Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 01/26/2020
Format: 01/26/2020
Floyd Rodney Burns v. State of Tennessee
E2018-02174-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William A. Young

This appeal arose from a claim filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission (“the Commission”) against the State of Tennessee (“the State”), seeking an award of damages for defamation allegedly committed by a district attorney general through statements made to the media concerning the claimant. The State filed, inter alia, a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the claimant filed, inter alia, a response objecting to the motion. Following a hearing, the Commission denied the State’s motion to dismiss upon finding, in pertinent part, that the Commission did not have the authority to extend absolute immunity to district attorneys general. Upon the State’s application, the Commission and this Court each granted permission for interlocutory review. Having considered the certified question of whether the absolute privilege afforded to state officials for statements made in the course of their official duties, as recognized in Jones v. State, 426 S.W.3d 50 (Tenn. 2013), extends to district attorneys general, we determine that the privilege does not apply and accordingly affirm the Commission’s judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
Tennessee Funding, LLC v. William H. Worley
M2018-01099-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey F. Stewart

Two parties claim the authority to exercise the declarant’s rights under a declaration of restrictive covenants for a residential subdivision.  The original declarant, the developer of the subdivision, granted a security interest in all personal property associated with the subdivision, including “contract rights” and general intangibles, to the bank that financed the subdivision.  After the developer defaulted, the bank conducted a public sale of the personalty securing its debt and was the highest bidder at the sale.  A few months later, the developer fell into receivership, and the receiver sold the declarant’s rights under the declaration to a lot owner “free and clear of all liens and liabilities.”  The bank filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment regarding entitlement to the declarant’s rights and damages.  The lot owner moved for judgment on the pleadings.  The lot owner argued that the bank could not prove a superior claim because it had consented to and subordinated its security interest to the declaration.  The bank moved for partial summary judgment on its request for a declaratory judgment.  The trial court denied the motion for judgment on the pleadings and granted partial summary judgment to the bank.  We affirm. 

Marion County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
In Re Kolton C.
E2019-00736-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri Bryant

This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the trial court’s termination of her parental rights to the minor child on the grounds of: (1) severe child abuse, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4); and (2) abandonment by willful failure to visit and to support, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1), § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i). Mother also appeals the trial court’s determination that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because Appellee did not meet her burden to show that Mother failed to support the child, we reverse the trial court’s termination of parental rights as to this ground. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of severe child abuse and failure to visit, and on its finding that termination of Appellant’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
William Cooper v. Board of Parole
M2018-01392-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This is an appeal from the judgment of the chancery court denying an inmate the relief requested in his petition for writ of certiorari.  The inmate is serving two concurrent life sentences, with the possibility of parole, for offenses of first degree murder.  The Tennessee Board of Parole declined to grant parole to the inmate, citing seriousness of the offense.  The chancery court concluded that the Board did not act arbitrarily, fraudulently, illegally, or in excess of its jurisdiction, in denying the inmate parole.  For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court’s order of dismissal. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
Christopher James Terrazzano v. Alecia Ann Terrazzano
M2019-00400-COA-r3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This action concerns the trial court’s designation of the primary residential parent, allocation of co-parenting time, and the division of marital debt following the parties’ divorce. We affirm the rulings on these issues made by the trial court.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
In Re Antonio J. Et Al.
M2019-00255-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on grounds of persistence of conditions and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume custody. The trial court’s order is affirmed in all respects.

Trousdale County Court of Appeals 11/25/19
In Re: Jayda H.
E2019-00855-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice Hope Snider

This is an appeal from a termination of parental rights proceeding. The trial court found that three grounds for termination had been established against the child’s father: substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plan, persistent conditions, and failure to manifest an ability to parent. The trial court also determined that it was in the child’s best interests to terminate the father’s parental rights. We affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 11/25/19
Jonathan Linkous v. Tiki Club, Inc.
E2019-00357-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. McAfee

This appeal arises from a personal injury action against the defendant restaurant after the plaintiff was allegedly injured due to a slip and fall following his use of a portable restroom facility located on the defendant’s premises. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant upon finding that no genuine issue of material fact existed that would show the defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the alleged dangerous condition. In so ruling, the trial court excluded the plaintiff’s expert from testifying regarding the portable restroom facility. The plaintiff has appealed. Having determined that the trial court erred in excluding the expert witness’s testimony, we vacate and remand.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 11/22/19
In Re Estate of Margaret Owens Bush Baker
W2019-00229-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carma Dennis McGee

In this probate action involving a testate decedent, the surviving spouse filed a petition seeking to claim an elective share in addition to homestead rights, exempt property, and year’s support. The surviving spouse later withdrew his petition for an elective share but continued to assert claims for exempt property and year’s support. The trial court denied those claims, determining that the statutory provisions governing a surviving spouse’s claims for exempt property and year’s support require that the claimant had also simultaneously elected against the decedent’s will. The surviving spouse has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Carroll County Court of Appeals 11/22/19
In Re Malik G., Et Al.
E2019-01040-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice Hope Snider

This appeal concerns the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Hamblen County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Chaunte G. (“Mother”) to her three minor children, Malik, Sean and Jaslene (“the Children,” collectively). After a hearing, the Juvenile Court found that DCS had proven the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, persistent conditions, and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume legal and physical custody of the Children, all by clear and convincing evidence. The Juvenile Court found also that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. Mother appeals to this Court, arguing mainly that terminating her parental rights is not in the Children’s best interest because she completed a number of her permanency plan tasks after the petition was filed. First, save for the ground of abandonment by failure to visit, which we reverse, we affirm the grounds for termination found by the Juvenile Court. As for the Children’s best interest, despite Mother’s tardy completion of some of her permanency plan tasks, the evidence nevertheless proves that it is unlikely she can safely parent the Children any time soon. Applying the standard of clear and convincing evidence, we find that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. While we reverse one ground for termination, we otherwise affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court terminating Mother’s parental rights to the Children.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 11/21/19
Penney Mosley, et al. v. City of Memphis, et al.
W2019-00199-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This matter concerns judicial review of a motion to disqualify a city attorney and/or the entire Memphis City Attorney’s Office from appearing in administrative cases pending before the Memphis Civil Service Commission between May 18, 2015 and September 29, 2017. Appellants argue that an assistant city attorney created a conflict of interest for herself and/or the entire office after she filed a notice of appearance claiming she represented the civil service commission in a separate case appealed to Chancery Court. Appellees argue that, even if the notice of appearance created a representation, state statutes and case law would permit the representation. The Civil Service Commission denied the Appellants’ motion, and the Shelby County Chancery Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. After applying the review standards outlined in the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, we affirm the ruling of the Chancery Court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/21/19
Anthony Arrington v. Barbara Bryant Et Al.
E2018-02165-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This case involves a dispute between siblings, named as co-executors of their mother’s estate. Anthony Arrington (plaintiff) brought this action against his sister Barbara Bryant, alleging she engaged in “self-dealing, fraud, theft, and conversion” of the assets of their late mother, Nuffie Arrington (decedent). Ms. Bryant responded by alleging that the parties had mediated their dispute and entered into a settlement agreement disposing of all issues between them. She presented the settlement agreement and two checks she wrote to plaintiff in accordance with the agreement. The plaintiff had cashed the checks. Ms. Bryant asserted the defense of accord and satisfaction. Plaintiff admitted entering into the agreement, but argued that it should be rescinded because of fraudulent inducement and concealment. Ms. Bryant died while the action was pending in the trial court. Her children, Rachel Bryant Ramsey and Nathan Bryant (defendants) were substituted for her. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, finding the settlement agreement valid and enforceable. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Greene County Court of Appeals 11/20/19
Ruby Diane Barron v. Bruce Joseph Barron
E2018-02257-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela Fleenor

Wife filed for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The trial court granted husband a divorce on the grounds of wife’s adultery and other inappropriate marital conduct. Despite the many factors found by the trial court to be favorable to husband, the court awarded husband only 43% of the net marital estate. It also awarded husband one year of transitional alimony at $2,000 per month. We hold that the trial court erred in its division of the net marital assets and in its determination as to the duration of the transitional alimony awarded to husband. We modify the trial court’s judgment so as to provide husband five years of transitional alimony. We hold that the Roth IRA is a marital asset; it is awarded to husband and wife in equal share. Furthermore, we hold that the FERS pension account is to be divided between the parties as set forth in this opinion. As modified, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/20/19
Donald Eugene Winder, III v. Kara Elizabeth Winder
E2019-01636-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Mark Stokes

This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B. Wife sought the trial judge’s recusal on the ground of bias, alleging, among other things, that her husband—an attorney—appeared regularly in front of the trial judge and that the two men were friends. The trial judge’s order denied wife’s allegations and their factual basis and denied the motion to recuse. Finding no evidence of bias that would require the trial judge’s recusal under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Meigs County Court of Appeals 11/18/19
In Re Deishun M. Et Al.
E2019-00777-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

Jessica T. (“Mother”) appeals the April 3, 2019 order of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court (“Juvenile Court”) terminating her parental rights to the minor children, Deishun M. and Olivia M. (“the Children”). Upon petition of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”), the Juvenile Court terminated Mother’s rights on the statutory grounds of severe child abuse and persistent conditions. The Juvenile Court further found that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Children. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/18/19
Mihir Kishorchandra Patel v. Janki Anil Patel
W2018-00820-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

The parties divorced after a thirteen year marriage in which the family was initially solely supported by Wife’s $40,000.00 per year income, but ending with Husband earning approximately $850,000.00 per year. The trial court found that long-term alimony was appropriate given Wife’s contribution to Husband’s earning capacity, her inability to achieve his earning capacity despite her efforts at education, and the parties’ relatively high standard of living during the marriage. Both parties take issue with the trial court’s alimony award. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court in all respects.

Madison County Court of Appeals 11/15/19
John Thomas Ammons v. William C. Longworth, Et Al.
E2018-01004-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Moyers

This appeal involves many attempts to secure repayment of a loan. After the most recent hearing, the trial court denied the plaintiff’s request to revisit the prior rulings. We affirm as modified.

Knox County Court of Appeals 11/14/19
In Re Estate of James Ronald Hunter
M2019-00084-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Randall Kennedy

The issue on appeal is whether a codicil to the decedent’s will was effective to revoke or amend two revocable trusts. Just hours prior to his death, the decedent got married and executed a fifth codicil to his will that purportedly devised two residential properties to his new wife. However, the decedent previously conveyed the properties to revocable trusts by deeds that were properly recorded. Therefore, the decedent did not own either of the properties at the time of his death. The principal beneficiary of each trust was the decedent’s minor son from a previous marriage. After the will and five codicils were admitted to probate, the court-appointed guardian ad litem for the decedent’s minor child filed a motion in the probate court to determine the ownership of the two properties. Following briefing of the parties and a hearing, the probate court determined that the method for amendment or revocation of the trusts as specified in the trusts was the exclusive method, and the fifth codicil failed to substantially comply with the method required by the trusts. Therefore, acting pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-15-602(c), which does not allow a codicil or any other method to revoke or amend a revocable trust if the terms provide an exclusive method, the court ruled that the codicil was ineffective to amend or revoke either trust. Accordingly, the properties were owned by and remained subject to the terms of each trust. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/13/19
In Re Travis R.
E2019-01024-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dennis Roach II

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed this petition to terminate the parental rights of a father to his seven-year-old son. The father was incarcerated for most of the child’s life, and he was serving a three-year sentence in New Jersey at the time of the final hearing. The mother surrendered her parental rights after the child was found dependent and neglected and placed in foster care. Although the father was scheduled to be released from prison, he had not seen the child in over five years. The trial court found that the father had abandoned the child by failing to visit during the four months before his incarceration and exhibiting a wanton disregard for the child’s welfare by engaging in criminal behavior. The trial court also found that the father’s conduct during the child’s life failed to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody and that placing the child in the father’s custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to the child. Moreover, the court found that terminating the father’s rights would be in the child’s best interests because there was no substantial relationship, and the father had no plans for employment or housing after his release. The father contends that the trial court’s findings did not constitute clear and convincing evidence that termination of his rights was in the child’s best interests. We find the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings of fact and affirm its conclusion that DCS proved its case by clear and convincing evidence.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 11/13/19
Anthony C. Howell v. Noel Ruth Kail Howell
W2019-00061-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

In this divorce case, Husband/Appellant appeals the trial court’s award of $30,000 in alimony in solido to Wife and its award of $30,000 for Wife’s attorney’s fees as additional alimony in solido. Discerning no errors, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/13/19
Rodney Kilgore v State of Tennessee
E2018-01790-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: William A. Young, Commissioner

This appeal arose from a claim filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission against the State of Tennessee (“the State”), seeking an award of damages for defamation allegedly committed by two attorneys employed by the State during the course of a separate federal litigation involving the claimant. The State filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the claimant filed, inter alia, a response objecting to the motion. Following a hearing, the Claims Commission dismissed the claim upon finding that the litigation privilege applied to protect the statements at issue and that the statements were not defamatory. The claimant has appealed. Having determined that the litigation privilege applies, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 11/13/19
MSM Development, LLC v. William Steward et al.
E2019-00441-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Frank V. Williams, III

A commercial tenant transferred its interest in a lease to two individuals through a document called an assignment. The rental term set forth in the lease was fourteen months longer than the rental term set forth in the assignment. The transferees only paid rent for the term set forth in the assignment, and the landlord filed a complaint in an effort to collect the rent for the additional fourteen months. The trial court concluded that the document transferring the initial tenant’s interest was a sublease rather than an assignment because the term in the assignment was shorter than the term set forth in the lease. The transferor appealed, and we reverse the trial court’s judgment because the assignment specified that in the event of a conflict between the lease and the assignment, the lease controlled.

Roane County Court of Appeals 11/13/19
In Re B.A., et al.
W2019-00129-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha B. Brasfield

Father appeals the termination of his parental rights to two children, B.A. and K.A. The trial court considered six grounds for termination: (1) persistent conditions, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3)(A); (2) severe child abuse, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4); (3) sentencing to more than two years for conduct against a child, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(5); (4) sentencing to ten years or more and child under eight years of age, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(6); (5) non-compliance with a permanency plan, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2); and (6) abandonment, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1). The court did not find sufficient evidence to support termination of father’s parental rights for abandonment. The court found clear and convincing evidence on the other five grounds. By the same quantum of proof, the court also found that termination is in the children’s best interest. Father appeals. We affirm.

McNairy County Court of Appeals 11/12/19
Johnny Nesmith v. Samuel C. Clemmons, Et Al.
M2017-02521-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley

Defendants appeal the judgment entered in favor of Plaintiff in this breach of contract action arising out of a failure to pay a promissory note.  Defendants argue that the trial court erred in several pretrial rulings, in concluding that the contract was ambiguous and considering parol evidence, in holding that the attorney that drafted the agreement represented Defendants and construing the ambiguous term against them, and in denying their motion to supplement the appellate record.  Upon our review, we discern no reversible error and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/07/19
Carl Wayne Hixson Et Al. v. American Towers, LLC
E2019-00335-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

Wayne Hixson and Eric Hixson (the Hixsons) granted a perpetual, exclusive easement to American Towers, LLC (ATC)1 to operate a telecommunications system at the top of a hill on their property. For many years, the hill experienced progressive slope failures. A recent mudslide caused thousands of dollars in property damage to the Hixsons and All Things Fast Motorsports, LLC (All Things Fast), a metal fabrication business owned by Wayne Hixson’s grandson. ATC spent thousands of dollars to move a generator away from the slope failure. The parties fear that the cell tower could collapse. In the trial court, the Hixsons and All Things Fast filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the parties’ respective maintenance responsibilities under the easement agreement. They also sought damages arising from ATC’s alleged breach of the easement agreement and other tortious conduct. ATC filed a counterclaim alleging similar causes of action. After a bench trial, the court ruled that ATC has a duty to maintain the easement and that the Hixsons have a duty to maintain the surrounding hillside for the benefit of ATC. Because the court found that the Hixsons and ATC were equally at fault for failing to prevent the recent mudslide, the court rejected their claims of negligence and breach of the easement agreement. However, the court awarded $1,245.20 to All Things Fast on its negligence claim. The court also awarded $179.99 to the Hixsons on their trespass claim. Finally, the court ordered the Hixsons and ATC to pay half of the costs necessary to stabilize the hill in accordance with the remediation plan proposed by the Hixsons. ATC appeals. We modify the trial court’s declaratory judgment, vacate the award of damages to All Things Fast, and remand for further proceedings. The judgment is affirmed in all other respects.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/07/19