Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/02/2020
Format: 04/02/2020
In Re Estate of Alys Harris Lipscomb
W2018-01935-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen D. Webster

In this appeal of a probate matter, Appellant argues that the trial court erred in ruling that undue influence, breach of fiduciary duty, and conversion occurred as a result of transactions conducted by Appellant as attorney-in-fact of Decedent. Appellant also argues that the trial court erred in ruling that a bank account where both Appellant and Decedent signed a signature card was an individual account instead of a joint account with rights of survivorship. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/01/20
Robert Lee Algee v. David Anthony Craig as personal representative of the Estate of Nancy P. Craig
W2019-00587-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

This personal injury action concerns an automobile accident. The defendant died shortly after the accident. The estate was opened, administered, and closed before the plaintiff filed suit against the former personal representative within the applicable statute of limitations. The personal representative moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The plaintiff moved to enlarge the time for filing service of process based upon a claim of excusable neglect. The trial court dismissed the action as untimely. We affirm.

Dyer County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Reginald D. Hughes v. Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole, ET AL.
M2019-00487-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

A state inmate filed a petition for a common law writ of certiorari seeking judicial review of the prison disciplinary board’s decision to deny parole. The board filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court granted the board’s motion to dismiss because the petition was not filed within the sixty-day period prescribed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-9-102 (2017). We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Rickey Thompson v. State of Tennessee, Department of Correction
M2018-02262-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal concerns the court’s summary judgment dismissal of the plaintiff’s age discrimination and retaliatory discharge claims against the State of Tennessee, Department of Correction. We affirm the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
In Re Nevaeh B. Et Al.
E2019-01539-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal arises from the termination of a father’s parental rights to his three children. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that two grounds for termination were proven and that termination is in the best interest of the children. The father appeals. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Shirley Lunsford v. K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc.
E2019-01272-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

This appeal involves a slip and fall premises liability case filed by an invitee against a business proprietor. The trial court granted summary judgment to the business proprietor because invitee’s evidence did not show that the condition in the business proprietor’s store was inherently dangerous and because the court found the condition to be open and obvious. For the following reasons, we agree with the trial court that the condition at issue was not inherently dangerous and summary judgement should be granted for Defendant.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Amanda Gale Gates v. Scott Gates
M2019-00894-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Binkley

In this divorce action, the issue is whether the trial court correctly credited the number of parenting days awarded to each parent for purposes of calculating child support under the terms of the permanent parenting plan (PPP). Scott Gates (father) argues on appeal that the trial court miscalculated his residential time by undercounting the number of days awarded him in the PPP. We hold that there are irreconcilable inconsistencies in the PPP that require us to vacate the trial court’s order and remand for clarification of the actual number of days awarded and recalculation of child support.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Jeffrey Glenn Mitchell v. Carol Ann Thomas Mitchell
E2019-00759-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Brewer, Jr.

This is the second appeal in this post-divorce action involving the interpretation of the parties’ marital dissolution agreement and allegations of contempt for failure to comply with the same. We remanded the case to the trial court for submission of additional findings of fact and conclusions of law. The husband appeals the trial court’s opinion on remand. We affirm the trial court.

Blount County Court of Appeals 03/31/20
Kira Mendiola Leonard v. Craig Michael Leonard
W2018-02235-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This case involves the classification and division of marital property between ex-military spouses. In dividing the marital property, the trial court failed to address the factors listed in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-121 or make necessary findings of fact and conclusions of law as is required under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the trial court’s decision and remand with instructions to properly address the required statutory factors.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/30/20
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