Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 02/14/2016
Format: 02/14/2016
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
Judy Muffley v. David George
M2012-00097-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey S. Bivins

This appeal arises from the grant of a Rule 60.02 motion to set aside a final judgment. The plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a motion to revive or renew a judgment against the defendant. Due to inclement weather, the plaintiff was unable to attend the hearing on her motion. The trial court dismissed her motion with prejudice and released the underlying judgment. Subsequently, the plaintiff obtained counsel and filed a Rule 60.02 motion to set aside the trial court’s order. The trial court granted her motion and reinstated the original judgment. Finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Court of Appeals 10/28/15
Coffee County Board of Education v. City of Tullahoma, et al.
M2014-02269-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett

The Coffee County Board of Education filed suit against the City of Manchester and the City of Tullahoma to recover certain tax revenue the Board alleges it was owed pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 57-4-306. The trial court held that the Board of Education lacked capacity to bring the suit and dismissed the petition. The Board of Education appeals asserting that the authority to sue to recover the funds is necessarily implied from the General Assembly’s grant of express powers and duties to the Board. We agree. Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-2-203(b)(5), the General Assembly has granted the Board the power to “[e]mploy legal counsel to advise or represent the board.” We find that this provision vests the Board with the authority to file suit to recover the funds at issue. Therefore, we must reverse the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.  

Court of Appeals 10/28/15
Robin Flores v. Keith Celebrezze
E2015-01885-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela A. Fleenor

This is an interlocutory appeal as of right, pursuant to Rule 10B of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, from the Trial Court=s denial of a post-judgment motion to recuse in a breach of contract case. Having reviewed the petition for recusal appeal filed by the Defendant, Keith Celebrezze (ADefendant@), we affirm the Trial Court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/28/15
Robert John Skowronski v. Donna Rae Wade
M2014-01501-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

This case involves the modification of a permanent parenting plan naming Mother the primary residential parent. Father petitioned to be named the primary residential parent after Mother moved with the child out-of-state without providing prior notice. After a one-day hearing, the trial court found a material change in circumstance and that naming Father the primary residential parent was in the best interest of the child. Although conceding she failed to give notice of the move, Mother argues there was no material change in circumstance and a change in primary residential parent was not in the best interest of the child. We affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 10/27/15
3659 Mendenhall, Inc., et al v. City of Memphis, et al.
W2014-02401-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

This is a declaratory judgment action. Appellant's application for a permit to erect a sign was denied by Appellee, the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Construction Code Enforcement. Appellant petitioned the trial court to declare that Code Enforcement was estopped from denying the permit. As grounds for estoppel, Appellant cites a letter issued to the Appellant five years earlier by an assistant county attorney when Appellant sought advice on erecting multiple signs at its location. After a hearing, the trial court granted the Appellees' motion for involuntary dismissal. We affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/27/15
Harold Flynn Et Al. v. Citizens National Bank
E2014-02231-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

This appeal involves a long-term ground lease and leasehold financing. After numerous assignments to successor tenants and several foreclosures, Citizens National Bank (“the Bank”) became the successor tenant under the ground lease. After a fire at the property, the Bank notified the landlord that it intended to surrender the leased property and cease paying rent, according to its interpretation of a separate agreement executed by the parties. The landlord denied that the Bank was entitled to unilaterally surrender the leased property and cease paying rent. The landlord filed a detainer warrant in general sessions court and, after an adverse ruling, appealed to circuit court. The circuit court concluded that the separate agreement did not limit the Bank's liability under the ground lease, as the Bank claimed. Accordingly, the circuit court entered a judgment against the Bank for approximately $130,000 for unpaid rent, taxes, and attorney's fees. The Bank appeals, challenging the circuit court's interpretation of the separate agreement and its award of damages beyond the sum of $25,000. We affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 10/26/15
Warren Bruce Maples v. Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Co., et al.
E2015-00285-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

In this appeal, the plaintiff alleged, inter alia, breach of contract by the insurance carrier. Pursuant to settled law in this state, the plaintiff had one year plus sixty days to institute suit on the policy. This action was filed one year and 134 days after the fire loss. The trial court found the lawsuit was not timely filed. The plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 10/26/15
Richard Garner v. Coffee County Bank
M2014-01956-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson

Plaintiff and his former wife purchased a house together in 2002. The former wife moved out of the house with all of her belongings in 2009, and the house suffered damage from a fire in 2010. The former wife was a named insured on the house, and each of the insurance checks issued to cover property loss and living expenses was made payable to both Plaintiff and his former wife. The president of the bank that held a mortgage on the house had a separate business relationship with the former wife. According to Plaintiff, the bank president informed him that he could not have any of the insurance proceeds unless one-half was given to the former wife, which proceeds were used to pay down the former wife’s separate and unrelated loan. The bank ultimately foreclosed on the house because the loan became delinquent. Plaintiff filed a complaint against the bank and president asserting conversion, wrongful foreclosure, and other related causes of action. The bank and the president filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff did not file his opposition within the time prescribed by the procedural rules, and the trial court granted the bank and the president’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in some respects and reverse the judgment in other respects. Plaintiff’s deposition transcript that the trial court considered in ruling on the motion for summary judgment raised genuine issues of material fact that precluded summary judgment on several of the causes of action alleged.  

Coffee County Court of Appeals 10/23/15
Elizabeth Eberbach v. Christopher Eberbach
M2014-01811-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James G. Martin, III

This post-divorce case involves issues concerning reimbursement for the parties’ children’s uncovered medical expenses and an award of attorney’s fees in favor of Mother. Father/Appellant contends that he is not responsible for the uncovered medical expenses on grounds that Mother/Appellee failed to timely send him copies of the bills as required under the permanent parenting plan. Father also contests the award of attorney’s fees and costs. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.  

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/23/15
In re: A.J.
M2014-02287-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon Guffee

This is the second appeal from a finding of criminal contempt. Appellant and his wife originally filed a petition to have the Appellees’ daughter adjudicated dependent and neglected. The trial court entered an order, in which the parties could not contact each other or each other’s families. Appellant made contact with Appellees’ daughters on multiple occasions via text message and once in person. The Appellees filed a petition for contempt against Appellant, and the trial court found the Appellant guilty of four counts of criminal contempt and sentenced Appellant to the maximum punishment allowed for each contempt conviction with the sentences to run consecutively. On the first appeal, this Court affirmed the convictions of criminal contempt but vacated the sentence and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to resentence the Appellant and explain its reasons for the sentence it imposed. On remand, the trial court found the Appellant guilty of twenty eight counts of criminal contempt. The trial court imposed twenty-four hour sentences for each count except one, for which the trial court imposed a five-day sentence. Appellant appeals from the convictions, the sentence, and the trial court’s denial of a motion to recuse. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/22/15
Brittany Hatcher Loewen v. Jeffrey Wade Loewen
M2014-02501-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Tom E. Gray

This is a divorce case. Wife/Appellant appeals the trial court’s award of transitional alimony in the amount of $1,625.00 per month for three years. Because the record contains neither a transcript of the proceedings, nor a Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24 statement of evidence, we have no basis on which to review the ruling of the trial court. Affirmed and remanded.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 10/22/15
Mark A. Winslow v. John Bruce Saltsman, Jr., et al.
M2014-00574-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Mark Winslow brought suit against Charles Fleischmann and his campaign advertising consultant, John Saltsman, to recover for allegedly false and defamatory statements made in the course of Mr. Fleishman’s campaign for election to the United States Congress, and related contractual claims. Mr. Fleishman and Mr. Saltsman moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the statements were not false or capable of defamatory meaning or published with actual malice, and that they took no action to induce a breach of contract or otherwise interfere with the relationship between Mr. Winslow and the Tennessee Republican Party. Mr. Winslow did not contest the grant of summary judgment on the contract claims; the trial court granted the motion as to the defamation and false light claims, holding that there was no evidence from which to infer malice, that the statements were not defamatory or capable of a defamatory meaning, and that any statements upon which the action was based which related to Mr. Winslow were either true or substantially true and, therefore, not actionable. Mr. Winslow appeals. Because Mr. Fleishman and Mr. Saltsman demonstrated that the undisputed facts negate the element of actual malice which is essential to the defamation and false light claims, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/21/15
Joseph Brennan, et al. v. Board of Parole For The State of Tennessee
M2014-01591-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

This appeal arises from a decision by the Tennessee Board of Parole (the “Board”) to deny an inmate parole after his initial parole review hearing. In 2009, the inmate pled guilty to two counts of attempted rape of a child and two counts of incest and was sentenced to 20 years in prison with parole eligibility after serving 30% of his sentence. Apparently because of his good behavior, the Board considered the inmate for release on parole after he had served only 20% of his sentence. Without further explanation, the Board denied the inmate parole based solely on its finding that “[t]he release from custody at this time would depreciate the seriousness of the crime of which the offender stands convicted or promote disrespect of the law,” and deferred review of his parole application for five years. The inmate filed a petition for common-law writ of certiorari, arguing, among other things, that the Board acted arbitrarily in denying him parole based solely on the seriousness of the crime without providing any support or explanation for its decision. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision and this appeal followed. On appeal, we conclude that the Board acted arbitrarily in deferring further review of the inmate’s parole application beyond the time when he would have otherwise been parole eligible—at 30% of his 20-year sentence. Because the inmate has already served more than 30% of his 20-year sentence, we hold that he should immediately be granted a new parole hearing. We therefore vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/21/15
In re Abbigail C.
E2015-00964-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert M. Estep

Father appeals the termination of his parental rights. After a thorough review of the record, we reverse as to the ground of substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, vacate as to the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit and support by an incarcerated parent, and affirm as to the grounds of abandonment by failure to establish a suitable home and persistent conditions. We also affirm the trial court's finding that termination is in the child's best interest. Accordingly we affirm the termination of Father's parental rights

Claiborne County Court of Appeals 10/21/15
City of Oak Ridge v. Joseph J. Levitt, Jr.
E2014-02354-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald Ray Elledge

The Oak Ridge City Court found the manager of three apartment buildings liable for several violations of the local building code. The manager appealed to the circuit court, and the City moved to amend the cause to add the purported owner of the properties as a defendant. The case proceeded to trial. After the City closed its proof, the trial court noticed that the purported owner of the property had not been properly made a party to the action. Accordingly, the trial court granted the City‟s motion to amend. Although the purported owner moved for a mistrial and/or a continuance, the trial court proceeded on to rule against the purported owner for several violations of the local building code. The purported owner appeals. We vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings to allow the purported owner of the properties an opportunity to meaningfully respond to the allegations against him in accordance with Rule 15.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 10/21/15
In Re: William K.
M2014-01872-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sophia Brown Crawford

This is an appeal from an order designating a primary residential parent and setting visitation and child support. The juvenile court found that naming Father as primary residential parent was in the child’s best interest and set child support accordingly. Mother appealed both the designation of primary residential parent and the amount of child support owed to father. We affirm.     

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/20/15
Tino C. Sutton v. Bedford County Tennessee Sheriff Department
M2014-02575-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James B. Cox

An individual who sought records from a county sheriff’s department was provided the records outside the seven business day period required by the Tennessee Public Records Act. The individual, who was acting pro se, requested an award of attorney’s fees and discretionary costs pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-505(g). The trial court denied the request because the individual plaintiff did not incur attorney’s fees and did not incur the types of costs contemplated by Rule 54 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The individual appealed, and we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Bedford County Court of Appeals 10/19/15
In re Kaedince M. et al.
E2015-00763-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal concerns the termination of parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Knox County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Bridgetta M. (“Mother”) to her minor children Greg S. and Kaedince M. (“the Children”). The Juvenile Court terminated Mother’s parental rights to the Children on the grounds of wanton disregard and severe abuse. Mother appeals to this Court arguing only that it is not in the Children’s best interest for Mother’s parental rights to be terminated. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/19/15
In re Greg S.
E2015-00333-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal concerns the termination of a father’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Knox County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Greg S. (“Father”) to his minor child Greg S., Jr. (“the Child”). The Juvenile Court terminated Father’s parental rights to the Child on the ground of substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan. Father appeals to this Court arguing only that it is not in the Child’s best interest for Father’s parental rights to be terminated. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/19/15
F&M Marketing Services, Inc. v. Christenberry Trucking and Farm, Inc., et al.
E2015-00266-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

Plaintiff brought an action to pierce the corporate veil of defendant company and hold its sole shareholder personally liable for a debt. The trial court conducted a bench trial on the issue and found in favor of the defendant company and shareholder. The trial court initially declined to issue findings of fact in its final judgment. After both parties submitted their own proposed findings of fact, the trial court adopted the defendants‘ version nearly verbatim, incorporating two additional findings of fact of its own. However, because we find the trial court‘s findings of fact and conclusions of law insufficient to facilitate appellate review, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/19/15
Zia Mousavi Kabiri v. Shirin Davari Kabiri
E2014-01980-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jacqueline S. Bolton

This is a divorce action in a marriage of a long duration. The trial court granted the parties a divorce and divided the marital property. The wife appeals the trial court’s classification of the parties’ separate property, the valuation of their pensions, and the division of the marital property. We affirm

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/16/15
Honey Bunch v. B.F. Bunch
E2014-02121-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William Everett Lantrip

Honey Bunch (“Plaintiff”) filed suit seeking partition by sale of a parcel of real property located in Anderson County, Tennessee. B.F. Bunch (“Defendant”) filed a counterclaim alleging, in pertinent part, that a quit claim deed of a portion of the property was void for lack of capacity, undue influence, or fraud, and that the property at issue should be partitioned in kind. After a trial, the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) found and held, inter alia, that the quit claim deed was valid and that the remaining property should be partitioned by sale. Defendant appeals raising issues regarding whether the Trial Court erred in finding the quit claim deed valid, whether the Trial Court erred in finding that the property should be partitioned by sale, and whether the Trial Court erred in prohibiting Defendant from using a common driveway. We find and hold that the evidence in the record on appeal does not preponderate against the Trial Court’s findings, and we find no error by the Trial Court. We affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 10/15/15