Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/19/2022
Format: 05/19/2022
Barbara Matthews Law v. Halbert Grant Law, Jr.
E2021-00206-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

On May 1, 1992, Barbara Matthews Law (“Wife”) and Halbert Grant Law, Jr. (“Husband”), executed a prenuptial agreement. They married the following day. Wife filed for divorce in the Chancery Court for Hamilton County in December of 2017. The parties disputed, inter alia, the enforceability of the prenuptial agreement, as well as the classification and division of several assets. Trial was held over multiple days in 2019 and 2020, and the trial court entered its final decree divorcing the parties on July 31, 2020. The trial court held that the prenuptial agreement was valid and enforceable, classified the parties’ assets, and divided the marital estate. Wife was awarded the parties’ family home and $4,500.00 per month in alimony in futuro. Husband appeals, challenging the classification of the parties’ home as marital property, as well as the classification of one bank account. Wife cross-appeals, challenging the enforceability of the prenuptial agreement and the classification of several assets. Wife also requests increased alimony. We affirm the trial court’s finding that the parties’ prenuptial agreement is valid and enforceable. We reverse the trial court’s classification of three assets – the parties’ home, a checking account, and an investment account. We vacate the trial court’s decision as to those three assets and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion. In light of the changes in classification of several major assets, we also vacate and remand the trial court’s award of alimony for reconsideration.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
Edna Gergel v. James Gergel
E2020-01534-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

In this divorce action, the husband appeals the trial court’s distribution of the marital estate, denial of the husband’s request for alimony in futuro, grant to the wife of sole decision-making authority over the parties’ minor child, and grants to the wife of attorney’s fees and discretionary costs. The husband, who received disability benefits for a prior mental health diagnosis, also appeals the trial court’s finding that he was voluntarily unemployed and the court’s denial of his motion to strike certain expert witness testimony. Having determined that an unspecified portion of the discretionary costs awarded to the wife for fees related to three expert witnesses, one vocational rehabilitation consultant and two psychiatrists, were not allowable under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.04(2), we vacate the trial court’s award of discretionary costs as to the fees for these three experts’ work with the exception of $2,070.00 in demonstrably allowable fees paid to the vocational consultant. We remand for a specific determination of the fees for these three experts allowable, if any, as an award of discretionary costs to the wife under Rule 54.04(2). We also modify the trial court’s award of discretionary costs to the wife for court reporter fees to reduce them slightly pursuant to Rule 54.04(2). We otherwise affirm the trial court’s judgment. We deny the wife’s request for an award of attorney’s fees on appeal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
Caroline Harrill v. PI Tennessee, LLC et al.
M2021-00424-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell Parks

A guest sued a landlord for negligence after the guest was injured by a vicious animal while visiting the landlord’s tenant.  The landlord filed a motion for summary judgment that the trial court granted.  Because the undisputed facts establish that the landlord did not breach any duty owed to the guest, we affirm.

Giles County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
City of Memphis v. Beverly Prye
W2020-01716-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge:

This appeal involves an employment termination case in which an employee of the City of Memphis witnessed the signing of a will, but after the decedent’s death, the probate court determined that the will submitted to probate did not bear the genuine signature of the decedent. Following an administrative appeal, the Civil Service Commission for the City of Memphis unanimously affirmed the decision of termination. The employee filed a petition for judicial review with the chancery court. The chancery court reversed the termination of the employee finding that the Civil Service Commission’s decision to sustain her termination was arbitrary and capricious. The chancery court reinstated the employee with full backpay and benefits. The City of Memphis appeals. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
Xingkui Guo v. Jon David Rogers
M2020-01209-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal concerns a claim of legal malpractice.  Xingkui Guo (“Plaintiff”) filed a lawsuit for legal malpractice in the Circuit Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) against his former attorney Jon David Rogers (“Defendant”).  Defendant filed an answer denying Plaintiff’s allegations as well as a counterclaim alleging that Plaintiff failed to pay him in full pursuant to the terms of their agreement.  Defendant later filed motions for summary judgment as to both Plaintiff’s complaint against him and his counterclaim against Plaintiff.  The Trial Court granted Defendant’s motions for summary judgment.  Plaintiff appeals.  We hold, inter alia, that there is no genuine issue of material fact necessitating trial.  The undisputed material evidence shows that Plaintiff’s loss in the underlying lawsuit was not due to negligence in Defendant’s representation.  The undisputed material evidence shows further that Plaintiff breached his retainer agreement with Defendant by failing to pay him in full pursuant to the terms of the agreement.  We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
Brenda S. Harper v. William H. Harper
M2020-00412-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

In proceedings between ex-spouses long after the entry of their final divorce decree, the trial court concluded that it lacked authority to order the division of service-related disability benefits.  The court also declared void a portion of the divorce decree that divided military retirement as marital property.  As a result of the rulings, one of the parties sought relief from the divorce decree, arguing that she should be awarded alimony.  The trial court denied relief.  We affirm with modifications. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 04/25/22
Allison Haynes v. Perry County, Tennessee
M2020-01448-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael E. Spitzer

A gunshot victim filed a tort action against a county, alleging misconduct on the part of a sheriff’s deputy.  The plaintiff asserted that the county was liable under both the Governmental Tort Liability Act and Tennessee Code Annotated § 8-8-302.  The county moved to dismiss the complaint.  The county argued that it was immune from liability under either the discretionary function exception or the public duty doctrine.  The trial court dismissed the complaint.  We conclude that, because the deputy sheriff’s actions as alleged in the complaint were operational in nature, the county is not immune from liability under the Governmental Tort Liability Act.  The complaint also contains sufficient factual allegations of reckless misconduct such that the special duty exception to the public duty doctrine could apply.  So we vacate the dismissal.

Perry County Court of Appeals 04/25/22
Sheila Adams v. Henry Hughes
W2020-00450-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

This appeal arises from an action to recover personal property. The plaintiff, who is the former fiancé of the defendant, claimed the defendant retained some of her personal property after he forced her to vacate the premises where they previously resided. This action was initiated with the filing of a civil warrant in the general sessions court. After the general sessions court awarded the plaintiff a judgment in the amount of $7,500, the defendant appealed to the circuit court. Following a trial, the circuit court awarded the plaintiff a judgment of $4,745.30. This appeal followed. Finding no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/25/22
Auto Owners Insurance v. Phillip H. Thompson, III
W2021-00268-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

The plaintiff challenges the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss as a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56 motion for summary judgment and dismissing the plaintiff’s cause of action with prejudice. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion both as a Rule 12.02(6) motion to dismiss and as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment despite stating in its order that it had not excluded extraneous evidence presented by the defendant and that it would treat the motion as one for summary judgment. We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the defendant’s motion as a Rule 12.02(6) motion to dismiss after having considered extraneous evidence and that the trial court erred by failing to include in its order the legal grounds for its decision to grant the defendant’s motion as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. Inasmuch as the plaintiff failed to file a proposed amended complaint in the trial court, we are unable to address the issue raised concerning the motion to amend the complaint. We vacate the trial court’s order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion and Rule 56.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/21/22
Codie Hadley v. State of Tennessee
E2021-00203-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

A juvenile entered a best interest plea to and was adjudicated delinquent for the offense of sexual battery. The juvenile was placed on probation under the supervision of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. He sought relief through a
post-conviction petition in the trial court. The State moved to dismiss the petition. Pursuant to the juvenile’s concession that no valid claims could be brought, the trial court dismissed the petition. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 04/20/22
Clay County Et Al. v. Purdue Pharma L.P. Et Al.
E2022-00349-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

A Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B petition for recusal appeal was filed in this Court following the denial of a motion that sought the disqualification of the trial court judge. As explained herein, because we conclude that concerns contributing to an appearance of partiality necessitate the trial judge’s recusal, we reverse. In addition, we vacate an order on substantive matters that was signed by the trial judge while the recusal motion was pending.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 04/20/22
In Re Harley K.
E2021-00748-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

Mother and Father appeal the termination of their parental rights, focusing solely on the issue of best interest. Because we conclude that the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services presented clear and convincing proof of both grounds for termination and that the child’s best interests would be served by the termination of both parents’ parental rights, we affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 04/19/22
In Re S.S.
E2021-00761-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

This appeal involves termination of the parental rights of two parents who severely abused their child. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that one ground for termination existed based on a prior adjudication of severe child abuse and that termination was in the best interest of the child. We affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 04/19/22
Marian Neamtu v. Iveta Neamtu
M2021-00265-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

This appeal arises from a husband’s petition to terminate his alimony payments to his former wife.  The trial court declined husband’s request and instead found that there was a substantial and material change in wife’s circumstances such that an increase in alimony was necessary.  Because we conclude that this appeal was not timely filed, we are without subject matter jurisdiction and therefore dismiss the appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/19/22
Southern Steel & Concrete, Inc. v. Southern Steel & Construction, LLC, et al.
W2020-00475-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This appeal involves a payment dispute among several companies, including a construction company, a concrete company, and a fabricator company, that ultimately centered on a question of alter-ego status. The trial court found that the concrete company and the construction company were one and the same, and therefore were alter egos of each other. The trial court granted the concrete company enforcement of its lien and awarded it the funds that were deposited in the clerk’s office for the work performed on a building project. The trial court also denied the fabricator company’s cross-claim against the construction company for breach of contract for subcontracting work to the concrete company. The concrete company appeals. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/14/22
Sallie Lunn Tarver v. John Kirk Tarver
W2022-00343-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert S. Weiss

This is an interlocutory appeal as of right, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, filed by John Kirk Tarver (“Petitioner”), seeking to recuse the judge in this case involving post-divorce matters. Following our thorough review of the petition for recusal appeal filed by Petitioner, we discern no error and therefore affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/14/22
Edward Gilbert, Et al. v. State of Tennessee
E2021-00881-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William A. Young

This appeal relates to a healthcare liability action. The Claims Commission denied the State’s motion to dismiss based upon the claimants’ failure to satisfy the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-122. We reverse the trial court and remand for dismissal.

Court of Appeals 04/14/22
State of Tennessee v. Jason Kevin Dedreux
E2021-00786-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lisa Rice

After expiration of the maximum sentence imposed for a non-violent felony conviction, a petitioner sought full restoration of his citizenship rights. The trial court restored all of the petitioner’s rights, except for his firearm rights. Discerning that the trial court erred in limiting the restoration of the petitioner’s rights, we reverse and remand.

Washington County Court of Appeals 04/14/22
Jarred Morgan Wininger v. Paige Ashlynn Wininger
E2022-00306-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

Because the notice of appeal in this case was not timely filed this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Washington County Court of Appeals 04/14/22
Laura Cowan Coffey v. David L. Coffey
E2021-00433-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

This appeal involves the calculation of post-judgment interest applying Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121. The trial court calculated
post-judgment interest utilizing the statutory interest rate that was applicable when the judgment was entered without modifying the interest rate when the statutory rate subsequently changed. Discerning no error, we affirm. We also deny the plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees on appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/11/22
Francisco Sanchez v. Arthur Perry, III, d/b/a Arthur Perry Construction Company
W2021-00292-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

Appellant appeals the judgment entered against him by the trial court, ordering him to pay Appellee unpaid wages. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/11/22
James Williams v. Smyrna Residential, LLC et al.
M2021-00927-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bonita Jo Atwood

This appeal concerns the enforceability of an arbitration agreement in a wrongful death lawsuit.  James Williams (“Plaintiff”), individually as next of kin and on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Granville Earl Williams, Jr., deceased (“Decedent”), sued Smyrna Residential, LLC d/b/a Azalea Court and Americare Systems, Inc. (“Defendants,” collectively) in the Circuit Court for Rutherford County (“the Trial Court”).  Decedent was a resident of Azalea Court, an assisted living facility.  Plaintiff alleged his father died because of Defendants’ negligence.  Defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration, citing an arbitration agreement (“the Agreement”) entered into by Decedent’s daughter and durable power of attorney Karen Sams (“Sams”) on behalf of Decedent when the latter was admitted to Azalea Court.  Notably, the durable power of attorney (“the POA”) did not cover healthcare decision-making.  The Trial Court held that Sams lacked authority to enter into the Agreement and that, in any event, the wrongful death beneficiaries would not be bound by the Agreement even if it were enforceable.  Defendants appeal.  We affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 04/08/22
Madeline Lee Williams v. Joshua Dwain Williams
E2021-00432-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

This appeal arises from a divorce action in which the trial court determined that both the husband and the wife had proven their grounds for divorce and declared the parties divorced pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-4-129(b). The trial court also (1) declined to adopt the wife’s proposed permanent parenting plan, (2) determined that the separate assets she contributed to the marriage had become marital property through transmutation, and (3) declined to award attorney’s fees to her as alimony in solido. The wife has appealed, and the husband seeks attorney’s fees and costs on appeal, characterizing the wife’s appeal as frivolous. We affirm the trial court’s final order of divorce but modify the order to prohibit the husband from consuming alcohol during his co-parenting time. We decline to award the husband attorney’s fees and costs on appeal.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
Brenda Cothran Et Al. v. Durham School Services, L.P., Et Al.
E2020-00796-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, the school principal at Woodmore, sued the employer of the bus driver for, inter alia, negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) and reckless infliction of emotional distress (“RIED”). With respect to her NIED claim, the principal alleged that by breaching its duty to keep the students safe, the employer foreseeably caused her severe emotional distress. As to her RIED claim, she averred 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 as to both claims, finding that the principal’s allegations satisfied the pleading requirements to sustain the claims. Employer appeals. We conclude that the principal did not allege the type of relationship to the injured or deceased party required for a plaintiff who did not witness the injury-producing event to recover under a NIED claim. The principal’s allegations also failed to show conduct so outrageous by the employer that it cannot be tolerated by civilized society. Consequently, we reverse the trial court’s judgment as to both issues and remand the case for dismissal of the action against the employer.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/07/22
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