Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/20/2014
Format: 12/20/2014
In Re: Christopher J.B.,Jr., et al.
E2014-00489-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry Michael Warner

This is a termination of parental rights case in which the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights to her three children. The trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of Mother’s parental rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to visit and provide support and failure to comply with the requirements contained in the permanency plans. The court further found that termination of her rights was in the best interest of the Children. Mother appeals. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 10/09/14
Randy Scott Lower v. Melanie Ewing Lower
M2013-02593-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

This post-divorce appeal concerns Mother’s request to relocate to Alabama with the Parties’ minor child. Father objected to the move and responded by filing a petition to modify the parenting plan in which he opposed Mother’s requested relocation and requested designation as the Child’s primary residential parent. Following a hearing, the trial court granted Mother’s request to relocate and revised the parenting plan to reflect the change in visitation as a result of the relocation. Father appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 10/08/14
Potter's Shopping Center, Inc. v. Joseph Szekely, et al.
M2014-00588-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Andrew R. Tillman

Appellants appeal from the trial court’s decision to grant partial summary judgment to the Appellee. After reviewing the record, we find that the trial court failed to state the legal grounds on which it was granting summary judgment as required by Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.04. Consequently, this Court cannot proceed with our review and must vacate the order at issue.

Fentress County Court of Appeals 10/08/14
Roger Jamal Myrick v. State of Tennessee, et al.
M2013-02352-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman

This appeal arises from a decision by the Davidson County Chancery Court dismissing inmate’s petition for declaratory judgment. Inmate was convicted of second degree murder and sought a declaratory order from the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) claiming he was eligible for parole and requesting a parole hearing date. The request was denied, so inmate filed a petition for declaratory judgment with the Davidson County Chancery Court, arguing that he was entitled to a parole hearing and mandatory parole pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-28-115(b)(1) and -117(b). The State filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim based on Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-501. The trial court granted the State’s motion, and this appeal followed. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/08/14
Bobby W. McEarl, et al. v. Talmo Johnson, et al.
W2014-00274-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny W. Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Butler

This appeal arises from a boundary line dispute. The parties contest the location of the common boundary line between their respective properties. Appellees argue that the boundary line lies at the center of the creek that runs between the parties’ properties. Appellants contend that the boundary lies on the creek’s east bank. Both sides proffered expert testimony to prove the boundary location. The trial court found Appellees’ expert credible. Based on the testimonies of Appellees’ expert and their predecessor in title, and the deeds submitted into evidence, the court determined that the boundary line was located along the centerline of the creek. The trial court also awarded damages to Appellees based on Appellants’ removal of timber from the disputed area. Appellants appeal. Because the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings, we affirm and remand.

Chester County Court of Appeals 10/08/14
G and N Restaurant Group, Inc. d/b/a City Cafe Diner v. City of Chattanooga
E2013-02617-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor W. Frank Brown, III

This action involves the constitutionality of a city ordinance regulating beer sales by establishments operating twenty-four hours a day. In June 2006, the defendant city amended its beer ordinance, which previously had required restaurants serving beer and other alcoholic beverages to serve no alcohol between the hours of 3:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. on weekdays and 3:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon on Sundays. Pursuant to the amended code section, no establishment remaining open for business of any type between the hours of 3:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. is permitted to simultaneously maintain a beer permit. The plaintiff restaurant is located within a hotel in Chattanooga and serves a wide variety of food items twenty-four hours a day. Upon its opening in 2004 and subsequent reopening in April 2006, pursuant to the unamended version of the city code, the restaurant served beer during the hours allowed. The restaurant continued to serve beer until it received a letter alleging a code violation from the Chattanooga Police Department in June 2011. Following a mandatory appearance before the Chattanooga Beer Board, the restaurant surrendered its beer permit. The restaurant brought this action in the trial court, alleging that the city code subsection at issue violated the restaurant’s substantive due process rights pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and article 1, section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution. The trial court ruled in favor of the city, finding, inter alia, that the code subsection was rationally related to a legitimate government interest. The restaurant appeals. Because we determine that the code subsection is not rationally related to a legitimate government interest, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and grant the restaurant’s request for a judgment declaring the subsection to be constitutionally invalid. We remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/08/14
Tommy Williams, et al. v. Adrain Armitage, et al.
E2014-01479-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey F. Stewart

This is an appeal from an order resolving the claim for damages made by the appellee, Tommy Williams, in the Original Complaint. However, the order did not resolve the counterclaim filed by the appellant, Adrian A. Armitage, and Albert L. Armitrage. Because the order appealed from does not resolve all claims raised in the proceedings below, we dismiss this appeal for lack of a final judgment.

Rhea County Court of Appeals 10/07/14
Steven B. Stubblefield v. Tennessee Department of Health, et al.
M2013-02239-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

A physician was charged with failing to report a reckless driving conviction on his medical license renewal application. Following a contested case hearing before an administrative agency, the physician’s medical license was placed on probation for five years. The physician sought judicial review, arguing the agency’s sanction was disproportionate to what he represented was merely a mistake. The trial court affirmed the agency’s decision, and the physician appealed. We affirm the trial court’s decision.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/06/14
John C. Wells, III v. Tennessee Board of Probation And Parole
M2013-02613-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman

This appeal arises from a decision by the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole (“the Board”) to deny inmate parole at his initial parole review hearing. Inmate was convicted of nine counts of aggravated sexual battery and was denied parole due to the seriousness of his crimes and the likelihood thathe would commit similar crimes again if released. Inmate filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, arguing that the Board exceeded its jurisdiction, was illegally comprised, and acted arbitrarily and capriciously. The trial court dismissed the petition with prejudice, and this appeal followed. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/06/14
Kathryn A. Duke v. Harold W. Duke, III
M2013-00624-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This case involves the modification of a parenting plan. The trial court reduced Father’s time with the parties’ children to four hours of supervised time every other weekend. The trial court so limited the Father’s parenting time as a result of his intentional interference with the children’s relationship with Mother. Father appeals the trial court’s modification of the parenting schedule. In addition, he claims the trial court erred by: (1) limiting Father’s communication with the children; (2) refusing Father’s request to retain an expert to rebut testimony by an expert Mother and Father initially agreed would provide a recommendation about parenting time; (3) excluding certain portions of his treating physician’s testimony; (4) requiring the children to continue counseling sessions with a psychologist; (5) terminating Father’s participation in educational decisions for the children; (6) instituting a permanent injunction against Father; (7) finding Father guilty of six counts of criminal contempt; (8) finding Father in civil contempt; (9) denying Father’s requests to reopen the proof to present newly discovered evidence; and (10) awarding Mother $678,933.05 in attorneys’ fees and discretionary costs. We reverse the judgment of the trial court finding Father in civil contempt. We affirm the judgment in all other respects.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/03/14
Jay Jernigan, et al v. Charles K. Hunter, et al
M2013-01860-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Jduge Hamilton Gayden, Jr.

The parents of the decedent brought this wrongful death action against the individual who pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter of the decedent in a separate criminal proceeding. Following a bench trial, the trial court found the defendant directly and intentionally contributed to the wrongful death of the decedent, and entered judgment against the defendant in the amount of $250,000. The defendant raises numerous issues on appeal. Finding no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
In Re: Grace Y.
M2013-02734-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy Brock

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights to his five-year-old daughter. In 2010, the daughter was adjudicated dependent and neglected due to her parents’ substance abuse, and she was placed in the custody of her paternal grandmother and stepgrandfather. In 2013, these same grandparents filed a petition, as prospective adoptive parents, seeking to terminate the father’s parental rights on the statutory ground of persistent conditions. The trial court found that the ground of persistent conditions had been proven by clear and convincing evidence, and it also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. The father appeals. We affirm.
 

Coffee County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
The Tennessean, et al. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville And Davidson County, et al. - Dissent
M2014-00524-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

The Court’s decision in this case excepts materials that are “relevant to a pending or contemplated criminal action” from disclosure under the Public Records Act based upon Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(2). I find such a conclusion inconsistent with a fair reading of Rule 16(a)(2) and, therefore, respectfully dissent. However, because the trial court should have considered the victim’s rights, the criminal defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution,and the State’s interests in a fair trial before determining what materials were subject to public inspection, I would vacate the trial court’s ruling and remand for further proceedings.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
The Tennessean, et al. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville And Davidson County, et al.
M2014-00524-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Various media outlets made request under the Tennessee Public Records Act for access to records accumulated and maintained by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department in the course of its investigation and prosecution of an alleged rape in a campus dormitory. When the request was refused, the outlets a filed petition in Chancery Court in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 10-7-505; the State of Tennessee, District Attorney General and alleged victim were permitted to intervene. The court held the required show cause hearing and, following an in camera inspection, granted petitioners access to four categories of records and documents. Petitioners, as well as the Metropolitan Government and Intervenors appeal, raising numerous and various statutory and constitutional issues. We have determined that the records sought are currently exempt from disclosure due to the continuing police investigation and pending prosecution; accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Chancery Court and dismiss the petition.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
In Re Jayden G.
W2014-00881-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daniel L. Smith

In this termination of parental rights case, Mother appeals not only the trial court’s findings of severe child abuse and persistent conditions as the grounds for termination, but also the trial court’s conclusion that termination was in the child’s best interest. We affirm the trial court’s finding of severe abuse, but reverse the trial court’s finding that clear and convincing evidence exists to prove the persistence of conditions. We also affirm the trial court’s finding that termination is in the child’s best interest, and therefore, affirm the termination of the Mother’s parental rights.

Hardin County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr. v. Shelby County Election Commission - Concurring/Dissenting
W2013-02076-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenny W, Armstrong

I fully concur with the result reached in this matter and, specifically, the determination that the election was not invalid, that a new election is not required, and that Mr. Woods is the winner in the 2012 District 4 election to the Shelby County School Board.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr. v. Shelby County Election Commission
W2013-02076-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenny W. Armstrong

This is an election contest case between the declared winner of a school board race in Shelby County and an unsuccessful candidate. The trial court invalidated the election on the ground that there was “clear uncertainty about the election outcome.” On appeal, the declared winner of the race argues: (1) the unsuccessful candidate has no standing to prosecute his election contest; (2) the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the case pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 5-1-111(a); and (3) the trial court erred in invalidating the election pursuant to Emery v. Robertson County Election Commission, 586 S.W.2d 103 (Tenn. 1979). We hold that the unsuccessful candidate maintains standing to prosecute this appeal, and that his claim is not moot. Additionally, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the declared winner of the race’s motion to dismiss, but reverse as to the trial court’s judgment declaring the election invalid and ordering a new election. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
In Re K.N.B., et al
E2014-00191-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark Toohey

R.H.R. (“Father”) appeals the trial court’s judgment terminating his parental rights to his daughter, K.N.B., and to another child, S.M.J. (collectively “the Children”). Father is the putative biological father of S.M.J. The Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) removed the Children and two half-siblings from their mother’s home and placed them in protective custody after police discovered them living in deplorable conditions. They were placed in foster care and subsequently adjudicated dependent and neglected. A year and a half later, DCS filed a petition to terminate parental rights. After a bench 1 trial, the court terminated Father’s parental rights to K.N.B. based on the court’s finding that abandonment grounds were proven by clear and convincing evidence. As to S.M.J., the court terminated Father’s rights based upon his failure to establish paternity. The trial court further found, also by clear and convincing evidence, that termination is in the best interest of the Children. Father appeals.2 He argues, with respect to S.M.J., that the evidence is insufficient. With respect to K.N.B., he asserts that he was incarcerated during a portion of the four-month period immediately preceding the filing of the petition to terminate and, consequently, DCS and the trial court erred in relying upon that four-month period in assessing the grounds of willful failure to visit and willful failure to support. He does not contest the trial court’s best-interest determination. We affirm as to the child S.M.J. and reverse as to K.N.B.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
MSK Construction, Inc. v. Mayse Construction Company
E2014-00139-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This is a breach of an oral contract action in which MSK filed suit against Mayse for failure to pay for the use of equipment and fuel used to fulfill a construction contract between Mayse and the City of Athens. Mayse denied liability. Following a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of MSK and awarded damages in the amount of $44,386.37 and prejudgment interest in the amount of $1231.39. Mayse appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
In Re: Tiara T., et al
M2014-00904-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

The trial court terminated Father’s parental rights to two children on the ground of abandonment by wilful failure to support and wilful failure to visit. Father appeals the termination of his parental rights stating that the evidence of wilful abandonment is not clear and convincing. Finding no error, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 09/29/14
Stephen Michael West, et al. v. Derrick D. Schofield, et al.
M2014-00320-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

This case asks us to interpret an exception to the Tennessee Public Records Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-504(h), to determine whether it creates a privilege protecting the identities of persons involved in carrying out a sentence of death from pretrial discovery. This question arises from litigation in which Appellees, who are death row inmates, challenge the constitutionality of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s Execution Procedures for Lethal Injection on various grounds. In prosecuting their case, Appellees requested the identities of certain John Doe Defendants involved in the execution process, but the State refused to produce this information. On a motion to compel, the trial court ordered the disclosure of the John Doe Defendants’ identities subject to an agreed protective order. We find the information sought by Appellees is relevant and is not privileged under Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-504(h). The decision of the trial court is affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/29/14
Amber L. Bilbrey v. Melissa Lynn Parks
E2013-02808-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This negligence case arises out of a car accident. Plaintiff Amber L. Bilbrey, while driving from Mayland to Monterey with her boyfriend and her aunt, ran out of gas. They turned around and tried to get the car back to Mayland by a combination of “running on fumes” and pushing the car. When they could push no longer, Bilbrey parked the car on the side of the road. Because there was a parallel ditch on the shoulder of the road, a part of the parked car extended into the roadway. Bilbrey stayed with the car while the others went for gas. The defendant, Melissa Lynn Parks, was driving toward Mayland and ran into the back of Bilbrey’s car, causing injury to both of them. After a five-day trial, the jury returned a verdict finding both Bilbrey and Parks to be 50% at fault. The trial court entered a judgment in accordance with the jury verdict. The issues raised on appeal are whether the trial court erred in admitting (1) the deposition testimony of Bilbrey’s boyfriend after the court found him “unavailable” because he was allegedly more than 100 miles from the courthouse, and (2) the testimony of a state trooper regarding the content of a voice message sent by Bilbrey to her boyfriend shortly before the accident. Finding no prejudicial error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 09/29/14
Leroy Stocklin, Jr. v. Karen R. Lord Et Al.
E2013-02320-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

Plaintiff Leroy Stocklin, Jr., served a non-wage garnishment on Carol Dean, in her capacity as executrix of her mother’s estate, in an attempt to reach the interest of an estate beneficiary, Karen R. Lord. Lord, who is Dean’s sister, is a $10,348 judgment debtor of Stocklin by virtue of a general sessions court judgment. Dean’s attorney acknowledged proper service of the garnishment and represented that it would be satisfied from Lord’s portion of the
estate. Dean failed to timely answer the garnishment as required by statute. She later filed an answer denying that she, as executrix, had in her possession or control any property, debts or effects belonging to Lord. Between (a) the date of service of the garnishment and (b) Dean’s answer, Dean distributed monies to Lord, as a portion of her inheritance, well in excess of the garnishment amount. The trial court entered judgment against Dean under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-7-112 (2012), which provides for a judgment against a garnishee “[i]f it appears that the garnishee . . . has property and effects of the defendant [debtor] subject to the attachment.” Dean appeals. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 09/29/14
Dennis Michael Christie v. Shannon Denise Christie
M2014-01647-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

In this post-divorce proceeding, Wife has filed an interlocutory appeal as of right pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B from the trial court’s denial of a motion for recusal. After reviewing Wife’s petition for recusal appeal de novo as required under Rule 10B, we summarily affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/26/14
Bringle Farms Partnership v. State of Tennessee
M2013-02278-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commisioner, Tenn. Claims Commission

This is a breach of contract case arising from a crop lease entered into between a farming entity and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (“the TWRA”). The five-year lease required the lessee to pay rent for the right to farm the land; however, the lessee would receive a credit provided he timely planted and harvested an agreed upon amount and type of waterfowl food crop to feed wildlife. The lessee would also receive a credit for providing agreed upon “in-kind services.” After the second year, the TWRA terminated the lease for, inter alia, non-payment of rent, failure to timely plant crops, and failure to remove trash. The lessee filed this claim alleging the TWRA wrongfully terminated the five-year lease with three years remaining for which it sought damages for lost profits. The TWRA counterclaimed for unpaid rent and damage to the property. The claims commission found the TWRA did not terminate the lease for cause; therefore, the lessee was entitled to seek damages for lost profits; however, the commission found the lessee failed to prove its damages. As for the TWRA’s counterclaims, the commission found the lease ambiguous regarding the payment of rent, and after considering parol evidence, it determined the parties intended the performance of in-kind services would reduce the rent to zero. Therefore, the commission denied the TWRA’s counterclaim for unpaid rent. As for damage to the property, the commission found the lessee damaged the property for which it awarded the TWRA $1,743.30. Both parties appealed. We have concluded the TWRA terminated the lease for cause due to material breaches by the lessee; therefore, the lessee is not entitled to damages.We have also concluded that the lease provision regarding rentand in-kind services is unambiguous and that the lessee failed to provide in-kind services sufficient to offset all of the rent that was owing; therefore, the TWRA is entitled to recover the balance owed on the rent. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Court of Appeals 09/26/14