Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 01/17/2020
Format: 01/17/2020
In Re Ronon G.
M2019-01086-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael E. Spitzer

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two children on grounds of abandonment by failure to establish a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, and persistence of conditions. We conclude that two grounds were not applicable to Mother’s younger child because she was not removed from Mother’s home. Because at least one ground was supported by the evidence as to each child, and the evidence clearly and convincingly shows that termination is in their best interest, we affirm the overall termination of Mother’s parental rights as modified.

Lewis County Court of Appeals 01/16/20
Jacqueline Graybill McSurley v. Michael Glen McSurley
M2019-02016-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

This appeal arises out of a Final Decree of Divorce entered on June 19, 2019, and the denial of the husband’s post-judgment motions. Because the husband did not file his notice of appeal within the time required by Tenn. R. App. P. 4, we dismiss the appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/16/20
Debra Lovelace, et al. v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis
W2019-00453-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

Plaintiff filed a health care liability action against Defendant hospital following the death of Plaintiff’s husband in 2014. The trial court granted summary judgment to the hospital on two alternative, independent grounds: that the Plaintiff’s expert witness, a registered nurse, was not competent to testify as an expert witness, and that the expert witness failed to provide causation testimony as required to prove liability. Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s ruling about the competency of her expert witness, but she failed to raise the failure to provide causation testimony as an issue on appeal. As no argument was made to challenge a distinct ground for summary judgment, we consider the argument waived and affirm the trial court’s order granting summary judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/16/20
Sherrilyn Kenyon v. Kerrie Ann Plump, Et Al.
M2019-00944-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

During a hearing on a party’s motion for a protective order, the trial court summarily found the party to be in contempt of court and sentenced her to spend ten days in jail after she described members in the gallery as pedophiles and abusers of her children.  The party appealed, and we affirm the trial court’s judgment and sentence.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 01/13/20
Hill Boren Properties, et al. v. Ricky Lee Boren v. Tamara Hill, et al.
W2019-02128-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

Third-party defendants in a lawsuit moved to disqualify the trial judge, asserting that the judge is a material witness in the case and demonstrated bias and prejudice against one of the parties in another case; the trial court denied the motion and the parties filed an expedited interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B. Upon a thorough review of the petition for recusal appeal and supporting materials, we affirm the decision of the trial court denying the motion for recusal and remand for further proceedings.

Madison County Court of Appeals 01/10/20
In Re Emma S.
E2019-00718-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

In this parental termination case, the juvenile court found two statutory grounds for termination of a mother’s parental rights: substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plan and persistence of conditions. The juvenile court also found that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in her child’s best interest. Because the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support the grounds for termination and the best interest determination, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 01/09/20
In Re Mahaley P. Et Al.
E2019-00770-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert M. Estep

This is the second appeal concerning the petition filed by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) in the Claiborne County Juvenile Court (“Juvenile Court”) to terminate the parental rights of Ed P. (“Father”) to the children, Mahaley P. and Morgan P. (“the Children”). During the first appeal as to Father, this Court reversed the statutory ground of substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan and remanded for the Juvenile Court to make additional findings of fact and conclusions of law related to the two remaining grounds and as relevant to the best interest analysis. See In re Mickeal Z., No. E2018-01069-COA-R3-PT, 2019 WL 337038 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 25, 2019). On April 4, 2019, the Juvenile Court entered an order making additional findings of fact and conclusions of law. Father appeals the April 4, 2019 order of the Juvenile Court terminating his parental rights to the Children upon its determination that DCS had proven by clear and convincing evidence the statutory grounds of persistent conditions and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of the Children and that the termination of Father’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Claiborne County Court of Appeals 01/09/20
Amanda Bliss Gricunas (Harmon) v. Andrew James Gricunas
E2018-02284-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

In this post-divorce proceeding, the mother filed a petition to modify time sharing arrangements between the mother and the father with regard to the minor children of the parties. The parties have been divorced since 2010. The mother also requested a modification of the father’s child support obligation and asked that the father pay for onehalf of the children’s past and future medical expenses.

Greene County Court of Appeals 01/09/20
In Re O.W., Jr., et al.
W2019-01127-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Harold W. Horne

Father appeals the termination of his parental rights, arguing that one ground for termination was not proven and that the trial court’s ruling as to that ground did not reflect its independent judgment and did not include sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm five grounds for termination and vacate the ground of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to parent the children. We also affirm the trial court’s finding that termination is in the child’s best interest. As such, we affirm the termination of Father’s parental rights.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/09/20
In Re: A.W.
M2019-00358-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Darrell Scarlett

In this parental termination case, the petitioners sought termination of the parental rights of mother and the unknown father based upon four statutory grounds, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2018). Following a hearing on the petition, the trial court entered an amended order holding that there was clear and convincing evidence sufficient to terminate the parents’ rights for abandonment based upon their failure to support and failure to visit the minor child. By the same quantum of proof, the court found that termination is in the child’s best interest. The trial court, however, failed to address all of the grounds for termination raised in the petition. The trial court’s judgment was not final. Accordingly, this appeal is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 01/08/20
WARREN BROTHERS SASH & DOOR COMPANY v. SANTORO CUSTOM BUILDERS, INC., ET AL.
M2019-00374-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

Plaintiff filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 69.04 motion to extend a 2008 default judgment entered against Defendant’s company and Defendant in his personal capacity.  Defendant filed a Rule 60.02(3) motion to set aside the default judgment with respect to himself in his individual capacity, asserting the judgment was void for lack of service. The trial court determined 1) Defendant had been served in the underlying matter, 2) that the judgment in the underlying case was not void, and 3) alternatively, if the judgment was invalid, “exceptional circumstances” justified the court’s refusal to set it aside.  We find that the 2008 default judgment was not void for lack of service and affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 01/08/20
In Re Estate of Gladys Yarboro Lloyd
E2017-02563-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

In this probate proceeding, the trial court applied the no contest provision of the will to prevent the beneficiary from inheriting under the will, holding that certain actions and issues raised by the beneficiary triggered the provision. The court also imposed sanctions pursuant to Rule 11.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure against the disinherited beneficiary and her attorney for filing an improper lien on real property of the decedent and in refusing to remove the lien, thereby requiring the estate to seek judicial relief. The beneficiary and her attorney appeal the application of the no contest clause and the imposition of sanctions. Upon our review, we discern no error warranting reversal and accordingly, affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/08/20
Martha L. Butler v. James L. Burrow, Et Al.
M2018-02283-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joe Thompson

This appeal arises from an action for trespass, injunctive relief, and to quiet title pursuant to a theory of common law adverse possession. The multiple parties are adjoining neighbors and/or affiliated businesses. The centerpiece of this litigation concerns the ownership of a strip of railroad property that is 66 feet wide and comprises 2.9 acres. The railroad removed the track and abandoned the property in 1977, after which all that remained was a berm on which the former track lay. After the track was removed, one of the neighboring owners erected a fence along the center of the entire length of the railroad property. Since that time, the neighboring property owners considered the fence to be the new property line and used the 33 feet of the property on their side of the fence as their respective property. However, the neighboring property owners never paid taxes on the abandoned railroad property. In 2015, one of the three defendants acquired the abandoned property by quitclaim deed from the railroad and removed the fence and leveled the berm in order to install a road to serve a residential development planned for an adjacent 42-acre tract. Thereafter, the owners of two separate adjoining properties filed suit against the three affiliated defendants seeking an injunction and to recover damages caused by flood water that had been diverted onto the plaintiffs’ property due to the removal of the berm. The plaintiffs also asserted claims for trespass and to quiet title to the 33 feet of the former railroad property that adjoined their property. The defendants filed counterclaims alleging that the temporary injunction halted development of the road and caused them to suffer damages. Following a bench trial, the court ruled that the plaintiffs acquired half of the abandoned railroad property through adverse possession. The court also awarded damages against the defendants for removing the fence the plaintiffs used to contain their cattle and for flood damage that resulted from the removal of the berm. The court also ordered the defendants to replace the berm. The defendants appealed. We have determined that Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-110(a) bars the plaintiffs’ claim of adverse possession because it is undisputed that they did not pay taxes assessed on the railroad property for more than 20 years. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs own half of the railroad property and hold that the defendant who acquired the property from the railroad by quitclaim deed in 2015 is the rightful owner of the entire 2.9-acre tract. We also reverse the award of damages to the plaintiffs for replacement of the fence and restoration of the entire berm; however, we affirm the trial court’s determination that the defendants are jointly and severally liable for diverting water onto the plaintiffs’ property by removing the railroad berm, and remand this claim for the trial court to award damages and/or determine the appropriate measures the defendants should take to remedy the flooding caused by the removal of the berm. Further, the defendants claim for damages resulting from the temporary injunction is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/07/20
In Re: Draven K.
E2019-00768-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

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) abandonment by willful failure to visit and abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1), §§ 36-1-102(1)(A)(i) (ii); (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3); (3) failure to substantially comply with the reasonable requirements of the permanency plan, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2); and (4) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility for the child, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1- 113(g)(14). Mother also appeals the trial court’s determination that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because the record does not contain an adjudicatory order of dependency and neglect, we reverse the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on the ground of persistence of conditions. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on all other grounds and on its finding that termination of Mother’s rights is in the child’s best interest.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/07/20
Jeff Robinson v. Cody Haynes Et Al.
E2019-00477-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

This is an appeal from a case involving a contract for the sale of real property. The Trial Court disposed of some of the claims by granting summary judgment. Other claims were dismissed or voluntarily non-suited, and the Trial Court attempted to render its judgment final by citing to Rule 54 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The Trial Court, however, reserved disposition of a petition for attorney’s fees and an amended petition for attorney’s fees. As a result of the reservation of the disposition of the petitions for attorney’s fees there is no final judgment, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Anne Frost Montgomery Renner v. Robert Bruce Renner, Sr.
E2019-01879-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri Bryant

Movant, defendant in a divorce case, seeks accelerated review of the denial of his motion for recusal. He claims a lack of impartiality on the part of the chancellor presiding over the divorce case due to her knowledge of unrelated litigation in which the movant was a party. He contends that the chancellor revealed her lack of impartiality in making adverse credibility determinations against movant, determining movant violated a statutory injunction, and ignoring prior orders and agreements of the parties in making factual findings. Movant also complains of the manner in which the chancellor conducted an emergency hearing, alleging that the chancellor “lacked patience and cooperation with the litigants on th[at] day.” After a de novo review, we affirm the denial of the motion for recusal.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
William Acree Ex Rel. John D. Acree v. Metropolitan Government Of Nashville And Davidson County
M2019-00056-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal arises from an action in tort against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Tennessee (“the Metropolitan Government”) as the sole defendant. The action is brought by the brother on behalf of the decedent who died after being shot by police officers employed by the Metropolitan Government. The plaintiff asserts that the Metropolitan Government owed a special duty of care to the decedent because the police officers were reckless by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation concerning the decedent’s mental health before attempting to serve a felony warrant.  Moreover, the plaintiff asserts that police officers failed to abide by internal police department guidelines pursuant to which, the complaint alleges, the officers should have withdrawn from the area before the decedent exited the rear door of his house pointing a handgun at police officers. The undisputed material facts are that when the officers attempted to serve the decedent at his residence, the decedent refused to respond to the officers at the front door of his residence and, instead, abruptly exited through the rear door armed with a loaded handgun where the decedent and one of the police officers exchanged gunfire, resulting in the death of the decedent. The trial court summarily dismissed the complaint under the Governmental Tort Liability Act finding, inter alia, that the police officers owed a general duty to the public at large when serving the felony capias; the internal policies and procedures of the Metropolitan Police Department did not establish a duty enforceable in tort; there were no genuine issues of material fact to show the police officers acted recklessly, thus the special duty exception to the public duty doctrine did not apply; and because the special duty doctrine did not apply, the police officers and the Metropolitan Government were immune from liability. The trial court also found the claim was barred by the doctrine of comparative fault based on the undisputed fact that the decedent was at least 50% at fault for his injuries and death because he aimed a loaded weapon at the police officer before the officer opened fire. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Donita Dale Dowden v. Ronald J. Feibus
E2019-00036-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge J.B. Bennett

This appeal arose from post-divorce litigation concerning the trial court’s distribution of marital assets, specifically the distribution of the marital portion of the husband’s federal government pension to the wife. In its divorce decree entered on August 10, 2004, the trial court awarded to the wife “1/2 of [the husband’s] Administrative Law Judge Government Pension through the date of this Final Decree.” Upon the husband’s appeal, this Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in all respects, including the trial court’s award to the wife of one-half of the marital portion of the husband’s pension. Dowden v. Feibus, No. E2004-02751-COA-R3-CV, 2006 WL 140404 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 18, 2006) (“Dowden I”). The husband sought no further judicial review at that time. Following his retirement from federal employment on May 1, 2017, the husband received correspondence concerning the calculation of the wife’s portion of his pension from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”). On August 2, 2018, the husband filed a “Motion for Clarification and/or Relief from Judgment” contending, inter alia, that OPM miscalculated the portion of his pension that would be diverted to the wife because the trial court’s final decree was “too vague” and did not “provide sufficient guidance to OPM to allow them to correctly compute” the wife’s interest in the pension. On December 6, 2018, the trial court entered an order finding that there was “no lack of clarity” in its final decree and denying the husband’s motion. The husband has appealed. Having determined that the trial court did not err in denying the husband’s motion, we affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand to the trial court for enforcement of the judgment. We decline to award attorney’s fees on appeal to the wife.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Linda Bridges v. Lifford L. Lancaster, M.D., Et Al.
M2019-00352-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This is a health care liability action.  The trial court determined that Plaintiff’s evidence did not establish that any act or omission of Defendant caused Plaintiff to suffer an injury that would not have otherwise occurred.  The trial court awarded summary judgment to Defendant physician.  We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
James F. Logan, Jr. Et Al. v. The Estate of Mildred Cannon Et Al.
E2018-02043-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Frank V. Williams, III

Upon remand from this Court in a previous appeal, the trial court conducted a bench trial on a claim of common law adverse possession initiated by the plaintiff concerning a onequarter ownership interest in an unimproved 7.18-acre tract of real property located in Bradley County, Tennessee. In its final order, the trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s action in its entirety upon finding that although the plaintiff had presented evidence that preponderated in favor of adverse possession, the evidence did not rise to the level of the clear and convincing standard required to establish ownership through adverse possession. The plaintiff has appealed. Having determined that the plaintiff demonstrated adverse possession of the property interest at issue by clear and convincing evidence, we reverse.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., et al. v. City of Memphis, et al. - dissent
W2019-00299-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

The majority chooses to affirm the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint filed by EPE on the basis of the doctrine of res judicata. Because I conclude that an essential element of the doctrine of res judicata has not been established, I must respectfully dissent.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/26/19
Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., et al. v. City of Memphis, et al.
W2019-00299-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

Appellants appeal the trial court’s grant of Appellees’ Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 motions in this declaratory judgment action. The trial court dismissed Appellants’ complaint on the ground that Appellants had no standing to seek a declaratory judgment interpreting a contract, to which Appellants were neither parties nor third-party beneficiaries. We affirm the dismissal of Appellants’ complaint for declaratory judgment on the ground that the complaint is barred as res judicata.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/26/19
Heather P. Hogrobrooks Harris v. Jimmie L. Smith
W2019-00394-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

This appeal arises from a lawsuit over a car accident. Heather P. Hogrobrooks Harris (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, sued Jimmie L. Smith (“Defendant”) in the Circuit Court for Shelby County (“the Trial Court”) for diminution in the value of her vehicle, medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of use of her vehicle, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. On several occasions over the course of the case, Plaintiff failed to show up to court. When Plaintiff failed to appear for trial, the Trial Court granted a continuance with a warning that, should Plaintiff fail to appear again, her case would be dismissed. Plaintiff subsequently failed to appear, and the Trial Court dismissed her case with prejudice for lack of prosecution, as it warned it would. Plaintiff appeals to this Court, arguing among other things, that the Trial Court Judge was biased against her and that the Trial Court erred in dismissing her case. First, we find no evidence whatsoever that the Trial Court Judge was biased against Plaintiff. Second, Plaintiff’s stated reasons for failing to show up for trial, that it was cold and rainy that day and her car was old and unreliable, respectfully will not suffice. We find no abuse of discretion in the Trial Court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s case for lack of prosecution. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/20/19
Steven J. Dale v. Sharon K. Ball Dale
M2018-01999-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

In this post-divorce matter, the mother appeals the award of attorney fees to the father, who prevailed in his opposition to the mother’s request to relocate out of state. The mother gave notice to the father that she wanted to move to Arizona while the parties’ competing petitions to modify the parenting plan were pending. The trial court denied the mother’s request to relocate and awarded attorney fees to the father as the prevailing party in the relocation matter. As for the petitions to modify the parenting plan, the court ruled that the mother was the prevailing party and awarded to the mother the attorney fees she incurred in the modification matter. The mother appeals contending she should have been awarded fees in both matters as the “overall” prevailing party. Alternatively, the mother contends the trial court erred by awarding the father attorney fees solely on the basis he was the prevailing party in the relocation matter. Having found the trial court identified and properly applied the most applicable legal principles and that the award of attorney fees to the father was within the range of acceptable alternative dispositions, we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/20/19
Vanquish Express, LLC v. Dixie Ohio Xpress, LLC, Et Al.
M2018-01934-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Golden
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson
This is an appeal from the trial court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to set aside an agreed order, which, among other things, dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice. Defendants alleged that their former counsel entered into the agreement without their authorization. Finding that the defendants submitted no evidence to support the allegation, the trial court denied the motion. Defendants appeal. We affirm.
 
Sumner County Court of Appeals 12/20/19