Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 06/25/2017
Format: 06/25/2017
Lee Phan v. Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance
M2016-00612-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chancellor Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell T. Perkins

After a contested case hearing, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), acting on behalf of the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology, revoked a cosmetologist’s license based upon evidence that he had assisted in the procurement of reciprocity licenses in exchange for cash.  The ALJ also assessed civil penalties against the cosmetologist in the amount of $20,000.  The cosmetologist filed a request for judicial review, and the chancery court affirmed the decision of the ALJ.  We have concluded that the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial and material evidence and that none of the grounds raised by the cosmetologist justify reversal under the deferential standard of review described in Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322(h).

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/02/17
Grenda Harmer v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al.
M2016-01156-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

This appeal involves review of prison disciplinary proceedings. The prisoner pled guilty to the possession of contraband and waived his right to a formal disciplinary hearing. He later attempted to appeal his conviction and have it set aside. The chancery court affirmed the conviction by the prison disciplinary board. We affirm.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 03/02/17
Laura Lee Demastus v. University Health System, Inc.
E2016-00375-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

Plaintiff Laura Lee Demastus brought this action against her former employer, University Health System, Inc., doing business as the University of Tennessee Medical Center (Employer). After Plaintiff had worked roughly three years as a nurse at the UT Medical Center, Employer suspected that she was illegally diverting medications. When Plaintiff’s supervisors confronted her with evidence of several suspicious transactions recorded by the medication monitoring systems, Plaintiff denied doing anything wrong or improper. She, however, could not explain the suspicious transactions. She was terminated shortly thereafter. Plaintiff brought this action under the Tennessee Disabilities Act (TDA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-50-103 et seq. (2016), alleging that she was fired solely because Employer perceived her to have the disability of drug addiction. Employer argued that it did not fire her because she was considered a drug addict, but because it thought she was stealing medications. Following discovery, the trial court granted summary judgment, holding that under the undisputed material facts, Plaintiff could not establish that Employer’s proffered non-discriminatory reason was a pretext for illegal discrimination. We affirm

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/02/17
Maryam Ghorashi-Bajestani v Masoud Bajestani
E2016-00063-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey M. Atherton

This is the third appeal in a post-divorce case. It arises from Husband’s petition to modify the requirement that he pay private school tuition for his children’s elementary and secondary education, and Wife’s petition to calculate Husband’s income tax rate in order to determine the net amount to be paid to Wife out of Husband’s deferred compensation for 2011, 2012, and 2013. Husband contends the trial court erred by holding that his obligation to pay private school tuition was not modifiable because it was a contractual obligation. He also contends the trial court incorrectly calculated the tax rates and erred by refusing to allow him to introduce expert proof of the proper method for this calculation. We have determined the trial court erred in ruling that Husband’s obligation to pay private school tuition for elementary and secondary education was not modifiable. Therefore, we reverse and remand this issue with instructions for the trial court to determine whether a material change of circumstances has been established and, if so, whether to modify Husband’s obligation to pay private elementary and secondary school tuition for the children. With regard to the tax rates for 2011, 2012, and 2013, Husband failed to introduce evidence at the hearing that pertained to the proper method to be used to determine the tax rates. After the court rendered its ruling, Husband filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.02 motion seeking permission to present expert proof on the tax rate issue in order to alter or amend the ruling. We find no error with the decision to not consider Husband’s belated expert proof or the decision to deny the motion to alter or amend. We also affirm the trial court’s calculation of the tax rates and Wife’s share of Husband’s deferred compensation for the years in question. As for Wife’s challenge to the trial court’s decision to impute income to her for the purpose of calculating child support and refusing to consider work-related care expenses she might incur, we affirm these decisions.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 03/01/17
SK Food Corporation, et. al., v. First Bank
M2016-01019-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

Three corporations approached a lender seeking to refinance an existing loan secured by a deed of trust on certain commercial properties. The parties entered an agreement specifying that the lender’s security interest would be a “first lien deed of trust” and requiring the borrowers to pay a nonrefundable “commitment fee.” The borrowers executed the agreement and paid the commitment fee, but the loan did not close due to the discovery of a prior lien on one of the properties. The borrowers filed suit against the lender for damages arising out of the lender’s refusal to lend or to refund the commitment fee. The trial court granted the lender’s motion for summary judgment but denied the lender’s request for attorneys’ fees. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Jeanette Arnold Buntyn v. Stevonski Elliott Buntyn
W2016-00398-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

This appeal stems from a divorce proceeding in which Wife was awarded alimony in futuro. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the trial court’s award of alimony and remand for further proceedings.

Madison County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Charles Van Morgan v. The Tennessee Civil Service Commission, et al
M2016-00034-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

Judicial review of a decision of the Tennessee Board of Appeals upholding the termination of a trooper with the Tennessee Highway Patrol for his conduct during a traffic pursuit. The trial court upheld the trooper’s termination. On appeal, the trooper asserts that the administrative judge who heard the case erred in disregarding expert testimony and, as a consequence, the Board’s decision is unsupported by substantial and material evidence. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Jonathan Harper v. Steve Harris, et al
M2016-00564-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joel Perry

This appeal involves a father’s petition to modify an order granting custody of his minor child to the maternal grandparents. The father alternatively requested an order granting him specific visitation. The juvenile court dismissed the petition on the grandparents’ motion. After our review of the petition, we conclude the juvenile court appropriately dismissed father’s request for a change of custody based solely upon the presumption of superior parental rights. But the court erred in dismissing the father’s request for visitation. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Hiam Alshinnawi v. Judy Denry
M2016-00177-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers


This case originated when the plaintiff filed an action against the defendant process server, alleging that the defendant failed to accomplish service within the specified time period. The plaintiff’s action was dismissed by the trial court due to the plaintiff’s failure to present sufficient evidence to prove her case at trial. The plaintiff timely appealed. Because the plaintiff has failed to comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27 and Tennessee Court of Appeals Rule 6, we dismiss this appeal.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
In Re B.B., et al
M2016-00953-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Phillip A. Maxey

The grandparents of three minor children brought this action to terminate the parental rights of the children’s mother. Following a trial, the court found clear and convincing evidence of grounds to terminate mother’s parental rights pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(8)(B)(i), (ii) and -(9)(A)(iv), (v) (2015). By the same quantum of proof, the trial court also found that termination is in the children’s best interest. Mother appeals. We hold that Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(9)(A) is not applicable to this case. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s holding with respect to that ground. As for the remaining grounds, we hold that the trial court’s final order failed to include the requisite findings of fact and conclusions of law required under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(k). As a result, we vacate the final order of termination and remand to the trial court with instructions.  

Cheatham County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Estate of Charles Allen Lane, et al v. Amanda Davenport Courteaux
M2016-00609-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Howard W. Wilson

Decedent had a life insurance policy in which she named her husband and sister as beneficiaries. Upon her death, Decedent’s husband filed suit to recover the proceeds Decedent left to her sister and place them in trust for the benefit of Decedent’s son, who was a minor at the time. The trial court concluded the son was entitled to the proceeds based on the theory of promissory estoppel. The sister appealed, and we reverse the trial court’s judgment. An insurance policy is a contract between the insured and the insurance company, and Decedent was entitled to designate whoever she desired as a beneficiary of her policy. Evidence of Decedent’s intent with respect to the proceeds does not deprive the named beneficiary of her right to the funds.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Donna Babb Frinks v. Patricia Eileen Horvath, et al.
E2016-00944-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor

This case involves alleged trespass via placement of a dock over lakefront real property that is beneath the lake’s fluctuating water line several months of the year. Prior to congressional approval of construction for Douglas Dam in 1942, the property at issue was part of a 488-acre farm owned by the plaintiff’s mother. In 1942, the Tennessee Valley Authority (“TVA”) acquired a flowage easement with the right to flood up to contour line 1007 adjacent to what is now Douglas Lake. TVA subsequently paid $35,628.50 to the plaintiff’s mother to condemn the respective easement rights. In 1944, a third party purchased approximately 245 acres above contour line 1002, creating a subdivision in the 1950s with tracts of land adjacent to the lake. In 2006, the plaintiff learned that she had inherited from her mother title to real property below contour line 1002, located between “lakefront” tracts of land and the lake itself. Upon receipt of a November 2006 letter sent by the plaintiff’s counsel to affected landowners, notifying them of the plaintiff’s claim to the land upon or above which their docks were located, many of the landowners purportedly purchased title to the affected land from the plaintiff. However, the defendant landowner did not respond to the letter. On October 3, 2012, the plaintiff filed a complaint, alleging that the defendant was trespassing by virtue of a dock placed on property to which the plaintiff held title. The defendant had placed her dock immediately following the purchase of her tract in November 1992. The trial court subsequently consolidated this action with two similar lawsuits filed by the plaintiff against other landowners. Following a bench trial, the trial court dismissed the complaint against this defendant upon finding that the defendant had established adverse possession of the property on which the defendant’s dock sits when water levels are down and that the defendant’s possession was continuous even when the dock was floating. The plaintiff timely appealed. Although we determine that the trial court erred in concluding that the defendant had established adverse possession for the twenty-year period required by common law, we further determine this error to be harmless because the defendant successfully established the seven-year period required for the statutory affirmative defense provided by Tennessee Code Annotated § 28-2-103. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Carter Burgess v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al
M2016-01896-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

Appellant, an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction, appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his petition for a writ of certiorari. Inmate alleges that the Disciplinary Board violated several policies in finding him guilty of the charge of drug possession. The trial court granted the writ of certiorari and, upon review of the record, granted TDOC’s motion to dismiss. Inmate appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Gary Voigt vs. Michael A. Plate, et al.
E2016-00473-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John B. Bennett

In this personal injury and contract reformation case, the plaintiff filed a complaint, seeking damages resulting from a motor vehicle collision and reformation of a release of all claims signed by the plaintiff. As grounds for reformation, the plaintiff claimed that an agent of the defendant company fraudulently induced the plaintiff to sign the release. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the plaintiff could not establish an essential element of his action because the plaintiff did not act promptly in seeking reformation of the release. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant upon finding, as a matter of law, that the plaintiff’s action was not prompt after discovery of the alleged fraud and that the plaintiff therefore was not entitled to reformation of the release. The plaintiff timely appealed. Having determined that the question of whether the plaintiff’s actions were sufficiently prompt in seeking the equitable relief of reformation presents a genuine issue of material fact, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
In re Karissa V., et al.
E2016-00395-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Frank V. Williams, III

This appeal concerns the termination of parental rights. Glenn V. (“Grandfather”) filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Roane County (“the Trial Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of his son, Christopher V. (“Father”), and Makara G. (“Mother”) to their minor children, Karissa and Makilee (“the Children”). After a trial, the Trial Court terminated Father’s and Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by failure to support and failure to visit. The Trial Court also granted Grandfather’s motion for adoption. Father and Mother filed appeals to this Court. We, inter alia, reverse the ground of failure to visit with respect to both parents. We also reverse the ground of failure to support with respect to Mother. However, we affirm the ground of failure to support with respect to Father. We find further that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. We affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the judgment of the Trial Court.

Roane County Court of Appeals 02/27/17
Clay Harris Dalton v. Jerry Sandifer, et al.
E2016-00696-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

This case involves a dispute over the commission earned from a real estate transaction. The parties disagree as to whether the plaintiff, Clay Harris Dalton, is entitled to a part of the commission on the transaction. Jerry Sandifer is a principal real estate broker licensed in Tennessee. He is the sole proprietor of Tennessee Realty Pros, LLC (TRP), a Tennessee limited liability company. Dalton is an affiliate real estate broker licensed in Tennessee. On September 6, 2013, Dalton registered his real estate license with Sandifer and TRP (collectively the Brokerage). On November 1, 2013, TRP secured a commercial exclusive right to sell listing agreement from a seller. The agreement encompasses the real estate sold in the transaction at issue. Eventually, TRP procured a buyer, and on March 23, 2014, the buyer executed a commercial purchase and sales agreement. That agreement listed Dalton as the Buyer's Designated Agent and selling licensee. It listed Sandifer as the Seller's Designated Agent and listing licensee. On September 30, 2014, the real estate closing took place, resulting in a total broker's commission of $97,400. Because only one brokerage was involved in the transaction, the entire commission was paid to TRP. Dalton claims that he is entitled to a share of the commission. He further asserts that he had an agreement with Sandifer that Dalton would be paid a share of the commission on the buyer's side of the transaction. Because the Brokerage refused to disburse any of the commission to Dalton, he filed a complaint seeking his share of the commission. The trial court found that, based on the customary and contractual commission split at TRP, Dalton is entitled to $34,090 for acting as the buyer's agent. The court also found that Dalton was entitled to $2,000 for his efforts in listing real property for the Brokerage. Accordingly, the trial court awarded Dalton a total judgment of $36,090. The Brokerage appeals. We affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 02/27/17
Stacey J. Cordell v. Cleveland Tennessee Hospital, LLC, et al
M2016-01466-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

The trial court, pursuant to a motion to dismiss filed by defendants, dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit because she did not comply with certain aspects of the Tennessee Healthcare Liability Act incident to the filing of her original complaint. Because we do not construe the allegations in the original complaint as presenting any health care liability claims, we reverse the trial court’s dismissal of this lawsuit and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/27/17
Bobby McBee v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
W2015-01253-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This appeal arises from a negligence action filed by the plaintiff employee in June 2010, pursuant to the Federal Employer Liability Act ("FELA"), see 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60 (2012), against his former employer, the defendant railroad. The employee, who had worked for the railroad for thirty-nine years in a variety of positions, alleged that he suffered bilateral rotator cuff tears as a result of the railroad‘s negligence in failing to provide him with proper equipment while he worked as a foreman flagman from January 2007 through March 2009. In February 2012, the railroad filed a motion for summary judgment based on the three-year statute of limitations provided in 45 U.S.C. § 56. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion in April 2012 but stated that it would reconsider if presented with additional evidence. The railroad subsequently filed additional motions for summary judgment in January 2014, reasserting the statute-of-limitations defense and asserting that the employee could not prove his claim due to an alleged lack of expert testimony regarding medical causation and an alleged inability to demonstrate the railroad‘s liability through expert testimony. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motions for summary judgment as to the statute of limitations and medical causation. The court, however, granted summary judgment in favor of the railroad based on the employee‘s lack of expert testimony regarding liability. The employee has appealed the judgment, and the railroad has raised an issue regarding the statute of limitations. Having determined that under the circumstances of this action, the employee presented evidence that created a material factual dispute as to whether the railroad negligently contributed to his injuries, we reverse the trial court‘s grant of summary judgment. We affirm the trial court‘s judgment in all other respects.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/24/17
Michael Holley, et al v. Bethany Holley Ortiz
M2015-01432-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

This appeal concerns a mother’s petition to modify an agreed order granting custody of her two minor children to their maternal grandparents. The trial court determined that the mother was entitled to invoke the doctrine of superior parental rights because it concluded that the previous order was a temporary custody order. The court then awarded the mother custody of her children. The grandparents seek review of the trial court’s decision, first, to deny the grandparent’s request for a continuance to secure new counsel and, second, to allow the mother a presumption of superior parental rights. While we disagree that the presumption of superior parental rights applied, we conclude that Mother still demonstrated a material change in circumstances and that a change in custody was in the children’s best interests. We also conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the grandparents’ motion to continue. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Giles County Court of Appeals 02/24/17
In Re: Estate of Sandra Kay Christian
E2015-02276-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

In this case involving the Last Will and Testament of Sandra Kay Christian, we construe a provision in her will in order to determine the interests of the parties with respect to real property owned by her. The deceased passed away on November 15, 2012. Her will contains a residuary clause. That clause devises two-fifths of the residue of her estate to Phyllis Midgett, Ms. Christian's sister. The will contains a separate provision that permits the deceased's nephews, John Reuben Christian, III and Ashley Paul Christian (the Nephews), to purchase her residence. The will provides that, in the event the Nephews elect to purchase the property, they will pay the deceased's niece, Regina Christian Dykes (the Niece), an amount that would make her share of the estate equal to theirs. The Nephews expressed their intent to purchase the residence. Ms. Midgett brought this action seeking a declaration that she has a two-fifths interest in the residence property. The trial court found the will provision at issue to be unambiguous. Consequently, the court held that Midgett has no interest in the residence property. The court directed Nephews to pay one-third of the value of the property to the Niece. Midgett appeals. We affirm

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 02/24/17
Larry D. Patton, et al. v. Shelby County Government, et al.
W2016-00970-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Felicia Corbin Johnson

In 2014, the plaintiffs filed this claim against several defendants pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act due to the recording of a forged deed in 2009. The circuit court dismissed the lawsuit based on the GTLA’s one-year statute of limitations. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/23/17
Davina Ruth Hart v. Gabriel Carse Hart
W2016-01616-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

In this post-divorce proceeding, father appeals the trial court’s reduction of his parenting time. We reverse the trial court’s reduction of father’s parenting time because the evidence does not support the trial court’s modification of the parenting plan and reinstate the previous parenting plan.

Madison County Court of Appeals 02/23/17
Joseph O'Shields, et al. v. City of Memphis, et al.
W2016-01172-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

The issue on appeal in this case is whether the City of Memphis unlawfully assessed a tax on real property located in a newly annexed area of the city in 2012. The plaintiffs are property owners in the annexed area who argue that the city had no authority to assess property taxes in the area for 2012 because its annexation of the area took effect after January 1, 2012. The trial court concluded that the tax was lawful because the City’s annexation of the area took effect before January 1, 2012 and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/23/17
James J. Bogner, II v. Vanderbilt University
M2015-00669-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This is an appeal from a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of the defendant in a health care liability action. The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant hospital for medical malpractice, medical battery, and lack of informed consent. The trial court granted a partial directed verdict in favor of the defendant after the plaintiff presented evidence. At the close of all the proof, the trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict on the remaining issues of medical battery and informed consent. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in denying the motion for a directed verdict, in refusing to adopt the plaintiff’s special jury instructions, and in using a confusing special verdict form. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/23/17
Charles McMahon, et al. v. James Freels
W2015-01557-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

Because the order appealed is not a final judgment, we must dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 02/23/17