Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/14/2019
Format: 12/14/2019
In Re Jocelyn L.
E2013-02650-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William Lantrip

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Anderson County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to have the minor child Jocelyn L. (“the Child”) found dependent and neglected. The Child’s father, James L. (“Father”), was alleged to have sexually abused the Child. The Juvenile Court entered a restraining order against Father. While both Father and the Child’s mother, Amanda L. (“Mother”), were named respondents in DCS’s petition, Mother was named only so as to require her to uphold the restraining order against Father. After a hearing, the Juvenile Court found that the evidence on the allegations against Father did not rise to the level of clear and convincing. The Juvenile Court dismissed the petition. DCS did not appeal. Mother, however, appealed to the Circuit Court for Anderson County (“the Circuit Court”) for a trial de novo. The Circuit Court found that Mother lacked standing to appeal and dismissed her appeal. Mother now appeals to this Court. We hold that Mother was not an aggrieved party by the Juvenile Court’s order dismissing DCS’s petition and, therefore, lacked standing to
appeal to the Circuit Court. We affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 12/16/14
In Re: Paige A.F., et al.
E2014-00450-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brandon Fisher

The State of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of Joann P.F. (“Mother”) and Gary A.M. (“Father”) to the minor children, Paige A.F., Tristan J.A.M., and Gaige D.W.M. (“the Children”). After a trial, the Juvenile Court for Anderson County (“the Juvenile Court”) terminated Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Children after finding that clear and convincing evidence was proven of grounds to terminate Mother’s and Father’s parental rights for substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2) and for persistent conditions pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3), and that clear and convincing evidence was proven that it was in the Children’s best interest for Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to be terminated. Mother and Father appeal the termination of their parental rights to this Court. We find and hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the Juvenile Court’s findings made by clear and convincing evidence, and we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 11/26/14
Phillip M. Nall, et al v. The City of Oak Ridge. et al
E2013-02608-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge William E. Lantrip

Four sergeants with a municipal police department filed a grievance complaining that there was an unlawful disparity in pay among the sergeants on the force. The personnel board for the municipality denied the grievance. The sergeants appealed. The trial court determined that the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act was applicable under the facts of the case and the personnel board’s decision that it lacked authority to grant the relief sought was supported by material and substantial evidence. We affirm as modified.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 10/10/14
In Re: Shameel S., et al
E2014-00294-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brandon Fisher

Valerie S. (“Mother”) appeals the termination of her parental rights to her minor children Shameel S., born November 1996, and LaRiea S., born May 1998, (“the Children”). Acting upon a petition to terminate parental rights filed by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”), the Juvenile Court for Anderson County (“the Juvenile Court”) terminated Mother’s parental rights to the Children on the ground of severe abuse pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-102. Mother argues on appeal that DCS did not exercise reasonable efforts to reunify Mother and the Children in the period before a finding of severe abuse. We find and hold that clear and convincing evidence was shown that the ground existed to terminate Mother’s parental rights to the Children for severe child abuse, that clear and convincing evidence was shown that termination was in the Children’s best interest, and that DCS exercised reasonable efforts. We affirm the Juvenile Court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 09/19/14
Mark Coffey v. City of Oak Ridge, Tennessee
E2013-02200-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald Ray Elledge

This is a retaliatory discharge case in which a former police officer filed suit against his department for back pay, front pay, and other compensatory damages. The trial court found that the police officer did not establish the elements of retaliatory discharge under the Tennessee Public Protection Act and dismissed his suit. The police officer appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 09/12/14
Joseph J. Levitt, Jr. v. City of Oak Ridge, Et Al.
E2013-02625-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Lantrip

Joseph J. Levitt, Jr. (“Plaintiff”) appeals the dismissal of his suit against the City of Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Appeals, and Denny Boss (“Defendants”) entered by the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”). We find and hold, as did the Trial Court, that Plaintiff’s suit is barred by res judicata, and we affirm. We further find and hold Plaintiff’s appeal to be frivolous and remand to the Trial Court for an award of damages for frivolous appeal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 09/10/14
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Mark B. Garrett v. City of Norris, Tennessee
E2013-02355-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William Lantrip

This appeal arises from a challenge to an annexation ordinance. The City of Norris, Tennessee (“Norris”) passed two annexation ordinances on the same day. The second territory to be annexed was contiguous to the city only through bordering the territory annexed earlier that same day. Mark B. Garrett (“Garrett”), a property owner in the second annexed territory, sued Norris in the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) in a bid to stop the annexation of this second territory (“the Territory”). The Trial Court eventually voided the annexation of the Territory on the basis that the Territory was not contiguous to the city. Norris appeals. We hold, inter alia, that the annexation ordinance purporting to annex the Territory is void because at the time of the passage of the annexation ordinance, the first annexation was not yet operative and the Territory, therefore, was not contiguous to the city as required by law. We affirm the Trial Court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 08/28/14
Phillip Dean Patrick v. Nelson Global Products, Inc.
E2013-02444-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

This is a retaliatory discharge action filed by Phillip Dean Patrick (“Plaintiff”), a former employee of Nelson Global Products, Inc. (“the Employer”). Plaintiff alleged that, on a day during his employment, he was standing nearby when a co-worker sustained a work-related injury. Plaintiff alleged that he was unlawfully terminated after the injured co-worker filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. According to Plaintiff, the co-worker’s filing was a “substantial factor” in the Employer’s decision to discharge him. The trial court granted the Employer’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 07/30/14
Edna Lee Weaver v. Diversicare Leasing Corp. et al.
E2013-01560-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

Edna Lee Weaver (“plaintiff”) was employed as a bookkeeper for the Briarcliff Health Care Center, a nursing home facility in Oak Ridge. After plaintiff’s employment was terminated, she brought this action against her former employer alleging (1) common law retaliatory discharge; (2) violation of the Tennessee Public Protection Act, (“TPPA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-304 (2008 & Supp. 2013); and (3) violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-301 (2011). The trial court granted the employer summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff failed to show a causal link between the conduct alleged to be protected, i.e., speaking out against alleged harassment and discrimination against other Briarcliff employees, and her termination. The court further held that the employer established legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for plaintiff’s termination, and that plaintiff failed to present any evidence tending to show that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether these reasons were pretextual. We affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 07/28/14
Griffith Services Drilling, LLC, et al. v. Arrow Gas & Oil, Inc.
E2013-01349-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

Griffith Services Drilling, LLC (“Griffith”) and Lexington Insurance Company, Griffith’s insurance company, sued Arrow Gas & Oil, Inc. (“Arrow”) for property damage caused by a fire that occurred while Arrow was refueling a drilling rig operated by Griffith in Anderson County, Tennessee (“the Drilling Site”). Arrow answered the complaint and counterclaimed for breach of contract based upon Griffith’s refusal to pay for the fuel delivered by Arrow on the day of the fire. Arrow also filed a motion to dismiss for spoliation, which the Circuit Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) granted dismissing Griffith’s claims against Arrow. Arrow then filed a motion for summary judgment on its counterclaim, which the Trial Court granted in part. Griffith appeals to this Court raising issues regarding the dismissal of their claims and the grant of summary judgment to Arrow. We find and hold that both Griffith and Arrow were guilty of spoliation, and, therefore, that dismissal of Griffith’s claims was not an appropriate sanction. We vacate the dismissal of Griffith’s claims against Arrow and reinstate them. Because the Trial Court granted Arrow summary judgment based upon its decision on the issue of spoliation, and we have vacated the Trial Court’s decision on the issue of spoliation, we also vacate the grant of summary judgment to Arrow.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 05/27/14
Laurence R. Dry v. Christi Lenay Fields Steele, et al
E2013-00291-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. McAfee

The plaintiff, a licensed attorney, filed this pro se third party action two weeks before his death on May 17, 2012. The defendants filed a suggestion of death under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 25.01. When no motion for substitution was filed during the prescribed time period, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss. At the hearing on the motion, the decedent’s surviving spouse, who had practiced law with him, appeared by telephone and informed the trial court that she was not a party and was not representing the decedent or his estate with respect to the plaintiff’s third party complaint. Despite these representations, she asserted that the court should hear her argument as to why her late husband’s action should not be dismissed. The trial court dismissed the action for failure to timely seek substitution of party, and also granted defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings. The surviving spouse filed a notice of appeal. We hold that the defendants provided proper notice under Rule 25.01 by mailing a copy of the suggestion of death to the law firm address of decedent and his surviving spouse. We further hold that decedent’s surviving spouse did not have standing to file this appeal because (1) she was not a party, (2) did not represent her decedent husband, and (3) did not represent his estate, which had not been opened when the trial court entered its final judgment. We affirm the judgment of the trial court and dismiss this appeal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 01/28/14
Frances Ward v. Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors, Inc, et al
E2013-01256-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald Ray Elledge

This is a negligence case in which Plaintiff filed suit against the wrong party but sought to amend the complaint to add Defendant once the statute of limitations had passed. Defendant objected to the amendment and filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, finding that the applicable statute of limitations had passed because Rule 15.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure did not allow for the amendment of the complaint. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 11/26/13
Frances Ward v. Wilkinson Real Estate Advisors, Inc, et al - Concurring
E2013-01256-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald Ray Elledge

I concur in the majority’s decision to affirm the judgment of the trial court. I write separately to express the reasons for my concurrence. Since the proposed amendment adding the Wilkinson defendants was filed well beyond the applicable one-year statute of limitations, an allowance of the amendment would be futile unless it relates back, under the provisions of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 15.03 (1995), to the date of filing of the original complaint against the Glazer defendants. It is clear under Rule 15.03 that we are dealing in this case with an amendment “changing the party . . . against whom a claim is asserted.” Id. The new parties – the Wilkinson defendants – are totally different entities from the Glazer defendants. There can be no doubt that the plaintiff wants to change parties.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 11/26/13
Citizens For Safety And Clean Air, et al v. City Of Clinton, et al
E2012-02435-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Lantrip

This appeal arises from a dispute over the zoning of a certain tract of land in Clinton, Tennessee. Clinton annexed property (“the Property”) belonging to Rogers Group, Inc., and assigned zoning classifications to the newly annexed tract. The group Citizens for Safety and Clean Air, and individual local residents Walt Warren, Patricia Warren, Charles Goins, and Judy Goins (“the Plaintiffs,”collectively) sued the City of Clinton, Tennessee, Clinton Municipal Planning Commission, and Rogers Group (“the Defendants,” collectively) in the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) seeking declaratory judgment. The Plaintiffs, opposed to the prospective development of a quarry and asphalt plant on the Property, challenged the heavy industrial zoning classification of a portion of the Property on the basis that it was arbitrary and capricious; constituted illegal contract zoning; and, constituted illegal spot zoning. Alternatively, the Plaintiffs sought to enforce the Master Settlement Agreement (“the MSA”), an agreement settling an annexation dispute entered into by Anderson County, Clinton, and Rogers Group. The Plaintiffs alleged they were third-party beneficiaries to the MSA. The Trial Court found in favor of the Defendants on all issues. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 10/11/13
In Re: Tyler M.G., Joshua E.G. and Alexis E.G.
E2013-01376-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brandon K. Fisher

This appeal is from an order of the trial court denying a petition to terminate the parental rights of the appellant, Willie G., to his three minor children. Because the judgment of the trial court is not adverse to the appellant, we lack jurisdiction to entertain this appeal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 08/15/13
Kendall Foster, et al v. Federal National Mortgage Association, et al
E2012-02346-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Lantrip

The plaintiffs brought this action alleging wrongful foreclosure after a judgment against them became final in an earlier, separate unlawful detainer lawsuit filed by Federal National Mortgage Association (“FNMA”). The trial court dismissed the action as barred by the doctrine of res judicata. We affirm the judgment of the trial court because the plaintiffs could and should have raised the issues pertaining to the alleged wrongful foreclosure in the earlier detainer action.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 07/31/13