Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 06/07/2020
Format: 06/07/2020
In Re Archer R.
M2019-01353-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ted A. Crozier

A mother and stepfather filed a petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of a father based on abandonment by failure to visit and failure to support his child.  The trial court found the petitioners proved the ground of abandonment by failure to support by clear and convincing evidence but did not prove the ground of abandonment by failure to visit because the mother interfered with the father’s attempts to visit the child.  The trial court then found it was not in the child’s best interest for the father’s parental rights to be terminated and denied the petition to terminate.  The mother and stepfather appealed, and we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 02/19/20
John R. Fuller v. Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America
E2018-02267-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Pamela A. Fleenor

Plaintiff John R. Fuller initially brought this action, on July 15, 2015, for fraud, negligence, and violation of the Tennesee Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). After taking a voluntary nonsuit, he refiled on August 24, 2017. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendant Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, holding that the fraud and negligence claims were time-barred by operation of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 4.01(3), which provides that “[i]f a plaintiff or counsel for a plaintiff . . . intentionally causes delay of prompt issuance or prompt service of a summons, the filing of the complaint . . . will not toll any applicable statutes of limitation or repose.” It is undisputed that plaintiff’s counsel, despite knowing how to properly serve process on defendant, delayed service for almost seven months, until after the applicable three-year statutes of limitations for fraud and negligence had run. The trial court further held that plaintiff’s TCPA claim was barred by an applicable statute of repose. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 02/19/20
In Re Claire C.
M2019-00986-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge William M. Locke

Paternal great uncle and great aunt of a minor child filed a petition under the grandparent visitation statute, Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 36-6-306, and the trial court dismissed the petition for lack of standing, finding that the petitioners did not meet the statutory definition of “grandparent.”  We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Warren County Court of Appeals 02/14/20
Anderson County Tennessee, et ql. v. Tennessee State Board of Equalization, et al.
E2018-00142-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge. M. Nichole Cantrell

This appeal concerns the validity of an agreed order entered in a proceeding before the Tennessee Board of Equalization in a contested case between Anderson County, Tennessee, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Inc. The order purported to settle a dispute over the value of dies, jigs, and molds used for manufacturing automobile parts. The attorney for the Tennessee Comptroller’s Division of Property Assessments, which intervened in the proceeding, signed the agreed order on behalf of Toyota and the Anderson County Property Assessor “with express permission” of both parties, two months later, the Assessor moved to set the order aside, asserting that he had not agreed to the settlement terms or given the attorney for the Division of Property Assessments permission to sign on his behalf. The administrative judge treated the motion as one for extraordinary relief under the guidance of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 and held an evidentiary hearing. The administrative judge found the testimony of the Division of Property Assessment’s attorney was more credible than that of the Anderson County Assessor and denied the motion. The County filed a petition for review with the Chancery Court and the trial court reversed the decision of the administrative law judge, finding that the documentary evidence gave more credibility to the Assessor’s testimony. Considering the deference that reviewing courts must give to credibility determinations, we find no basis for reversing the administrative judge’s decision to deny Anderson County’s motion. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court, and remand the case with instructions to remand the case to the Tennessee Board of Equalization for further proceedings.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 02/14/20
Cynthia Underwood, et al. v. Margaret Miller d/b/a Nashville Design Center, LLC
M2019-00269-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

 This is an action to pierce the corporate veil. In a previous action in which the limited liability company was the only defendant, the plaintiffs received a default judgment for breach of contract in the amount of $709,500. The same plaintiffs subsequently filed this action against the sole member of the now-defunct limited liability company to pierce the corporate veil and hold the defendant personally liable for the unsatisfied judgment. Following discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court ruled in favor of the defendant, determining that the undisputed facts weighed against piercing the corporate veil, and the plaintiffs appealed. We affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/13/20
Jerry Lee, et al. v. Jana Smith, et al.
M2018-01529-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Charles K. Smith

This is a dispute regarding the ownership of a gravel lane used to access a 95-acre tract of land; Plaintiffs appeal the trial court’s dismissal of their suit to quiet title to the property or, alternatively, for a declaration that they acquired ownership of the road through adverse possession. The trial court held that Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-2-110 barred Plaintiffs from pursuing their claim of ownership because there was no proof that they had paid taxes on the property at issue for twenty years, as required by the statute; finding no error, we affirm the judgment.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 02/13/20
Joanna L. Golden et al. v. Cynthia D. Powers
E2019-00712-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

This appeal concerns a jury verdict in a personal injury case. Joanna L. Golden (“Golden”) was jogging in the dark early one morning when she was struck accidentally by a car driven by Cynthia D. Powers (“Powers”). Golden and her husband, Douglas K. Rice (“Rice”) (“Plaintiffs,” collectively), sued Powers in the Circuit Court for Hawkins County (“the Trial Court”), asserting various claims including negligence. The matter was tried before a jury. The jury found Golden to be 80% and Powers 20% at fault. Plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial, which the Trial Court denied. Plaintiffs appeal to this Court arguing that the Trial Court failed to act as thirteenth juror and that the jury’s allocation of fault was unsupported by material evidence. Plaintiffs argue also that the jury was prejudiced against them for their being well-off out-of-towners. We find, first, that the Trial Court independently weighed the evidence and acted properly as thirteenth juror. We find further that the jury’s allocation of fault is supported by material evidence. Finally, Plaintiffs’ claim of jury prejudice is speculative, at best. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 02/12/20
Joanna L. Golden, ET Al. v. Cynthia D. Powers
E2019-00712-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

This appeal concerns a jury verdict in a personal injury case. Joanna L. Golden (“Golden”) was jogging in the dark early one morning when she was struck accidentally by a car driven by Cynthia D. Powers (“Powers”). Golden and her husband, Douglas K. Rice (“Rice”) (“Plaintiffs,” collectively), sued Powers in the Circuit Court for Hawkins County (“the Trial Court”), asserting various claims including negligence. The matter was tried before a jury. The jury found Golden to be 80% and Powers 20% at fault. Plaintiffs filed a motion for a new trial, which the Trial Court denied. Plaintiffs appeal to this Court arguing that the Trial Court failed to act as thirteenth juror and that the jury’s allocation of fault was unsupported by material evidence. Plaintiffs argue also that the jury was prejudiced against them for their being well-off out-of-towners. We find, first, that the Trial Court independently weighed the evidence and acted properly as thirteenth juror. We find further that the jury’s allocation of fault is supported by material evidence. Finally, Plaintiffs’ claim of jury prejudice is speculative, at best. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 02/12/20
In Re Nathan C.
E2019-01197-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry Michael Warner

This is the second appeal of this termination of parental rights case. Appellants appeal the trial court’s termination of their parental rights on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by willful failure to support, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1); and (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the children’s removal, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3). Because it does not appear that the trial court exercised its independent judgment in reaching its decision, we vacate the judgment and remand for entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law in compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-113(k) (2017). Such findings and conclusions must also be a product of the trial court’s own independent judgment.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 02/12/20
Nicola Dalili v. Sam Dalili
E2019-00371-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee

This is an appeal from a divorce proceeding. While the case was pending, the trial court ordered the parties to sell commercial property they owned. After a two-day bench trial, the trial court divided the parties’ remaining marital estate. The wife appeals, arguing that the trial court denied her due process by ordering the sale of the commercial property and erred in dividing the marital estate. For the following reasons, we vacate and remand for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 02/10/20
In Re James D., et al.
W2019-00863-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

This is a termination of parental rights case, wherein mother and stepfather petitioned to terminate father’s parental rights as to his two minor children on the grounds that he had abandoned the children by failing to visit and by failing to support them. Additionally, mother and stepfather petitioned that stepfather be allowed to adopt the children. The trial court denied the termination petition, finding that father had not willfully abandoned the children because mother had thwarted his attempts to visit and support them. On appeal, we find that father did willfully abandon the children. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a determination of whether termination of father’s parental rights is in the best interests of the children. The trial court’s decision regarding stepfather’s petition to adopt the minor children must await the trial court’s determination on remand as to whether or not termination of father’s parental rights is in the best interest of the children.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/07/20
Cecilia Gonzalez v. Mauricio Gonzalez
W2018-01673-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This is an appeal from a final decree of divorce. Husband/Appellant argues that the trial court erred in granting a divorce and in enforcing the parties’ Marital Dissolution Agreement (“MDA”). The basis of Husband’s argument is that the parties’ marriage is void as bigamous because Wife/Appellee was married at the time the parties married. The trial court held that Wife’s Chilean marriage was void ab initio, thus rendering the parties’ marriage valid. As such, the trial court granted Wife a divorce and enforced the MDA. Husband appeals. We vacate the amount of attorney’s fees awarded to Wife under the MDA due to a lack of findings concerning the amount and reasonableness thereof. The trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/07/20
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v. Dorothy L. Nelson, et al.
W2019-00654-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

This case involves a forcible entry and detainer action regarding a parcel of real property that was purchased at a foreclosure sale. The purchaser at foreclosure brought this detainer action against the previous owners of the property. The General Sessions Court ruled in favor of the purchaser, as did the Circuit Court pursuant to a de novo appeal. Although the prior owners now appeal to this Court to raise certain grievances, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/05/20
Bank of New York Mellon v. Helen E. Chamberlain
M2019-00876-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

Appellant homeowner appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the purchaser bank in an unlawful detainer action. Because the homeowner presented specific evidence to show a genuine dispute of material fact as to the whether certain mandatory provisions of the deed of trust were complied with prior to foreclosure, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/05/20
Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc.
W2018-01645-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

The Tennessee Supreme Court remanded this matter to the trial court for a more definite statement as to the grounds for remittitur. The Court specifically noted that “the trial court’s failure to indicate the reasons for its suggested remittitur leaves us unable to determine whether the evidence preponderates against the remittitur and, consequently, unable to conduct a proper appellate review of the trial court’s remittitur decision.” The trial court responded, inter alia, that the plaintiff had improved his ability to lift and engage in repetitive activities, and that this proof, along with the plaintiff’s success at rehabilitation, strong work ethic, and desire to support his family, led the court to find that the plaintiff “will have some future income over the next 38 years which is the basis for reducing the loss of earning capacity from $1,455,000 to $1,100,000.” We find that a preponderance of the evidence does not support the decision of the trial court to remit the judgment to $1,100,000, and we, therefore reverse the judgment. We further find that based on the proof in the record that the judgment for loss of earning capacity damages should be remitted to $1,334,647. We, therefore, remit the jury’s verdict for loss of earning capacity damages to $1,334,647.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/04/20
Richard J. Hartigan et al. v. Arnold Brush
E2019-00262-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Frank V. Williams, III

This is an action to recover damages for a purported buyer’s breach of a contract to purchase improved residential real property. The trial court awarded Sellers damages calculated as the difference between the contract price and the amount for which the home sold one year after the breach. It also awarded Sellers and both realty companies prejudgment interest. On appeal, Appellant asserts the trial court erred in its determination of damages. He contends that, under the circumstances, an appraisal of the property performed at the time of breach demonstrates a substantially greater real market value than the sales price. Appellant also appeals the trial court’s calculation of the amount of prejudgment interest awarded to Sellers and the realty companies. Because the trial court made no findings of fact with respect to the fair market value of the property at the time of breach, we remand this matter for further findings and, if necessary, recalculation of the damages and prejudgment interest awarded to Sellers. We also remand this matter to the trial court to recalculate the amount of prejudgment interest to be awarded to the realty companies.

Roane County Court of Appeals 02/04/20
The Electric Employees' Civil Service and Pension Board of Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee v. Brian Mansell
M2019-00413-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clements Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This appeal arises from the decision of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Electric Power Board to terminate a Nashville Electric Service (“NES”) cable splicer/working foreman. The foreman allegedly approved fraudulent timesheets for a Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officer, who performed traffic control at NES jobsites for a private contractor. After NES preferred charges against the foreman and suspended him without pay, the board referred the matter to an administrative law judge (“the ALJ”) for adjudication. Following a two-day administrative hearing, the ALJ made numerous findings of fact and conclusions of law in a 55-page report. The ALJ found that the foreman’s job description did not include verifying the accuracy of the timesheets, NES had not trained the foreman on how to verify the accuracy of the timesheets, and a majority of the inaccurate timesheets could be explained by NES’s common practice of rounding up hours at the end of an officer’s shift. Although there was evidence that the officer overstated his hours, the ALJ found the evidence was insufficient to establish the foreman knowingly approved any false timesheets. Accordingly, the ALJ recommended that the charges of termination be denied and that the foreman be reinstated without back pay. After reviewing the ALJ’s report, the board rejected his recommendation and approved NES’s termination of the foreman. However, the board did not make its own findings of fact or express disagreement with the ALJ’s findings. After the foreman filed his petition for judicial review, the trial court reviewed the administrative record and heard arguments of counsel. In its final order, the trial court concluded that “NES’s lack of proof and the apparent acceptance of time-approval practices combine here to demonstrate a lack of substantial and material evidence to uphold the Board’s decision to terminate.” Thus, the trial court reversed the board’s decision, adopted the ALJ’s Report in toto, and directed that the foreman “be reinstated, without backpay.” On appeal, the board contends the trial court applied incorrect principles of law and reweighed the evidence. We disagree. The Charter of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requires the Electric Power Board to reduce its findings to writing when taking disciplinary action against an employee. In this case, the board rejected the recommendation of the ALJ without making alternative findings of fact to support or explain its reasoning. Thus, the only findings of fact, credibility determinations, and conclusions of law in the administrative record are those of the ALJ. Because the ALJ’s findings are supported by substantial and material evidence, we conclude that NES failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the foreman knowingly approved false timesheets for the police officer. We also conclude that a reasoning mind could not have reached the same conclusion as the board under a proper application of the controlling legal principles. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/04/20
In Re Benjamin P. et al.
E2019-01022-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

This action involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her two minor children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the statutory ground of the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court also found that termination was in the best interest of the children. We affirm the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 02/04/20
Pamela Pryor v. City of Memphis
W2018-01353-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This appeal involves Appellant City of Memphis’ (“the City”) decision to deny Appellee Pamela Pryor’s application for On-the-Job-Injury (“OJI”) benefits arising from the death of her husband while he was employed as a firefighter. On appeal, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) upheld the City’s denial of the OJI claim citing the absence of an autopsy report as required by the City’s OJI policy. On review, the trial court reversed the ALJ’s decision on its finding that the City’s OJI Policy PM 74-02(3), which required claimant to procure an autopsy, conflicted with the statutory presumption given firefighters in Tennessee Code Annotated section 7-51-201, and remanded the case to the ALJ to conduct a new hearing on the merits. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/31/20
Jonah Paul Anders v. Mayla Anders
W2020-00146-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B from the trial court’s denial of a motion for recusal. Petitioner contends the trial judge should have recused herself but fails to state any grounds or facts to support his contention. Moreover, Petitioner failed to comply with Rule 10B by, inter alia, not attaching an affidavit that verified the specific factual grounds supporting disqualification of the trial judge. Due to Petitioner’s failure to comply with Rule 10B, we affirm the trial court’s decision to deny the motion for recusal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/31/20
Hutton Team, LLC v. Ingles Markets, Incorporated Et Al.
E2018-01372-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

A grocery store, the anchor tenant of a shopping center, objected to the planned construction of a retail auto parts store on an adjacent property, which fronted the shopping center. In letters to the developer, the grocery store claimed it had approval rights in the adjacent property by virtue of its lease. The developer sought declaratory relief to settle the dispute and sought damages against the grocery story under several theories, including slander of title. The grocery store answered and counterclaimed for attorney’s fees. At the conclusion of trial, the court granted the developer its requested declaratory relief, but it dismissed the developer’s claims for damages. The court also declined to award the grocery store attorney’s fees. On appeal, the grocery store claims error in the finding that it lacked approval rights over development of the adjacent property, either by virtue of its lease or equitable theories. The grocery store additionally challenges the denial of its request for attorney’s fees for successfully defending against the developer’s slander of title claim. Based on our review, the grocery store failed to establish it had approval rights over the adjacent property. We also conclude that attorney’s fees were not recoverable for successfully defending the slander of title claim. So we affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 01/31/20
Jerry Cox v. Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority Of Wilson County, Tennessee
M2018-00433-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

While a homeowner was standing on the water meter box in his yard, the concrete cover on the box moved unexpectedly, and the homeowner was injured. The homeowner sought compensation for his injuries from the county water authority. The water authority denied it had prior notice that the water meter box was dangerous or defective and alleged the comparative fault of the homeowner. After a bench trial, the trial court found the water authority had actual notice of the dangerous or defective condition of the water meter box and failed to take appropriate action. The court allocated 100% of the fault to the water authority and awarded the homeowner both economic and noneconomic damages. The water authority challenges the trial court’s findings on liability, comparative fault, and the amount of noneconomic damages. The water authority also claims that the trial court made several procedural errors. We conclude that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s factual findings. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.  

Wilson County Court of Appeals 01/31/20
In Re Serenity S. Et Al.
E2019-00277-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brian J. Hunt

This is a termination of parental rights case, focusing on Serenity S., Hezeki S., Azaiah W., and Lyriq S., the minor children (“the Children”) of Angela W. (“Mother”) and William S. (“Father”). The Children were taken into protective custody by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) on March 30, 2017, upon investigation into allegations of environmental and educational neglect. The Anderson County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) subsequently adjudicated the Children dependent and neglected as to both parents on May 23, 2017. On July 11, 2018, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father to the Children. Following a bench trial, the trial court granted the petition as to both parents in an order entered on January 18, 2019.1 As pertinent to this appeal, the trial court found that statutory grounds existed to terminate Mother’s parental rights upon its finding by clear and convincing evidence that (1) Mother had abandoned the Children by failing to visit them, (2) Mother had failed to substantially comply with the reasonable responsibilities and requirements of the permanency plans, (3) the conditions leading to the Children’s removal from Mother’s home persisted, and (4) Mother had failed to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume custody of or financial responsibility for the Children. The trial court further found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parental rights to the Children.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 01/31/20
Susan Scott Davis v. Bobby Tex Henry
E2019-00365-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

This appeal arose from the trial court’s final order denying the father’s motion to set aside a prior agreed parentage order and agreed permanent parenting plan order (“PPP”) entered into by the father and the mother. The trial court determined that under relevant case law, it had “no duty to conduct any further hearing” regarding the parentage order and PPP because the court had on previous occasions conducted multiple hearings. The father subsequently appealed the trial court’s final order, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court failed to make specific findings of fact regarding the best interest of the minor child. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/31/20
Deborah Jean Walker v. Barry Lyle Walker
M2018-01140-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

As part of this divorce action, Husband sought enforcement of an antenuptial agreement. Wife claimed the agreement was unenforceable because Husband failed to disclose a condominium he owned with a former girlfriend. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court ruled that the antenuptial agreement was unenforceable because Husband did not enter the agreement in good faith. We conclude that Husband failed to meet his burden of proof at the evidentiary hearing. So we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 01/31/20