Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/28/2017
Format: 04/28/2017
In re Renaldo M. Jr., et al.
M2016-00472-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

The trial court terminated the parental rights of a Mother to her three children on the grounds of abandonment by engaging in conduct evidencing a wanton disregard for the children’s welfare and persistence of conditions.  Mother appeals, contending that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the termination of her rights.  Concluding that the evidence of Mother’s pre-incarceration conduct does not clearly and convincingly prove a wanton disregard for the children’s welfare, we reverse the trial court’s finding in that regard.  There is clear and convincing evidence supporting holding that the conditions which led to the children’s removal from Mother’s custody persisted and that termination of her rights is in the best interest of the children; accordingly, we affirm the termination of Mother’s rights on that ground.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 12/30/16
Hyundai Motor America v. Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission, et al.
M2015-01411-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal arises from a proceeding initiated by two automobile dealers who challenged the location of a proposed dealership in a contested case proceeding before the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission (the “Commission”); the manufacturer contended that the dealers were not located in the “relevant market area,” as required by statute and moved to dismiss the proceeding for lack of standing.  The administrative law judge overruled the manufacturer’s motion, and the manufacturer filed a petition in Chancery Court seeking interlocutory review.  The trial court dismissed the petition, holding that the court lacked jurisdiction to review the administrative judge’s ruling on the motion.  The motor vehicle manufacturer appeals the dismissal of its petition for judicial review of the denial of its motion to dismiss the contested case proceeding. Concluding that the manufacturer did not meet the threshold requirement for immediate judicial review as set forth in the Administrative Procedures Act, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/30/16
In re Cheyanna B.
E2016-01503-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dennis "Will" Roach, II
John B. (“Father”) appeals the order of the Juvenile Court for Jefferson County (“the Juvenile Court”) terminating his parental rights to the minor child Cheyanna B. (“the Child”) after finding and holding that grounds for termination for abandonment by wanton disregard pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102(1)(A)(iv) were proven by clear and convincing evidence and that it was proven by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the Child’s best interest. We find and hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the Juvenile Court’s findings made by clear and convincing evidence, and we affirm.
 
Jefferson County Court of Appeals 12/29/16
Demquarter Healthcare Investors, L.P. v. OP Chattanooga, LLC, et al.
E2016-00031-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey M. Atherton

This case involves the lease of a skilled nursing facility. The lessee assigned the lease, and the assignee then subleased the nursing facility. While the appeal raises multiple issues, we have determined that the lessor prevails and that the judgment of the trial court must be reversed and the case remanded.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/29/16
Ken Buckner, et al. v. Mike Goodman, et al.
E2016-00150-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri S. Bryant

This case involves a contract to purchase a home on the sellers‟ condition that the home be removed from the sellers‟ real property at the buyers‟ expense. The sellers and the buyers entered into a written contract on January 25, 2013, at which time the buyers paid a $2,500 deposit toward an agreed price of $5,000 for the home. The contract did not set forth a deadline for the home to be removed from the sellers‟ property, although the sellers were required to demonstrate to the lender financing their new construction loan that the home had been removed. The buyers contacted several potential house movers to transport the home but did not execute a final written contract with any of them. The sellers subsequently entered into a written agreement with movers who had originally been contacted by the buyers, retaining the movers to “take possession” of the home and transport it but providing the original buyers a first option to purchase. After learning of the agreement between the sellers and the movers, the buyers contacted the movers, “firing” them. The sellers then had the home demolished. The buyers filed a complaint against the sellers, alleging breach of a home sales contract. The sellers filed a counter-complaint, alleging that the buyers had materially breached the contract first by failing to timely remove the home. The buyers subsequently filed a second complaint against the movers, alleging intentional interference with contractual relations. The trial court consolidated the two actions. Following presentation of the buyers‟ proof during a bench trial, the trial court found that the buyers had materially breached the contract. The court granted the sellers‟ and the movers‟ respective motions for involuntary dismissal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02. Upon hearing the sellers‟ evidence regarding damages, the court entered a judgment in favor of the sellers in the amount of $5,200, comprised of $7,700 in total damages offset by the $2,500 previously paid by the buyers. The buyers timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/29/16
In re Yariel S., et al.
E2016-00939-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin
This appeal arises from a 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 Yaron L. (“Father”) to his four minor children Yariel, Yaron, Yariyana, and YariAsia (“the Children”). After a trial, the Juvenile Court terminated Father’s parental rights on the grounds of persistent conditions and substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan. The Juvenile Court also found that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Father appeals to this Court. Father argues that he was not properly notified of the trial, that counsel should have been appointed, and that termination of his parental rights is not in the Children’s best interest. We hold that that the evidence in the record on appeal shows, as found by the Juvenile Court, that Father was notified of trial, that Father failed to appear at trial, and that the Juvenile Court did not err in declining to appoint Father counsel when he failed to appear. We also find and hold that the Juvenile Court’s determinations regarding grounds for termination and the Children’s best interest are supported by clear and convincing evidence. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.
 
Knox County Court of Appeals 12/29/16
In Re: Neylan H.
E2015-02444-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

Terri W.H. (“Mother”) and Justin H. (“Stepfather”) filed a petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of James P. (“Father”) to the minor child Neylan H. (“the Child”) in order to allow Stepfather to adopt the Child. After a trial, the Circuit Court for Greene County (“the Trial Court”) entered its order denying the petition after finding and holding, inter alia, that Mother and Stepfather had failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Father had abandoned the Child by willful failure to provide support. Mother appeals to this Court. We find and hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the findings made by the Trial Court, and we affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 12/29/16
WM Capital Partners, LLC v. Anthony W. Thornton, et al.
M2015-00328-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

A secured creditor filed suit against a trucking company and two guarantors seeking a deficiency judgment after disposition of the collateral securing payment of the debt.  The trial court granted the secured creditor summary judgment in the amount of the deficiency.  On appeal, the trucking company and the guarantors argue that (1) the delay in repossessing the collateral rendered its disposition commercially unreasonable and (2) the secured creditor failed to present sufficient evidence of the amount of its damages.  We conclude that the requirement of a commercially reasonable disposition found in Tennessee Code Annotated § 47-9-610 only applies once the secured party has actual or constructive possession of the collateral.  The secured creditor’s refusal to repossess the collateral at the trucking company’s request did not amount to actual or constructive possession.  Nonetheless, in light of the challenge to the time aspect of the disposition, the secured creditor failed to meet its burden of production on summary judgment.  Therefore, we reverse the grant of summary judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/29/16
William Stuart Davis v. Cathy Denise Davis
M2015-02106-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

This is an appeal from the divorce in a 26-year marriage.  The court awarded the divorce to Wife on the ground of inappropriate marital conduct and awarded Wife approximately 62 percent of the marital estate.  The court ordered Husband to pay alimony in futuro and Wife’s attorney’s fees as alimony in solido.  Husband appeals the court’s division of the marital estate, the award of alimony in solido, and the amount of alimony in futuro awarded.  We have determined that the division of the marital estate, under the circumstances presented, was equitable and that the record supports the determination to award alimony in futuro and alimony in solido; we vacate the amount awarded as alimony in futuro and remand the case for further reconsideration of the amount awarded.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/29/16
Bobby D. Murray, et al.. v. Michael Murphy, et al.
E2016-01908-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael S. Pemberton
The pro se appellants, Bobby Murray and Loretta Murray, appeal from an order of the Trial Court which does not resolve all the issues and claims raised in the consolidated proceedings below. The appellees, Michael Murphy and Vicki Murphy, have filed a motion to dismiss the appeal arguing that the lack of a final order deprives this Court of jurisdiction. Because the appellants concede in their response to the motion to dismiss that “the case is not over and the Final Order is not yet made,” it appears that the motion to dismiss is well-taken and this appeal is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
Roane County Court of Appeals 12/29/16
In re G.L.
E2016-00597-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenneth N. Bailey, Jr.

This is a termination of parental rights case. The Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of C.L. (Mother)1 to her child, G.L. (the Child). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of grounds supporting termination due to severe child abuse and abandonment by an incarcerated parent. The court also found, by the same quantum of evidence, that termination is in the best interest of the Child. Mother appeals. We affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Rainbow Ridge Resort, LLC, et al. v. Branch Banking And Trust Co.
E2015-01221-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

The facts in this case implicate the doctrine of res judicata. In 2012, a real estate development limited liability company and its members filed suit in the Sevier County Circuit Court against their mortgage lender, Branch Banking and Trust Company (the bank). In that action, the developers alleged, inter alia, that the bank was guilty of fraud, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment. That suit involved four separate parcels of real property. While the case in circuit court was pending, the bank sued three individuals in the Sevier County Chancery Court, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the priority of a security interest in one of the parcels of property at issue in the circuit court case. In the chancery court action, the bank joined the developers as parties. In response, the developers filed a counterclaim in which they repeated allegations included in the circuit court case and asserted other claims derived from the same set of facts. The two cases were later consolidated. In each case, the bank filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The court heard both motions at a single hearing. On June 8, 2015, the trial court filed two orders – one in the circuit court suit and one by interchange in the chancery court action – granting the bank's motions. The developers appealed only the circuit court order. Unchallenged, the chancery court order became final. The bank later moved to dismiss this appeal, arguing that the doctrine of res judicata barred further litigation. We deferred a ruling on the bank's motion. We now hold that the motion has merit. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment dismissing this case. We do so based upon the doctrine of res judicata.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Civis Bank v. The Willows At Twin Cove Marina Condominium And Home Owners Association, Inc.
E2016-00140-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Elizabeth C. Asbury

This case involves a residential development on Norris Lake in Campbell County called The Willows at Twin Cove Marina. The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for the development grants certain rights to the individual/entity described in the document as the “Declarant.” As pertinent to this case, those rights include an exemption from payment of maintenance assessments to the homeowner's association under certain circumstances. The original owner of the development defaulted on construction loans, resulting in a foreclosure sale of certain portions of the development property and the personal property of the original owner. Civis Bank, the successor owner of the property sold at foreclosure, brought this action asking the trial court to declare it to be the “Declarant,” and thereby exempted from assessments levied by the defendant homeowner's association. Both sides moved for summary judgment. The trial court held that Civis did not meet the applicable definition of “Declarant” in the Declaration. We agree. Accordingly, we affirm the court's grant of summary judgment to the homeowners' association.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Mitchell Hunter Oakes v. Patricia Marie Oakes
E2016-00274-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sam E. Benningfield, Jr.

In this divorce case, Mitchell Hunter Oakes appeals the trial court’s division of the marital estate. Husband’s appellate brief contains no case citations or references to the record. Furthermore, there is no authority cited other than the statute addressing a division of marital property. These multiple deficiencies are clear violations of Tenn. R. App. P. 27(a). In addition, Husband’s brief does not contain a table as required by Court of Appeals Rule 7. As we have held on numerous occassions, deficiencies such as these constitute a waiver of any issues raised by the offending party. Because of these omissions, this appeal had no reasonable chance of success. Accordingly, we agree with his former spouse, Patricia Marie Oakes, that his appeal is frivolous in nature. Therefore, Wife is entitled to recover from Husband her reasonable fees and expenses incurred on appeal. Appeal dismissed.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Billy Coffey, et al. v. Hamblen County, et al. - Concurring and Dissenting
E2016-01116-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

I fully concur in the majority’s opinion with the exception of the majority’s determination that “we simply cannot agree with the trial court’s classification of the claim at issue as a consumer claim when Plaintiffs filed suit pursuant to a contract between the County and EMS for the failure to provide services as promised in the service agreement.” I instead believe that the language of the AHLA, as set out in the majority’s opinion and applicable to this issue, is broad enough to cover an alleged failure to provide services as promised in the service agreement. Specifically, I believe the definition in the AHLA, as quoted by the majority, defining a Consumer Case to be “a dispute between a Health Care Entity and a Consumer concerning: (a) the delivery of care or treatment by the Health Care Entity. . .” is broad enough to cover a failure to deliver the required care or treatment.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Billy Coffey, et al. v. Hamblen County, et al.
E2016-01116-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

This is a breach of contract action in which the plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of the decedent, who died as a result of suicide in the county jail. The plaintiffs sought damages from the designated emergency medical services provider pursuant to a contract between the provider and the county. The provider filed a motion to stay and compel arbitration pursuant to the terms of the contract. The plaintiffs argued that the arbitration provision in the contract was invalid because it did not contain the required notice advising the parties of the waiver of trial by jury and appeal. The trial court agreed and denied the motion. We reverse and remand for arbitration

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 12/28/16
Christina Lee Cain-Swope v. Robert David Swope
M2015-00872-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

In this divorce action, the wife appeals, contending the trial court erred in calculating her child support obligation by failing to impute income to the husband and by not deviating downward from the child support guidelines for the private school tuition and expenses she pays. The wife also contends the trial court erred in awarding the husband alimony in futuro in the amount of $2,400, and ordering her to pay $10,000 of the husband’s attorney’s fees. The wife further contends the trial judge made statements during opening arguments regarding the issue of alimony that indicated bias. As for child support, the wife is correct in stating that the trial court did not consider a deviation in child support for extraordinary educational expenses; however, the wife did not request a deviation and the parties agreed that the wife is not required to pay for private school tuition after the divorce. Accordingly, we find no error with the trial court not considering a deviation based on the possibility that the wife may or may not incur extraordinary educational expenses in the future. As for the amount of alimony to be paid, the trial court’s findings of fact concerning the wife’s ability to pay and the husband’s need for alimony fail to satisfy the mandatory requirements of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. Therefore, we vacate the award of alimony in the amount of $2,400 per month and remand for the trial court to make findings of fact and state separately its conclusions of law concerning the wife’s ability to pay and the husband’s need for alimony, and direct the entry of a judgment setting the appropriate amount of alimony in futuro. We affirm the trial court in all other respects.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/23/16
Gregory A. Snow v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al
M2016-01148-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

An inmate was relocated from one cell to another in 2012 as part of a large-scale inmate reassignment, and two knives were found in the door to the inmate’s cell in 2015. The inmate was charged with the possession of a deadly weapon and was found guilty by the disciplinary board following a hearing. The inmate claimed he did not know anything about the knives and that he did not believe the cell was searched prior to his reassignment, as the prison policies require. The inmate exhausted his administrative appeals before filing a petition for writ of certiorari. In an effort to prove his cell was not searched prior to his reassignment and that the evidence did not support his conviction, the inmate sought permission to discover documents from the State, which the trial court denied. The trial court granted the writ of certiorari but denied the inmate any relief. The inmate raises several issues on appeal. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 12/22/16
In re Heaven J.
W2016-00782-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dan H. Michael

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights to his daughter. The trial court terminated the father’s parental rights upon finding by clear and convincing evidence that several grounds for termination were proven and that termination was in the best interest of the child. We conclude that the record contains insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s findings as to grounds for termination. We accordingly reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/22/16
Vernon Lockhart v. Commissioner of The Tennessee Department of Safety
M2016-00083-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell

This appeal arises from a civil forfeiture. Vernon Lockhart (“Lockhart”) was charged and later convicted on a number of criminal counts related to the distribution of large amounts of marijuana. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (“the Department”) declared as forfeited certain of Lockhart’s properties alleged to be derived from illegal drug transactions. An Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”) found in favor of the Department by a preponderance of the evidence, a decision which was affirmed on appeal by the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”). Lockhart appeals to this Court, arguing, in large part, that the evidence used against him should have been suppressed and that the ALJ and Trial Court erred by failing to conduct an analysis of his suppression issue independent of the resolution of that issue in the criminal court proceedings. We hold, inter alia, that the ALJ’s order of forfeiture was supported by a preponderance of the evidence and that the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars Lockhart from re-litigating whether the evidence should have been suppressed as that issue has been resolved finally on appeal in his criminal proceedings. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court upholding the ALJ’s order declaring Lockhart’s designated properties forfeited to the state.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. Estate of Richard M. Archie and Jessica Cossitt
W2016-01287-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

This appeal involves a dispute regarding a household exclusion clause in an automobile insurance policy. Following a motorcycle accident in which the defendant was injured while riding as a passenger of the insured, the insurance company filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the exclusion relieved it of liability for the defendant’s claims because the defendant was residing in the insured’s household at the time of the accident. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that the defendant was not residing in the insured’s household at the time of the accident for purposes of determining liability coverage and denied the insurance company’s request for declaratory relief. The insurance company appealed. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
Moufak Sakaan v. FedEx Corporation, Inc., et al.
W2016-00648-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

The Plaintiff filed suit against a number of corporate and individual Defendants alleging claims for intentional and negligent misrepresentation. After filing answers to the complaint, the Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings on the basis that the asserted claims were time-barred. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the Plaintiff’s case with prejudice. Discerning no error in this decision, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
Erin Alford Fuller v. Roger Darnell Fuller
E2016-00243-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri S. Bryant

This appeal stems from a divorce action involving, inter alia, issues of proper valuation of a marital asset, child support, and alimony. The trial court found that the “trail” income from the father's financial planning business was a divisible marital asset, valuing it according to the evidence presented. The trial court set child support and alimony based on its determination of the father's income as an average of the prior two years' gross revenues from his business. The father has appealed. We determine that the trial court properly classified and valued the father's trail income from his business. We also determine, however, that the trial court erred by including in the father's income, for child support and alimony purposes, the amount of the trail income distributed as a marital asset. We vacate the trial court's determination regarding the amount of child support and alimony to be paid by the father. We remand this matter for a proper determination regarding the father's income, as well as an appropriate calculation of child support and determination of alimony in favor of the mother resulting therefrom. We determine the father's issue regarding the allocation of days in the permanent parenting plan to be moot. We affirm the trial court's judgment in all other respects. We decline to award attorney's fees on appeal to either party

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
In re Linette B.
E2016-01316-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin
This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the termination of her parental rights on the grounds of: (1) failure to substantially comply with the requirements of the permanency plan; and (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal from Appellant’s custody. The trial court also found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Appellant’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Discerning no error, we affirm.
 
Knox County Court of Appeals 12/21/16
Dement Construction Company, LLC v. Lucas C. Nemeth, et al.
M2015-02204-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

This case arises from landowners’ counter-suit for damages allegedly resulting from a construction company’s use of the landowners’ property to store excess topsoil from a road construction project. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the construction company, finding that the construction company was not responsible for the alleged damage to the property. The landowners appeal, asserting that the trial court made erroneous evidentiary rulings and failed to properly instruct the jury. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 12/20/16