Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/10/2019
Format: 12/10/2019
C & C North America Inc. d/b/a Consentino v. Natural Stone Distributors LLC et al
W2019-00030-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

Appellant appeals the trial court’s order quashing its attachment and garnishments, whereby Appellant sought payment of its judgment from interpleaded funds that were owed to Appellee. Affirmed.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/10/19
Jennifer Erdman v. Mark Erdman
M2018-01668-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Golden
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson
This is a divorce case. For most of the parties’ marriage, the wife was a homemaker and the husband worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative. After husband was granted a divorce, the wife filed an appeal with this Court raising several issues for our review.  Among other things, the wife takes issue with the trial court’s classification and division of property and its decision to deny her alimony. For the reasons stated herein, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for such further proceedings as are necessary and consistent with this Opinion.
 
Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/10/19
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
Loring Justice v. Kim Nelson Et Al.
E2018-02020-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter C. Kurtz

Loring Justice and Kim Nelson are the divorced parents of a minor child. They have been in litigation over the child since 2004. This appeal arises from a lawsuit filed by Mr. Justice (plaintiff) against Ms. Nelson, Robert Bodine, and two unidentified coconspirators (defendants). In his original complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendants were liable for: conspiracy to commit the crime of extortion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with parental rights. Defendants filed motions to dismiss, which the trial court granted. Exactly thirty days later, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. He alleged additional facts and new causes of action, including: fraud, coercion, attempted tortious interference with parental rights, and violations of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. Defendants filed a “response” to the amended complaint. They argued that the court should deny plaintiff leave to amend his original complaint. The court treated defendants’ “response” as a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, which the court then granted. We hold that the court erred when it treated defendants’ “response” as a motion to dismiss the amended complaint. We also hold that the court failed to provide adequate justification for dismissing the amended complaint sua sponte. Accordingly, we vacate the order of dismissal and remand for further proceedings.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 12/10/19
Jennifer Moore-Pitts Et Al. v. Carl A. Bradley, DDA, MAGD
E2018-01729-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

This appeal concerns a healthcare liability action filed by Jennifer Moore-Pitts and David Pitts ("Plaintiffs") in the Knox County Circuit Court ("Trial Court") against Carl A. Bradley, DDS, MAGD ("Defendant"). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' action on the basis of noncompliance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26- 121(a)(2)(E), which requires that pre-suit notice include a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization allowing the healthcare provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider that is sent a notice.' Approximately forty healthcare providers, including Defendant, received pre-suit notice from Plaintiffs. On the medical authorization provided to Defendant, Plaintiffs left blank the name of the individual or entity authorized to make the disclosure of medical records to Defendant but provided an attachment of the names and addresses of the other providers receiving notice. The Trial Court found that Plaintiffs' medical authorization provided to Defendant was not sufficient to allow Defendant to obtain Ms. Moore-Pitts' s medical records from the other providers who received the pre-suit notice. As such, the Trial Court found that Plaintiffs could not rely on Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(c) to extend the statute of limitations for 120 days. Because Plaintiffs' action was filed one year and 118 days after the cause of action accrued, the Trial Court determined that Plaintiffs' action was untimely. The Trial Court, therefore, granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/09/19
Angela Dotson v. State of Tennessee
E2019-00325-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William A. Young

Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting a health care liability claim against the state and attached a certificate of good faith. The Tennessee Claims Commission found that the certificate of good faith failed to satisfy the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26- 122 because it was not specific as to the state health care provider. Despite this finding, the court concluded that the statute was satisfied because the complaint contained the certificate of good faith language and identified the state health care provider. The state then filed this interlocutory appeal. We reverse.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/03/19
In Re Bryson B. Et Al.
E2019-00729-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Wylie Richardson

This is a termination of parental rights case involving four minor children. In October 2017, temporary custody of the children was granted to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”), and the children were placed in foster care. The McMinn County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) subsequently adjudicated the children dependent and neglected in December 2017. DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the mother and father on December 7, 2018, alleging, as statutory grounds for termination, abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, abandonment by failure to support, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, persistence of the conditions leading to the children’s removal from the parents’ home, and failure to assume custody or financial responsibility for the children.1 Following a bench trial, the trial court granted the petition as to the mother upon finding that DCS had proven by clear and convincing evidence the grounds of (1) persistence of the conditions leading to removal, (2) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and (3) failure to assume custody or financial responsibility for the children.2 The trial court also found clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. The mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 12/02/19
ELIZABETH JANE KNIZLEY v. ANDREW CARLTON KNIZLEY
M2018-00490-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

Finding agreement in the midst of a divorce can be difficult, but leading up to and during the trial in their divorce, husband and wife entered into certain stipulations.  Among those, according to wife, was a stipulation that she would receive alimony in futuro of some amount.  Following the trial, the trial court awarded wife transitional alimony.  On appeal, wife argues that the court improperly created a dispute when none existed by ignoring the parties’ stipulation.  For his part, husband argues that parties cannot stipulate to a type of alimony and, in any event, there was no such stipulation.  After a review of the record, we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/27/19
Cheryle Luane Levoy v. Jason Hunter Levoy
M2018-01276-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

In this post-divorce dispute, the mother filed a criminal contempt petition against her ex-husband, alleging multiple violations of a permanent parenting plan.  The husband responded with a petition for temporary emergency custody.  The trial court granted temporary custody to the father and scheduled a hearing on both petitions.  After the hearing, the court found the father guilty of 12 counts of criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt and sentenced him to 120 days in jail.  Finding no credible evidence to support the father’s custody petition, the court dissolved the temporary custody order.  On appeal, the father argues that the trial court erred in finding him guilty of criminal contempt.  Because the evidence is sufficient to support a finding of criminal contempt, we affirm.

Overton County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
Floyd Rodney Burns v. State of Tennessee
E2018-02174-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William A. Young

This appeal arose from a claim filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission (“the Commission”) against the State of Tennessee (“the State”), seeking an award of damages for defamation allegedly committed by a district attorney general through statements made to the media concerning the claimant. The State filed, inter alia, a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the claimant filed, inter alia, a response objecting to the motion. Following a hearing, the Commission denied the State’s motion to dismiss upon finding, in pertinent part, that the Commission did not have the authority to extend absolute immunity to district attorneys general. Upon the State’s application, the Commission and this Court each granted permission for interlocutory review. Having considered the certified question of whether the absolute privilege afforded to state officials for statements made in the course of their official duties, as recognized in Jones v. State, 426 S.W.3d 50 (Tenn. 2013), extends to district attorneys general, we determine that the privilege does not apply and accordingly affirm the Commission’s judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
Tennessee Funding, LLC v. William H. Worley
M2018-01099-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey F. Stewart

Two parties claim the authority to exercise the declarant’s rights under a declaration of restrictive covenants for a residential subdivision.  The original declarant, the developer of the subdivision, granted a security interest in all personal property associated with the subdivision, including “contract rights” and general intangibles, to the bank that financed the subdivision.  After the developer defaulted, the bank conducted a public sale of the personalty securing its debt and was the highest bidder at the sale.  A few months later, the developer fell into receivership, and the receiver sold the declarant’s rights under the declaration to a lot owner “free and clear of all liens and liabilities.”  The bank filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment regarding entitlement to the declarant’s rights and damages.  The lot owner moved for judgment on the pleadings.  The lot owner argued that the bank could not prove a superior claim because it had consented to and subordinated its security interest to the declaration.  The bank moved for partial summary judgment on its request for a declaratory judgment.  The trial court denied the motion for judgment on the pleadings and granted partial summary judgment to the bank.  We affirm. 

Marion County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
In Re Kolton C.
E2019-00736-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri Bryant

This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the trial court’s termination of her parental rights to the minor child on the grounds of: (1) severe child abuse, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4); and (2) abandonment by willful failure to visit and to support, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1), § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i). Mother also appeals the trial court’s determination that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because Appellee did not meet her burden to show that Mother failed to support the child, we reverse the trial court’s termination of parental rights as to this ground. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of severe child abuse and failure to visit, and on its finding that termination of Appellant’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
William Cooper v. Board of Parole
M2018-01392-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This is an appeal from the judgment of the chancery court denying an inmate the relief requested in his petition for writ of certiorari.  The inmate is serving two concurrent life sentences, with the possibility of parole, for offenses of first degree murder.  The Tennessee Board of Parole declined to grant parole to the inmate, citing seriousness of the offense.  The chancery court concluded that the Board did not act arbitrarily, fraudulently, illegally, or in excess of its jurisdiction, in denying the inmate parole.  For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court’s order of dismissal. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
Christopher James Terrazzano v. Alecia Ann Terrazzano
M2019-00400-COA-r3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This action concerns the trial court’s designation of the primary residential parent, allocation of co-parenting time, and the division of marital debt following the parties’ divorce. We affirm the rulings on these issues made by the trial court.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 11/26/19
In Re Antonio J. Et Al.
M2019-00255-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clara W. Byrd

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on grounds of persistence of conditions and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume custody. The trial court’s order is affirmed in all respects.

Trousdale County Court of Appeals 11/25/19
In Re: Jayda H.
E2019-00855-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice Hope Snider

This is an appeal from a termination of parental rights proceeding. The trial court found that three grounds for termination had been established against the child’s father: substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plan, persistent conditions, and failure to manifest an ability to parent. The trial court also determined that it was in the child’s best interests to terminate the father’s parental rights. We affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 11/25/19
Jonathan Linkous v. Tiki Club, Inc.
E2019-00357-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. McAfee

This appeal arises from a personal injury action against the defendant restaurant after the plaintiff was allegedly injured due to a slip and fall following his use of a portable restroom facility located on the defendant’s premises. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant upon finding that no genuine issue of material fact existed that would show the defendant had either actual or constructive notice of the alleged dangerous condition. In so ruling, the trial court excluded the plaintiff’s expert from testifying regarding the portable restroom facility. The plaintiff has appealed. Having determined that the trial court erred in excluding the expert witness’s testimony, we vacate and remand.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 11/22/19
In Re Estate of Margaret Owens Bush Baker
W2019-00229-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carma Dennis McGee

In this probate action involving a testate decedent, the surviving spouse filed a petition seeking to claim an elective share in addition to homestead rights, exempt property, and year’s support. The surviving spouse later withdrew his petition for an elective share but continued to assert claims for exempt property and year’s support. The trial court denied those claims, determining that the statutory provisions governing a surviving spouse’s claims for exempt property and year’s support require that the claimant had also simultaneously elected against the decedent’s will. The surviving spouse has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Carroll County Court of Appeals 11/22/19
In Re Malik G., Et Al.
E2019-01040-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice Hope Snider

This appeal concerns the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Hamblen County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Chaunte G. (“Mother”) to her three minor children, Malik, Sean and Jaslene (“the Children,” collectively). After a hearing, the Juvenile Court found that DCS had proven the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, persistent conditions, and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume legal and physical custody of the Children, all by clear and convincing evidence. The Juvenile Court found also that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. Mother appeals to this Court, arguing mainly that terminating her parental rights is not in the Children’s best interest because she completed a number of her permanency plan tasks after the petition was filed. First, save for the ground of abandonment by failure to visit, which we reverse, we affirm the grounds for termination found by the Juvenile Court. As for the Children’s best interest, despite Mother’s tardy completion of some of her permanency plan tasks, the evidence nevertheless proves that it is unlikely she can safely parent the Children any time soon. Applying the standard of clear and convincing evidence, we find that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. While we reverse one ground for termination, we otherwise affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court terminating Mother’s parental rights to the Children.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 11/21/19
Penney Mosley, et al. v. City of Memphis, et al.
W2019-00199-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This matter concerns judicial review of a motion to disqualify a city attorney and/or the entire Memphis City Attorney’s Office from appearing in administrative cases pending before the Memphis Civil Service Commission between May 18, 2015 and September 29, 2017. Appellants argue that an assistant city attorney created a conflict of interest for herself and/or the entire office after she filed a notice of appearance claiming she represented the civil service commission in a separate case appealed to Chancery Court. Appellees argue that, even if the notice of appearance created a representation, state statutes and case law would permit the representation. The Civil Service Commission denied the Appellants’ motion, and the Shelby County Chancery Court affirmed the Commission’s decision. After applying the review standards outlined in the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, we affirm the ruling of the Chancery Court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/21/19
Anthony Arrington v. Barbara Bryant Et Al.
E2018-02165-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This case involves a dispute between siblings, named as co-executors of their mother’s estate. Anthony Arrington (plaintiff) brought this action against his sister Barbara Bryant, alleging she engaged in “self-dealing, fraud, theft, and conversion” of the assets of their late mother, Nuffie Arrington (decedent). Ms. Bryant responded by alleging that the parties had mediated their dispute and entered into a settlement agreement disposing of all issues between them. She presented the settlement agreement and two checks she wrote to plaintiff in accordance with the agreement. The plaintiff had cashed the checks. Ms. Bryant asserted the defense of accord and satisfaction. Plaintiff admitted entering into the agreement, but argued that it should be rescinded because of fraudulent inducement and concealment. Ms. Bryant died while the action was pending in the trial court. Her children, Rachel Bryant Ramsey and Nathan Bryant (defendants) were substituted for her. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants, finding the settlement agreement valid and enforceable. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Greene County Court of Appeals 11/20/19
Ruby Diane Barron v. Bruce Joseph Barron
E2018-02257-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela Fleenor

Wife filed for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The trial court granted husband a divorce on the grounds of wife’s adultery and other inappropriate marital conduct. Despite the many factors found by the trial court to be favorable to husband, the court awarded husband only 43% of the net marital estate. It also awarded husband one year of transitional alimony at $2,000 per month. We hold that the trial court erred in its division of the net marital assets and in its determination as to the duration of the transitional alimony awarded to husband. We modify the trial court’s judgment so as to provide husband five years of transitional alimony. We hold that the Roth IRA is a marital asset; it is awarded to husband and wife in equal share. Furthermore, we hold that the FERS pension account is to be divided between the parties as set forth in this opinion. As modified, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/20/19
Donald Eugene Winder, III v. Kara Elizabeth Winder
E2019-01636-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Mark Stokes

This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B. Wife sought the trial judge’s recusal on the ground of bias, alleging, among other things, that her husband—an attorney—appeared regularly in front of the trial judge and that the two men were friends. The trial judge’s order denied wife’s allegations and their factual basis and denied the motion to recuse. Finding no evidence of bias that would require the trial judge’s recusal under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Meigs County Court of Appeals 11/18/19
In Re Deishun M. Et Al.
E2019-00777-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

Jessica T. (“Mother”) appeals the April 3, 2019 order of the Hamilton County Juvenile Court (“Juvenile Court”) terminating her parental rights to the minor children, Deishun M. and Olivia M. (“the Children”). Upon petition of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”), the Juvenile Court terminated Mother’s rights on the statutory grounds of severe child abuse and persistent conditions. The Juvenile Court further found that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Children. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/18/19
Mihir Kishorchandra Patel v. Janki Anil Patel
W2018-00820-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

The parties divorced after a thirteen year marriage in which the family was initially solely supported by Wife’s $40,000.00 per year income, but ending with Husband earning approximately $850,000.00 per year. The trial court found that long-term alimony was appropriate given Wife’s contribution to Husband’s earning capacity, her inability to achieve his earning capacity despite her efforts at education, and the parties’ relatively high standard of living during the marriage. Both parties take issue with the trial court’s alimony award. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court in all respects.

Madison County Court of Appeals 11/15/19