Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/27/2015
Format: 04/27/2015
In Re Miracle F.H.
E2014-01508-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kurt Andrew Benson
This is a termination of parental rights appeal brought by the mother. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence to support termination of the mother’s parental rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to visit, abandonment for failure to remit child support, and that mother substantially failed to comply with the requirements of the permanency plans. The court also found that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the child. The mother appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.
 
Bradley County Court of Appeals 04/01/15
In Re Estate of Wanda Joyce Watkins
E2014-02323-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex A. Dale
This is an appeal from an order in a will-construction suit regarding whether certain heirs to the Estate of Wanda Joyce Watkins (“Heirs”), appellants in this appeal, are entitled to inherit under the residuary clause of the Decedent’s will. Because the order appealed from does not resolve the issue of the amount of attorney’s fees awarded to the Executrix, Kimberly B. Jenkins (“Executrix”), in connection with the filing of the petition for construction of the will, we lack jurisdiction to consider this appeal.
 
Loudon County Court of Appeals 04/01/15
Latony Baugh, et al. v. United Parcel Service, Inc., et al.
M2014-00353-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

In this wrongful death appeal, the main issue is whether, under Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-106(c)(1), a surviving spouse must have abandoned the decedent for a period of two years to have waived his or her right to institute an action or collect proceeds under that section. We have concluded that the two-year period in Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-106(c)(1) applies only to “willful withdrawal.”

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/31/15
Al M. Williams v. Corrections Corporation of America, et al.
W2015-00212-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

Because the order appealed is not a final judgment, we dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Hardeman County Court of Appeals 03/31/15
James McMillin et al. v. Paul Lindsey McMillin et al.
E2014-00497-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler

The plaintiffs are siblings and two of the four adult children of the decedent. The defendants include a third adult child and his wife. In the months preceding her death, the decedent changed her bank accounts, originally titled solely in her name, to become joint accounts with the defendant son with right of survivorship. The plaintiffs asserted that the defendant sibling exerted undue influence over the decedent in these transactions. They sought the return of all monies withdrawn from those bank accounts to the decedent's estate. Following a two-day trial, the jury rendered a verdict for the plaintiffs in the amount of $284,800. The defendants have appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/31/15
Linda Dennis et al. v. Dr. Robert G. Smith et al.
E2014-00636-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens
Linda Dennis and Creed Dennis (“Plaintiffs”) filed a healthcare liability action against Dr. Robert G. Smith (“Defendant”) and others. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss. After a hearing, the Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims after finding and holding, inter alia, that Plaintiffs had failed to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121 and 29-26-122. Plaintiffs appeal the dismissal of their claims to this Court. We find and hold that because Plaintiffs failed to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 29- 26-122, their action was subject to dismissal with prejudice upon motion. We, therefore, affirm the Trial Court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims.
 
Knox County Court of Appeals 03/31/15
In Re Jesslyn C.
E2014-01385-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge David W. Tipton

This parenting dispute arose upon the parents' competing motions for modification of the existing permanent parenting plan as to the parties' minor child. The trial court previously had entered a permanent parenting plan order on May 11, 2010, designating the mother as the primary residential parent and awarding equal residential co-parenting time to both parents in an alternating weekly schedule. Following a hearing, the trial court found that a material change in circumstance warranting modification of the residential co-parenting schedule had occurred since entry of the permanent parenting plan. The trial court further found that reducing the father's co-parenting time to alternate weekends during the academic year, while reversing this co-parenting schedule during the summer break, was in the child's best interest. The father has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 03/31/15
Amresco Independence Funding, LLC et al. v. Renegade Mountain Golf Club, LLC et al.
E2014-01160-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This appeal presents the issue of whether service of process was properly effected upon a nonresident defendant. The defendant filed a limited appearance and motion to dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02, asserting that he had never been properly served with process. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, finding that service of process was never properly completed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 4. The plaintiff has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 03/31/15
In Re: Jaceton B.
M2014-01580-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge A. Andrew Jackson

Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate father’s parental rights to his minor child. The trial court found the Department proved the ground for termination pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(6) because the father was sentenced to a prison term of ten or more years when the child was under eight years of age. The trial court also found that terminating the father’s parental rights was in the best interests of the child. Father appeals. The evidence clearly and convincingly supports the determination that father was sentenced to incarceration for ten or more years when the child was less than eight years old. The evidence also clearly and convincingly supports the determination that terminating father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest because father did not have any meaningful relationship with the child and that the child had a strong relationship with his foster family, who had cared for his medical needs and wanted to adopt him. Therefore, we affirm the termination of father’s parental rights.

Dickson County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
Theresa Malone v. Tennessee Department of Safety, et al
M2014-00190-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This  appeal  arises out  of an  administrative proceeding initiated  by a  former  driver’s license examiner.  After the examiner was injured on the job, she was absent  from work for nearly thirteen months.  For some of those months, she was on various  forms of approved leave.  Eventually, the examiner was terminated for job abandonment. She exhausted the Department of Safety’s grievance process, and both the Commissioner of the Department and the Tennessee Civil Service Commission affirmed her termination. The examiner then appealed to the chancery court, which also affirmed the Commission’s decision.  The examiner appealed.  Because we find the Commission’s decision was not supported  by substantial  and  material  evidence  and  was  arbitrary or  capricious,  we reverse and remand. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
Kathyrne Kennedy v. Karl E. Childs
M2014-00093-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Raymond Grimes

This appeal involves Father’s petition for child support modification and his petition for rehearing regarding a magistrate’s finding of criminal contempt. At issue are the juvenile court’s findings that Father failed to demonstrate a significant variance necessary for the modification of child support; the confirmation of the magistrate’s order finding Father guilty of criminal contempt for willful failure to pay child support; and the court’s decision to only excuse three months of Father’s child support arrearages. We conclude that the trial court erred in calculating Father’s and Mother’s monthly gross incomes on the child support worksheet but that the record is otherwise insufficient to address the issues raised by Father. Therefore, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
Barbara Jean Blake v. Russell Alan Blake
M2014-01016-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

This case requires us to consider whether the trial court had jurisdiction to hear a petition for contempt. Mother and the parties’ child reside in Nevada, and Nevada had exercised jurisdiction over the child pursuant to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”). Mother filed a petition seeking to hold Father in contempt for his alleged failure to abide by portions of an amended parenting plan and for his failure to pay certain marital debt. Mother also requested to have child support recalculated. Father filed a counter-petition for contempt alleging interference with his visitation. Mother asserted the Nevada court had jurisdiction over Father’s counter-petition. The trial court, sua sponte, dismissed both petitions for contempt, holding that Nevada had jurisdiction. We affirm the trial court’s dismissal of Father’s counter-petition, but we reverse the court’s dismissal of Mother’s petition, which addresses marital debt, child support, and other issues unrelated to the custody of the children. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
Janice Bunch v. Tiffany Jones
W2014-01161-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

This is an appeal from an award of attorney’s fees following settlement of the underlying lawsuit. Appellees, law firm and attorney, represented Appellant in a lawsuit arising from an automobile accident. After protracted mediation, Appellee orally agreed to lower its contingency fee from 33 1/3% to 10% in consideration of Appellant’s agreement to settle her case against the tort defendants for $52,000. Appellant agreed to accept this offer and signed the settlement agreement at the conclusion of the mediation. Thereafter, Appellant allegedly refused to sign the releases drafted by the tort defendants. The trial court, upon the tort defendants’ motion, enforced the settlement agreement reached by the parties at mediation. Appellees assert that Appellant’s refusal to sign the releases drafted by the tort defendants constitutes a breach of the modified fee agreement and now seek to enforce an attorney’s fee lien for the full one-third of the recovery. The trial court granted Appellees’ motion to enforce its lien for the full amount, and Appellant appeals. We conclude that the terms of the modified fee agreement between Appellees and Appellant only required Appellant to settle her case with the tort defendants for $52,000, which she did. Accordingly, the trial court erred in not enforcing the modified fee agreement. Reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
James R. Cotham v. Judy P. Cotham
W2015-00521-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carma Dennis McGee

This is a Rule 10B appeal of the denial of a petition for recusal. Appellant supported the Chancellor’s opponent in the August 2014 election and contends that her support of the opponent provides cause for the Chancellor’s recusal. The trial court denied Appellant’s motion to recuse, and Appellant filed this accelerated interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 10B of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court. We affirm.

Decatur County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
Sarah Kee, et al. v. City of Jackson, Tennessee
W2013-02754-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Nathan B. Pride

Action under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act against the City of Jackson to recover for injuries sustained in a fall suffered by one plaintiff while she and her husband were walking across a bridge from a parking lot to the fairgrounds operated by the City. Following a bench trial, the court held that the bridge was in a defective and dangerous condition and that the City was not immune from suit; the court determined that the City was 60% negligent and the plaintiff 40% negligent. The court assessed damages at $62,817.35 for plaintiff wife and $8,400.00 for plaintiff husband; applying the comparative fault percentage, the court awarded plaintiff wife $37,690.41 and plaintiff husband $5,040.00. We modify the award of damages to plaintiffs; in all other respects we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
In Re Conservatorship of Dessa L. McQuinn
E2013-02790-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor W. Frank Brown, III

Jacqueline D. Cameron filed a petition seeking to be named as conservator of her mother, Dessa L. McQuinn. After a hearing, the trial court declined to appoint Cameron conservator, finding that such an appointment was against McQuinn's wishes and best interest. Exercising the discretion provided it by Tenn. Code Ann. § 34-1-114 (Supp. 2013), the trial court ordered Cameron to pay the fees and expenses of McQuinn's appointed guardian ad litem. The court also ordered Cameron to return all of McQuinn's personal property to her house, which property Cameron had earlier removed from McQuinn's house without authorization. Cameron appeals. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
Thomas D. McClure, Sr. v. Linda Bentley McClure
E2014-00412-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

The issue presented in this divorce appeal is whether the trial court erred in refusing to appoint a guardian ad litem for Thomas D. McClure, Sr. (Husband), and proceeding to trial in Husband's absence after he was duly notified of the trial date. Finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
Emma Harris et al v. Amanda B. Aldmon et al.
E2014-00203-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

In this appeal, the Court is asked to determine whether certain provisions of restrictive covenants recorded in 1917 are still in effect and enforceable against certain parcels of subdivision property that lay contiguous to North Broadway in Knoxville. Emma Harris filed a declaratory judgment action seeking the judgment of the trial court that a “used for residential purposes only” restriction is unenforceable as to her property due to changed conditions in the area and the abandonment of the restriction by waiver and/or acquiesence in other violations of the subject restriction. A defendant, Robert A. Whaley, a neighbor to the Harris property, filed a cross-claim seeking the same relief. The trial court, while finding that “it may well be that especially in [the] Harris[ ] case a just and equitable remedy would be the removal of the burden from her,” nevertheless went on to enforce the covenant. We affirm the trial court's judgment as to the property of cross-claimant Whaley, which property is improved with a relatively-large house inhabited by Whaley as his residence since 2001. The Harris property, on the other hand, consists of two contiguous unimproved lots that have never been built on since the subdivision was created in 1917. Considering the totality of the circumstances and equities, it is the judgment of the Court that, with respect to the Harris lots, the “residential purposes only” restriction is cancelled and unenforceable, but this decree is made subject to a restriction that no curb cut will be constructed to allow vehicular access from the Harris property to Gibbs Drive, a thoroughfare leading into the subdivision from North Broadway. Our decree is also subject to the Truan/plaintiffs agreement as reflected in Exhibit 33.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/30/15
Joseph Igou, et al v. Vanderbilt University
M2013-02837-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal asks whether a wife’s loss of consortium claim, brought pursuant to her husband’s underlying health care liability action, is itself a health care liability action subject to the pre-suit notice provision of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act. The trial court granted the hospital’s motion to dismiss, finding that the wife’s claim was a health care liability action under the Act and that she had failed to comply with the pre-suit notice provision. As an alternative ground for dismissal, the court also found that the wife had failed to file suit within the statute of limitation. We vacate the trial court’s order of dismissal with prejudice and remand.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/27/15
In Re Kailee M.G.
E2014-01602-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daniel G. Boyd
The State of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in November of 2013 (“the Petition”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Kristen M.C. (“Mother”) to the minor child Kailee M.G. (“the Child”). After a trial the Juvenile Court for Sullivan County (“the Juvenile Court”) terminated Mother’s parental rights to the Child after finding that clear and convincing evidence had been proven of grounds to terminate for persistent conditions pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3) and that clear and convincing evidence had been proven that it was in the Child’s best interest for Mother’s parental rights to be terminated. Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to the Child to this Court. We find and hold that clear and convincing evidence was proven of grounds for termination pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3) and that clear and convincing evidence was proven that it was in the Child’s best interest for Mother’s parental rights to be terminated, and we affirm.
 
Sullivan County Court of Appeals 03/27/15
Garrett Rittenberry, et al. v. Kevin Pennell, et al.
M2013-02106-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tom E. Gray

This appeal concerns a contentious boundary dispute involving multiple parties. Plaintiffs Garrett and Alma Rittenberry (“the Rittenberrys”) initially filed suit seeking to have an easement set aside for their benefit through the property of Kevin and Lana Pennell (“the Pennells”) pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 54-14-101 et seq. Later, the Rittenberrys filed an amended complaint that alternatively sought relief by way of an easement across the property of Appellants Chris Burke and Lesa Hall (“Burke/Hall”). The Pennells moved for summary judgment arguing that the Rittenberrys did not need to resort to the statutory remedy of an easement by necessity. Upon finding that the Rittenberrys’ property was not, in fact, landlocked, but that it abutted a public road, the trial court granted the Pennells’ motion and dismissed the Rittenberrys’ cause of action. We affirm the trial court’s judgment

Sumner County Court of Appeals 03/26/15
Kevin Bloomfield v. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County
M2014-00438-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Plaintiff, a firefighter, who sustained personal injuries while serving in the course and scope of his employment with the Nashville Fire Department, brought this action against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) asserting that he sustained serious personal injuries due to the negligence of a paramedic who was employed by Metro. The injury occurred while Plaintiff and the paramedic were moving a patient in a wheelchair. Following discovery, Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. After determining that no material facts were in dispute, the trial court granted summary judgment on the issue of liability upon the findings that an established procedure existed for the lifting of patients in a wheelchair, that the paramedic violated the established procedure, that the violation caused Plaintiff’s injuries, and that Plaintiff was not comparatively at fault. Following an evidentiary hearing on the issue of damages, the trial court awarded Plaintiff a judgment of $300,000 in damages. On appeal, Metro contends that there is a genuine dispute of fact regarding the policy for moving patients in wheelchairs, whether the paramedic violated the procedure, and whether Plaintiff is comparatively at fault. We affirm the trial court’s findings that there was an established policy for moving patients in a wheelchair, that the paramedic violated the policy by lifting the foot of the wheelchair without communicating with Plaintiff prior to initiating the lift, and that the paramedic’s violation of the established policy was the sole and proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injuries. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/26/15
In Re Kemauri H.
M2014-01357-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. The trial court found that six grounds for termination of her parental rights had been established. Mother does not challenge three of the grounds for termination; thus, the trial court’s ruling regarding three of the grounds is final. Because the trial court may terminate parental rights on the basis of only one statutory ground, In re D.L.B., 118 S.W.3d 360, 367 (Tenn. 2003), we need not examine the other grounds. See In re Alexis L., No. M2013-01814-COA-R3-PT, 2014 WL 1778261, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 30, 2014). Mother also contends the trial court erred in finding that the requirements of the permanency plan were reasonably related to remedying the conditions that necessitated the child’s removal and that termination was in the child’s best interests. Finding no error, we affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 03/26/15
Nancy Hart Diehl Harvey, Executrix of The Estate of W. Joseph Diehl, Jr., et al v. Phillips Turner, Jr.
M2014-00368-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This is a lawsuit brought for damage to property. After partial summary judgment was denied to the defendant, and after the trial court ruled that the defendant’s request for a jury trial was waived, the parties proceeded to a bench trial. During a hiatus after three days of trial, the parties settled the case and announced the essential terms of the settlement to the court in open court. The parties failed to agree to a written settlement document, and the plaintiffs asked the trial court to enforce the settlement. The trial court found that the settlement was enforceable. The defendant appealed. We affirm.

DeKalb County Court of Appeals 03/26/15
Jessica Catherine Hayes v. Douglas Aaron Hayes
M2014-00237-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

This appeal involves various financial issues related to a divorce. Father appeals the trial court’s determination of variable income for Father that he earns as an amateur bowler; the trial court’s award of transitional alimony to Mother; and the trial court’s order that Father pay half of the minor children=s private school tuition. We affirm the trial court’s rulings regarding child support and alimony. However, we vacate the trial court’s ruling on the payment of private school tuition due to the trial court’s failure to comply with the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 03/26/15