Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 02/10/2016
Format: 02/10/2016
In re The Estate of Ola Irene Tucker
E2014-02112-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex A. Dale

Dianna Lynne Johnson Allen appeals an order of the Probate Court for Loudon County (“the Trial Court”) holding that Ms. Allen lacked standing to assert pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-105 a claim of inheritance by intestate succession to the Estate of Ola Irene Tucker (“the Estate”). We find and hold that Ms. Allen qualifies as a person born out of wedlock for purposes of Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-105(a)(2)(B). We, therefore, reverse the Trial Court's order holding that Ms. Allen lacked standing and remand this case to the Trial Court for a determination of whether Ms. Allen proved by clear and convincing evidence that Ewell Stephens Johnson was her father, which, if so proven, would allow Ms. Allen to inherit by intestate succession from the Estate.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 11/12/15
Mildred S. Draper v. Donald Mark Draper
E2014-02224-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Neil Thomas, III

This is a divorce action in which the husband appeals the trial court's classification of separate property and the division of marital property. We affirm the court's classification of property and reverse the court's division of marital property.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/12/15
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Victor S. Johnson, III, et al. v. Mark Gwyn, et al.
M2013-02640-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

This appeal arises from a lawsuit seeking access to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“the TBI”) file concerning former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner (“Baumgartner”). The plaintiffs, Gary Christian, Deena Christian, Hugh Newsom, and Mary Newsom (“Plaintiffs”), sued TBI Director Mark Gwyn (“Gwyn”) in the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”), both in their individual capacities and in the name of the State of Tennessee, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, Plaintiffs sought a declaration that Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-504(a)(2)(A) is unconstitutional, as well as an order requiring the TBI to turn over its records concerning its investigation of Baumgartner. Gwyn filed a motion to dismiss, asserting lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of standing, and failure to state a claim. The Trial Court granted Gwyn’s motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs appeal to this Court, raising a number of issues. In view of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in State v. Cobbins, No. E2013-02726-CCA-WR-CO (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 4, 2015), Rule 11 appl. perm. appeal denied August 13, 2015, we hold that the doctrine of res judicata serves to bar Plaintiffs’ claims. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court on the basis of res judicata.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/10/15
Michael David Martin v. Franklin Cool Springs Corporation, et al.
M2014-01804-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

Plaintiff filed suit against the company providing billing services for the water and sewage utilities at his apartment; the complaint alleged that the company’s fee for late payments violated, among others, the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Defendant moved for dismissal pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6), which was granted by the trial court. Defendant then sought recovery of the attorney’s fees it incurred in defending the TCPA claim and Plaintiff’s motions for sanctions. The court granted Defendant’s motion, awarding one-half of the amount sought. Plaintiff appeals the award of attorney’s fees; Defendant appeals the amount awarded. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in all respects; concluding that an award of fees incurred by Defendant on appeal is appropriate, we remand the matter to the trial court for determination of the amount to be awarded.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/10/15
Niuklee, LLC v. Commissioner, TN Dept. of Revenue
M2014-01644-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

The Commissioner of Revenue assessed a tax based on the taxpayer’s use of an aircraft purchased out of state. Taxpayer sought review from the Tennessee Department of Revenue but was denied relief following an informal hearing. Taxpayer paid the tax and filed a complaint in the Chancery Court for Davidson County seeking a refund on the ground that it qualified for the sale for resale exemption in the Tennessee Retailers’ Sales Tax Act because it provided the seller with a certificate of resale and immediately leased the aircraft to third party users. The Department responded, arguing that the leases did not satisfy the exemption’s “bona fide sale” requirement. Following a non-jury trial, the Chancery Court reversed the Department’s assessment, concluding that the exemption applied because (1) the leases were legitimate and not illusory and were not chiefly motivated by tax avoidance, (2) the economic substance doctrine has not been adopted in Tennessee to analyze the “bona fide sale” requirement, and (3) the Department failed to present proof sufficient to pierce the corporate veil of the taxpayer. The Department appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/09/15
Battery Alliance, Inc. v. T & L Sales, Inc., et al.
W2015-00201-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

Plaintiff brought suit after defendant-company defaulted on its obligation to pay for goods it received on credit. Plaintiff also brought a claim for breach of contract against defendant-president and defendant-employee of the defendant-company pursuant to an individual guaranty agreement signed by both. A default judgment was entered against the president of the company, but the employee disputes that he signed the individual guaranty in his individual capacity. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, concluding that the individual guaranty was unambiguous and the employee was thus liable in his individual capacity. We vacate the trial court‘s decision granting summary judgment because the individual guaranty is ambiguous and remand with instructions to consider parol evidence.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/09/15
In re Addison M.
E2014-02489-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

This appeal arises out of juvenile delinquency proceedings in Knox County Juvenile Court. Due to numerous deficiencies in the proceedings below, we vacate the delinquency adjudication and remand for dismissal of the petition.

Knox County Court of Appeals 11/09/15
Amy Diane Riggs v. Farmers Mutual Of Tennessee
E2015-00293-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge John S. McLellan, III

This is an appeal from the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in an action on a homeowner’s insurance policy. The home of the insured party was damaged by a fire on May 29, 2011. The insured submitted proof of loss to the insurer pursuant to her homeowner’s insurance policy. The insurer requested additional information from the insured to complete the proof of loss, which the insured provided. The insurer subsequently denied coverage. The insured party filed suit against insurer. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer, finding that the insured party’s claims were barred by the one-year contractual limitations period. We reverse.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 11/09/15
CBS Outdoor, Inc. v. Tennessee Department of Transportation
M2014-01677-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

Owner of back-to-back billboards filed a petition for review challenging the decision of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (“TDOT”) to revoke his billboard permits on the ground that the billboards were not in compliance with the TDOT spacing requirements. We find substantial and material evidence to support the decision of the TDOT Commissioner and, therefore, affirm the chancellor’s decision. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/06/15
Bobby McEarl v. City of Brownsville
W2015-00077-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

This is a premises liability case. The plaintiff alleges he slipped and fell in a leaf-filled gutter maintained by defendant. Plaintiff filed suit against the defendant, alleging that the defendant failed to properly maintain and warn pedestrians of a dangerous condition. Because the trial court granted defendant summary judgment without making findings of fact or stating the legal basis for its decision before instructing defendant to prepare an order, we vacate the trial court’s order of summary judgment and remand.

Haywood County Court of Appeals 11/06/15
Cheryl Erma Green v. YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South
W2014-02190-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

Appellant appeals the trial court‘s order enforcing a settlement agreement, arguing that the agreement was the product of coercion on the part of her attorney. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/04/15
SNS Electrical Inspections, P.C., et al v. State of Tennessee
W2015-00145-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Nancy Miller-Herron, Commissioner, TN. Claims Commission

This is an appeal from the Tennessee Claims Commission involving a contract dispute. The Claims Commissioner concluded that the Appellants were not entitled to damages other than for services rendered because their services contract with the State was terminated for cause. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 11/04/15
Charlotte D. Culpepper v. Brandon K. Culpepper
E2014-00815-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Neil Thomas, III

This appeal arises from an action for divorce wherein the trial court ordered the parties’ marital debt to be divided in a nearly equal fashion. The trial court awarded child support to the wife, who was designated primary residential parent and who received a greater share of co-parenting time with the children. The court also awarded child support retroactive to the date of the filing of the divorce complaint. In addition, the court allocated both federal tax exemptions for the children to the wife. The husband has appealed. We affirm the trial court’s judgment with a slight modification in the amount of the child support arrearage award.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/04/15
Cody Wade By His Co-Conservators, et al v. Tennessee Department of Finance And Administration, et al.
M2014-01736-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell T. Perkins

Appellant TennCare enrollee has been receiving 24/7 care from a private duty nurse in the home of his grandparents in Martin, Tennessee. TennCare determined that he could receive adequate care for less cost in a special respiratory care unit in St. Francis Hospital in Memphis. Enrollee, through his grandparents as his co-conservators, filed an administrative appeal. The administrative law judge agreed with TennCare. Appellants appealed that decision to chancery court, which reversed the administrative law judge’s decision as being arbitrary and capricious. TennCare appealed. We reverse the decision of the chancery court and affirm the administrative law judge’s opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/03/15
Cynthia Rhea Helton v. Gregory Herbert Helton
E2014-01861-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William Everett Lantrip

This post-divorce appeal concerns the trial court's denial of the husband's motion to terminate his spousal support obligation and to add his current wife as a beneficiary to his life insurance policy. We affirm the court's denial of the termination of the support obligation but reverse the court's denial of the request to amend the life insurance policy.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 11/03/15
Donald Nichols v. Knox County, Tennessee
E2014-01566-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

On August 13, 2010, following a violation of his probation, Donald Nichols began serving a sentence at the Knox County Detention Facility (KCDF). He was assigned to a second floor cell. The only bed available there was a top bunk. On August 20, 2010, Nichols was subjected to a physical examination by KCDF's medical staff. The staff detailed his medical history as pain in his lower back and extremities, as well as surgeries on his knee, foot, and ankle. On August 27, 2010, while he was asleep, Nichols rolled off his bed and hit the floor. As a result, his head was bloody, and he had intense pain in his neck and back. The on-duty nurse examined him and gave him ibuprofen for pain. In the weeks that followed, Nichols continued to have ongoing pain. He made multiple requests for medical assistance. He had an x-ray on November 5, 2010. That x-ray and a subsequent CT Scan and MRI revealed that he had several cervical fractures as a result of his fall. Through the efforts of his criminal attorney, Nichols was released from KCDF on November 10, 2010. Thereafter, in January 2011, he had surgery and incurred medical expenses of approximately $240,000. He filed a complaint against Knox County, alleging common law negligence. Nichols filed a motion for partial summary judgment. Knox County filed a motion for summary judgment.

Knox County Court of Appeals 11/02/15
Leslie Dean Ritchie v. Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole, et al.
M2015-00187-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal concerns the dismissal of an allegedly untimely petition for writ of certiorari due to the trial court’s lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because the petitioner has alleged that he filed an administrative appeal, the disposition of which would render his petition timely, we reverse the dismissal of his petition. We remand this matter to the trial court for a determination regarding the timeliness of the petition following the conclusion of the administrative appeal.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/30/15
Sarah Ward, et al v. Shelaena Ward
M2014-02237-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

After her daughter was injured in an ATV accident, Plaintiff filed suit against her daughter’s step-grandmother, in whose home the daughter was staying on the night of the accident and who owned the ATV, alleging numerous causes of action sounding in negligence. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment; Plaintiffs appeal as to the claims for negligent entrustment and negligent supervision. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the judgment.

Court of Appeals 10/30/15
Robert Bean, et al v. Wilson County School System, et al.
M2014-02577-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Charles K. Smith

This case involves a residency dispute relevant to a child’s enrollment in a Wilson County public high school. After school officials determined that the child was not a resident of Wilson County, they informed her parents that the child could not attend high school in the county school system. The parents filed suit in chancery court seeking injunctive relief related to the child’s enrollment in school and participation in athletics. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court determined that the child lived in Wilson County and enjoined the local board of education from interfering with the child’s enrollment. The trial court also declared that the child should be afforded the same opportunities as other students as it relates to participation in athletics. On appeal, we affirm.  

Court of Appeals 10/29/15
Tim Elswick, et al v. Shelaena Ward
M2014-02237-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

This case arises from a contract for home improvement services. After the work was completed and Homeowners failed to pay the contract price, Contractor filed a civil warrant and was awarded a judgment in general sessions court. Homeowners failed to timely appeal the judgment to circuit court. They subsequently filed a petition for writ of certiorari and supersedeas in circuit court contending Contractor was not duly licensed and the Home Improvement Contractor’s Act prevented Contractor from recovering on the contract. Homeowners subsequently filed a complaint asserting a claim under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. The circuit court denied the petition for writ of certiorari and dismissed the complaint as res judicata. We affirm.

Court of Appeals 10/29/15
Estate of Phyllis Thibodeau,et al v. St. Thomas Hospital
M2014-02030-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement

Plaintiffs, a husband and wife, filed suit against St. Thomas Hospital alleging claims for ordinary negligence and a derivative loss of consortium. The complaint alleged that St. Thomas was liable for injuries Plaintiffs sustained as a result of the hospital’s employees’ failure to properly support the wife as they attempted to transfer her from a bariatric stretcher to her automobile. St. Thomas moved to dismiss the claim on the grounds Plaintiffs failed to comply with the pre-suit notice and good faith certificate filing requirements of the health care liability statute set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121 and -122. Plaintiffs responded that the complaint was not subject to the filing requirements because it sounded in ordinary negligence, not health care liability. The trial court held that Plaintiffs’ action is a health care liability action subject to the filing provisions of the health care liability statute and dismissed Plaintiffs’ claim with prejudice, finding it undisputed that Plaintiffs failed to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121 and -122. Plaintiffs appeal. Having applied the clear language of the health care liability statute to Plaintiffs’ complaint, we conclude that the allegations contained therein meet the definition of a health care liability action as defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101(a)(1) and that Plaintiffs were required to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121 and -122. Therefore, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/29/15
Gela Annette Fabrizio v. Keith Anthony Fabrizio, Sr.
E2014-02067-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This appeal arises from an action for divorce wherein the trial court awarded alimony to the plaintiff wife, whom the court determined to be economically disadvantaged due to her inability to maintain employment. The husband has appealed the spousal support award, asserting that the trial court erred in its analysis of the applicable statutory factors. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 10/29/15
Sharon Lynnette Howard v.Randall Lynn Howard
E2014-01991-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

In this divorce action involving the dissolution of a marriage of relatively short duration, the husband appeals the trial court's distribution of the marital estate, particularly the award of the marital residence and a 1969 Ford Mustang automobile to the wife. In order to more nearly return the parties to the positions they were in prior to the marriage, we modify the distribution of the marital estate to award the 1969 Ford Mustang automobile to the husband. We also modify the trial court's judgment concerning the marital residence to extend the wife's deadline for refinancing the debts associated with the marital residence to one year following the issuance of mandate by this Court. We affirm the trial court's judgment in all other respects.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 10/29/15
In re Kiara S.
E2015-00003-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

Rachel L.S. (“Mother”) and Brandon M.R. (“Step-father”) filed a petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of Paul P. (“Father”) to the minor child Kiara S. (“the Child”). After a trial, the Circuit Court for Sevier County (“the Trial Court”) entered its order dismissing the petition after finding and holding, inter alia, that Mother and Step-father had failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that grounds existed to terminate Father's parental rights for abandonment by willful failure to visit or for abandonment by willful failure to support. Mother and Step-father appeal the dismissal of their petition. We find that the evidence in the record on appeal does not preponderate against the Trial Court's findings, and we affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 10/29/15
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Inger Brown v. Larry W. Shipe, Jr.
E2014-02064-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

The issue presented in this case is whether the trial court erred in its calculation of child support when it omitted from the calculation support due from Larry W. Shipe, Jr. (Father) during a period of time when he was incarcerated. We hold that the Child Support Guidelines, Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1240-02-04-.04(3)(a)(2)(ii)(I) (2008), which provide that “incarceration shall not provide grounds for reduction of any child support obligation,” mandate that incarceration does not absolve an individual from his/her obligation to pay child support. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for a recalculation of Father’s child support arrearage.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/29/15