Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 08/09/2020
Format: 08/09/2020
John R. Fuller v. Community National Bank
E2018-02023-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela A. Fleenor

Plaintiff John R. Fuller invested more than a million dollars with Jack Brown, who, unbeknownst to Fuller, was running a Ponzi scheme that eventually resulted in Brown’s involuntary bankruptcy and significant losses to numerous investors. Brown had several accounts with Community National Bank (the bank). Brown later died and plaintiff was unsuccessful in recovering from him or his estate. In this action, plaintiff sued the bank, alleging negligence; fraud; aiding and abetting Brown’s fraud and breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and breach of fiduciary duty; and violations of Tennessee’s versions of the Uniform Fiduciaries Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-2-101 (2015) et seq., and Uniform Commercial Code, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 47-3-307(b)(2) and 47-3-402(a) (2001). The trial court granted the bank summary judgment. It held plaintiff’s action was barred by the equitable doctrine of unclean hands, based on its finding that plaintiff “was using Brown to launder his ill-gotten gains,” namely, “upwards of one million dollars in cash [plaintiff kept] in safes to avoid paying income tax . . . accumulated from poker machines in his store.” The trial court further held that plaintiff’s UCC claims were barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations, Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-3-118(g); that plaintiff “set forth no facts that demonstrate a genuine issue that [the bank] had knowledge of any breach of Brown’s fiduciary duty or had knowledge of such facts that its actions . . . amounted to bad faith”; that plaintiff’s common law claims were displaced by the UCC; that he could not establish an unjust enrichment claim because he did not confer any benefit upon the bank; and that plaintiff failed to establish any damages stemming from the bank’s conduct. We affirm. 

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 03/27/20
In Re Kayleigh B. et al.
E2019-01153-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenlyn Foster

Jennifer G. (“Mother”) and Brian B. (“Father”) appeal the termination of their parental rights to their minor children, Kayleigh B., Layla B., Isaiah B., and Ja’Nyla B. (collectively, “the Children”). In March 2018, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition to terminate the parents’ rights to the Children in the Blount County Juvenile Court (“Juvenile Court”). Following a hearing in May 2019, the Juvenile Court terminated Mother’s parental rights based on the statutory grounds of abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, abandonment by wanton disregard, abandonment by failure to support prior to her incarceration, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, and persistent conditions. The Juvenile Court also terminated Father’s parental rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment by failure to support prior to the petition’s filing and substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan. The Juvenile Court further found that termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Both Mother and Father timely appealed. We reverse the statutory ground of abandonment by failure to support concerning Mother’s parental rights. We affirm the Juvenile Court’s judgment in all other respects including the termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights.

Blount County Court of Appeals 03/27/20
Michael Benanti v. Jamie Satterfield Et Al.
E2018-01848-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

This is a defamation case. Michael Benanti (plaintiff) was convicted of committing multiple felonies, including: armed bank extortion, kidnapping, and carjacking. He is serving four consecutive life sentences at a federal prison in California. Shortly after his incarceration, plaintiff filed a complaint against Jamie Satterfield, the Knoxville News Sentinel, and USA Today (defendants), seeking $3,000,000 in damages. Plaintiff alleged that defendants defamed him by falsely reporting that the FBI suspected plaintiff of committing additional crimes, including murder. The trial court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss and subsequently denied plaintiff’s motion to alter or amend. Plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/27/20
Jill St. John Parker v. Virgil Duane Parker
E2019-01536-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

This is an appeal from a trial court’s order holding an ex-husband in civil contempt on twelve counts and ordering him to pay $240,507.70 in attorney fees and accounting fees incurred by the ex-wife in this case and a related bankruptcy proceeding. The exhusband appeals. We affirm the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 03/27/20
Louise Ann Mawn v. Gregg Thomas Tarquinio
M2019-00933-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

During the pendency of a divorce, Husband was convicted of six counts of criminal contempt for violating the statutory injunction under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-106(d). On appeal, Husband contends that the trial court erred in finding that he willfully violated the statute. Because we are unable to determine if the trial court applied an impermissible conclusive presumption to find that Husband was aware of his obligations under the statutory injunction, we vacate and remand to the trial court for reconsideration.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/27/20
Kimberly Sue Noland v. Matthew Cook, Administrator Ad Litem of Estate of Ronnie Sue Lowe
E2019-01170-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carter Scott Moore

This is an appeal from a personal injury case where the trial court entered a directed verdict on liability and where the jury returned a verdict awarding the plaintiff $0 in damages. The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial or, in the alternative, for additur. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in not giving the jury an instruction that she was entitled to damages for medical evaluation and diagnostic expenses following her motor vehicle accident and that there is no material evidence to support the jury’s verdict because the unrefuted expert testimony indicated she had suffered an injury and had incurred medical evaluation and diagnostic expenses following the accident. Finding no error by the trial court or with the jury’s verdict, we affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 03/27/20
William M. West Jr. v. Julie West
E2018-02277-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

This appeal arises from detainer warrants sought by a decedent’s son seeking to remove a surviving spouse from a house. The trial court granted possession of the property to the son. We find it necessary to vacate the trial court’s ruling and to remand the matter for more in-depth findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/26/20
Jason A. Brock v. Fed Loan Servicing
M2019-00722-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

The trial court dismissed the complaint filed by the pro se appellant for failure to state a claim and denied his motion to vacate the dismissal. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/26/20
Tennessee Department of Children's Services v. Kaviandra James
M2019-00070-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

A preferred-service employee with the Department of Children’s Services was terminated for accessing a case file involving her sister and sending an email to the case manager assigned to her sister’s case and the case manager’s supervisor, with a copy to her sister. The employee ultimately appealed her termination to the Board of Appeals of the Department of Human Resources, which modified her termination to a suspension without pay and reinstated her with back pay. The Department appealed to chancery court, which affirmed the Board’s determination. Upon a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand the case to the Board of Appeals for further proceedings.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/25/20
Ronald C. Young v. E.T. Stamey et al.
E2019-00907-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Nichole Cantrell

This appeal concerns whether a city councilman is disqualified from office because he also is employed by his city’s municipal school system. Ronald C. Young (“Young”) ran against E.T. Stamey (“Stamey”) for a seat on the Clinton City Council. Stamey, the incumbent, won. Afterward, Young filed suit in the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) against Stamey as well as the Anderson County Election Commission and its members (“the Commission”). Young alleged that, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 7-51-1501 and the Clinton City Charter, Stamey is disqualified from being a city councilman because he works for Clinton City Schools (“CCS”), albeit in a noninstructional capacity. The Commission filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, and Stamey filed a motion for summary judgment. The Trial Court granted both motions. Young appeals. We hold, first, that Stamey is not a city employee. We hold further that even if Stamey is a city employee, as a noninstructional public school employee he is allowed to run for city council pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-5-301. Finally, we hold that Young failed to state a claim against the Commission, which acted solely in its ministerial capacity in certifying the election results. We affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 03/25/20
Sherilyn Mary Dawson v. Dana Lee Dawson
E2018-00990-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge F. Weaver

In this divorce matter, the parties engaged in protracted litigation concerning the initial amount of the father’s child support obligation before the trial court set the amount of child support to be paid. Meanwhile, the father sought a modification of his child support obligation. The trial court determined that its order entered on January 27, 2014, was final as to the amount of the father’s initial child support obligation because the order left no remaining issues to be determined. The father has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/24/20
Ricky Lee Johnson v. Knoxville HMA Cardiology PPM, LLC
E2019-00818-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

In this action involving injuries allegedly caused by the defendant medical providers’ failure to provide a safe examination table, the trial court determined that the plaintiff’s negligence claim was actually a health care liability claim and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice for failure to provide written pre-suit notice to the defendants within the one-year statute of limitations pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a) (Supp. 2019) of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”). The plaintiff has appealed, conceding that he failed to provide written presuit notice but asserting that his claim should not have been dismissed because it was not a health care liability claim. Having determined that the trial court properly found that the plaintiff’s claim was a health care liability action, we affirm the dismissal of this matter. However, having also determined that the proper sanction for the plaintiff’s failure to provide pre-suit notice under the THCLA was dismissal without prejudice, we modify the trial court’s dismissal of the claim to be without prejudice.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/24/20
Francine S. Labbe v. James Eric Karn II
E2019-01408-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

The appeal arises from a divorce. Acting pro se, the former husband seeks review, of what we cannot be certain. Because his brief falls well short of the requirements of both the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and the rules of this Court, we dismiss the appeal.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 03/20/20
In Re Connor B.
M2019-00181-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

In this termination of parental rights action, the mother has appealed the trial court’s grant of a default judgment to the petitioners following the mother’s filing of an answer that did not contain her signature in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-117(o). Although we determine that the trial court properly granted a default judgment to the petitioners based upon the mother’s failure to file a proper answer within the time allowed, we vacate the trial court’s termination of the mother’s parental rights, determining that the appellate record is insufficient to afford appropriate review of the statutory grounds for termination and best interest analysis.

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 03/20/20
In Re H.S. - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2019-00808-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon Guffee

I fully concur in the majority opinion’s determination by clear and convincing evidence that the grounds of abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home and persistent conditions exist. I also agree that there is clear and convincing evidence supporting a finding that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the best interest of the child. Therefore, I agree with the ultimate result reached by the majority. However, I do disagree with the treatment of the ground found in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14). The majority opinion follows In re Amynn K., No. E2017-01866-COA-R3-PT, 2018 WL 3058280 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 20, 2018), which engages in a complicated use of statutory construction and grammar rules to essentially conclude that “and” actually means “or” in the language “ability and willingness.” I prefer the interpretation found in In re Ayden S., No. M2017-01185-COA-R3-PT, 2018 WL 2447044 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 31, 2018). I believe the General Assembly purposefully chose the word “and” in order to differentiate this ground from other grounds. Interpreting “and” as “or,” in my opinion, makes Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14) a weaker version of other grounds. I do not believe such an interpretation is consistent with the legislative intent. Therefore, I dissent from the majority opinion’s interpretation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14).

Williamson County Court of Appeals 03/20/20
In Re H. S.
M2019-00808-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano.Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon Guffee

The Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of E.R. (mother) and T.S. (father) with respect to H.S. (the child). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence to terminate mother and father’s parental rights on multiple grounds. By the same quantum of proof, the court determined that termination of mother and father’s parental rights is in the best interest of the child. Only mother appeals. We affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 03/20/20
In Re Estate of Glenn Allen Atkins
E2018-02018-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Elizabeth C. Asbury

In this estate proceeding, the original petitioner, an adult child of the decedent, filed a petition for letters of administration, averring that the decedent had died intestate. The trial court initially granted the petition, designating the petitioner as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The decedent’s surviving spouse subsequently filed a petition requesting the trial court’s acceptance into probate of a holographic will, purportedly executed by the decedent, which the surviving spouse presented to the court. The original petitioner and another adult child of the decedent then filed motions contesting the validity of the holographic will. Following a bench trial, the trial court found the holographic will to be valid, accepted the will into probate, and named the surviving spouse as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. The adult children contesting the holographic will have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Union County Court of Appeals 03/19/20
State of Tennessee v. S.L.
E2019-01268-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tammy M. Harrington

This appeal presents the question of who has the duty to set a case for trial de novo when a defendant appeals a delinquency conviction from juvenile court to circuit court. The then-minor child S.L. (“Defendant”) was charged with rape and incest.1 After a trial, the Blount County Juvenile Court (“the Juvenile Court”) found that Defendant had committed these delinquent offenses. Defendant appealed to the Circuit Court for Blount County (“the Circuit Court”) for trial de novo as provided for by statute. Defendant proceeded to do nothing regarding his appeal for around two years. Eventually, the State of Tennessee (“the State”) filed a motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute, which the Circuit Court granted. Defendant appeals to this Court arguing that, notwithstanding his long stretch of inactivity, he has a right to trial de novo. We hold that under Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-159(c) it was the Circuit Court’s duty—not Defendant’s—to set his case for trial. We reverse the judgment of the Circuit Court and remand for Defendant to have his trial de novo, which is to be expedited.

Blount County Court of Appeals 03/18/20
In Re David S. Et Al. - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
E2019-01190-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda Sammons

I concur in the affirmance of the decision to terminate the parental rights of David S. (“Father”). I write separately to address the majority’s decision to vacate the judgment terminating the parental rights of Cecilia S. (“Mother”) despite the fact that no party to the appeal has raised an issue with respect to the judgment against Mother. The issue not being raised is perhaps understandable. As the majority points out, the one person most likely to raise an issue with the termination of the Mother’s parental rights, Mother, may not have been served with process and may be completely unaware that her parental rights were being terminated.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 03/18/20
In Re David S. Et Al.
E2019-01190-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda Sammons

This is an appeal from a termination of parental rights case. In terminating the parental rights of the children’s father, the trial court found that two grounds for termination had been properly established: abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home and persistent conditions. The trial court also determined that it was in the children’s best interest to terminate the father’s parental rights. In addition to terminating the father’s rights, the trial court terminated the parental rights of the children’s mother. On appeal, we conclude that considerations of fundamental due process require us to vacate that portion of the final order terminating the rights of the mother. We also conclude that one of the grounds relied upon for terminating the father’s parental rights, persistent conditions, must be vacated due to the trial court’s failure to consider all required elements of the statutory ground. The termination of the father’s parental rights is otherwise affirmed, however, for the reasons stated herein.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 03/18/20
Paul Zachary Moss v. Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board
W2017-01813-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

The issue presented is whether the Shelby County Fire Department provided a firefighter with sufficient notice of the reasons for his termination. The Fire Department advised the firefighter that he was facing possible termination for violating two specific Fire Department rules. After further investigation and a meeting with the firefighter, the Fire Department gave him a termination letter that recited the two rules and detailed the factual basis for his termination. The firefighter appealed, and the Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board upheld the termination in a written decision that stated the facts and reasons supporting the termination. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the firefighter did not receive adequate notice of the reasons for his termination. We hold that the Shelby County Fire Department provided the firefighter with sufficient notice to satisfy the requirements of due process. We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand for consideration of pretermitted issues.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/18/20
150 4th Ave. N. Tenant, LLC D/B/A WeWork v. The Metropolitan Nashville Board of Zoning Appeals, Et Al. - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
M2019-00732-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

Because I conclude that Regions Bank had standing to challenge the issuance of the sign permit to 150 4th Ave N Tenant LLC (“WeWork”), I respectfully dissent from that portion of the opinion. As did the trial court, I would hold that the Metropolitan Board of Zoning Appeals acted arbitrarily and capriciously in revoking the WeWork sign permit. But like the majority, I agree that the issue of the brightness of the skyline signs was not properly before the BZA, so I concur in that portion of the opinion.
  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/17/20
150 4th Ave. N. Tenant, LLC D/B/A WeWork v. The Metropolitan Nashville Board of Zoning Appeals, Et Al.
M2019-00732-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

This dispute arose from the issuance of a skyline sign permit to a high-rise office-building tenant. The permit allowed the tenant to erect two 495-square-foot signs on the building’s northwest and southeast facades. Another tenant with skyline signs on the northeast and southwest facades appealed the issuance of the permit by filing an application with the Board of Zoning Appeals (“BZA”) for interpretation against the zoning administrator. The complaining tenant contended, inter alia, that its brand was harmed because the juxtaposition of the new and existing signs would blur the relationship between the two tenants and asserted that the new signs caused the building to exceed the maximum signage permitted under the zoning code. The BZA determined that the new signs violated the zoning code and revoked the permit. On a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, the Davidson County Chancery Court held that the BZA erred by relying on a zoning map rather than the code’s plain language and found the new signs complied with the code’s requirements. This appeal followed. We have determined the complaining tenant failed to establish standing because it failed to demonstrate that it was aggrieved by the issuance of the permit. There is no competent evidence to show that the signs’ juxtaposition would create public confusion about or signal a business relationship between the two tenants. Accordingly, the record fails to demonstrate that the complaining tenant’s alleged injury “falls within the zone of interests protected or regulated by the [law] in question.” See City of Brentwood v. Metro. Bd. of Zoning Appeals, 149 S.W.3d 49, 55–56 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004). Further, based on the facts of this case, the BZA lacked the ability to provide meaningful redress. For these and other reasons, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in part, albeit on different grounds, and remand with instructions for the trial court to order the BZA to dismiss the complaining tenant’s application and to reinstate the new sign permit as issued in June of 2017. As for a separate issue that a neighboring homeowners’ association attempted to raise during the BZA hearing—whether the northwest sign exceeded brightness standards—that issue was not properly before the BZA or the trial court. Thus, we reverse the trial court’s decision to remand the brightness issue to the BZA.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/17/20
In Re Gracie H. Y. et al.
M2019-00639-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

Ashley H. (“Mother”) appeals the March 2019 order of the Lawrence County Chancery Court (“Trial Court”) terminating her parental rights to the minor children, Noah H. and Gracie H. Y. (collectively, “the Children”). Bobby H. (“Father”) surrendered his parental rights to the Children prior to trial and did not revoke his surrender. Upon petition of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”), the Trial Court terminated Mother’s parental rights to the Children upon the statutory grounds of abandonment by failure to visit prior to her incarceration, abandonment by wanton disregard, abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, persistent conditions, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility of the Children. The Trial Court further found that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Mother timely appealed. We reverse the statutory ground of abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home. We affirm the Trial Court’s judgment in all other respects including the termination of Mother’s parental rights.

Lawrence County Court of Appeals 03/16/20
Home Builders Association Of Middle Tennessee Et Al. v. Williamson County, Tennessee, Et Al.
M2019-00698-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James G. Martin, III

An organization of developers brought suit against Williamson County seeking a declaratory judgment that an impact fee imposed on new developments to fund improvements to schools throughout the county exceeded the authority granted to the county by the legislature, or alternatively, that Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-3-413(b) exempted the organization’s members from paying the impact fee because their property rights vested prior to adoption of the impact fee. The trial court granted summary judgment to the county, concluding that the impact fee did not exceed the authority granted to the county and that Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-3-413(b) did not apply because the impact fee did not constitute a development standard. We affirm.   

Williamson County Court of Appeals 03/13/20