Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 03/30/2017
Format: 03/30/2017
Shirley M. Lurks, et al. v. The City of Newbern, Tennessee, et al.
W2016-01532-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

This is a premises liability case filed pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Appellant was walking down a sidewalk when she fell and sustained injuries. She and her husband brought suit alleging that she fell because the sidewalk was in a dangerous and defective condition due to the negligence of the City of Newbern. After a bench trial, the trial court found that the sidewalk in question was in a defective condition and that the upkeep of the sidewalk was the responsibility of the City of Newbern. However, the plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence that the sidewalk was the cause of the fall. The trial court issued a memorandum opinion and final judgment order dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims. We affirm.

Dyer County Court of Appeals 01/26/17
Clear Water Partners, LLC v. Charles e. Benson, et al.
E2016-00442-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

A purchaser of property filed a complaint against numerous individuals asserting intentional interference with its business relationships and tortious interference with its contracts based on the individuals' alleged misconduct aimed at preventing the development of the property the purchaser was attempting to acquire. The defendants filed motions to dismiss based on Tennessee Rules of Procedure 10.03 and 12.02(6), which the trial court granted. The trial court also awarded the defendants their attorneys' fees pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-21-1003(c). The plaintiff appealed, and we find the plaintiff properly stated a claim for tortious interference with business relationships and civil conspiracy; the plaintiff did not state a claim for tortious interference with contracts; and the defendants are not entitled to an award of their attorneys' fees at this stage of the proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/26/17
Timothy Parker, et al v. James Mark Parker, et al
M2016-00528-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

This appeal arises from a will contest. The witnesses to the will failed to sign the body of the will, but they signed the self-proving affidavit in the presence of the testator. After the will was admitted to probate in common form, the contestants filed a complaint challenging the validity of the will. The contestants later filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the decedent did not comply with the execution requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104, because the witnesses did not sign the body of the will. The trial court granted the motion based on In re Estate of Bill Morris, No. M2014-00874-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 557970 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2015), holding that a will is not validly executed if the witnesses sign only the self-proving affidavit. The executor appealed. While this appeal was pending, the General Assembly passed an amendment to Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104, which states that wills executed prior to July 1, 2006, satisfy Tennessee’s due execution requirements if the witnesses to the will signed the self-proving affidavit. In this appeal, both parties ask this Court to determine whether the newly enacted amendment applies and, if so, whether it comports with Tennessee’s constitutional prohibition against retrospective laws. But for a few exceptions, we will not consider issues the parties did not present to the trial court. Because the General Assembly enacted this amendment while this appeal was pending, the trial court has not had the opportunity to consider these issues. In order to afford the trial court that opportunity, we vacate the judgment declaring the will invalid. Further, we remand to the trial court with instructions to reinstate the petition to admit the will to probate and to reinstate the amended complaint challenging the will, which will give the parties the opportunity to present these issues to the trial court.

Bedford County Court of Appeals 01/26/17
Stephanie N. Potts v. Tony Conatser
M2015-02351-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

Father appeals the modification of a parenting plan, which changed the designation of primary residential parent to Mother and decreased Father’s parenting time. We vacate the judgment and remand the case for entry of factual findings in accordance with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 01/26/17
Pinnacle Towers Acquisition, LLC, et al. v. Boris Penchion, et al.
W2016-00390-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

A landowner granted a perpetual easement over a portion of her real property to a telecommunications tower company. According to the contracting parties’ agreement, the landowner agreed to have the property subject to the easement (“Easement Property”) separately assessed for real property taxes so that the tax obligations could be paid by the company. After the landowner’s real property was separately assessed as two tax parcels, the company timely paid all real property taxes due on the Easement Property, but the landowner failed to pay real property taxes on the remainder of the tract. As a result, the larger parcel was sold to the county at a tax sale and later transferred to a third-party purchaser. Said purchaser thereafter refused to allow the telecommunications company access to the Easement Property. The company filed the instant action, seeking to have its easement declared valid and requesting an injunction to prevent the third-party purchaser from interfering with the easement. The company subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted, determining that the easement was valid but declaring the third-party purchaser to be the owner of the Easement Property. The third-party purchaser timely appealed. Determining the underlying tax sale to be invalid, we vacate the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the company and remand this matter for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/25/17
In re S.P. et al.
M2016-00708-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

In this termination of parental rights case, the Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the rights of S.J.C.P. (Mother) with respect to her children, S.D.P. and C.D.P. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of four grounds supporting termination. By the same quantum of proof, the trial court held that termination of Mother’s rights is in the best interest of the children. Mother appeals. We modify the trial court’s judgment. As modified, the judgment is affirmed.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 01/25/17
In Re A. B., et al.
M2016-01286-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones

Father and stepmother petitioned to terminate the parental rights of mother to her two children. We have determined that the petitioners proved by clear and convincing evidence that mother’s actions prior to her incarceration exhibited wanton disregard for the welfare of the children and that it is in the best interest of the children for mother’s parental rights to be terminated.

Maury County Court of Appeals 01/24/17
Concord Enterprises Of Knoxville, Inc. v. Commissioner Of Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development
M2016-00118-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal arises from a determination by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“the Department”) that Concord Enterprises of Knoxville, Inc. (“Concord”), a pet grooming business, misclassified certain employees as independent contractors from 2006 through 2011 and, therefore, was liable for unpaid unemployment taxes from that period. Following a hearing, the Appeals Tribunal concluded that unemployment taxes were due, a decision affirmed by the Commissioner’s Designee. Concord petitioned for judicial review. The Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) affirmed the decision of the Commissioner’s Designee and dismissed Concord’s petition. Concord appeals to this Court. We find, inter alia, that the pet groomers at issue both performed their service at Concord’s place of business and performed pet grooming service that fell squarely within Concord’s course of usual business. Evidence both substantial and material supports the agency’s determination. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/20/17
Moore & Associates Memphis LLC v. Greystone Homeowners Association Inc.
W2016-00721-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This appeal involves the interpretation of a declaration of covenants for a homeowners’ association. Appellant, the homeowners’ association, filed liens on lots owned by Appellee for nonpayment of association fees. Appellee brought suit to quiet title and for damages for slander of title. The trial court dismissed the slander of title claim and interpreted the declaration of covenants to exempt Appellee from the payment of association fees. The trial court removed the liens filed against Appellee’s lots, but assessed no monetary damages against Appellant. Appellant appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/20/17
Roberta Piper, For Herself As Spouse And Widow Of Merle Piper, Deceased v. Cumberland Medical Center et al.
E2016-00532-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy Hollars

The plaintiff filed this health care liability action on behalf of herself and her deceased husband, alleging that his death was caused by the negligent care he received from the defendant hospital and physicians. The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff's claims because she failed to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(2)(D) and (E). The trial court granted the motions and dismissed the plaintiff's claims. The plaintiff has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court's judgment of dismissal

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 01/20/17
Fredonia Mountain Nature Homeowners Associations, Inc. v. David Anderson, et al
M2016-01021-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey F. Stewart

This is an appeal from the denial of Appellant’s Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 motion for relief from judgment. On August 17, 2015, the trial court entered an order allowing Appellants’ counsel to withdraw. The order also provided Appellants thirty days to retain new counsel. Approximately one week after the order was entered, the case came up on a regularly scheduled docket call and was set for trial in November 2015. Although notice of the trial setting was sent to Appellants, they allege they never received it. The trial was held in the absence of Appellants, and a judgment was entered against them. Two months after the judgment was entered, Appellants filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 60 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The trial court denied Appellants’ motion finding that there was no inadvertence, surprise or mistake that would justify the relief sought. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Sequatchie County Court of Appeals 01/19/17
Brandon Barnes v. U.S. Bank National Association
M2016-00980-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

A musician/composer borrowed money from a bank and assigned performance royalties as collateral. He later filed for bankruptcy, and his debt to the bank was discharged. The bank, however, continued to collect royalties during the pendency of the bankruptcy case. The musician/composer filed suit against the bank seeking recovery of the royalties collected by the bank after the filing of the bankruptcy petition based on theories of unjust enrichment and conversion. The musician/composer also sought damages from the bank for violation of the automatic stay of 11 U.S.C. § 362. The bank moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The trial court granted the motion. Because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claims, we vacate the decision of the trial court.      

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/18/17
Brittany Noel Nelson, et al v. Charles W. Myres, et al.
M2015-01857-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

A woman died in a multi-vehicle accident. Two wrongful death actions were filed, one by the woman’s daughter, the other by the woman’s husband. The daughter’s suit named the husband and others as defendants. The husband’s suit named one of the other drivers as the only defendant. The trial court dismissed the daughter’s complaint, holding that Tennessee’s wrongful death statute creates only one cause of action and that the husband, as the surviving spouse, was granted priority to prosecute the action under the statute. The daughter appeals the dismissal of her complaint. Because the husband is unable to name himself as a defendant in the suit he has filed, he is not able to prosecute the wrongful death action in a manner consistent with the right of the decedent to sue all wrongdoers whose actions are alleged to have led to her death; accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court dismissing the daughter’s complaint, reinstate the complaint, and remand the case for further proceedings.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/18/17
Kelly D. Bush, et al v. Commerce Union Bank D/B/A Reliant Bank
M2016-00100-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James G. Martin

Kelly D. Bush and Byron V. Bush, DDS (“the Bushes”) appeal the December 7, 2015 order of the Chancery Court for Williamson County (“the Trial Court”) dismissing their suit against Commerce Union Bank d/b/a Reliant Bank (“Reliant”). We find and hold that the doctrine of prior suit pending applies to this case, and therefore, the Trial Court correctly dismissed this suit. We affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 01/18/17
In Re: Maddox P.
M2016-00569-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry R. Brown

This appeal arises from a dispute over a residential parenting schedule. Joshua Parker (“Father”) filed a petition against Anna Marsh (“Mother”) in the Juvenile Court for Sumner County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to modify the parenting plan regarding their minor child, Maddox (“the Child”). Mother filed a counter-petition. After a hearing, the Juvenile Court made certain modifications to the existing parenting plan but otherwise left it in place. Mother appeals to this Court, arguing in part that the Juvenile Court should have established specific days each month that Father may exercise visitation with the Child. Father, an airline pilot, has a shifting work schedule. We hold that Mother’s requested schedule would have the practical effect of unduly limiting the Child’s time with Father and that the Juvenile Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother’s requested modification. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court in its entirety.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/17/17
David W. Anderson v. Edward Poltorak, et al
M2015-02512-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This appeal arises from a civil action in which the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident. Defendants appeal contending the trial court committed reversible error by limiting their impeachment of Plaintiff regarding three felony convictions. After applying the balancing test under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 403 to determine if the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, the trial court allowed Defendants “to question the plaintiff about whether he has been convicted of three felonies” but barred any questions about “the details regarding the nature of the convictions, types of convictions or the facts and circumstances surrounding the convictions.” The dispositive issue is whether a party to a civil action has an absolute right under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 609 to impeach a witness with evidence of prior felony convictions including the details regarding the nature of his convictions, the types of convictions, or the facts and circumstances surrounding the convictions. Defendants contend the evidence was admissible as a matter of right under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 609; therefore, the trial court did not have the discretion to conduct a balancing test under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 403. Having determined that the trial judge had the discretion to conduct a balancing test under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 403 and that the court did not abuse its discretion in limiting the scope of Defendants’ impeachment of Plaintiff, we affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/17/17
Jerry Holmes v. City of Memphis Civil Service Commission
W2016-00590-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

An employee of the Memphis Fire Department was terminated following his involvement in a physical altercation in which he struck a business associate in the face with a hammer. The City of Memphis Civil Service Commission upheld the termination, and the employee filed a petition for judicial review. The chancery court reversed the termination, holding that the Civil Service Commission erred in not allowing the employee the benefit of Tennessee’s self-defense statute, in excluding certain evidence of disparate treatment, and in entering a decision not supported by substantial and material evidence. Having reviewed the record, we reverse the judgment of the chancery court in all respects and remand the case for such further proceedings as are necessary and consistent with this opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/13/17
In re Cameron H.
E2016-01002-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

The Final Order of Parentage and Adoption in this case reserved the issue of attorney’s fees for further hearing. As such, it is clear that the order appealed from does not resolve all of the issues raised in the proceedings below. As a result, we lack jurisdiction to consider this appeal. 

Polk County Court of Appeals 01/13/17
Hobbs Purnell Oil Company, Inc., et al v. Thomas Butler, et al
M2016-00289-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge David L. Allen

This contract action was initiated by the plaintiff oil company, Hobbs Purnell Oil Company, Inc. (“Hobbs Purnell”), alleging that the defendants, Gedith Butler and Thomas Butler, individually and d/b/a GG’s Market (collectively, “the Butlers”), breached their contract with Hobbs Purnell by failing to pay three invoices for fuel, which had been provided to the Butlers on a consignment basis. The Butlers filed a counterclaim against Hobbs Purnell and a third-party complaint against the president of the oil company, Tommy Porter. Prior to trial, the trial court granted Hobbs Purnell’s motion in limine and excluded all invoices that were not listed in the Butlers’ discovery response. At trial, the Butlers chose to proceed in the action pro se following the trial court’s grant of their previous counsel’s motion for withdrawal. During a bench trial, the trial court excluded the testimony of the Butlers’ expert witness upon finding that they had failed to qualify him as an expert. Ultimately, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Hobbs Purnell and against the Butlers in the amount of $46,135.93, which included $27,059.10 for the three unpaid invoices plus prejudgment interest in the amount of $19,076.83. The trial court dismissed the Butlers’ counterclaim and third-party complaint. The Butlers thereafter filed two pleadings that were treated collectively by the trial court as a motion for new trial, alleging that the trial judge had violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The trial court denied the motion for new trial. The Butlers have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Lawrence County Court of Appeals 01/12/17
Josephine Phelps, et al v. Vern Benke, Jr.
M2015-02212-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

The appellants Josephine Phelps and Roy Smith (the “Appellants”) filed suit to assert rights to a tract of real property by adverse possession. On appeal, they claim that the trial court erred in concluding that they have no possessory rights to the land at issue. In part, they argue that the appellee’s counterclaim for ejectment was untimely because it was not filed within seven years of the beginning of their adverse possession. We disagree and conclude that the trial court was correct in ordering the Appellants to vacate the disputed property. The Appellants’ petition for adverse possession was filed before they had adversely possessed the property for a total of seven years. Moreover, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-114, the appellee’s counterclaim for ejectment related back to the filing of the Appellants’ original petition. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/11/17
In re A.B. et al.
E2016-00504-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry M. Warner

This is a termination of parental rights case. On December 17, 2014, the Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of M.L.F. (Mother) and H.W.B. (Father) with respect to their two children, A.M.B. (Child 1) and O.R.F. (Child 2) (collectively the Children). As to Mother, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence of three grounds supporting termination – abandonment by failure to establish a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, and persistence of conditions. By the same quantum of proof, the trial court found that termination of Mother’s rights is in the best interest of the Children. As to Father, the trial court held that DCS had failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the alleged grounds of abandonment by wanton disregard, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, and grounds applicable to a putative father. Consequently, the court declined to terminate Father’s parental rights. Mother and DCS appeal. We reverse the trial court’s holding as to Father and affirm the court’s termination of Mother’s rights.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 01/11/17
Bettina Luise Lippert Engh v. Daniel James Engh
M2016-00595-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

Father appeals the trial court’s designation of Mother as the primary residential parent for their daughter. Applying the factors in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106(a) to the testimony, the trial court determined, inter alia, that Mother acted as the primary caregiver, formed a stronger emotional bond with the child, and showed a greater willingness to foster a relationship between the child and Father. Following a thorough review of the record, we have determined that the trial court correctly identified and properly applied the relevant legal principles and that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings of fact. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision to make Mother the primary residential parent. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/10/17
Crystal Blackwell, As Next Friend To Jacob Blackwell, A Minor v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC.
M2016-00447-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant trampoline park argues that the trial court erred by refusing to enforce a forum selection clause, a choice of law provision, and a waiver of liability and indemnity clause against the minor plaintiff. Additionally, the minor plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to alter or amend his complaint to allow him to claim pre-majority medical expenses. We reverse the trial court’s denial of the minor plaintiff’s motion to amend only to the extent that the minor plaintiff may be permitted to assert pre-majority medical expenses that were paid by him or that he is legally obligated to pay. We affirm the trial court in all other respects. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/09/17
Matthew Wheeler Mabie, MD v. Carla Jennings Mabie
W2015-01699-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This case arises out of a divorce action. After fourteen years of marriage, the husband filed a complaint for divorce. Following a brief and unsuccessful attempt at reconciliation, the wife filed a counter-claim for divorce. Throughout the marriage, the husband worked as a medical doctor and was a partner in a highly successful medical practice. The wife's primary role in the family was as a stay-at-home mother. The trial court declared the parties divorced and awarded the wife, among other things, rehabilitative alimony, alimony in futuro, and attorney's fees. The husband appeals the trial court's awards of alimony, the valuation of his interest in his medical practice, the award of attorney's fees to the wife, and the court's decision to not punish the wife for civil contempt of court. The wife seeks attorney's fees for defending this appeal. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. We deny the wife's request for attorney's fees on appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/09/17
In re Yariel S., et al.
E2016-00937-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal involves the termination of a mother's parental rights to her four minor children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of her rights to all four children on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to provide a suitable home, the persistence of conditions which led to removal, and substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plan. The court also found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of her rights to the youngest child on the statutory ground of severe child abuse. The court further found that termination was in the best interest of the children. The mother appeals. We reverse the trial court on its finding of abandonment for failure to provide a suitable home. On all other findings, we affirm the trial court's rulings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/06/17