Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 08/09/2020
Format: 08/09/2020
Elizabeth Jones Et Al. v. Earth Fare, Inc. Et Al.
E2019-00450-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

This is a premises liability action in which the plaintiffs, a husband and wife, filed suit against the defendant grocery store for personal injuries and other damages resulting from the wife’s slip and fall in the parking lot. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiffs failed to establish that the defendant owed a duty of care to maintain the parking lot, which was owned and operated by a third party. The plaintiffs appeal. We reverse the decision of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/15/20
Provectus Biopharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Peter R. Culpepper
M2019-00662-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether an amended pleading that seeks to vacate an arbitration award that was delivered to the parties more than 90 days earlier relates back to the date of the original pleading pursuant to Rule 15.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure when the original pleading only sought to modify the arbitration award. A dispute arose when an employer terminated the employment contract of its chief financial officer. The parties submitted the dispute to arbitration pursuant to the Tennessee Uniform Arbitration Act (“the Act”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-5-301 to -320. After the arbitrator issued a monetary award in favor of the corporation, the employer filed a petition to confirm the award in chancery court. Within 90 days of the delivery of a copy of the award to the employee, which is the limitation period set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-5-314(a) of the Act, the employee timely filed an answer to the petition in which he sought modification of the award with respect to prejudgment interest only. Otherwise, the employee admitted all material allegations in the petition. Significantly, the employee did not seek to vacate the award. After waiving any claim to prejudgment interest, the employer filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings to confirm the arbitration award in all other respects. Before the hearing on the motion, but more than 90 days after a copy of the award was delivered to the employee, the employee filed a Rule 15 motion to amend his answer to assert a counterclaim to vacate the award on grounds not previously raised. The trial court denied the employee’s Rule 15 motion to amend the answer as futile on the ground that it was not a timely application to vacate the final award and awarded the employer judgment on the pleadings. The employee appeals, contending the court erred because an amended pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading pursuant to Rule 15.03. We have determined that strict adherence to the 90-day limitation furthers the primary objectives of the Act, which is to bring the arbitration process to a speedy and final resolution. Furthermore, the limitations provided by Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-5-312 and -313(b) are more specific than the general relation-back provision of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 15.03. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion to amend the answer as futile on the ground that the employee did not file a timely application to vacate the final award, and we affirm the entry of judgment on the pleadings in favor of the employer.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/14/20
Harold Oliver, et al. v. Todd Pulse, et al.
W2019-00750-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This appeal requires us to determine the scope of a real estate licensee’s duty under the Tennessee Residential Property Disclosures Act codified at Tennessee Code Annotated § § 66-5-201 et seq. to advise their client to disclose conditions of improved real property. We hold that a licensee’s duty under the Act encompasses a duty to advise his or her client/seller to disclose known material defects. We affirm denial of Plaintiff/Sellers’ motion for summary judgment on the issue of breach of statutory and contractual duties. In light of the undisputed facts of this case, we find Defendants are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on the question of breach and remand for entry of a judgment consistent with this Opinion.

Hardeman County Court of Appeals 04/14/20
Charlene Lyon v. Castle Retail Group, LLC
W2019-00405-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This appeal involves a trip and fall premises liability case filed against a supermarket by one of its customers. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant because the plaintiff’s evidence did not tend to show the defendant had either actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition that would give rise to a duty to either warn the plaintiff of the condition or remove the condition. For the following reasons, we agree that the defendant lacked actual or constructive notice of a dangerous condition in its store, and affirm the trial court’s award of summary judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/14/20
In Re Mattie L.
W2018-02287-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter L. Evans

Mother and Father had been divorced for less than two years when Mother and her new husband petitioned to terminate Father’s parental rights. A few weeks before trial, Father was arrested, and he did not appear for the trial. In Father’s absence, the chancery court concluded that two statutory grounds for termination had been proven by clear and convincing evidence: abandonment by willful failure to visit and abandonment by willful failure to support. The court also concluded that the evidence was clear and convincing that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. As part of its analysis, the court applied the missing witness rule based on Father’s failure to testify at trial. And the court applied the doctrine of unclean hands to “repel[] [Father] at the courthouse steps from receiving any relief that he has requested in this cause.” We conclude that neither the missing witness rule nor the doctrine of unclean hands was applicable and that their application was fundamentally unfair to Father. We further conclude that the evidence of the two grounds for terminating Father’s parental rights was less than clear and convincing. So we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/14/20
In Re Hector G.
E2019-01594-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

Petitioners appeal from the transfer of their guardianship action from chancery court to juvenile court. Because Petitioners have appealed a non-final judgment, we dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/14/20
IN RE ELI S.
M2019-00974-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles L. Rich

In this termination of parental rights case, both parents appeal the trial court’s termination of their parental rights to their son upon numerous statutory grounds and upon its finding that termination was in the child’s best interest.  Upon our review, we conclude that the record contains clear and convincing evidence supporting the trial court’s determinations with respect to certain grounds though not others and that termination was in the best interest of the child.  Accordingly, we reverse portions of the court’s order finding that certain grounds for termination were established, affirm the remainder of the grounds and the best interest determination, and affirm the termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights.

Bedford County Court of Appeals 04/09/20
Shirley Collins et al. v. John D. Carter et al.
E2018-01365-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex Pearson

Four family members sued their former employer and eight individual defendants after their employment was terminated amid allegations of malfeasance. The complaint alleged nine causes of action. The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims against the former employer and six of the eight individual defendants on summary judgment. The plaintiffs and the remaining two defendants then became embroiled in an extended discovery battle. The battle ended with the trial court dismissing the remaining claims with prejudice based on the plaintiffs’ failure to cooperate in discovery. We conclude that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the contract claims because the contract at issue was not ultra vires. Because we reverse that portion of the trial court’s decision, we also reverse the award of attorney’s fees under Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-20-113(a). We affirm the trial court in all other respects.

Greene County Court of Appeals 04/09/20
Steven J. Strange Et Al. v. Hank E. Roberts, Et Al.
M2019-01060-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christopher V. Sockwell

The owners of the dominant estate sued the owners of the servient estate of an easement to Tanner’s Bar, a piece of land near a river.  The trial court ruled that the easement was an easement appurtenant for ingress and egress only and did not entitle the dominant estate owners to engage in recreational activities at Tanner’s Bar.  The trial court further ruled that a member of the dominant estate family had to accompany all invitees to the easement.  Having concluded that the intent of the easement was for the dominant estate owners to have the right to enjoy the river at Tanner’s Bar, we reverse the decision of the trial court prohibiting recreational use.  We have further determined that the trial court erred in requiring that a dominant estate family member be present with invitees. 

Maury County Court of Appeals 04/09/20
In Re Zaylee W.
M2019-00342-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry R. Tidwell

A father appeals the trial court’s decision to terminate his parental rights based on the grounds of (1) abandonment by willful failure to support, (2) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, and (3) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume legal and physical custody or financial responsibility of the child.  He further challenges the trial court’s finding by clear and convincing evidence that termination of his parental rights was in the best interest of the child.  We affirm the trial court’s termination of the father’s parental rights but vacate the court’s judgment regarding two of the grounds for termination.

Cannon County Court of Appeals 04/09/20
Samantha Beau Ballard v. Casey John Ballard
M2019-00990-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ted A. Crozier

A father filed a petition to modify a parenting plan in which he sought to change the primary residential parent or modify the residential schedule. The trial court denied his petition, and he appealed. We hold that the father failed to establish a material change of circumstances to justify any change to the parties’ parenting plan and affirm the trial court’s judgment.
 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 04/09/20
In Re Caydan T.
W2019-01436-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge William A. Peeler

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights, which the trial court granted on the grounds of persistent conditions, severe child abuse, and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to parent. Mother also appeals the trial court’s finding that the termination of her parental rights was in the child’s best interests. Finding no error, we affirm.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 04/07/20
Latoya Ledford, ex rel. Nayeli Roriguez v. State of Tennessee
E2019-00480-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William A. Young

This appeal is from the Claims Commission’s order granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated sections 9-8-402, 29-26-121, and 29-26- 122. We must affirm.

Court of Appeals 04/07/20
ORNL Federal Credit Union Et Al. v. Estate of Helen D. Turley Et Al.
E2019-00861-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

This appeal concerns a lawsuit between brothers over funds belonging to their late mother, Helen D. Turley (“Decedent”). Tim Turley, executor of Decedent’s estate (“the Estate”), deposited $138,605.14 from a Y-12 Federal Credit Union (“Y-12 FCU”) account owned by Decedent into an estate account at ORNL Federal Credit Union (“ORNL FCU”). An issue arose because William Dean Turley was named sole payableon- death beneficiary on the Y-12 FCU account, and he asserted the funds were his. ORNL FCU filed a complaint for interpleader in the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) to determine the funds’ owner. In a cross-claim, Tim Turley and the Estate alleged that William Dean Turley exercised undue influence over Decedent and that Decedent was incompetent when she named William Dean Turley as the payable-on-death beneficiary on the account. William Dean Turley filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Trial Court granted. The Estate and Tim Turley appeal. We hold that William Dean Turley successfully demonstrated that the evidence at the summary judgment stage is insufficient to establish undue influence, fraud, or lack of mental competency, and there are no genuine issues of material fact for trial. We reverse the Trial Court’s judgment, however, to the extent it awarded attorney’s fees and expenses to William Dean Turley, as these fees and expenses were awarded in contravention of the American Rule. Otherwise, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/03/20
Charles Huddleston Heaton Jr. Et Al. v. Catherine L. Mathes Et Al.
E2019-00493-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

The plaintiffs filed a health care liability action against a pharmacy and other medical defendants, claiming, inter alia, that the defendants failed to provide proper patient counseling and failed to warn of the risks associated with a prescription drug. The pharmacy defendants subsequently filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that the gravamen of the complaint against them was a products liability action rather than a health care liability action. The defendants further asserted that the “seller shield” defense found within the Tennessee Products Liability Act provided them with immunity from liability. The trial court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, ruling that the complaint stated a health care liability action rather than a products liability action. The trial court subsequently granted the defendants’ motion for permission to seek interlocutory appeal regarding whether the seller shield defense contained within the Tennessee Products Liability Act could be asserted when the plaintiffs’ claim is made pursuant to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act. Following our thorough consideration of the issue, we affirm the trial court’s judgment, determining that the seller shield defense found in the Tennessee Products Liability Act is inapplicable to claims made under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/03/20
In Re The Estate of Jesse L. McCants, Sr.
E2019-01159-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

This is the second appeal arising from probate proceedings involving the estate of Jesse McCants, Sr. The first appeal concerned the accuracy of the personal representative’s final accounting. The trial court determined that some expenses identified by the personal representative should not be allowed. This Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded “for the entry of a modified order consistent with this Opinion and for such further proceedings as may be necessary and consistent with our direction herein.” The primary issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly followed our instructions on remand. We conclude that the trial court did so; therefore, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/03/20
In Re Estate of Alys Harris Lipscomb
W2018-01935-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen D. Webster

In this appeal of a probate matter, Appellant argues that the trial court erred in ruling that undue influence, breach of fiduciary duty, and conversion occurred as a result of transactions conducted by Appellant as attorney-in-fact of Decedent. Appellant also argues that the trial court erred in ruling that a bank account where both Appellant and Decedent signed a signature card was an individual account instead of a joint account with rights of survivorship. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/01/20
Robert Lee Algee v. David Anthony Craig as personal representative of the Estate of Nancy P. Craig
W2019-00587-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

This personal injury action concerns an automobile accident. The defendant died shortly after the accident. The estate was opened, administered, and closed before the plaintiff filed suit against the former personal representative within the applicable statute of limitations. The personal representative moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The plaintiff moved to enlarge the time for filing service of process based upon a claim of excusable neglect. The trial court dismissed the action as untimely. We affirm.

Dyer County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Reginald D. Hughes v. Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole, ET AL.
M2019-00487-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

A state inmate filed a petition for a common law writ of certiorari seeking judicial review of the prison disciplinary board’s decision to deny parole. The board filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court granted the board’s motion to dismiss because the petition was not filed within the sixty-day period prescribed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-9-102 (2017). We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Rickey Thompson v. State of Tennessee, Department of Correction
M2018-02262-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal concerns the court’s summary judgment dismissal of the plaintiff’s age discrimination and retaliatory discharge claims against the State of Tennessee, Department of Correction. We affirm the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
In Re Nevaeh B. Et Al.
E2019-01539-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal arises from the termination of a father’s parental rights to his three children. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that two grounds for termination were proven and that termination is in the best interest of the children. The father appeals. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Shirley Lunsford v. K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc.
E2019-01272-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

This appeal involves a slip and fall premises liability case filed by an invitee against a business proprietor. The trial court granted summary judgment to the business proprietor because invitee’s evidence did not show that the condition in the business proprietor’s store was inherently dangerous and because the court found the condition to be open and obvious. For the following reasons, we agree with the trial court that the condition at issue was not inherently dangerous and summary judgement should be granted for Defendant.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Amanda Gale Gates v. Scott Gates
M2019-00894-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Binkley

In this divorce action, the issue is whether the trial court correctly credited the number of parenting days awarded to each parent for purposes of calculating child support under the terms of the permanent parenting plan (PPP). Scott Gates (father) argues on appeal that the trial court miscalculated his residential time by undercounting the number of days awarded him in the PPP. We hold that there are irreconcilable inconsistencies in the PPP that require us to vacate the trial court’s order and remand for clarification of the actual number of days awarded and recalculation of child support.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Jeffrey Glenn Mitchell v. Carol Ann Thomas Mitchell
E2019-00759-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Brewer, Jr.

This is the second appeal in this post-divorce action involving the interpretation of the parties’ marital dissolution agreement and allegations of contempt for failure to comply with the same. We remanded the case to the trial court for submission of additional findings of fact and conclusions of law. The husband appeals the trial court’s opinion on remand. We affirm the trial court.

Blount County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Kira Mendiola Leonard v. Craig Michael Leonard
W2018-02235-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This case involves the classification and division of marital property between ex-military spouses. In dividing the marital property, the trial court failed to address the factors listed in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-121 or make necessary findings of fact and conclusions of law as is required under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the trial court’s decision and remand with instructions to properly address the required statutory factors.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/30/20