Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 10/07/2015
Format: 10/07/2015
Angela Rose Kee Ezekiel v. David Ezekiel
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

This is an appeal of an award of alimony in futuro relative to a divorce. The trial court awarded Wife $250.00 in alimony in futuro until her retirement, and then $100.00 in alimony in futuro thereafter. We reverse the trial court‟s judgment and award Wife $43.00 in transitional alimony until her retirement, which alimony shall be modifiable upon a showing of a substantial and material change in circumstances.

Lauderdale County Court of Appeals 08/17/15
Brenda Benz-Elliott v. Barrett Enterprises, LP, et al
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

A property owner (“Seller”) who had 91 acres contracted to sell 5.01 acres to Buyers. The contract contained the condition that Buyers would reserve a 60-foot strip of land along the western edge for Seller and that Buyers would construct a road along the 60-foot stretch to enable Seller to access her property from the west. The closing on the property occurred in March 2005, seven months after the contract was signed, but the warranty deed did not carve out the 60-foot strip consistent with the contract. Seller did not realize the deed did not reserve the 60-foot strip until November 2007, when she went to see her attorney. She contacted Buyers’ attorney immediately in an effort to have the deed corrected. When that effort was not successful, she filed a complaint alleging breach of contract in September 2008, less than four years after the sale was closed. Buyers argued Seller was barred by waiver and estoppel from succeeding on her contract claim because she sat on her rights for years while Buyers constructed a new building and left no space for a road to be built along the western edge. The trial court disagreed and awarded Seller damages in the amount of $850,000. After the case was on appeal, the defendants had a road constructed that provided Seller access to her property, but it was in a different location than the contract contemplated. The case was remanded to the trial court for the consideration of these additional facts, and the trial court reduced its earlier damages award down to $650,000. The Buyers appealed the trial court’s judgment, arguing the trial court erred in ruling Seller was not barred by estoppel, waiver, or laches, from recovering on her breach of contract claim. Buyers also argue the trial court erred in its award of discretionary costs. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 08/14/15
Mid-South Maintenance Inc., et al. v. Paychex Inc., et al.
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This is an arbitration case, wherein plaintiffs and the defendant-signatory expressly agreed to arbitrate any disputes arising from the contract and further agreed that the contract would be governed by New York law. Plaintiffs later filed suit against the defendant-signatory, as well as one of the defendant‘s employees, who had not signed the arbitration agreement, for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and aiding and abetting conversion. Defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration on the ground that the plaintiff‘s claims were outside the scope of the arbitration agreement, citing Tennessee law. We hold that, pursuant to federal and New York law, because of the delegation clause contained in the arbitration agreement, the arbitrator is the proper tribunal to determine issues regarding the scope and unconscionability of the arbitration agreement. We also hold that because plaintiffs‘ claims against the non-signatory employee are intertwined with the claims against the signatory defendant, all disputes regarding the arbitrability of claims against the non-signatory employee must also be resolved by the arbitrator. Reversed and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/14/15
Paulette E. Dukes v. James F. Dukes
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Stella L. Hargrove

Husband and Wife were declared divorced in 2009; incorporated in the final decree of divorce was a Marital Dissolution Agreement containing a provision that required Husband to pay premiums on two life insurance policies, one which covered his life and named Wife as beneficiary and one on Wife’s life, naming him as beneficiary. In 2014 Husband cancelled the policy on his life because the premium had increased significantly. Wife filed a Petition for Contempt; after a hearing, the court held Husband in civil contempt and ordered him to obtain a $50,000 life insurance policy to replace the one he had cancelled. In the event he could not obtain such a policy, the court entered a $50,000 judgment against Husband and required him to make monthly payments on the judgment to the clerk of the court. Husband appeals. We affirm the judgment holding Husband in contempt and remand for entry of a supplemental order clarifying the conditions of the $50,000 judgment.

Lawrence County Court of Appeals 08/13/15
Tommy Burney Homes v. Wayne K. Francis
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

Plaintiff filed a detainer warrant to regain possession of property and for unpaid rent; the warrant was served upon the father of the purported lessee. The General Sessions Court initially entered a default judgment, allowing Plaintiff to regain possession of the property; several months later the court entered a default judgment for damages against the purported lessee. Eight years later Plaintiff sought to execute on the judgment by issuing a garnishment. The judgment debtor moved to quash the garnishment and to set aside the money judgment on the ground that there was no personal service on any defendant and that the money judgment had not been entered against the judgment debtor. The court granted the motion and held that the judgment was void; Plaintiff appealed to Circuit Court. After a hearing, the Circuit Court reinstated the money judgment; the lessee appeals. Holding that the lessee was not properly served for purposes of entry of a default judgment for money, we reverse the ruling of the Circuit Court and dismiss the case.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 08/12/15
Vicki Headrick Webb v. Max Sherrell et al.
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

Vicki Headrick Webb (“Plaintiff”) appeals the judgment of the Chancery Court for Sevier County (“the Trial Court”) in this suit involving title to real property and a boundary line dispute. We find and hold that Plaintiff has significantly failed to comply with Tenn. R. App. P. 27 rendering this Court unable to address any of Plaintiff's potential issues. We, therefore, affirm the Trial Court's judgment, find Plaintiff's appeal frivolous, and award the defendants damages for frivolous appeal. Defendants raise an issue on appeal regarding whether the Trial Court erred in refusing to award them discretionary costs. We find no abuse of discretion in the Trial Court's determination that “the circumstances and equities do not favor the award of discretionary costs . . . .” We, therefore, affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 08/12/15
In re Alleyanna C.
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

This is a termination of parental rights case, focusing on Allyanna C., the minor child (“the Child”) of Allen C. (“Father”) and Annaliza H. (“Mother”). The Child was taken into protective custody by the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (“DCS”) on July 27, 2011, upon its investigation of environmental dangers in Mother's home and subsequent determination that placement with Father was unsuitable. On April 16, 2014, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of both parents. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that statutory grounds existed to terminate the parental rights of both parents upon its finding by clear and convincing evidence that (1) the parents abandoned the Child by failing to provide a suitable home, (2) the parents failed to substantially comply with the reasonable responsibilities and requirements of the permanency plans, and (3) the conditions leading to the Child's removal from the home persisted. The court also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother's and Father's parental rights was in the Child's best interest. Father and Mother have each appealed. Because the statutory ground of abandonment through failure to provide a suitable home was not pled by DCS in the petition or defended on appeal, we reverse the trial court's finding on that ground as to both parents. We affirm the trial court's judgment in all other respects, including the termination of Mother's and Father's parental rights to the Child.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 08/10/15
Timothy A. Baxter v. State of Tennessee, et al.
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

This appeal arises from the trial court's grant of two motions to dismiss in favor of Appellees. With regard to the State of Tennessee, the trial court found that the State and its employees were immune from liability under the doctrines of sovereign immunity, judicial immunity, and prosecutorial immunity. With regard to Madison County, the trial court held that Appellant's complaint was time barred. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Madison County Court of Appeals 08/10/15
In re: Isaiah R.
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ben W. Hooper, II

This appeal arises from a dispute over the placement of the minor child Isaiah R. (“the Child”). The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) removed the Child from his parents’ custody and placed the Child in a foster home. Certain of the Child’s paternal relatives (“Respondents,” collectively) intervened in an effort to obtain custody of the Child and take him to California. The Circuit Court for Cocke County (“the Trial Court”) adjudicated the Child dependent and neglected, dismissed DCS from the action, and awarded legal and physical custody of the Child to the Child’s paternal great uncle. DCS appealed to this Court. We hold that the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (“the Compact”) applies in this case, that no exemptions to the Compact apply, and that the Trial Court erred in transferring custody of the Child to his great uncle in California without California’s approval. We further find that transferring the Child to California is not a proper disposition for the Child given certain troubling facts in the record. We reverse the judgment of the Trial Court.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 08/07/15
In re Conservatorship of Frank S. King, Jr.
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Timothy L. Easter

At issue in this conservatorship action is the amount and type of support the spouse of a ward is entitled to receive from the ward's estate pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 34-3-109, which authorizes the court to “establish the amount of financial support to which the spouse . . . [is] entitled.” The ward's son and step-son from a previous marriage filed a petition for the appointment of a conservator; the ward's wife opposed the conservatorship. A conservatorship was created, and the court appointed third-party conservators for the ward's estate and person. Thereafter, the wife requested over $19,250 per month as spousal support, which included attorney's fees she incurred in the trial court proceedings. At the court's request, she filed statements of her expenses over a twelve-month period preceding the appointment of the conservator. The petitioners opposed her request contending it was excessive and that her separate assets should be considered in awarding support. After excluding “outlier” expenses that were significantly larger than her average monthly expenses and the attorney's fees the wife sought to recover as miscellaneous expenses, the trial court awarded spousal support of $9,010 per month. Petitioners and the wife appeal. Petitioners contend the award was excessive. The wife contends the court erroneously excluded bona fide expenses including, particularly, the attorney's fees she incurred in these proceedings. We affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 08/06/15
Martin N. Lewis, et al. v. Michael D. Williams, et al.
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carma Dennis McGee

This appeal results from the trial court‘s entry of a default judgment. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Henry County Court of Appeals 08/06/15
In re The Conservatorship of Cody Lee Wade
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

The trial court approved Petitioners'/Conservators' petition to establish a Supplemental Needs Trust for their Ward but declined to approve a proposed remainder provision naming two charities as beneficiaries. The trial court ruled that any amounts remaining in the Trust when it terminated would be distributed under the laws of intestate succession. The trial court also excluded evidence offered by Petitioners to demonstrate what they asserted was the Ward's intent. We affirm, as modified.

Weakley County Court of Appeals 08/05/15
Frederick Michael Borman v. Larry Kevin Pyles-Borman
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell E. Simmons, Jr.

In this case a same-sex couple lawfully married in Iowa sought to obtain a divorce in Tennessee and raised a constitutional challenge to Tenn. Const. art. XI, § 18 and Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-113 (collectively “the Anti-Recognition Laws”). Tennessee‟s Attorney General was granted leave to intervene in the suit. After a hearing the Circuit Court for Roane County (“the Trial Court”) held, inter alia, that the Anti-Recognition Laws did not violate the United States Constitution. Frederick Michael Borman appealed to this Court. While the appeal was pending, the United States Supreme Court issued its Opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015) holding, inter alia, that a State may not refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State. We, therefore, reverse the Trial Court's judgment.

Roane County Court of Appeals 08/04/15
Patricia Ross v. Robert T. Stooksbury, Jr.
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David R. Duggan

Robert T. Stooksbury, Jr. (the creditor) obtained a judgment in federal district court against, among others, Rebecca Ross Jordan, the daughter of Patricia Ross, the plaintiff in the case now before us. The creditor then attempted, in federal court, to garnish the funds in three bank accounts jointly held by Jordan and plaintiff. Plaintiff argued to the federal court that the funds should not be subject to garnishment because, according to her, they were solely owned by plaintiff. The federal district court, applying Tenn. Code Ann. § 45-2-703(a) (2007), held that the “applicable statutory authority directs that the moneys deposited into the account[s] owned by both Ms. Ross and Ms. Rebecca Ross Jordan are subject to the claims of creditors of either depositor . . .” and, consequently, the federal court allowed execution on and garnishment of the funds. The federal court later ordered, without objection by plaintiff, disbursement of the funds to the creditor. Plaintiff then brought this action under Tenn. Code Ann. § 45-2-703(a), which provides in pertinent part that “any other depositor not indebted to the creditor may, by commencing a separate action against the creditor, establish the rights that the depositor may have in the funds.” The creditor in the case now before us filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that plaintiff’s claim was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The trial court agreed and dismissed plaintiff’s action. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Blount County Court of Appeals 07/31/15
Quentin Elliott Lawrence v. Jessica Marcel Broadnax
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Neil Thomas, III

This post-divorce appeal concerns the mother's notice of intent to relocate with the parties' minor child. The father responded by filing a petition in opposition to the requested relocation. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the father's petition. The mother appeals. We reverse the order of the trial court and remand for further proceedings regarding the best interest of the minor child.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 07/31/15
In re Serenity L.
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge James A. Nidiffer

Christina L. ("Mother") and Ian C. ("Father") appeal the termination of their parental rights to the minor child Serenity L. ("the Child"). We find and hold that the Juvenile Court for Washington County ("the Juvenile Court") did not err in finding that clear and convincing evidence existed of grounds to terminate Mother‘s parental rights pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1) and § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i) for abandonment by willful failure to visit and by willful failure to support and § 36-1-113(1)(A)(iv) for wanton disregard; and to terminate Father‘s parental rights pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1) and § 36-1-102(1)(A)(iv) for wanton disregard and § 36-1-113(g)(9) for failure to manifest the ability and willingness to assume custody, risk of substantial harm, and failure to establish paternity. We further find and hold that the Juvenile Court did not err in finding that clear and convincing evidence existed that it was in the Child‘s best interest for Mother‘s and Father‘s parental rights to be terminated. We, therefore, affirm the termination of Mother‘s and Father‘s parental rights to the Child.

Washington County Court of Appeals 07/31/15
In re Conservatorship of Scott D. Melton
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William Everett Lantrip

In this conservatorship case, East Tennessee Human Resources Agency was appointed as the financial conservator for the ward. The first annual accounting was approved by all parties. The trial court approved the second annual accounting and the subsequent final accounting following the ward's death. The ward's daughter objected and filed numerous other motions challenging the handling of the ward's finances. The trial court denied each motion and closed the conservatorship. The daughter appeals. We affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 07/31/15
Elizabeth E. Crockett v. Mutual Of Omaha, et al.
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This appeal arises from the dismissal of a complaint filed by a pro se litigant.  The complaint sought injunctive and declaratory relief against several banks and a corporation, alleging that the banks and the corporation colluded to foreclose on her property. The trial court, after giving the complainant several opportunities to amend, dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.  We affirm the dismissal of the complaint.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/30/15
Katja Ute (Franz) Buchanan v. Steven James Larry Buchanan
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

Mother, a German citizen, married Father while he was stationed in Germany with the United States Army.  The two moved to the United States, had one child, and were divorced.  Approximately five years after being divorced, Mother sent Father a letter notifying him of her intention to relocate to Germany with the child.  Father responded with a letter expressing his opposition to the child’s relocation and subsequently filed a petition opposing relocation; the petition was filed outside the 30-day time period set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108.  Mother moved to dismiss Father’s petition for failure to file it within 30 days of receipt of the notice of proposed relocation; the motion was denied, and after a hearing on Father’s petition, the court found that Mother’s motive for moving was vindictive and that she had no reasonable purpose in relocating.  Finding that the petition opposing Mother’s relocation should have been dismissed, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 07/30/15
A-1 Waste, LLC v. Madison County Municipal Solid Waste Planning Region Board, et al.
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle

The Madison County solid waste planning region board rejected an application, submitted on behalf of A-1 Waste, LLC, to construct a solid waste landfill.  In light of the rejection, the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation declined to issue the landfill permit.  A-1 Waste appealed the region board’s rejection to the Chancery Court for Davidson County.  A-1 Waste also requested review of the Commissioner’s action by the Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Control Board.  The chancery court stayed A-1 Waste’s appeal pending the outcome of the control board’s review.  The control board reversed the region board and ordered that the permit be granted.  The region board subsequently petitioned the chancery court for review of the control board’s decision.  The chancery court consolidated A-1 Waste’s appeal with the appeal filed by the region board and a third action filed by a group of concerned citizens.  Following a hearing, the chancery court reversed the control board’s decision and the issuance of the permit.  On appeal,   A-1 Waste claims the trial court applied an incorrect standard of review to the region board’s decision and that the decision was properly reversed by the control board.  A-1 Waste also claims that the group of concerned citizens lacked standing to seek judicial review of the control board’s decision.  We conclude that the control board lacked authority to review the region board’s decision and that the region board properly rejected the permit application.  We also conclude the concerned citizens had standing to appeal the control board’s decision.  Therefore, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/30/15
David Solima v. Stephanie Solima
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

Mother, the primary residential parent, filed a petition seeking permission to relocate to Texas with the parties’ minor son. Father opposed Mother’s petition and filed a separate petition to be designated the primary residential parent. One week before trial, Mother notified the court that her petition to relocate was moot because she no longer needed to relocate; the trial proceeded on Father’s petition. Following trial, the court did not name Father the primary residential parent but increased Father’s residential parenting time. The trial court also modified child support by imputing additional income to Father upon a finding his current income was “significantly less than . . . his ability to earn,” and decreasing Mother’s because she recently lost her job and was unemployed as of the trial. Father appealed, contending that the trial court erred by failing to designate him as the primary residential parent. He also contends the court erred in modifying child support based on imputed income above his salary, and a finding that Mother’s ability to earn had diminished. Mother did not allege that Father was voluntarily or willfully underemployed; therefore, Father was not put on notice the issue would be tried. Furthermore, because the issue was not tried by consent, the court erred in imputing income to Father. Accordingly, we reverse the imputation of additional income to Father and remand the issue of child support. We affirm the trial court in all other respects.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 07/30/15
Anthony Travis Richards v. Veronica Denise Richards
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Frank V. Williams, III

Anthony Travis Richards (Husband), who was incarcerated in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction, filed this divorce action against Veronica Denise Richards (Wife). Husband also filed a “motion for leave of court to appear by means of video communications technology or, in the alternative, by telephone in lieu of personal attandence” in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-809 (2014). The trial court did not address Husband’s motion. Rather, the court entered an order dismissing Husband’s complaint predicated on his failure to appear and prosecute the action. We hold that the trial court committed prejudicial error by dismissing Husband’s action without first considering his pending motion. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Roane County Court of Appeals 07/30/15
Patricia Bazemore v. Performance Food Group, Inc. et al.
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

Patricia Bazemore brought this action against her former employer, Performance Food Group, Inc. (PFG) and Barry Pearson, a former employee of PFG. Ms. Bazemore claimed that, while she and Mr. Pearson were working for PFG, she was subjected to a pattern of unwanted sexual harassment by him – conduct that she alleges created a hostile work environment in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA). As a result of the unwanted sexual harassment, Ms. Bazemore also alleged constructive discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision and retention.1 PFG subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that no genuine issue of material fact exists in support of Ms. Bazemore’s claims against PFG as an entity. The trial court ultimately granted PFG’s motion for summary judgment after finding (1) no evidence of a hostile work environment; (2) facts indicating that PFG took reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment from occurring; (3) proof that PFG’s response to Ms. Bazemore’s complaint was objectively reasonable; (4) insufficient evidence to support the claims of either intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (5) no proof of negligent retention and supervision by PFG. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 07/30/15
In re C.A.F., et al.
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge William B. Hawkins

The Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) and the Guardian ad Litem both filed petitions in the Juvenile Court for Johnson County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of D.A.F. (“Father”) and J.D.F. (“Mother”) to four of their minor children: C.A.F., born 08/06; J.A.F., born 01/08; C.R.F., born 01/09; and, S.R.F., born 09/11 (“the Children,” collectively). The ground alleged was severe child abuse, of a sexual nature. After a trial, the Juvenile Court found that clear and convincing evidence established the ground of severe child abuse and that termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Mother and Father appeal the termination of their parental rights, arguing, in part, that the ground of severe abuse must be overturned because no medical exam was conducted on the Children. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

Johnson County Court of Appeals 07/29/15
John S. Taylor v. Timothy L. Cloud
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge:

In this action seeking to enforce a judgment lien against the debtor‘s real property, the debtor claimed that he was not properly served with process in the underlying lawsuit wherein the judgment was entered. The trial court granted summary judgment to the creditor, and the debtor appealed. We affirm the trial court‘s grant of summary judgment based on the validity of the underlying judgment, determining that such judgment was not void on its face and thus not subject to collateral attack. We reverse the issue of whether the creditor should have been granted an award of attorney‘s fees at trial pursuant to the parties‘ fee agreement and remand for specific findings by the trial court. We decline to award attorney‘s fees to the creditor incurred in defending this appeal.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 07/29/15