Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 09/17/2021
Format: 09/17/2021
In Re Evan M.
E2020-01673-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brian J. Hunt

This appeal concerns termination of parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Anderson County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Nicole M. (“Mother”) and Joseph M. (“Father”) to their minor son Evan M. (“the Child”). After a hearing, the Juvenile Court entered an order finding a host of grounds for termination against Mother and Father. These grounds were based largely on proof of substance abuse and domestic violence. The Juvenile Court also found that termination of Mother and Father’s parental rights is in the Child’s best interest. Mother and Father appeal. We affirm the Juvenile Court as to certain grounds for termination found against Mother and Father. However, we reverse certain other grounds for lack of clear and convincing evidence. In addition, we affirm the Juvenile Court’s finding that termination of Mother and Father’s parental rights is in the Child’s best interest. We thus affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the judgment of the Juvenile Court, the result being we affirm the termination of Mother and Father’s parental rights to the Child.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 08/10/21
Ronald Martin Reese v. The Waters of Clinton, LLC
E2020-01466-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

This healthcare liability action was brought against a skilled nursing facility. The plaintiff sent pre-suit notice to multiple potential defendants prior to initiating the action. The plaintiff, however, failed to include as part of the pre-suit notice a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization as one of the six core elements was missing from the authorization. Following a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), the Trial Court granted the motion and dismissed the action against the defendant due to noncompliance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121 and as being untimely. The Trial Court denied the plaintiff’s request to compel discovery in this matter concerning whether the plaintiff had substantially complied with the pre-suit notice requirement. The plaintiff argues on appeal that the Trial Court erred by not treating the defendant’s motion as a motion for summary judgment and by preventing the plaintiff from conducting discovery regarding the plaintiff’s compliance with Section 29-26-121, as well as the resulting prejudice to the defendant. Discerning no error, we affirm the Trial Court’s judgment in all respects.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 08/04/21
In Re James W. et al.
E2020-01440-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brian J. Hunt

This case involves a petition to terminate parental rights. The petition was filed by the Department of Children’s Services against the biological mother of several minor children. In the petition, the Department alleged five grounds for termination: (1) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home; (2) abandonment by exhibiting a wanton disregard for the welfare of the children prior to incarceration; (3) substantial noncompliance with a permanency plan; (4) persistence of conditions; and (5) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to parent. After a trial on the petition, the trial court found that the Department established all five grounds and that termination was in the best interest of the children. As a result, the trial court terminated the mother’s parental rights. We affirm the trial court’s decision and remand.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 07/06/21
In re Anna H., et al.
E2020-01206-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

This case involves a petition to terminate parental rights. The petition was filed by the children’s biological father and stepmother against the biological mother. The trial court terminated the mother’s rights, finding that the mother abandoned the children under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-113(g)(1) and -102(1)(A)(iv) and that termination was in the best interest of the children. We affirm the trial court’s decision and remand.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 06/09/21
In Re: Azhianne G.
E2020-00530-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Nichole Cantrell

The trial court found that the minor child, Azhianne G. (“the Child”), was dependent and neglected in his mother’s care. The trial court also determined that the Child had been severely abused based upon his disclosures of sexual abuse perpetrated by his mother. The mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 03/18/21
In Re Abigail J.J.
E2019-01832-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Nichole Cantrell

This action involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights by default judgment. The trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to establish four statutory grounds of termination and that termination was in the best interest of the child. We vacate the order of the trial court and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 03/15/21
In Re Jazmine D. Et Al.
E2021-00199-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brian J. Hunt

The appellant, Juanita D., filed a motion to accept late-filed notice of appeal. Because the notice of appeal was not timely filed, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the appeal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 03/02/21
Daphne Saunders v. Y-12 Federal Credit Union
E2020-00046-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

The plaintiff, Daphne Saunders, filed a complaint against Y-12 Federal Credit Union (“Y-12”), alleging breach of the parties’ banking contract. Ms. Saunders asserted that Y- 12 had charged excessive fees for items presented for payment from Ms. Saunders’s account that were returned due to insufficient funds. Ms. Saunders also alleged breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and asserted that Y-12 had been unjustly enriched by charging excessive fees. The trial court dismissed Ms. Saunders’s claims with prejudice, finding that Ms. Saunders had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Ms. Saunders has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 11/05/20
Richard Michelhaugh Et Al. v. Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC
E2019-00361-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

This appeal arises from a dispute over vacation benefits. The plaintiffs allege that their employer deprived them of earned vacation time when it changed its vacation policy. The plaintiffs moved for class certification, and the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. After hearing both motions, the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice and denied the motion for class certification. The plaintiffs appeal. We affirm the trial court’s ruling.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 08/11/20
In Re Daniel B. Jr. Et Al.
E2019-01063-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brian J. Hunt

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her children. The juvenile court determined that there were five grounds for terminating the mother’s parental rights and that termination of her parental rights was in the children’s best interest. Because the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support both the grounds for termination and the best interest determination, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 07/10/20
Anthea Hendrix Toutges v. Jennifer McKaig
E2019-01538-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

The Notice of Appeal filed by the appellant, Anthea Hendrix Toutges, stated that the appellant was appealing the judgment entered on August 19, 2019. As the August 19, 2019 order does not constitute a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 06/25/20
Bruce Gillam v. Destiny Ballew
E2018-01782-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Nichole Cantrell

This appeal concerns the trial court’s designation of the father as the minor children’s primary residential parent after establishing his paternity. During trial, the court granted the father’s motion in limine to exclude testimony from the mother’s expert witness. The mother appeals the trial court’s evidentiary ruling and the designation of primary residential parent. We affirm the trial court’s decision.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 05/21/20
Shelby K. Marsh v. Angela D. Lowe Et Al.
E2019-00697-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

This is an appeal from the judgment in a personal injury action in which the plaintiff sought to recover damages incurred in a car accident. The trial court granted summary judgment on the issue of liability. Following a hearing on the measure of damages at which the only proof was the plaintiff’s testimony, the trial court entered a $5,000 judgment against the defendants. This appeal followed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/29/20
In Re Hector G.
E2019-01594-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

Petitioners appeal from the transfer of their guardianship action from chancery court to juvenile court. Because Petitioners have appealed a non-final judgment, we dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/14/20
ORNL Federal Credit Union Et Al. v. Estate of Helen D. Turley Et Al.
E2019-00861-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

This appeal concerns a lawsuit between brothers over funds belonging to their late mother, Helen D. Turley (“Decedent”). Tim Turley, executor of Decedent’s estate (“the Estate”), deposited $138,605.14 from a Y-12 Federal Credit Union (“Y-12 FCU”) account owned by Decedent into an estate account at ORNL Federal Credit Union (“ORNL FCU”). An issue arose because William Dean Turley was named sole payableon- death beneficiary on the Y-12 FCU account, and he asserted the funds were his. ORNL FCU filed a complaint for interpleader in the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) to determine the funds’ owner. In a cross-claim, Tim Turley and the Estate alleged that William Dean Turley exercised undue influence over Decedent and that Decedent was incompetent when she named William Dean Turley as the payable-on-death beneficiary on the account. William Dean Turley filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Trial Court granted. The Estate and Tim Turley appeal. We hold that William Dean Turley successfully demonstrated that the evidence at the summary judgment stage is insufficient to establish undue influence, fraud, or lack of mental competency, and there are no genuine issues of material fact for trial. We reverse the Trial Court’s judgment, however, to the extent it awarded attorney’s fees and expenses to William Dean Turley, as these fees and expenses were awarded in contravention of the American Rule. Otherwise, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/03/20
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
Anderson County Tennessee, et ql. v. Tennessee State Board of Equalization, et al.
E2018-00142-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge. M. Nichole Cantrell

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

Anderson County Court of Appeals 02/14/20
In Re Serenity S. Et Al.
E2019-00277-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brian J. Hunt

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

Anderson County Court of Appeals 01/31/20
Pamela Cotham v. Nicholas Jay Yeager Et Al.
E2019-00423-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

The plaintiff filed this action seeking to recover damages on behalf of Anderson County based upon the plaintiff’s allegations that the defendants had submitted false claims for payment by the county. The trial court dismissed the action, determining that the plaintiff’s amended complaint had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The plaintiff has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment of dismissal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 01/24/20
J. Philip Harber v. Marquerita Annette Dixon, Et Al.
E2019-00028-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

This appeal arises from an acrimonious dispute between former friends over real property. William M. Pruitt and his wife Shirley J. Pruitt (“the Pruitts,” or “Mr. Pruitt” and “Mrs. Pruitt”) live in a house next to three parcels of land once owned variously by Mr. Pruitt’s stepfather and mother, both of whom died intestate. J. Philip Harber (“Mr. Harber”), former attorney for the Pruitts, paid Mr. Pruitt’s fellow heirs for quitclaim deeds with the aim of acquiring their interests in the subject parcels. Mr. Harber then filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Anderson County (“the Trial Court”) to determine the interests of the parties and sell the three parcels. The Trial Court found in favor of Mr. Harber and ordered a partition by sale for division. The Pruitts appealed to this Court. On appeal, the Pruitts rely on several theories to argue that Mr. Harber never acquired an interest in the land. The Pruitts argue further that, even if Mr. Harber acquired an interest, the Trial Court should have applied the doctrine of unclean hands to deny him his requested relief because he sued them out of spite. We find and hold, inter alia, that Mr. Pruitt is but one of many heirs to his deceased parents’ land; that the other heirs never lost their interests in the land; and, that the other heirs were at liberty to sell their interests in the land to Mr. Harber, which they did. Although there is considerable evidence that Mr. Harber was motivated by spite in bringing this action, that alone does not compel application of the unclean hands doctrine, particularly as fraud is not alleged. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 12/12/19
Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB v. United States Department Of Justice, Et Al.
E2018-01250-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Nichole Cantrell

Plaintiff Wilmington Savings Fund Society brought this action for foreclosure on property owned by defendants Reginald Hall and Rhonda Hall, requesting that the trial court declare its debt from a loan secured by deed of trust to have priority over debts allegedly owed by the Halls to other named defendants. The trial court granted plaintiff summary judgment and Reginald Hall appealed. Plaintiff argues on appeal that the trial court’s judgment was not final and therefore this Court does not have jurisdiction. We hold that the trial court did not adjudicate all of the claims raised by the parties. Accordingly, this appeal is dismissed for lack of a final judgment.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 12/10/19
Dr. Victor W. McLaughlin, M.D. v. Elizabeth King McLaughlin a/k/a Rev. Elizabeth King
E2018-01319-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

The plaintiff filed this action on a sworn account, seeking to recover $20,451.00 that he had allegedly loaned in several money transfers to the defendant, plus prejudgment interest and costs. In her answer to the complaint, the defendant denied all substantive allegations but failed to raise any affirmative defenses. At trial, the defendant stipulated to having received the money transfers. However, she requested that the court allow her to orally swear under oath that the transfers did not constitute a valid debt. The trial court found that the defendant was attempting to assert an affirmative defense that the transfers constituted gifts rather than loans and that she had waived such a defense pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 8.03 by failing to raise it in her responsive pleading. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the total amount of $33,942.69, including prejudgment interest. The defendant filed a motion to alter or amend, requesting that the judgment be vacated on the ground that under Tennessee Code Annotated § 24-5-107 (2017), she should have been allowed to raise any defense orally at trial. Following a hearing, the trial court found that because the defendant had elected to file a responsive pleading, she was required to raise the affirmative defense in the pleading. The trial court thereby declined to vacate the judgment. The defendant has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 10/28/19
Patricia A. Graham v. Garrett Weaver Et Al.
E2018-00682-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald Ray Elledge

Plaintiff appeals the dismissal of her premises liability action for failure to show that Defendant was the owner of the premises or built the deck on which Plaintiff fell. Plaintiff has failed to file a trial transcript or statement of the evidence; consequently, we accord the trial court’s judgment a presumption that the evidence supports the holding and affirm the judgment.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 09/10/19
Sharon A. Loving v. Jonathan E. Loving
E2018-00667-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

Husband appeals from a divorce judgment and the entry of a permanent parenting plan, arguing that the trial court erred in not allowing him to put on any proof at the trial of this matter. For the reasons stated herein, and because we conclude that Husband should have been able to put on proof concerning the child’s best interests, we vacate the permanent parenting plan and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 09/10/19
In Re Brenlee F.
E2018-01498-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

This action involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her minor child. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the statutory grounds of abandonment by her (1) failure to visit; (2) failure to support; and (3) conduct that exhibited a wanton disregard for the child’s welfare. The trial court also found that termination was in the best interest of the child. We reverse the trial court on its finding that the mother abandoned the child by failing to remit support. We affirm the trial court on all other rulings.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 08/30/19