Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/30/2015
Format: 05/30/2015
Jennifer Walden v. Central Parking System of Tennessee, Inc. et al.
E2014-00939-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dale C. Workman

Jennifer Walden (Plaintiff) sued Central Parking System of Tennessee, Inc. (Central Parking) and Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center (Fort Sanders) for negligence after she allegedly suffered injuries as a result of a fall in a parking garage located in Knoxville, Tennessee. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. The Circuit Court for Knox County (the Trial Court) granted defendants summary judgment after finding and holding, inter alia, Athat no alleged fault on the part of the defendants was the cause of plaintiff's accident and injuries, that the same occurred due to her own failure to observe the open and obvious condition of the premises that was there to be seen, and that reasonable minds could not differ on this issue. We find and hold that there is a genuine disputed issue of material fact regarding whether Plaintiff's fault was greater than defendants. We, therefore, reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand this case for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/27/15
Dorothy Lewis v. Sam Lewis et al.
E2014-00105-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J.Michael Sharp

Dorothy Lewis and Roscoe Lewis, although not legally married, held themselves out as husband and wife for over 41 years. At an earlier time, Roscoe Lewis had been married. He had three sons by that marriage, one of whom is the defendant Sam Lewis. In 2010, after Roscoe Lewis' health declined, Sam Lewis took care of his father and Dorothy. On April 7, 2011, Sam Lewis took his father to several banks. While there, Roscoe Lewis authorized the banks to add the names of Sam Lewis and Dorothy to multiple accounts that had previously been only in Roscoe Lewis' name.1 On April 26, 2011, Dorothy and Roscoe Lewis each executed an individual power of attorney granting Sam Lewis authority and control over their financial and medical decisions. On that same day, Dorothy and Roscoe Lewis executed a warranty deed conveying a remainder interest in their home and farm to Sam Lewis and his wife Lora Lewis for $40,000, less than one-third of the fair market value as found by the trial court. On March 9, 2012, two days before Roscoe Lewis died, Sam Lewis withdrew funds totaling over $600,000 from the accounts held jointly in the names of Sam, Roscoe, and Dorothy Lewis. He placed the withdrawn funds in accounts held in the names of Sam Lewis and his wife, Lora Lewis. Dorothy Lewis brought this action alleging, among other things, that the real estate and bank account transfers should be rescinded because of Sam Lewis' undue influence on his father and Dorothy. The trial court found and held (1) that Sam Lewis exercised undue influence over them and (2) that he committed conversion and fraud. The court's judgment against Sam Lewis included an award of attorney's fees to Dorothy Lewis. The same fees were also awarded against a constructive trust established by the trial court. On appeal, we hold that the trial court's award of attorney's fees against the constructive trust is not supported by the evidence or by any legal or equitable principle.

Polk County Court of Appeals 04/27/15
James Michael Adler et al. v. City of Johnson City et al.
E2013-01309-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter C. Kurtz

James Michael Adler and Kim Kidner Adler filed this action against Johnson City and Purofirst of Tri-Cities, LLC, alleging damage from sewage that backed up and entered their basement. Later, they filed another complaint alleging that their attorneys in the sewage case were guilty of malpractice. In the sewage case, the trial court dismissed the defendant Purofirst with prejudice as a sanction for the Adlers' repeated failure to comply with the court's discovery orders. The Adlers did not attempt to amend their malpractice complaint to include a claim based on Purofirst's dismissal until almost six years after the dismissal of Purofirst. Their motion to amend was filed on July 2, 2012, in violation of the trial court's scheduling order, which provided that “[n]o amendments shall be allowed after May 15, 2012.” The trial court denied the Adlers' motion to amend. The trial court also refused to allow the Adlers to bring Purofirst back into the sewage litigation. It did so despite the fact that another defendant had recently alleged the comparative fault of Purofirst. This latter action of the trial court was taken in an order entered pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 54.02. We hold that the Adlers did not timely appeal this order. We further hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Adlers' motion to amend their malpractice action. The trial court's judgment is affirmed.

Washington County Court of Appeals 04/27/15
In re J.R.C.
E2014-00830-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph M. Ayers

In this parental termination case, the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) took emergency custody of J.R.C. (the Child) following the arrest of his mother, B.C. (Mother) on charges of (1) promoting the manufacture of methamphetamine and (2) child neglect. The Child was adjudicated dependent, neglected, and severely abused. After a trial, the court terminated Mother’s parental rights after finding, by clear and convincing evidence, that (1) grounds for termination were established, and (2) termination is in the best interest of the Child. Mother appeals and challenges each of these determinations. We affirm.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 04/27/15
Bashar F. Kaddoura v. Chattanooga-Hamilton Hospital Authority d/b/a Erlanger Medical Center
E2013-02573-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jacqueline S. Bolton

The plaintiff appeals the trial court's dismissal of his action against the defendant hospital. The plaintiff averred that he had entered into a contract with the hospital to pay $6,720.00 for a bariatric surgical procedure. Due to complications following surgery, the plaintiff required a second surgery, incurring additional charges. The plaintiff brought this action, alleging negligence, breach of contract, money had and received, and unjust enrichment. The hospital moved to dismiss the action pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6). Following consideration of the pleadings and argument of counsel, the trial court dismissed the action with prejudice, finding that the complaint sounded in medical malpractice and that the plaintiff had failed to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 29-26-121 and -122, as well as the statute of limitations provided by the Governmental Tort Liability Act. See Tenn. Code Ann. 29-20-305(b). The plaintiff concomitantly filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment and a motion seeking permission to amend the complaint. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the plaintiff's motion to alter or amend the judgment but granted the plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint. The plaintiff appeals the trial court's denial of his motion to alter or amend the judgment and the court's dismissal of his action. On appeal, the hospital raises the issue of whether the trial court erred by simultaneously upholding its dismissal of the action while granting the plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/27/15
Sweet Water Sustainability Institute et al v. Urban Centruy Institute et al.
E2014-00823-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant
This is an appeal from an order dismissing only the appellant, Sweet Water Sustainability
Institute, from the proceedings below. Because the order appealed from does not resolve any
of the remaining claims in the case, we lack jurisdiction to consider this appeal.
 
Monroe County Court of Appeals 04/27/15
Victor D. McMiller, Sr. v. State of Tennessee
E2014-01006-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William O. Shults

This appeal arises from inmate Victor D. McMiller, Sr.'s (“Claimant”) lawsuit against the State of Tennessee (“the State”) for negligence. According to Claimant, he was injured when he fell off a bunk bed, and, given his medical status, the State never should have required him to use a top bunk as it did. The Tennessee Claims Commission found that the State was predominantly at fault in the incident but that Claimant failed to prove he actually was injured by the fall, thus defeating the negligence claim. Claimant appeals. We affirm the judgment of the Claims Commission.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/27/15
Mary Duffer v. David J. Waynick, et al
M2014-01823-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

This is an appeal from a summary judgment order dismissing the plaintiff's complaint. Because the order does not dispose of the defendants' claim for damages under Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-109(e)(2), we dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment.   

Wilson County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
Christopher Douglas v. Caruthers & Associates, Inc.
W2013-02676-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Robert L. Childers
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Arnold B.Goldin

This case involves an employment contract. After the employee’s employment was allegedly constructively terminated, he sued the employer for damages. The parties proceeded to trial, and the trial court ruled that the employer breached its employment contract with the employee and that the employee was entitled to an award of damages. The trial court then ordered that all issues of damages would be referred to a Special Master. After trial, the Special Master issued a report calculating employee’s damages, to which the employee objected. Upon sustaining several of the employee’s objections, the trial court again referred the matter to the Special Master. The trial court subsequently concurred in the revised findings of the Special Master, and the employer appealed, raising several issues. We vacate the ruling of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
In re Amadi A., et al.
W2014-01281-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christy R. Little

This case involves a dispute over legal maternity of twin children born as the result of a surrogacy agreement. The intended parents of the children filed a joint petition, along with the surrogate mother and her husband, asking the juvenile court to declare the intended parents as the legal parents of the children and to require the Tennessee Department of Health to list them as the parents on the children’s birth certificates. The trial court initially granted the requested relief, but upon consideration of a motion to alter or amend filed by the Department of Health, the trial court ruled that the surrogate mother was the legal mother of the children and the party to be listed on the birth certificates. The intended parents, the surrogate, and her husband appeal. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Madison County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
Rita McCartt Kordon et al v. Beulah Newport et al.
E2013-01980-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Andrew Tillman
Rita McCartt Kordon and Rose McCartt Young appeal the decision of the Chancery Court for Scott County (“the Trial Court”) dismissing their claims for failure to prosecute pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41.02(1). We find no abuse of discretion in the Trial Court’s dismissal of Ms. Kordon’s and Ms. Young’s claims, and we affirm.
 
Scott County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
James G. Clayton et al. v. Davidson Contractors, LLC et al.
E2013-02296-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

In connection with the purchase of a newly constructed home, buyers signed an application for a home warranty, providing for arbitration of warranty disputes. After the buyers experienced several problems with their home, they sued the builders for breach of the implied warranty of habitability and negligent construction, among other things. Over five years after answering the buyers' complaint, the builders moved to stay the litigation and compel arbitration based on the home warranty's arbitration provision. The trial court denied the motion because the arbitration provision did not comply with the Tennessee Uniform Arbitration Act. The trial court also found that the builders' delay in seeking to compel arbitration constituted a waiver of their right to arbitrate. The builders appeal. Because we conclude that the Federal Arbitration Act governs the arbitration provision and consideration of the waiver defense was premature, we vacate and remand.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
In re Jaiden W., et al
M2014-00953-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy R. Brock

This is the third appeal of this case, involving the issue of child support and arrears. In the second appeal, this Court remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of Appellant Father and Appellee Mother’s respective incomes for the period of August 22, 2008 through September 28, 2009. Based upon Mother’s testimony at the hearing on remand, the trial court set Mother’s income for the relevant period at $300 per month. Father appeals, arguing that, based upon the trial court’s previous finding that Mother was voluntarily unemployed, the trial court should have imputed income to Mother at the statutory rate. Because the law of the case is that the trial court should determine the parties’ actual circumstances, we conclude that the court correctly set Mother’s income as the amount she actually earned. Affirmed and remanded.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
James C. Loden, M.D., P.C. d/b/a Loden Vision Centers, and James C. Loden, M. D., Individually v. Gerald Michael Schmidt
M2014-01284-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

Doctor filed this lawsuit against a former patient, alleging malicious prosecution, tortious interference, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After the patient refused to respond to discovery, the trial court eventually entered an order striking the patient‘s answer and entering a default judgment against the patient. The trial court later awarded the doctor nominal damages and a permanent injunction. Affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Whitney Leigh Harmon, et al v. Gregg Ian Shore, et al
M2014-01339-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

This is a Health Care Liability case. Appellees are the treating physician and hospital. The trial court granted Appellees' Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 motions to dismiss Appellant's lawsuit for failure to comply with the Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) notice provision for health care liability claims. Specifically, the trial court determined that the required Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) medical authorization provided by Appellant was not substantially compliant with the statutory requirements in that the relevant medical records were released only to Appellant's lawyer. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Maury County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Najo Equipment Leasing, LLC v. Commssioner of Revenue
W2014-01096-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Arnold B. Goldin

Taxpayer brought action against the Tennessee Department of Revenue (“Department”) to challenge its assessment of business taxes against taxpayer. Taxpayer asserted it was entitled to an exemption for its leasing trucks and trailers to a public utility. Taxpayer and the Department filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Department finding that the exemption provision was unambiguous and did not apply to the taxpayer’s business activities. On appeal, we hold that the exemption provision is ambiguous, but also that the taxpayer failed to meet its burden in proving it was entitled to the exemption. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Gregory D. Allen v. Debbie D. Albea
W2014-01414-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

This appeal arises from a jury verdict in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $11,513.78. On appeal, Plaintiff raises several evidentiary issues, contends that juror misconduct requires a new trial, and asserts that the verdict is not supported by the evidence. We affirm.

Madison County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
In re Dallas H.B. et al
E2014-00063-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey F. Stewart

This is a parental termination case that focuses on the minor children of J.D.B. (Father) and J.A.B. (Mother). After Father and Mother divorced, Father married J.M.B. (Stepmother). A year later, Father and Stepmother (collectively, Petitioners) filed a petition seeking (1) the termination of Mother's parental rights and (2) adoption of the children by Stepmother. After a trial, the court found, by clear and convincing evidence, (1) that Mother had abandoned the children by failing to pay child support, and (2) that termination is in the best interest of the children. Mother appeals. We affirm.

Rhea County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Richard Harkleroad et al v. Frontier Building and Development, Inc.
E2013-00664-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Harold Wimberly, Jr.

This appeal concerns an alleged breach of contract. Richard and Shannon Harkleroad (“the Harkleroads”) sued Frontier Building and Development, Inc. (“Frontier”) alleging faulty construction of their residence. Frontier filed a counterclaim alleging non-payment. The Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) found that the Harkleroads were entitled to recovery in the amount of $10,000 for construction defects to their porches and driveway. Regarding Frontier’s counterclaim, the Trial Court found that Frontier had performed work in addition to that required in the original contract and awarded Frontier $4,103.75 for this work. The Trial Court awarded neither side attorney’s fees under their contract. The Harkleroads appeal. We reverse the Trial Court as to its award of damages to Frontier and remand this case for the Trial Court to award reasonable attorney’s fees under the contract to the Harkleroads. Otherwise, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
In re Ayris R.
E2014-01950-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert G. Lincoln
This is a termination of parental rights appeal brought by the putative father. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence to support termination of the putative father’s parental rights because he failed to establish paternity. The court also found that termination of the putative father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the child. The putative father appeals the best interest finding. We affirm.
 
Washington County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Vanderbilt University v. Tennessee State Board of Equalization, et al
M2014-01386-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Vanderbilt University applied for a 100% property tax exemption for eleven of its fraternity houses pursuant to the educational exemption, Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-212(a)(1), or the dormitory exemption, Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-213(a). The State Board of Equalization (“SBOE”) denied Vanderbilt’s application, and Vanderbilt sought administrative review. An administrative law judge and the Assessment Appeals Commission both reached the same conclusion as the SBOE. Vanderbilt then sought judicial review, and the trial court determined that the fraternity houses were entitled to the 100% exemption because they satisfied the requirements for the educational exemption. The State appealed, and we reverse the trial court’s decision. The fraternity houses are not used “purely and exclusively” for educational purposes, as that provision has been interpreted and applied by the courts. We also decline to find the fraternity houses qualify for the dormitory exemption because they are not used primarily for dormitory purposes, as the statute requires.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/22/15
In re Adison P. - dissent
W2015-00393-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve Beal

I must respectfully dissent from the majority opinion for two reasons.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 04/21/15
In re Adison P.
W2015-00393-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve Beal

This accelerated interlocutory appeal results from the trial court’s denial of Appellant William R. F.’s (“Father”) motion for recusal. Having reviewed the trial court’s ruling on the motion for recusal pursuant to the de novo standard of review required under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 04/21/15
Anthony Holder, et al. v. Shelby County, Tennessee
W2014-01910-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen R. Williams

Appellant father filed a complaint for damages against the defendant county, alleging that the negligence of a county employee caused the death of his son. The county filed a motion to dismiss the complaint based upon sovereign immunity. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, concluding that the county employee’s actions constituted intentional torts for which immunity was not removed, and that the employee’s actions were outside the scope of his employment. We reverse and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/21/15
In re Dayton R., et al.
W2014-01904-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry J. Logan

This case involves a petition for grandparent visitation filed by the great-grandparents of the children at issue. The trial court concluded that great-grandparents do not qualify as “grandparents” under Tennessee’s grandparent visitation statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-306. Accordingly, the court concluded that the great-grandparents lacked standing to pursue their petition and dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 04/21/15