Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 10/13/2018
Format: 10/13/2018
Johnson & Associates, LLC, Et Al. v. The Hanover Insurance Group, Inc., Et Al.
E2016-02469-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge John S. McLellan, III

This is a case concerning a commercial-property insurance policy dispute. The insured party filed suit upon the insurance company denying theft coverage on a claim. The insurance company claimed that the vacancy clause excluded the theft coverage of the property at issue. The trial court found that the vacancy clause did not apply and that the policy required the insurance company to cover the theft. The insurance company appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 07/27/18
Vickie Groves, Et Al. v. Ernst-Western Corporation
M2017-01779-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

This is a jury case. Appellants sued Appellee, hotel, for violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) and the Tennessee Identity Theft Deterrence Act (“TITDA”). The trial court granted a pre-trial motion for summary judgment as to Appellants’ TITDA claims. The remaining TCPA claims proceeded to trial, and the trial court delivered a modified jury instruction as a sanction against Appellee for alleged discovery abuse. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Appellee. Appellants appeal.  Appellee appeals the trial court’s denial of its request for attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 68. We reverse the trial court’s denial of Appellee’s costs pursuant to Rule 68; the trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 07/26/18
Konah Evangeline Buckman, Mother And Next Of Kin Of Edward Kofi Sasa Lenox Buckman A/K/A Edward Welsely, Deceased v. Mountain States Health Alliance, Et Al. - Concurring
E2017-01766-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James E. Lauderback

I concur, reluctantly, with the entirety of the opinion of the Court. I concur because this is the result mandated by statute and case law. I do so reluctantly because this case is the latest in a long line of healthcare liability actions dismissed on technical grounds since the enactment of the sections of the Health Care Liability Act governing pre-suit notice adopted by our General Assembly in 2008. This Court has seen healthcare liability case after case brought by Tennessee citizens dismissed without any determination of whether the case has any merit.

Washington County Court of Appeals 07/26/18
Konah Evangeline Buckman, Mother And Next Of Kin Of Edward Kofi Sasa Lenox Buckman A/K/A Edward Welsely, Deceased v. Mountain States Health Alliance, Et Al.
E2017-01766-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge James E. Lauderback

This is a healthcare liability case. Before filing the complaint, the plaintiff gave written notice to the potential defendants of her healthcare liability claim against them. Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) requires that a plaintiff’s pre-suit notice include a HIPAA compliant medical authorization permitting the healthcare provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider that is being sent a notice. After the plaintiff filed suit, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on noncompliance with the statute, as the defendants alleged that the HIPAA authorization provided by the plaintiff had already expired when they received it. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the HIPAA authorization was invalid due to the fact that the listed expiration date had already passed when the authorization was provided to the defendants with pre-suit notice. The plaintiff appeals. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Washington County Court of Appeals 07/26/18
Cort Dondero, Et Ux. v. Accuray Incorporated, Et Al.
E2017-01741-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey Hollingsworth

This case involves claims asserted by a cancer patient against his radiation oncologist, the hospital where he was treated, and the developer of the radiation therapy system used to treat the patient. The patient alleges that the defendants failed to disclose that the treatment posed a risk of radiation damage to surrounding tissue and organs and misrepresented the safety of the treatment, such that he would not have agreed to undergo the treatment if he had known of the risks. The patient’s wife also asserted a claim for loss of consortium. All three defendants moved for summary judgment on numerous grounds. The trial court granted summary judgment to each of the defendants, and the patient and his wife appeal. We conclude that the plaintiffs’ claims against all three defendants are barred by the statute of limitations. Accordingly, we vacate in part, affirm as modified, and remand for further proceedings.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 07/26/18
Richard Gary Vincioni v. Vanderbilt University, Et Al.
M2017-01302-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda Jane McClendon

Appellant alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligent hiring, supervision, and retention against a University and its employees. The trial court granted Appellees’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/25/18
Estate of David Lyons v. Latony Baugh, Et Al.
M2017-00094-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

The parties to a wrongful death action reached a mediated settlement under which the settlement proceeds were divided between the surviving spouse and the deceased’s children. After the settlement agreement was judicially approved and the proceeds disbursed, the trial court ruled that the surviving spouse had waived his right to collect any settlement proceeds. The deceased’s children filed a legal malpractice action against the estate of the attorney who had represented their guardian ad litem in the wrongful death action because he failed to contest the surviving spouse’s standing. As part of the settlement of the legal malpractice action, the children assigned their claims against the surviving spouse to the estate of the attorney. The estate then filed this equitable action
against the surviving spouse and his girlfriend, seeking recovery of the settlement proceeds and a constructive trust on any property purchased with those proceeds. Both the estate and the surviving spouse filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied the spouse’s motion but granted the estate summary judgment based on unjust enrichment. We reverse the grant of summary judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/25/18
In Re Charles R.
M2017-02387-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Todd Burnett

Parents appeal the termination of their parental rights. On April 24, 2013, the then threeyear- old child was removed from the parents’ home after a visitor to the home notified the Department of Children Services that he saw the child behind what appeared to be a jail-cell, making only grunting noises. The child has been in foster care ever since. After working with the parents for nearly two years, the Department filed a petition to terminate the parents’ parental rights. Following the first trial in October of 2015, both parents’ rights were terminated; however, that decision was vacated and the case remanded “for a new hearing so that a complete transcript may be produced. . . .” Order, In re Charles R., No. M2015-02347-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 22, 2016). Following a second trial in September and October of 2017, the trial court entered an order on November 21, 2017, terminating both parents’ rights. We affirm.

Fentress County Court of Appeals 07/25/18
Lucas D. Bottorff, Et Al. v. Anne A. Sears, Et Al.
M2017-01363-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

The Administrator CTA of Decedent’s estate filed a petition, against Decedent’s daughter, to recoup assets of the estate. In the final year of Decedent’s life, Appellant transferred almost $400,000 of Decedent’s assets to herself using a power of attorney she obtained after her brother’s power of attorney was revoked. The trial court determined that the transfers were self-dealing transactions and that Appellant breached her fiduciary duty to Decedent. The trial court entered a judgment against Appellant in the amount of $116,747.85 plus pre-judgment interest. Additionally, the trial court declared the quit claim deed executed in favor of Appellant to be void ab initio. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 07/25/18
Steve Anthony Contreras v. Kimberly Dawn Contreras (Hinson)
W2018-00093-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

The father in this post-divorce dispute challenges the trial court’s determinations regarding his child support arrearage, medical insurance premiums, credits against the arrearage, and attorney fees. Finding no merit to father’s arguments, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 07/25/18
Robert Lee Harris v. Regions Financial Corp. Et Al.
E2017-00838-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Elizabeth C. Asbury

This case involves the plaintiff’s purchase of real property and the alleged fraud by others as to the property’s real value. On December 20, 2016, the plaintiff filed a pro se complaint against several defendants, including Regions Financial Corporation. The plaintiff labeled his six counts as sounding in fraud in the inducement, breach of contract, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and improper foreclosure of deed of trust. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint against the defendants, holding that the complaint is barred by the three year statute of limitations. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-105 (2017). In so holding, the court determined that the complaint, on its face, shows that the plaintiff, as early as 2006, knew, or should have known, that the property was worth substantially less than the plaintiff paid for it and, as a consequence, he had been injured by the acts of others. In response, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred when it failed to rely upon the sixyear statute of limitations as to his claim for breach of contract. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-109(a)(3) (2017). Plaintiff appeals. We affirm

Claiborne County Court of Appeals 07/25/18
Delores Conley v. Tennessee Farmers Insurance Company
W2017-00803-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This appeal involves a dispute between an insurance company and one of its insureds. Following a fire to her home, the insured brought suit requesting that the insurance company be required to pay a claim for personal property damage. The insurance company defended on the ground that the insurance policy was void because a misrepresentation by the insured on her application for insurance increased the “risk of loss.” See Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-103. The trial court agreed with the insurance company and granted summary judgment in its favor. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 07/24/18
Judy Morrow Wright, et al. v. Matthew G. Buyer, et al.
W2018-01094-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kathleen N. Gomes

This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right from the denial of a motion for recusal. In their petition for recusal appeal, Petitioners admit that they did not promptly file the recusal motion after the facts forming the basis for the motion became known. As such, Petitioners waived their right to challenge the probate judge’s impartiality. The record is also insufficient to support a finding of error on the part of the probate judge because the motion for recusal was unaccompanied by an affidavit as required by the rules. Thus, we affirm the probate court’s denial of the recusal motion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 07/24/18
In Re: R.S. ET AL.
E2018-00270-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

This is a termination of parental rights case. Appellant/Father appeals the trial court’s termination of his parental rights to the two minor children on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by an incarcerated parent by wanton disregard, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1- 113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(iv); (2) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(ii); (3) substantial noncompliance with the reasonable requirements of the permanency plan, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(2) and 37-2-403(a)(2). Appellant also appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of his parental rights is in the children’s best interests. Because there is clear and convincing evidence to support both the grounds for termination of Appellant’s parental rights and the trial court’s finding that termination is in the children’s best interest, we affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 07/24/18
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Claiborne County v. Delinquent Taxpayer, Albertano Alvarez Et Al.
E2017-01683-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Elizabeth C. Asbury

This appeal arises from a delinquent taxpayer action. The appellants were lienholders on a parcel of real property sold to a separate purchaser during a delinquent tax sale. Following the tax sale, the lienholders filed a petition for redemption. In response, the purchaser filed a motion to protest the validity of the lien or, alternatively, a claim to recover $8,579.60 in “lawful charges” that he and a friend had incurred to clear debris and personalty from the real property. The lienholders then filed a “cross claim” against the purchaser, alleging conversion and trespass to chattels. The lienholders sought an award of actual damages for removal of personalty and a “steel building” from the real property, as well as punitive damages for the purchaser’s allegedly malicious actions. The purchaser filed an answer, denying all substantive allegations. The purchaser subsequently withdrew his objection to the validity of the lien. Following a bench trial, the trial court granted the lienholders’ petition for redemption upon the conditions that the lienholders pay all delinquent taxes, penalties, and fees; reimburse the purchaser and his friend in the amount of $8,579.60 for expenses incurred in the removal of debris and personalty; and reimburse the purchaser and his friend in the amount of $600.00 for storage of personalty. The lienholders have appealed. Having determined that the order appealed from fails to resolve the lienholders’ claims of conversion and trespass to chattels, we conclude that it is not a final order. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Claiborne County Court of Appeals 07/24/18
Joseph J. Levitt, Jr. v. City of Oak Ridge, et al.
E2016-02140-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

Joseph J. Levitt (“Owner”), the owner of the Applewood apartment complex located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, appeals the September 14, 2016 order of the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) granting summary judgment to the City of Oak Ridge, the Oak Ridge Board of Building and Housing Appeals, and Denny Boss (collectively “the City”) in this suit seeking to overturn the City’s order that six of the Applewood buildings be vacated and demolished. Owner raises issues on appeal regarding the adminstrative warrants and whether the decision of the board was arbitrary, capricious, or illegal. We find and hold that the adminstrative warrants satisfied the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 68-120-117 and that the decision of the board was not arbitrary, capricious, or illegal. We, therefore, affirm the Trial Court’s grant of summary judgment.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 07/24/18
Gary Lee Odom v. Rachel Lea Zamata Odom
M2017-01702-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

In this divorce action, the wife was found to be in “willful, direct and summary contempt of court beyond a reasonable doubt,” based on her responses to the trial court judge’s questions during a motion hearing. The wife has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment. We decline to award to the husband his attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/23/18
Delinquent Taxpayers as Shown On The 2011 Real Property Tax Records Of The Metropolitan Government Of Nashville & Davidson County., Et Al. v. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville And Davidson County. , Et Al.
M2015-02450-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

A landowner’s real property was sold at a delinquent tax sale on August 14, 2013. The taxpayer subsequently conveyed her interest in the property to a third party that redeemed the property within the one-year redemption period. In the interim, new legislation took effect that altered the redemption process. The purchaser at the tax sale and two creditors of the taxpayer moved the court to set aside the redemption, contending that the redeeming party failed to comply with the new law. The trial court held that the redemption procedure set forth in the new legislation applied, that the redeeming party did not follow the redemption process set forth in the new legislation, and thus, that the redemption failed. The redeeming party appeals. We hold that the trial court correctly determined that the redeeming party was entitled to redeem but erred in concluding that the new statute applied to this redemption and that the redemption failed due to the redeeming party’s failure to follow the new redemption process; accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/23/18
Frank Trojan v. Wayne County, Tennessee
M2017-00415-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones

An inmate in state custody who was being housed in a county jail filed suit under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act to recover for injuries he suffered while on a work detail. The trial court dismissed the suit, holding that Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-2-123(d)(2) grants counties that allow inmates to work on road details and other projects immunity from liability for injuries. The inmate appeals, contending he was not in the class of inmates defined in section 41-2-123 and, consequently, that the county’s immunity was removed. Concluding that section 41-2-123(d)(2) controls over the provisions of the Tort Liability Act, we affirm the trial court’s judgment that the county was immune and its dismissal of the suit.

Wayne County Court of Appeals 07/23/18
Jeffery Todd Burke v. Sparta Newspaper, Inc.
M2016-01065-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant publisher of an allegedly defamatory newspaper article concerning plaintiff. The article was based upon a one-onone, private interview between the public information officer for the White County Sheriff’s Office and a newspaper reporter. The court determined that the interview given by the public information officer constituted an “official action” of government that the article fairly and accurately reported. As such, the court concluded that any alleged defamatory statements included in the article were privileged under the common-law “fair report privilege.” Plaintiff appealed, arguing in part, that the fair report privilege does not apply. Because we conclude that the interview did not constitute an official act of government, we reverse the grant of summary judgment.

White County Court of Appeals 07/23/18
In Re Diawn B.
M017-01159-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: M2017-01159-COA-R3-JV

This appeal arises from an action for grandparent visitation. The child’s father died when she was seven weeks old, and when the mother denied visitation to the paternal grandmother, the paternal grandmother filed a petition for grandparent visitation. After a trial, the court determined that the mother opposed visitation, the presumption of substantial harm was not overcome, and grandparent visitation was in the child’s best interests. The court ordered grandparent visitation the third weekend of each month, Thanksgiving break in odd years, every Christmas break, and every summer break. The court also gave the grandmother four of the parental rights found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-101(a)(3)(B)—the right to educational records, the right to be free from derogatory remarks, the right to be notified of medical emergencies, and the right to be notified of extracurricular activities and the opportunity to participate in or observe them. The mother filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, and the grandmother filed a response and a motion to strike the hearsay contained in mother’s motion. Grandmother also requested attorney’s fees in connection with her motion to strike hearsay. The trial court entered an “amended” order that was substantively the same as its original decision granting grandparent visitation, and it ordered the mother to pay the grandmother’s attorney’s fees in connection with the grandmother’s motion to strike hearsay. On appeal, the mother asks this court to determine (1) whether the trial court erred “by awarding appellee grandmother a visitation schedule which is essentially a ‘tweaked’ parenting plan, along with the rights of a parent under Tennessee law,” and (2) whether the trial court erred by awarding the grandmother her attorney’s fees in opposing the mother’s motion to amend. We have determined that the extensive visitation schedule impermissibly interferes with the mother’s parental rights under the Tennessee Constitution, and therefore, it is not “reasonable” under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-306(c). We have also determined that Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-101(a)(3)(B) is inapplicable in actions for grandparent visitation; therefore, the grandmother is not entitled to any of the rights listed in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-306. Further, we have determined that the trial court erred by awarding attorney’s fees to the grandmother because we find no contractual or statutory basis for the award. Therefore, the judgment of the trial court is vacated and this matter is remanded with instructions for the trial court to establish a grandparent visitation schedule that comports with Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-306(c) and minimizes interference with the mother’s fundamental constitutional rights

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 07/23/18
James Jones v. Raymond M. Hargreaves
M2017-01271-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden

In this health care liability action, the defendant doctor filed an unopposed motion for summary judgment. After the motion was granted, he filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-122, requesting the court to compel the plaintiff or his counsel to provide the court with a copy of the expert’s signed written statement that was relied upon in executing the certificate of good faith that accompanied the complaint. The trial court denied the motion, holding that the matter should have been raised in the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment or a motion for discretionary costs. Upon our review of the statute, we do not find a requirement that the request for the expert witness’ statement be made in the manner held by the trial court; accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further consideration of the defendant’s motion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/23/18
Metropolitan Government of Nashville And Davidson County v. Delinquent Taxpayers As Shown On The 2011 Real Property Tax Record
M2018-00026-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

A delinquent taxpayer’s property was sold at a tax sale on January 22, 2014. The taxpayer subsequently conveyed her interest in the property to a third party that redeemed the property within the one-year statutory redemption period. The proceedings were stayed a year and a half due to the redeeming party’s bankruptcy; after the stay was lifted, the trial court held a hearing on the tax-sale purchaser’s motion for additional costs and then entered an order finalizing the redemption. In that order, the trial court ruled that the redeeming party was required to, among other things, pay interest on the price paid by the tax-sale purchaser at the tax sale for the entire period between the tax sale and entry of the final order. The redeeming party appeals, arguing that the statute only allowed interest to be charged from the date of the tax sale through the date the redemption process began. We agree, and we therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/23/18
Primary Residential Mortgage, Inc. v. Sheri Baker, Et Al.
M2016-01786-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Plaintiff sued a defendant for filing an unauthorized financing statement. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss and later a motion to disqualify the judge, both of which were denied. The court also ordered Defendant to file an answer. When Defendant failed to comply, the court granted Plaintiff’s motion for a default judgment. Defendant’s husband intervened shortly thereafter, claiming that he filed the financing statement. Defendant’s husband likewise filed a motion to dismiss and a later motion to disqualify. The court denied both motions and ordered husband to file an answer. When Husband failed to do so, the court granted Plaintiff’s motion for a default judgment against Husband. Husband filed a motion to set aside the default judgment, which was denied. This appeal followed. We affirm. Deeming this appeal frivolous, we award Plaintiff attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 07/23/18
In Re Gabriel B.
W2017-02514-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christy R. Little

A juvenile court terminated a father’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by willful failure to support, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, and persistence of conditions. The father appeals the termination of his rights. We conclude that the evidence clearly and convincingly supports the trial court’s termination on these grounds and affirm the judgment.

Madison County Court of Appeals 07/23/18