Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 08/19/2022
Format: 08/19/2022
Stephanie Muhammed Et Al. v. Durham School Services, L.P., Et Al.
E2020-00755-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge John B. Bennett

This extraordinary appeal arises from a school bus crash in November 2016, which resulted in the tragic death of six children attending Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga.1 Plaintiff, a computer teacher at Woodmore, sued the employer of the bus driver for, inter alia, reckless infliction of emotional distress (“RIED”). The teacher alleged that the employer’s failure to address the bus driver’s dangerous driving despite receiving numerous warnings disregarded the children’s safety, constituted reckless and outrageous conduct, and caused her serious mental injuries. The trial court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the claim, finding that the teacher had sufficiently alleged outrageous conduct on the part of the employer and that she had met all other pleading requirements to sustain her RIED claim. Employer appeals. Although we agree with the trial court that the teacher sufficiently alleged conduct so outrageous by the employer that it cannot be tolerated by civilized society, we hold that the teacher is not a person who falls within the reasonably foreseeable scope of the particular substantial and unjustifiable risk consciously disregarded by the employer and, therefore, cannot recover under a reckless infliction of emotional distress claim. Consequently, we reverse the trial court’s finding on this latter issue and remand the case for dismissal of the action against employer.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
McKayla Taylor v. Miriam's Promise et al.
M2020-01509-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This appeal involves an award of attorney fees after a remand from this Court.  The appellant argues that the statute authorizing such fees is inapplicable by its terms and also unconstitutional as a violation of her right to access the courts.  We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
Cherri Schrick v. Durham School Services, L.P., Et Al.
E2020-00744-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge John B. Bennett

This extraordinary appeal arises from a school bus crash in November 2016, which resulted in the tragic death of six children attending Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga.1 Plaintiff, a fourth grade math and science teacher at Woodmore, sued the employer of the bus driver for, inter alia, reckless infliction of emotional distress (“RIED”). The teacher alleged that the employer’s failure to address the bus driver’s dangerous driving despite receiving numerous warnings disregarded the children’s safety, constituted reckless and outrageous conduct, and caused her serious mental injuries. The trial court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the claim, finding that the teacher had sufficiently alleged outrageous conduct on the part of the employer and that she had met all other pleading requirements to sustain her RIED claim. Employer appeals. Although we agree with the trial court that the teacher sufficiently alleged conduct so outrageous by the employer that it cannot be tolerated by civilized society, we hold that the teacher is not a person who falls within the reasonably foreseeable scope of the particular substantial and unjustifiable risk consciously disregarded by the employer and, therefore, cannot recover under a reckless infliction of emotional distress claim. Consequently, we reverse the trial court’s finding on this latter issue and remand the case for dismissal of the action against employer.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
Sherman Franklin, Jr. v. Durham School Services, L.P., Et Al.
E2020-00715-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge John B. Bennett

This extraordinary appeal arises from a school bus crash in November 2016, which resulted in the tragic death of six children attending Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga.1 Plaintiff, an educational assistant at Woodmore, sued the employer of the bus driver for, inter alia, reckless infliction of emotional distress (“RIED”). The educational assistant alleged that the employer’s failure to address the bus driver’s dangerous driving despite receiving numerous warnings disregarded the children’s safety, constituted reckless and outrageous conduct, and caused him serious mental injuries. The trial court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the claim, finding that the educational assistant had sufficiently alleged outrageous conduct on the part of the employer and that he had met all other pleading requirements to sustain his RIED claim. Employer appeals. Although we agree with the trial court that the educational assistant sufficiently alleged conduct so outrageous by the employer that it cannot be tolerated by civilized society, we hold that the educational assistant is not a person who falls within the reasonably foreseeable scope of the particular substantial and unjustifiable risk consciously disregarded by the employer and, therefore, cannot recover under a reckless infliction of emotional distress claim. Consequently, we reverse the trial court’s finding on this latter issue and remand the case for dismissal of the action against employer.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
Alisa Bibbs v. Durham School Services, L.P., ET AL.
E2020-00688-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge John B. Bennett

This extraordinary appeal arises from a school bus crash in November 2016, which resulted in the tragic death of six children attending Woodmore Elementary School in Chattanooga. Woodmore’s school secretary sued the employer of the bus driver for, inter alia, reckless infliction of emotional distress (“RIED”). The school secretary alleged that the employer’s failure to address the bus driver’s dangerous driving despite receiving numerous warnings disregarded the children’s safety, constituted reckless and outrageous conduct, and caused her serious mental injuries. The trial court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the claim, finding that the school secretary had sufficiently alleged outrageous conduct on the part of the employer and that she had met all other pleading requirements to sustain her RIED claim. Employer appeals. Although we agree with the trial court that the school secretary sufficiently alleged conduct so outrageous by the employer that it cannot be tolerated by civilized society, we hold that the secretary is not a person who falls within the reasonably foreseeable scope of the particular substantial and unjustifiable risk consciously disregarded by the employer and, therefore, cannot recover under a reckless infliction of emotional distress claim. Consequently, we reverse the trial court’s finding on this latter issue and remand the case for dismissal of the action against employer.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
State of Tennessee ex rel. Shaw Enterprises, LLC v. Town of Thompson's Station et al.
M2021-00439-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael Binkley

This is a declaratory judgment action in which the plaintiff developer objected to the defendant town’s enforcement of a new energy code after the developer received preliminary plat approval.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant town.  We affirm. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
Michael Halliburton v. Tennessee Board of Parole
M2021-00470-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This appeal arises from the denial of parole to an inmate by the Tennessee Board of Parole.  The Tennessee Board of Parole denied the inmate parole in March 2020.  The inmate’s administrative appeal was also denied.  Thereafter, the inmate filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the chancery court.  However, the chancery court dismissed the petition without prejudice due to outstanding costs in prior civil cases.  The inmate then filed a second petition with the chancery court.  The chancery court dismissed the second petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because it was not filed within sixty days of the Tennessee Board of Parole’s final decision in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-102.  The inmate appeals.  We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
Lawrence F. Goodine v. Erica Carol Goodine
E2022-00151-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ward Jeffrey Hollingsworth

Because appellant failed to comply with Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10B with regard to filing a recusal appeal, and the order appealed does not constitute a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/06/22
John J. Lee v. Beach One Properties, LLC et al.
M2021-00042-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

This case involves the purchase of a parcel of real property pursuant to an installment contract for deed.  After entering into the contract, the purchaser discovered the existence of a natural gas pipeline easement on the property.  The purchaser subsequently brought suit against the seller, arguing an anticipatory breach of contract and a breach of the warranty of title for failure to inform him of the easement.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the seller based on its finding that the easement was properly recorded and discoverable through the exercise of ordinary due diligence.  On appeal, we affirm. 

Trousdale County Court of Appeals 04/05/22
In Re Jaidon S. et al.
M2021-00802-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Western Section Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her four children on grounds of abandonment by failure to support, persistence of conditions, and failure to demonstrate a willingness and ability to assume physical custody or financial responsibility. We affirm. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 04/05/22
Bruce Anne Steadman v. Charles Daniel Farmer
M2021-00484-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Western Section Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Elizabeth C. Asbury

In this divorce case, Husband contests the trial court’s division of marital property and debt and the award of alimony to Wife. We affirm. 

Fentress County Court of Appeals 04/05/22
Virginia Crawley v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Tennessee et al.
M2021-00210-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal

This appeal arises from the dismissal of a petition for writ of certiorari challenging a decision by a city’s planning commission. The petitioner contends that the planning commission’s approval of modifications to a site plan for a planned unit development district were not minor, such that the proposed amendments should have been referred to the city’s council for consideration. The trial court ultimately determined that the modifications were minor and did not require referral to the council; accordingly, it dismissed the petition. We concur in the conclusion of the trial court and affirm its judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/05/22
In Re Gracelyn H., et al.
W2021-00141-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paul B. Conley, III

A grandfather commenced this action for grandparent visitation after his daughter and two granddaughters moved out of his house. While the action was pending, the trial court entered an agreed order that granted temporary visitation to the grandfather. When the mother refused to comply with the agreed order, the grandfather filed a motion for civil contempt. Following several delays, the petition for grandparent visitation and the motion for contempt came on for hearing on the same day. After the final hearing, the trial court denied both the petition for grandparent visitation and the motion for civil contempt. The court found that the grandfather failed to prove that losing his relationship with the children would create a risk of substantial harm to the children. The court also found that the mother’s failure to comply with the agreed order was not willful because she had been coerced into the agreement by her former attorney. This appeal followed. We affirm the dismissal of the petition for grandparent visitation. With regard to the motion for civil contempt, we find the issue is moot because the grandfather no longer had any right to visitation after this petition was dismissed. Thus, the contempt issue is pretermitted on the basis of mootness.

Crockett County Court of Appeals 04/04/22
Douglas Patrick Hoering v. Marlita Dapar Hoering
E2021-00529-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry M. Warner

In this post-divorce action, Douglas Patrick Hoering (“Husband”) petitioned for a modification of his periodic alimony payment to Marlita Dapar (“Wife”), alleging that “she is no longer suffering from a financial disadvantage, as she has obtained housing and support from her paramour for some time.” The trial court ordered a reduction in Husband’s monthly spousal support payment from $1,200 to $600, in a judgment containing no findings of fact. Based on our de novo review of the record, we hold that Husband failed to demonstrate a substantial and material change of circumstances that would warrant decreasing his payment of alimony in futuro to Wife. The judgment of the trial court is reversed.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 04/01/22
Tracee Annette Higgins v. Laura Smith McCord
M2021-00789-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Middle Section Presiding Judge, Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Graham

This personal injury action arose following a motor vehicle accident. The plaintiff timely commenced an action in which she sought $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. After the defendant was served but failed to file an answer to the complaint, the plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment, which the trial court granted as to liability only, leaving open the amount of damages to be awarded. The case remained dormant for seven years until the plaintiff was granted leave to file an amended complaint that increased the request for compensatory damages from $1 million to $2 million. The amended complaint, however, was never served on the defendant. Thereafter, a final judgment was entered in which the plaintiff was awarded the monetary damages she sought in the amended complaint, that being $2 million for compensatory damages and $1 million for punitive damages. Seventeen months later, and after paying $30,000 toward the $3 million judgment, the defendant filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02(3) motion to set aside the default judgment on the ground the judgment was void ab initio for lack of personal jurisdiction. The plaintiff opposed the motion arguing, inter alia, that the Rule 60.02(3) motion was untimely and that it should be denied based on exceptional circumstances as recognized in Turner v. Turner, 473 S.W.3d 257 (Tenn. 2015). Following a hearing and finding the motion timely, the trial court determined (1) that the defendant had not been served with the amended complaint, (2) that the judgment was void, and (3) that the plaintiff had not proven the requisite exceptional circumstances to deprive the defendant of Rule 60 relief due to the plaintiff’s failure to establish another person’s detrimental reliance on the void judgment. We affirm.

Marion County Court of Appeals 04/01/22
Tony Alan Baker v. Shauna Phillips McSherry
M2020-01670-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sam Benningfield

In a parentage action, the juvenile court adopted a permanent parenting plan and determined the father’s child support obligation.  The court also declined a request to change the child’s name.  On appeal, both parents take issue with the parenting plan, and the mother claims that the father’s income was higher than found by the court.  Despite their differences, the parents agree that the court’s order contains insufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law.  We vacate in part and remand.

White County Court of Appeals 03/31/22
David Cupples, et al. v. Jonathan Alan Holmes, et al.
W2021-00523-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

In this case involving a petition for grandparent visitation, where the minor child’s parents had divorced and the mother had been admitted to an inpatient rehabilitation facility, the maternal grandparents asserted that the minor child’s father had prevented them from visiting with the child once the father had obtained full custody of the child. The trial court conducted a hearing and subsequently granted to the grandparents monthly visitation with the child plus additional time during school breaks and holidays. The father has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm. We decline, however, to grant an award of attorney’s fees to the grandparents on appeal.

Decatur County Court of Appeals 03/31/22
Estate of Beulah Blankenship, Et Al. v. Bradley Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center Et Al.
E2021-00714-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

In this healthcare liability action, a decedent’s estate and her son sued a nursing home and the county that owned the nursing home, alleging that the nursing home was negligent in the care of the decedent. The nursing home and the county filed a motion to dismiss the case for failure to comply with the certificate of good faith filing requirement in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-122. The trial court denied the motion, finding that an exhibit attached to the complaint satisfied the certificate of good faith filing requirement. Because the exhibit did not contain all of the information required for a certificate of good faith, we reverse and remand.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 03/30/22
Heather Steele Christy v. Brandon Jade Christy
M2021-00192-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

In this post-divorce proceeding, Father appeals a default judgment entered against him as a sanction that: 1) modified the parties’ parenting plan and decreased his child support obligation based on the emancipation of one of his children and 2) awarded Mother a monetary judgment in the amount of $7,635 ($2,000 as reimbursement for half of the middle child’s vehicle; $500 for sanctions not paid; and $5,135 for attorney’s fees and court costs paid by Mother).  Father filed a motion requesting the trial court to set aside the default judgment, asserting he did not receive proper notice of Mother’s motion for default.  The trial court summarily denied Father’s motion without holding a hearing.  We vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 03/30/22
In Re Autumn H.
M2020-01214-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon Guffee

This appeal involves a mother’s petition seeking to relocate to Canada with the parties’ minor child.  Determining relocation to Canada with the mother to be in the child’s best interest, the juvenile court approved the mother’s petition, and the father appealed to this Court.  Discerning no error, we affirm. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 03/29/22
In Re Diamond F. et al.
M2020-01637-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Brenda F.1 (“Mother”) and David F. (“Father”) to their three children who were then minors. As grounds, DCS alleged: (1) abandonment by failure to visit one of the children, Orian F.; (2) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home for the children; (3) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans; (4) persistence of the conditions that led to the children’s removal; (5) incompetency of the parents to provide care and supervision of the children; and (6) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of the children. The trial court found that DCS established all six grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence, and that termination of parental rights was in the children’s best interest. Although the parents have appealed only the ground of abandonment by failure to visit and the trial court’s best interest findings, we have reviewed all of the alleged grounds, and we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Warren County Court of Appeals 03/29/22
Pamela Lott v. Veronica Mallett, M.D., et al.
W2020-01233-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Felicia Corbin Johnson

Appellant initially filed suit against a doctor and the hospital where she had surgery. Nearly a year later, Appellant amended her complaint to add the doctor’s employer as an additional defendant. The first suit was voluntarily dismissed, and the plaintiff refiled against the doctor and her employer, relying on the savings statute. The trial court dismissed the claims against the doctor on the basis that Appellant failed to substantially comply with the Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121 in the second action and therefore was not entitled to an extension on the savings statute. The trial court granted the employer summary judgment on the basis that the first complaint naming it was not filed within the applicable statute of limitations. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/25/22
Cortrease Tate, et al. v. Shelby County Board of Education
W2020-01639-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

This appeal involves an action resulting from an alleged assault on a minor by a substitute teacher employed by the Shelby County Board of Education. The trial court granted Shelby County’s motion to dismiss the complaint for the plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 3 and 4.03 regarding process and service of process. The plaintiff appeals. We reverse and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/25/22
Estate of Mary Bell McGraw Marlin v. Harry Whitehead Marlin, III, et al.
M2021-00059-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tolbert Gilley

This appeal concerns the interpretation of a will.  Mary Bell McGraw Marlin (“Decedent”), a property owner in Rutherford County, left her farm to her surviving children.  Decedent’s holographic will provided equal acres to each heir, although a survey purporting to show how to divide the land was missing.  After years of futile discussions over how to divide the farm, Decedent’s grandson Harry Marlin, III filed suit in chancery court seeking to partition the land.  The matter was referred to the Probate Court for Rutherford County (“the Probate Court”).  After a hearing, the Probate Court entered an order dividing the land amongst the heirs.  Harry Marlin, III appeals.  He argues that the Probate Court erred by dividing the land into equal acres without regard to the economic value of the respective tracts.  We hold, inter alia, that Decedent’s will controls and it provided for equal acres, not equally valued acres.  We further find that the evidence does not preponderate against the Probate Court’s determination as to which tract each heir was to receive.  We affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 03/25/22
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee et al. v. Davidson County Election Commission
M2021-00723-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

At issue is an election commission’s decision to set an election on proposed referendum measures to a local government’s charter.  In pre-election litigation over this decision, the trial court concluded, for various reasons, that the election commission’s decision to hold the election should be reversed.  The election commission now urges this Court to reinstate its decision to hold an election and to remand this matter to it with instructions to schedule a referendum election at a future date pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-3-204(a).  As explained in more detail in this Opinion, we conclude that this requested relief is not proper under the cited statute.  Moreover, because this appeal cannot serve as a vehicle to grant the election commission any relief, we consider the matter moot.  Notwithstanding this posture in the case, we do find it appropriate, in the exercise of our discretion, to address one of the specific legal issues presented by this appeal as an exception to the mootness doctrine.  As to that issue, which concerns the interpretation of a form requirement the local government’s charter places on petitions to amend the charter by referendum election, we agree with the trial court that the referendum petition at issue in this case ran afoul of the requirement in dispute.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/25/22