, and we reverse the grant of summary judgment. We,  however, affirm that portion of the Trial Court’s order memorializing Defendants’ voluntary dismissal with prejudice of their counterclaims for fraud against Michael A. Holliday and Clayton E. Holliday.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/31/14
John Payne as next of kin on behalf of the legal minor heirs of Marcus K. Payne v. Tipton County, Tennessee
W2013-01421-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

This is a negligence case filed against Tipton County for injuries an inmate sustained as a result of a severe hypertensive crisis that occurred while he was confined in the Tipton County jail. The trial court denied the claim, finding that Tipton County did not breach the duty of care. Based on the evidence in the record, we reverse the decision of the trial court and remand this matter for consideration of damages. Reversed and remanded.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 03/31/14
In Re Gabriel B. et al.
E2013-01581-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Reed Dixon

This is a termination of parental rights case, focusing on Gabriel B., Gracie B., and Zachary B., the minor children (“Children”) of Donna B. (“Mother”) and Richard B. (“Father”). The Children were taken into protective custody by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) on June 9, 2011, after they had been found in the care of an inappropriate caregiver while Mother was out of state. On April 19, 2012, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father. Father subsequently surrendered his parental rights to the Children and is not a party to this action. Following a bench trial held on November 9, 2012, and January 4, 2013, the trial court granted the petition upon its finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that (1) Mother had abandoned the Children by failing to provide a suitable home, (2) Mother had failed to substantially comply with the permanency plans, (3) the conditions causing the removal of the Children into protective custody persisted, and (4) Mother’s mental condition was impaired to the point of being unable to provide for the further care and supervision of the Children. The court further found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Mother has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 03/28/14
Tonita Reeves v. Pederson-Kronseder, LLC, d/b/a Pederson's Natural Farms, Inc.
M2013-01651-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

Employee and Employer were preparing to arbitrate Employee’s age discrimination claim when parties began discussing settlement. Employer was responsible for arbitration expenses and made an offer to settle Employee’s claim before incurring bulk of expenses. Employee was aware of Employer’s motivation to avoid paying these fees. Employee attempted to accept offer of settlement three days before arbitration was scheduled, which was after Employer was required to pay $9,000 deposit for arbitration and incurred other necessary expenses preparing for hearing. Employer informed Employee its offer had lapsed and was no longer open. Employee sued for breach of contract. Trial court found Employee did not accept Employer’s offer within reasonable period of time and that there was no settlement contract to enforce. Employee appeals trial court’s judgment. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/28/14
Mary Ann Layman v. Thomas Stuart Layman
E2013-00429-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

In this divorce case, the trial court granted Mary Ann Layman (“Wife”) an absolute divorce from Thomas Stuart Layman (“Husband”), thereby ending the parties’ twenty-nine year marriage. Subsequently, the court divided the marital property and awarded Wife alimony in futuro and child support in a lump sum amount. Husband appeals. We reverse the trial court’s award of $63,200 in retroactive child support. The judgment is otherwise affirmed.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 03/28/14
Linda F. Coffey et al. v. Tyler N. Hoffman et al.
E2013-01109-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kindall T. Lawson

The issue presented in this appeal is whether the plaintiffs’ uninsured motorist insurance carrier preserved its rights to a jury trial and subrogation interest under Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-1206 (2008). This statute allows an uninsured motorist insurer to “elect to decline binding arbitration and preserve its subrogation rights” under certain prescribed circumstances. Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-1206(k). The trial court held that the uninsured motorist insurance carrier failed to comply with a local circuit court rule that requires a response to a motion to be filed and served on the movant no later than 30 days after the motion is filed. Pursuant to that local rule, the trial court treated the plaintiffs’ motion to compel arbitration as “unopposed.” The trial court further held that the uninsured motorist insurance carrier “did not strictly comply with the requirement of T.C.A. § 56-7-1206 objecting to arbitration” and ordered the parties to submit to binding arbitration. We hold that the uninsured motorist insurance carrier complied with the statute, thereby preserving its rights to a jury trial and subrogation, and that the local rule does not operate to abrogate these rights. The judgment of the trial court is vacated and this case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 03/28/14
Charles J. Chambers ex rel. Odis M. Chambers v. Bradley County, et al.
E2013-01064-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

In this medical malpractice case, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice on the grounds that plaintiff failed to file, with his complaint, the affidavit of the person who mailed pre-suit notice to the defendants. The trial court, noting that plaintiff complied with Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121 (Supp. 2013) in every respect except for filing the affidavit, and that he filed the affidavit shortly after the complaint, denied the motion to dismiss on the ground that plaintiff had substantially complied with the statute. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 03/28/14
SecurAmerica Business Credit v. Karl Schledwitz, et al.
W2012-02605-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

This is the second appeal involving liability on personal guaranties securing the debt of a transportation company. On remand after our first opinion, the trial court found that the transportation company and the lender, through the actions of its president, entered into a conspiracy to violate the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act and violated the duty of good faith and fair dealing, relieving the guarantors of their liability under the continuing guaranties. The trial court, however, declined to hold that the lender and transportation company committed fraud or that the sale of the transportation company from the guarantors to its current owner was a sham. We affirm the trial court’s rulings with regard to (1) the actions of the lender’s president being imputed to the lender; (2) that the sale of the transportation company was not a sham; (3) that no fraud was committed; and (4) that the guaranties at issue are continuing. We further hold that the trial court was entitled to consider both the underlying credit agreement and the guaranties in determining whether the duty of good faith was breached. However, we vacate the trial court’s judgment with regard to its findings of conspiracy, a violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, and breach of the duty of good faith. We further vacate the trial court’s judgment that the guarantors may avoid the obligations under the guaranties. We remand to the trial court for further findings of fact and conclusions of law on these issues. Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/28/14
In Re Gabriel B. et al
E2013-01581-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Reed Dixon

This is a termination of parental rights case, focusing on Gabriel B., Gracie B., and Zachary B., the minor children (“Children”) of Donna B. (“Mother”) and Richard B. (“Father”). The Children were taken into protective custody by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) on June 9, 2011, after they had been found in the care of an inappropriate caregiver while Mother was out of state. On April 19, 2012, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father. Father subsequently surrendered his parental rights to the Children and is not a party to this action. Following a bench trial held on November 9, 2012, and January 4, 2013, the trial court granted the petition upon its finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that (1) Mother had abandoned the Children by failing to provide a suitable home, (2) Mother had failed to substantially comply with the permanency plans, (3) the conditions causing the removal of the Children into protective custody persisted, and (4) Mother’s mental condition was impaired to the point of being unable to provide for the further care and supervision of the Children. The court further found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Mother has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 03/28/14