Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 11/25/2021
Format: 11/25/2021
John William Owens v. Meredith Elizabeth Owens
E2020-01470-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Mark Stokes

This is an appeal of rulings by the trial court in a contentious divorce action. Following a bench trial, the trial court valued the parties’ marital assets and divided the marital estate equally. The court awarded the husband the marital home upon his payment to the wife of one-half the combined equity, equal parenting time, and designation as the primary residential parent. The court found that the wife was not entitled to alimony. The wife, inter alia, challenges the trial court’s division and valuation of the marital estate, in declining to award her attorney’s fees, in awarding the parties equal parenting time, and the designation of the husband as primary residential parent. Having carefully reviewed the voluminous record, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

Meigs County Court of Appeals 11/24/21
Mark DeLong Et Al. v. Brian Paul General Partner, LLC
M2021-00075-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Western Section Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

Appellant debtor appeals the judgment of the trial court on the sole basis that the choice of law provision in the parties’ contract means that another state is the exclusive forum for this action. We affirm the decision of the trial court and award Appellee creditors damages for responding to a frivolous appeal.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/24/21
Stefani Franklin v. Jimmy Franklin
W2020-00285-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L Smith

In this post-divorce case, Father appeals the trial court’s order allowing Mother to relocate with the parties’ son from the Memphis area to Houston, Texas. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/24/21
Stacy Renee Lofton v. James Warren Lofton
W2020-01349-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Michael Maloan

This is a divorce case. On appeal, the husband raises issues about the trial court’s property division and spousal support award. We generally affirm the trial court’s judgment. For the reasons discussed herein, however, we vacate the trial court’s partition of Husband’s railroad retirement pension benefits, not because of any error with the intended disposition, but for the entry of an order that is fully compliant with 20 C.F.R. § 295.3.

Obion County Court of Appeals 11/23/21
Buttercup Ridge Farms, LLC, Et Al. v. McFall Sod & Seeding, LLC, Et Al.
M2021-00457-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christopher V. Sockwell

This is an action to quiet title to a strip of land used as an ingress/egress for property perpendicular to the land at issue.  The trial court found in favor of the plaintiff.  We affirm.

Maury County Court of Appeals 11/23/21
G.T. Issa Construction, LLC v. Bonnie Blalock
E2020-00853-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

This is a controversy between a homebuyer, the plaintiff, and a residential developer/contractor concerning the construction and sale of a newly constructed custombuilt home and lot within a subdivision with restrictive covenants. The parties executed a fill-in-the-blank “Purchase and Sale Agreement” (“the Agreement”) pursuant to which the defendant agreed to construct a custom home and sell the home and lot to the plaintiff. The principal matter in dispute is whether the defendant was contractually obligated to provide a brick veneer on the retaining wall installed by the defendant. The Agreement did not expressly include the construction of a retaining wall; however, the parties agree that a retaining wall was to be constructed and included in the sale. Although the brick veneer had not been installed and the hotly disputed issue remained unresolved, the sale closed. Shortly thereafter, the buyer commenced this action in which she asserted, inter alia, claims for breach of contract and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to finish the retaining wall with brick veneer as required by the subdivision’s restrictive covenants and implicitly required by the Agreement. In its answer, the defendant denied liability and asserted that it had no obligation to provide a veneer finish on the retaining wall.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/23/21
Johah Paul Anders v. Mayla C. Anders
W2018-02172-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This is an appeal from a final decree of divorce. The trial court granted the parties a divorce instead of the annulment Husband requested, among other findings. Husband now appeals. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/22/21
Terrell Biggs, Jr. v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
E2021-00138-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John S. McLellan, III

The plaintiff challenges the order of the Sullivan County Circuit Court (“trial court”) granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Liberty Insurance Corporation1 (“Liberty”), and dismissing his complaint on the merits with prejudice. The trial court granted summary judgment to Liberty based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction and its conclusion that the plaintiff would be unable to produce sufficient evidence at trial to withstand a motion for directed verdict. Because the plaintiff’s claims are barred by the exclusive remedy provision of the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Act, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Liberty, albeit for a different reason than that found by the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 11/22/21
In Re Ima D. Et Al.
M2021-00022-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy Cook Puckett

In this case involving termination of the father’s parental rights to his children, the Hickman County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) determined that several statutory grounds for termination had been proven by clear and convincing evidence.  The trial court further determined that clear and convincing evidence demonstrated that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest.  The father has appealed.  Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 11/22/21
Yolanda Burse v. Lakeside Behavioral Health ET AL.
W2021-00048-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

Appellant appeals the trial court’s judgment dismissing her claims against three healthcare entities. Because Appellant’s brief substantially fails to comply with Rule 27 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, we dismiss this appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/18/21
Jorge I. Calzada, M.D. v. State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Company
M2020-01697-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Western Section Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

A doctor’s professional liability insurer refused to insure him against claims brought against him by his former partners and investigations of him being conducted by state and federal agencies. The trial court found that the insurer was not required to provide coverage for the doctor against the claims or the investigations. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/18/21
Rachel Ransom Strickland v. Patrick Dustin Strickland
M2020-01070-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

In this post-divorce action, a former husband filed a motion to modify his alimony obligation after his former wife began living with a romantic partner.  The wife contended that she and her romantic partner equally divided their living expenses and that she still needed the previously awarded alimony despite her new living arrangement.  The trial court disagreed and suspended the husband’s alimony obligation retroactively to the filing of his petition to modify.  In addition to the alimony issue, the trial court determined that wife successfully proved two civil contempt claims against the husband, awarded her the reasonable attorney fees she incurred to prosecute those claims, and dismissed a civil contempt claim she raised regarding his late payment of the value of the wife’s interest in two certificates of deposit (“CD”) awarded to her in the parties’ marital dissolution agreement.  The wife appealed, challenging the suspension of the husband’s alimony obligation, the dismissal of her civil contempt claim, and the award of attorney fees.  Finding that the trial court abused its discretion in suspending the husband’s alimony obligation, we reverse that part of the court’s decision and remand for a determination of her reasonable attorney fees relating to that issue.  We affirm the part of the trial court’s judgment dismissing the civil contempt claim. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/16/21
John Lynn v. Penske Truck Leasing Co., L.P.
W2020-01202-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This appeal involves review of a suggested additur which was accepted by the Defendant under protest. Because we conclude that the additur at issue satisfies the three-step review for adjustments made to a jury’s verdict, we affirm the trial court’s action.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/16/21
In Re Charles B., et al.
W2020-01718-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Butler

This appeal concerns the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The trial court found that DCS established several grounds for terminating the mother’s parental rights and that termination of her rights was in the children’s best interest for many reasons. The mother does not challenge any of the grounds on appeal but contends that the trial court incorrectly concluded it was in the best interests of the minor children to terminate her parental rights because she was in the process of completing a rehabilitation program. Following a thorough review of the record, we have determined that several grounds for termination were established by clear and convincing evidence, and termination of the mother’s parental rights was clearly and convincingly in the children’s best interest. Therefore, we affirm the termination of the mother’s parental rights.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 11/15/21
Old Hickory Coaches, LLC v. Star Coach Rentals, Inc., Et Al.
M2020-00941-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This appeal involves the enforcement of a revenue-sharing agreement between two companies, in which one party supplied trailers and trucks and the other party leased the trailers and trucks to television and film production companies in the New York City area.  Following a bench trial, the trial court entered its memorandum and order finding that the leasing company owed the supplying company $101,529.00 in rental income and the supplying company owed the leasing company $12,415.00 for major repairs and renovations.  Additionally, the trial court denied the supplying company’s motion to alter or amend the judgment of the trial court to hold the owner of the leasing company individually liable for the breach of contract.  The supplier appeals.  We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/15/21
In Re Daniel G.
E2021-00188-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

The paternal grandparents, William G. (“Grandfather”) and Samantha G. (“Grandmother”), filed a petition for adoption and to terminate the parental rights of the mother, Misty K. (“Mother”), to the minor child, Daniel G. (“the Child”), in the Monroe County Chancery Court (the “Trial Court”). The Trial Court found that Petitioners had proven by clear and convincing evidence that the grounds of abandonment by failure to support, persistent conditions, and severe child abuse existed for termination of Mother’s parental rights. The Trial Court further found that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the Child’s best interest. We vacate the statutory ground of persistent conditions due to insufficient findings of fact. However, we affirm the Trial Court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of Mother’s parental rights.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 11/15/21
In Re Adaline D. Et Al.
E2020-01597-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

The maternal grandmother and step-grandfather of two children filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the children’s biological mother and of their respective alleged fathers on the grounds of abandonment by failure to provide financial support, abandonment by failure to visit, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the children. The petitioners also averred that the alleged fathers had failed to establish paternity of their respective child. The trial court granted the petition, finding that each of the alleged statutory grounds for termination had been established by clear and convincing evidence and that terminating the parental rights was in the children’s best interests. Upon careful review of the record, we reverse the trial court’s finding as to the ground of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the children but affirm its judgment in all other respects.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 11/15/21
Cookeville Platinum, LLC v. Satellite M.D., LLC
M2021-00341-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Middle Section Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This appeal arises from a breach of contractaction brought by the successful bidder at a real estate auction. Following the auction, the execution of a Commercial Purchase and Sale Agreement (“Purchase Agreement”), and the buyer’s remittance of the required earnest money, the parties disputed whether a gravel alley was to be included in the sale. After the seller refused to include the gravel alley in the sale, the buyer refused to close the sale and commenced this action, seeking to recover from the seller the earnest money deposit plus all costs and attorney’s fees incurred in these proceedings. Following the filing of the complaint and answer, each party filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.03 motion for judgment on the pleadings with the principal issues being whether the Purchase Agreement, which included an integration clause, constituted the complete agreement of the parties and, if so, whether the property description within the Purchase Agreement unambiguously identified the property to be sold as including the disputed gravel alley. The trial court granted the buyer’s motion based on its determination that the Purchase Agreement was fully integrated and constituted the parties’ complete agreement. The trial court also ruled that any evidence contradicting or supplementing the property description was inadmissible. After assessing the plain language of the Purchase Agreement, the trial court found that the property description clearly and unambiguously referenced a deed map, which included the gravel alley. For these reasons, the trial court held that the seller breached the contract by refusing to include the gravel alley in the sale and ordered that the buyer’s earnest money be refunded with interest. The buyer then moved for an award of attorney’s fees based on the terms of the Purchase Agreement, which the trial court granted. This appeal followed. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court in all respects. We also find that the buyer, as the prevailing party,is entitled to recover the reasonable and necessary costs and attorney’s fees it incurred in defending this appeal. Accordingly, we remand this issue to the trial court to make the appropriate award.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 11/12/21
John L. Mitchell, Administrator for the Estate of Louisianna Clardy McClaron, Deceased v. William C. Johnson, Et Al.
M2020-01243-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Middle Section, Presiding Judge, Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillian, Jr.

This is an action by the administrator of the estate of Louisianna McClaron (“the decedent” or “Ms. McClaron”) to recover assets converted by the decedent’s attorneys-in-fact based upon, inter alia, their use of the power of attorney to name themselves as joint owners with right of survivorship on the decedent’s financial accounts, as the pay-on-death beneficiaries of her annuities, and as beneficiaries of the decedent’s life insurance policies. The attorneys-in-fact used the power of attorney to sell real estate, the proceeds of which they deposited into a joint account that benefitted themselves. They also used the power of attorney to transfer $112,000 of the decedent’s bank funds to themselves and their children. The attorneys-in-fact admitted to engaging in all of the transactions identified in the complaint and did not contest the existence of a confidential relationship; rather, they denied liability, contending their actions were authorized and beneficial to Ms. McClaron based on “an understanding” they had with her. They contended to having an oral agreement with the decedent whereby they would care for and assist the decedent and her sister, who lived together, until they died, at which time the attorneys-in-fact would receive the decedent’s estate. Following discovery and the admission by the attorneys-in-fact of all the material facts set forth in the administrator’s statement of undisputed facts, the administrator moved for partial summary judgment. After ruling that any evidence of a purported understanding with the decedent was barred pursuant to the Dead Man’s Statute, the trial court granted partial summary judgment as to liability on the basis of the presumption of undue influence and the breach of fiduciary duties by the attorneys-in-fact for engaging in transactions that resulted in no benefit to the decedent. Following a bench trial on damages, the court entered a judgment identifying the property to be restored to the estate and the amount of damages to be awarded; the court also declared a deed purportedly conveying the decedent’s home to the attorneys-in-fact null and void. The attorneys-in-fact appeal, contending the grant of summary judgment was inappropriate because material facts are in dispute. More specifically, they contend the trial court erroneously deemed the subject of their “understanding” or “agreement” with Ms. McClaron inadmissible under the Dead Man’s Statute, which precluded them from presenting clear and convincing evidence of the fairness of the transactions or how Ms. McClaron benefitted from the transactions. The record before us reveals it is undisputed that the attorneys-in-fact exercised the power of attorney; therefore, a fiduciary relationship existed. See Childress v. Currie, 74 S.W.3d 324, 328–29 (Tenn. 2002). As a consequence, they owed a fiduciary duty to deal with Ms. McClaron’s property in the “utmost good faith,” see Ralston v. Hobbs, 306 S.W.3d 213, 221 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2009), and to act primarily for the benefit of Ms. McClaron, see McRedmond v. Est. of Marianelli,46 S.W.3d 730, 738 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000). However, the undisputed facts establish that the transactions orchestrated by the Johnsons were not necessary to protect the interest of Ms. McClaron. See Folts v. Jones, 132 S.W.2d 205, 208 (Tenn. 1939). The undisputed facts establish that Ms. McClaron did not benefit from the transactions at issue and the transactions were not fair to Ms. McClaron. In contrast, the undisputed facts reveal that the Johnsons benefitted from each transaction. Having determined that the undisputed material facts and the relevant legal principles fully support the trial court’s determination that the Johnsons breached their fiduciary duties to Ms. McClaron as well as the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of the administrator of the estate on the issue of liability, we affirm the trial court in all respects.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 11/12/21
In Re Investigation Of Wall And Associates, Inc.
M2020-01687-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal

Pursuant to its authority to investigate unfair or deceptive trade practicesunder the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 48-18-101, et seq., Appellee Office of the Tennessee Attorney General (“AG”) issued requests for information to Appellant Wall and Associates, Inc. (“Wall”). Tenn. Code Ann. § 47‑18‑106(a). Wall failed to comply with the AG’s requests, and the trial court entered orders compelling compliance and issuing sanctions. Wall appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/12/21
W. Douglas Harris v. Gary McMichael Et Al.
E2020-00817-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

The trial court found that Appellant, a Florida attorney, breached his fiduciary duty to Appellees, his clients, and disgorged Appellant of all fees paid by Appellees except for $5,000. Appellant appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 11/12/21
Cynthia Lawrence v. Thomas Lawrence
W2020-00979-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

In this post-divorce case, the trial court granted Appellee/Wife’s petition to modify paragraph 4(A)(d) of the parties’ Marital Dissolution Agreement (“MDA”) on its finding of mutual mistake. The trial court declined to: (1) reform paragraph 4(A)(e) of the MDA; (2) find Appellant/Husband in contempt of the MDA for failure to reimburse Wife for certain college expenses of the parties’ son; (3) hold Husband in contempt for his alleged failure to satisfy his support obligations; and (4) award Wife her attorney’s fees under the MDA. Because there was no mutual mistake, we reverse the trial court’s reformation of paragraph 4(A)(d) of the MDA. The trial court’s orders are otherwise affirmed, and Wife’s motion for appellate attorney’s fees is denied.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/12/21
Aron J. Austin v. Southern Roofing & Renovations, LLC, et al.
W2020-01160-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

Appellant filed suit against Appellees concerning purported violations of his constitutional rights, among other allegations. The trial court ultimately dismissed the case based on insufficiency of service of process and that Appellant’s claims failed to state a claim as a matter of law. Appellant now appeals. Based on our review of the record, we affirm the trial court’s dismissal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/12/21
In Re Lauren F.
W2020-01732-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

This case involves a petition to terminate the parental rights of a child’s biological father and for step-parent adoption. The trial court terminated the biological father’s rights on the ground of abandonment for failure to visit, abandonment for failure to support, and wanton disregard. The court held that termination was in the child’s best interest. Biological father appeals asserting that the trial court erred in not granting him a continuance on the day of trial and that the trial court erred in its best interest determination. We vacate the trial court’s conclusion that termination was warranted on the grounds of abandonment by failure to support and abandonment by engaging in conduct that exhibited wanton disregard for the child’s welfare, but we affirm the trial court’s conclusion that the biological father’s rights should be terminated on the ground of failure to visit in the four months preceding his incarceration and that terminating his parental rights is in the best interest of the child. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s termination of the biological father’s parental rights.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/10/21
Darryl Williams v. Hendersonville Hospital Corporation d/b/a Hendersonville Medical Center
M2021-00077-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Louis W. Oliver, III

The plaintiff appeals from the summary judgment dismissal of his complaint against the defendant hospital pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-11-262.[1] The trial court held, inter alia, that this court’s decision in Fowler v. Morristown-Hamblen Hospital Association, No. E2018-00782-COA-R3-CV, 2019 WL 2571081 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 24, 2019)[2] mandated dismissal because Section 68-11-262 does not create a private right of action.  The plaintiff alleges on appeal that the trial court’s reliance upon Fowler was misplaced because his action is one for contract and therefore not dependent upon the legislature’s creation of a private right of action.  We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 11/10/21