Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 03/03/2015
Format: 03/03/2015
Carolyn Ann Farley v. Roger Dale Farley, Sr.
M2014-00814-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

In this post-divorce action, Father filed a petition to modify the permanent parenting plan to make him the primary residential parent. The trial court found a material change of circumstance but concluded that it was not in the child’s best interest to change the primary residential parent. We find no error in the trial court’s decision and affirm.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 02/02/15
Suntrust Bank v. Walter Joseph Burke a/k/a Walter Joseph Burke, Jr.
W2014-01443-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen R. Williams

This is a garnishment case. Appellee bank served a writ of garnishment on the Appellant realty company for the wages of Appellee’s debtor, Walter Burke. Appellant answered the garnishment stating that Mr. Burke was an independent contractor, and that Appellant owed him no funds at the time of the garnishment. During the six-month period after the garnishment was served, Appellant paid Mr. Burke commissions totaling $10,671.23, but paid no monies pursuant to the garnishment filed by Appellee. Appellee later filed a motion for judgment against Appellant for its failure to honor the garnishment for the statutory six-month period. Appellant responded to the motion, arguing that it was not subject to continuous garnishment because Tennessee Code Annotated Section 26-2-214 only applies to employers. The trial court held that the Appellant was subject to the six-month, continuous garnishment period and awarded Appellee bank judgment in the amount of $2,667.81, representing twenty-five percent of commissions paid to Mr. Burke. Appellant appeals. We reverse and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/02/15
Leon Williams v. Jannie Williams - Dissent
M2013-01910-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

Because I disagree with the Court’s interpretation of the term “prevailing party” as used in the parties’ Martial Dissolution Agreement (“MDA”), I respectfully dissent. Citing Fannon v. City of LaFollette, 329 S.W.3d 418 (Tenn. 2010), the majority concludes “a party may be recognized as the prevailing party if that party achieves the primary benefit sought in instituting the legal proceeding and/or if the action modifies the opposing party’s behavior in a way that provides a direct benefit, regardless of the fact there was no hearing or judgment on the merits.” In my view, Fannon does not stand for such a proposition, and Fannon does not represent a departure from the interpretations of the term “prevailing party” by the United States Supreme Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
Leon Williams v. Jannie Williams
M2013-01910-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

In this post-divorce proceeding, Wife filed a petition for civil contempt to compel Husband to comply with the parties’ marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”) by either refinancing, paying in full, or selling real property mortgaged in her name in order to remove her from any liability on the indebtedness. Husband responded by filing a series of petitions for contempt, contending, inter alia, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, unclean hands, breach of contract, and abuse of process for Wife’s alleged failure under the MDA to execute certain documents which would have facilitated Husband’s “assumption” of the existing mortgage. On the eve of the evidentiary hearing on Wife’s petition for contempt, Husband paid off the indebtedness. At the hearing that followed, the trial court ruled that the issue of Husband’s civilcontempt was moot due to the fact that he belatedlycomplied with the MDA; nevertheless, the court also ruled that Wife was entitled to recover her reasonable attorney’s fees, pursuant to the enforcement provision of the MDA, because she was the prevailing party. The enforcement provision of the MDA states: “In the event it becomes reasonably necessary for either party to institute legal proceedings to procure the enforcement of any provision of this Agreement, the prevailing party shall also be entitled to a judgment for reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees, incurred in prosecuting the action.” Husband appeals contending Wife was not the prevailing party because there was never a ruling on the merits of her claim, and, therefore, she is not entitled to recover any of her attorney’s fees; he also challenges numerous other rulings by the trial court. For her part, Wife seeks all of her attorney’s fees incurred in the trial court, as well as attorney’s fees related to this appeal. We affirm the trial court’s determination that Wife was the prevailing party because, as the trial court correctlyfound,it was reasonablynecessaryfor Wife to institute legal proceedings to enforce Husband’s compliance with the MDA, and even though there was no hearing or ruling on the merits of her enforcement claim, “but for” Wife’s petition, Husband would not have fulfilled his obligation under the MDA to remove Wife from all liability on the mortgage debt. See Fannon v. City of LaFollette, 329 S.W.3d 418 (Tenn. 2010). We also affirm the trial court’s discretionary decision to award Wife a portion of her attorney’s fees. As for Husband’s remaining issues, we find that these are moot or they have been waived. Finally, we have determined that Wife is entitled to her attorney’s fees on appeal because she is the prevailing party on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
Patrick Richard Moorcroft v. Flora Templeton Stuart v. Natalie Talmage Moorcroft
M2013-02295-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge C. L. Rogers

This case began as an action for legal separation between a husband and wife. The two quickly entered into an agreed temporary parenting plan providing for the custody of their children. However, the children’s maternal grandmother intervened, seeking registration and enforcement under the Tennessee Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act of a Kentucky grandparent visitation order. The circuit court granted registration and enforcement of the order. The parents appealed. Because we conclude that the grandmother was required to seek visitation under the Tennessee Grandparent Visitation Statute, we reverse the trial court’s decision.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
Travelers Casualty And Surety Company of America v. City of South Pittsburg,Tennessee
M2014-00269-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith

In a suit arising out of a construction project at a wastewater treatment facility, the City of South Pittsburg brought an action against an engineering firm and a construction firm for breach of contract, negligence and professional negligence. The insurance company which issued a performance bond covering the project was added as a partyand moved for summary judgment on the ground that the City had not instituted a proceeding to recover under the bond within the two year period specified in the bond for doing so. The insurance company appeals the denial of its motion. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Marion County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
Nathan B. Overton et al. v. Westgate Resorts, LTD., L.P. et al.
E2014-00303-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

This case involves the propriety of an award of punitive damages in the amount of $600,000. The plaintiffs sued the defendant timeshare developer, seeking to rescind a contract for purchase of a timeshare interest. The plaintiffs alleged, inter alia, that the defendant was guilty of fraud and misrepresentation, as well as violations of the Tennessee Time-share Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Following the hearing, the trial court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and allowed them to rescind the contract, ordering repayment of their purchase money. The trial court found that the defendant had violated the respective statutory provisions and was guilty of fraud and misrepresentation. The trial court thus determined that an award of punitive damages was proper, and following a second hearing regarding the amount of the punitive damage award, set such award at $600,000. The defendant has appealed this award. While we affirm the determination of the trial court that $600,000 represents a reasonable award of punitive damages considering all applicable factors, we must order remittitur of that award to $500,000 in accordance with the statutory cap found in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-39-104(a)(5).

Sevier County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
Sandra Lynn Hobbs v. Lisa Hobbs Nottingham, et al.
E2013-002602-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John S. McLellan, III

The quasi-parties in this matter had their bids accepted at a judicial sale, but they failed to carry out their purchases and close on the properties. After a re-sale was conducted, the trial court charged the quasi-parties with the difference between the amount of the original bids and the amount received for the properties at the re-sale. They were also assessed the expenses resulting from the re-sale. The quasi-parties appeal. We affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
American Heritage Apartments, Inc. v. The Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, Hamilton County, Tennessee
E2014-00302-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jacqueline S. Bolton

The plaintiff, American Heritage Apartments, Inc. (“American Heritage”), commenced this lawsuit to protest a monthly flat charge in the amount of $8.00 per unit imposed by the defendant, The Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Authority (“the County WWTA”), on all of its sewer customers. The charge was instituted to fund a program designed to repair and refurbish private service laterals, defined as pieces of pipe that connect private property to the sewer lines. American Heritage sought declaratory judgment that the County WWTA, inter alia, had exceeded its authority by imposing an unjust and discriminatory charge. The County WWTA filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which the trial court initially denied. Upon the County WWTA’s amended motion to dismiss and motion for summary judgment, American Heritage’s motion for partial summary judgment, and supplemental briefs submitted by both parties, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the County WWTA. The court found that because the Utility District Law of 1937, Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 7-82-101 to -804, provided an administrative procedure for contesting utility charges, no private right of action was available. The court further ruled that in the alternative, if a private right of action were allowed by this Court on appeal, American Heritage’s complaint could be certified as a class action lawsuit. American Heritage has appealed. Having determined that the trial court erred by applying the Utility District Law of 1937 to a non-utility district water and wastewater treatment authority, we reverse the grant of summary judgment. We affirm the trial court’s ruling regarding the class action certification.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
In Re Guardianship of Taylour L., et al.
W2013-01296-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Benham

This appeal concerns a guardianship proceeding for four children. The mother of the children (“Mother”) was killed while on duty as a police officer. The children’s maternal grandmother and the father (“Father”) of three of the children sought custody of all four children. The trial court ultimately awarded custody to the children’s maternal grandfather “Grandfather”), although Grandfather was not a party to the proceedings and did not request guardianship of the four children. Father appeals, asserting that the trial court erred in not awarding custody to him. We have determined that the trial court erred in awarding Grandfather guardianship of Father’s three biological children without first determining that there would be a substantial risk of harm to the children should Father be appointed guardian. Furthermore, we find that the trial court erred in awarding Grandfather guardianship of Mother’s fourth child without conducting a thorough best interest analysis. Therefore, we vacate the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
In Re Juanita W.
E2013-02861-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Sword

Juanita W. (“the Juvenile”) appeals an order of the Criminal Court for Knox County (“the Criminal Court”) finding her delinquent by committing the act of aggravated assault pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-102(a)(1)(B). We find and hold that the required element of bodily injury was not proven, and we, therefore, reverse the Criminal Court’s order finding the Juvenile delinquent and dismiss the case.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
Trails End Campground, LLC v. Brimstone Recreation, LLC et al.
E2014-00336-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

The plaintiff, Trails End Campground, LLC (Trails End) and the defendant Brimstone Recreation, LLC (Brimstone) are competitors in an outdoor recreation-oriented market in and around Scott County. In 2012, the defendant Town of Huntsville executed a lease with Brimstone giving it “the exclusive use, control and enjoyment” of a centrally-located open area in the town, sometimes referred to as Town Square, during the weeks prior to and including Memorial Day and Labor Day. Trails End brought this action alleging (1) that the Town acted without authority under its charter to execute such a lease; (2) that it created a perpetuity and monopoly in violation of the state constitution; and (3) that it violated the Tennessee Trade Practices Act (TTPA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-25-101 to -112 (2013). The trial court granted the defendants summary judgment. We hold (1) that, under its charter, the Town had authority to enter into the lease, (2) that the lease does not create an unlawful monopoly or perpetuity, and (3) that the TTPA is not implicated by the facts of this case. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Scott County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
In Re R.L.M.
E2013-02723-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Klyne Lauderback

This is a parental termination case regarding R.L.M., the daughter of unmarried parents, V.R.G. (Mother) and J.M. (Father). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of (1) a failure to provide a suitable home and (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal. The court also found, again by clear and convincing evidence, that termination is in the child’s best interest. Father appeals. He contends 1 generally that the evidence does not clearly and convincingly establish the grounds for termination and best interest. The Department of Children Services (DCS) takes a different approach. It concedes that an essential element of its case was not established by the proof. It contends that, as a consequence, the judgment of the trial court must be reversed. Because we agree with the State, we (1) reverse the judgment of the trial court terminating Father’s rights and (2) dismiss the petition in this case.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
State Ex Rel Commissioner, Department of Transportation v. Ilya Dyskin et al.
E2013-02286-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jacqueline S. Bolton

The question presented on this appeal is whether a covenant, i.e., a promise, by a grantor to pay – in a deed conveying an undivided one-third interest in a piece of property – all property taxes and other expenses associated with the 100% interest in the property is binding on successor grantees of her remaining two-thirds interest. Sonja Taylor conveyed an undivided one-third interest in the property to Fred T. Hanzelik. Taylor agreed to pay “all taxes, expenses and obligations regarding” the property, including those on Hanzelik’s portion. Taylor later conveyed her remaining two-thirds interest to Shane Coughlin, who later conveyed it to Fifth Project, LLC, which later conveyed it to defendants Ilya Dyskin and Tatiana Dyskin. Hanzelik argues that Taylor’s covenant to pay property taxes for the entire ownership interest, including Hanzelik’s one-third interest, is binding on the Dyskins. The trial court agreed and ordered the Dyskins to pay the entire property tax bill. After examining the deeds in the chain of title, we find no evidence of an intention that Taylor’s covenant would run with the land and bind successor grantees of the two-thirds interest. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
Erica Wade, et al. v. Jackson-Madison County General Hospital District, et al.
W2014-01103-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant medical providers on the basis that the plaintiffs’ health care liability complaint was filed after the expiration of the Governmental Tort Liability Act statute of limitations. Because we conclude that, under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121(c), plaintiffs were entitled to a 120-day extension on the applicable statute of limitations, we reverse and remand.

Madison County Court of Appeals 01/27/15
In Re: Tyler P., et al.
W2014-00542-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Curtis S. Person, Jr.

This appeal arises from a petition in juvenile court to modify custody. In December 2006, the juvenile court issued an order granting Mother primary residential custody of the parties’ two children and granting Father visitation. In May 2013, Father petitioned the court for custody of the children. A hearing was conducted in October 2013. The court found that Father met his burden of showing a material change of circumstances but determined that the children’s best interests would not be served by granting Father custody. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/27/15
BancorpSouth Bank v. 51 Concrete LLC, et al.
W2013-01753-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter L. Evans

This is the second appeal of this conversion case. Appellant bank holds a perfected security interest in three pieces of equipment used as collateral for a loan made to its debtor, John Chorley. Appellees acquired this equipment from Mr. Chorley before he defaulted on his loan with Appellant bank. Appellees did not perform a UCC check, instead relying on Mr. Chorley’s representation that there were no liens on the equipment. Appellees subsequently sold the equipment to parties not involved in this case. After Mr. Chorley defaulted on his loan, Appellant bank sued Appellees for conversion, seeking compensatory damages, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages. The trial court awarded judgments against both Appellees, but denied attorney’s fees and punitive damages. All parties assert error on appeal. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/27/15
In Re: Emmalee O., et al.
E2014-00261-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon K. Blackwood

This appeal concerns an allegation of child sexual abuse against a parent. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Knox County (“the Juvenile Court”) against Alan O. (“Father”) alleging that he had sexually abused his then three year old daughter Emmalee O. (“the Child”). The Child had disclosed that Father had “poked” and “rubbed” her vagina. For his part, Father asserted that he touched the Child’s vaginal area only as part of his normal parenting duties, and that he never touched her in an inappropriate manner. After a trial, the Juvenile Court found that the Child was a victim of severe child abuse by Father. The case was appealed to the Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”). After a new trial, the Trial Court found that the Child was a victim of severe child abuse by Father. Father appeals to this Court. We hold, inter alia, that the evidence rises to the level of clear and convincing sufficient to establish severe child abuse. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court in its entirety.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/27/15
Cathy C. Phipps v. William Phipps
E2014-00922-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert M. Estep

In this post-divorce appeal, the husband seeks reversal of the trial court’s classification of a certificate of deposit as marital property and the grant of alimony. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 01/27/15
Valerie Bridgeforth v. Dale Jones, et al
M2013-01500-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Jduge Thomas W. Brothers

This is an action by a prospective member of a start-up limited liability company for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and breach of fiduciary duty and fair dealing against the company and its managing member. Plaintiff claims to have an enforceable agreement to acquire a five percent interest in the limited liability company in consideration for her intangible capital contributions, that being her sweat equity rendered during the formative phase of the company. Defendants deny all claims and insist that Plaintiff knew she would have to contribute $30,000 in cash as her capital contribution in exchange for the agreed upon membership interest in the company.The trial court summarily dismissed all claims upon the conclusion that Plaintiff could not prove a prima facie case for any of her claims as she could not show any contract or enforceable promise existed, that she was compensated as an employee, and that the remaining claims failed as a matter of law. We affirm the dismissal of the claims of promissory estoppel and breach of fiduciary duty; however, we have determined that material facts are disputed concerning the existence of a contract which precludes summary dismissal of the claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/26/15
Companion Property And Casualty Insurance Company, et al. v. State of Tennessee, et al
M2014-00527-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner

Two South Carolina insurance companies challenged their Tennessee retaliatory tax assessments. The Tennessee Claims Commission held that the Departmentof Commerce and Insurance did not calculate the South Carolina tax burden correctly because it did not include reimbursements received by the insurance companies from South Carolina’s Second Injury Fund. The Commission also denied the Department’s motion to strike portions of an affidavit. The Department appealed. We find that the Department’s calculation of the South Carolina tax burden was correct and reverse that decision of the Claims Commission. We affirm the Commission’s denial of the Department’s motion to strike.

Court of Appeals 01/26/15
Leslie A. Muse v. Robert L. Jolley, Jr.
E2014-02462-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Telford E. Forgety

This is an interlocutory appeal as of right, pursuant to Rule 10B of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, from the trial court’s denial of a motion to recuse in a divorce proceeding. Having reviewed the petition for recusal appeal filed by the Wife, Leslie A. Muse (“Wife”), pursuant to Rule 10B of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court, along with the motion to dismiss this appeal filed by Husband, Robert L. Jolley, Jr. (“Husband”), we conclude that the petition was not timely filed. Accordingly, we grant the motion, and dismiss this appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/23/15
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Bradley County v. #'s Inc. et al.
E2014-00121-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This appeal stems from an action filed by the State of Tennessee ex rel. Bradley County regarding delinquent real property taxes. The property at issue was sold during a tax sale in 2006. The owners of the property at the time of the tax sale subsequently filed an action to set aside the tax sale, alleging that they were not afforded due process and were never notified of the delinquent tax action. The trial court granted summary judgment to the owners and voided the tax sale due to lack of proper notice. The party who purchased the subject property at the tax sale has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 01/23/15
Edward Faria v. Wilson & Associates, PLLC, et al
M2013-02396-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This appeal arises from a suit by a borrower against a servicing agent and law firm to enjoin a foreclosure sale and to set aside the assignment of the deed of trust. The action was ultimately dismissed on summary judgment. The trial court found that the borrower lacked standing to enjoin the sale because he no longer had an interest in the real property subject to the foreclosure sale. The trial court also found that, to the extent the borrower’s claims sounded in fraud, they were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/21/15
Andrea Janoyan v. Jano Janoyan
E2013-01669-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler

This appeal concerns entitlement to attorneys’ fees under a marital dissolution agreement after one party’s notice of rescission. Wife attempted to rescind her acceptance of the Marital Dissolution Agreement, claiming she was under duress when she entered into the contract. The trial court found that Wife was not under duress and that her attempted rescission was a breach of contract. The trial court also awarded Husband his attorney’s fees. On appeal, Wife maintains that her attempted rescission did not constitute a breach of contract and that, in any event, the amount of attorney’s fees awarded to Husband was unreasonable. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/21/15