Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/05/2021
Format: 12/05/2021
Alexander Mhlanga v. State of Tennessee
E2020-01411-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Melissa T. Blevins-Willis

An inmate filed a petition for a common law writ of certiorari seeking review of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s disciplinary decisions. Because the inmate’s petition failed to comply with constitutional and statutory requirements, the trial court dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We affirm.

Bledsoe County Court of Appeals 05/27/21
The Law Offices of T. Robert Hill, PC f/k/a Hill Boren, PC v. Lewis Cobb, et al.
W2020-01380-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

Following the dissolution of the law firm formerly known as Hill Boren, PC, Appellant brought, inter alia, the following claims: (1) Count 1: “Joint Enterprise/Venture/Aiding and Abetting Fiduciary Breach;” (2) Count 2: “No Derivative Cause of Action: Negligence and/or Fraud;” (3) Count 4: “Attempted Cover Up: Punitive Damages;” (4) Count 6: “Strict Liability in Tort for Misconduct of a Lawyer;” and (5) Count 7: “Liability of Lawyer Misconduct Causing Harm/Damage to a Foreseeable Non-Party Non-Client Ethical Differentiation Standard.” The trial court dismissed Appellant’s lawsuit on grant of Appellees’ Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12 motion to dismiss and on grant of Appellees’ motion for summary judgment. In part, the dismissal was based on a final judgment in the underlying lawsuit, Boren v. Hill Boren, PC, No. W2019-02235-COA-R3-CV, 2021 WL 1109992 (Tenn. Ct. App. March 23, 2021). Subsequently, however, this Court dismissed the appeal of the underlying lawsuit on the ground that the order appealed was not final. As such, we vacate the trial court’s dismissal of a portion of Count 2 and Count 4 on the grounds of res judicata and collateral estoppel. The trial court’s orders are otherwise affirmed, and the Appellant’s request for stay is denied.

Madison County Court of Appeals 05/27/21
Nelson E. Bowers, II v. Estate of Katherine N. Mounger
E2020-01011-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael S. Pemberton

This appeal concerns a real estate transaction that fell through. The Estate of Katherine N. Mounger (“the Estate”), as well as executors Katherine M. Lasater and E. Jay Mounger (“Defendants,” collectively), seek reversal of the judgment of the Circuit Court for Roane County (“the Trial Court”) whereby they were ordered to return $150,000 in earnest money to Nelson E. Bowers, II (“Plaintiff”), successor in interest to would-be purchaser of the property at issue, McKenzie Loudon Properties, LLC (“MLP”). Defendants appeal to this Court, arguing, among other things, that MLP first materially breached the contract for sale (“the Agreement”) by failing to perform a title examination and failing to notify it of a defect in title stemming from oral claims of ownership made by Charles Mounger. However, we find, as did the Trial Court, that the Estate had actual notice of the defect in title. Further, it was the Estate, rather than MLP, that materially breached the Agreement by failing to provide marketable title. Aside from an award to Plaintiff of attorney’s fees incurred on an earlier appeal in this matter which Plaintiff did not request from this Court in that earlier appeal, which we reverse, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court and remand for an award to Plaintiff of reasonable attorney’s fees incurred on this appeal as requested.

Roane County Court of Appeals 05/27/21
Devin Buckingham v. Tennessee Department of Corrections, Et Al.
E2020-01541-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Frank V. Williams III

An inmate filed a complaint alleging theft against the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction and against the prison Warden. The Commissioner and the Warden moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6). The trial court granted the motion. We have determined that the trial court failed to provide reasons for the dismissal of the complaint. Therefore, we vacate the judgment and remand.

Morgan County Court of Appeals 05/27/21
Penny Brennan v. Randii Goble
E2020-00671-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge David R. Duggan

This appeal arose from a personal injury action. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, accompanied by a statement of material facts in compliance with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.03. The plaintiff responded to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment but failed to respond to the separate statement of material facts. As a result of the plaintiff’s failure to respond to the statement of material facts, the Trial Court deemed those facts as stated by the defendant as admitted and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant upon its determination that the defendant had negated an essential element of the plaintiff’s claim. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Blount County Court of Appeals 05/27/21
In Re Estate of Margie Ann Johnson
M2020-00472-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Louis W. Oliver

After the trial court found that a scrivener’s error mistakenly listed the incorrect grantee on a warranty deed, it reformed the deed to list the correct grantee. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 05/26/21
In Re Kaylene J. Et Al.
E2019-02122-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Shannon Garrison

This case involves a petition to terminate a mother’s parental rights to her minor children. The petition was filed by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. The trial court granted the petition, finding multiple grounds for termination were established and that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate the mother’s parental rights. The mother appealed. We affirm the trial court’s decision in part, vacate in part, and remand.

Rhea County Court of Appeals 05/26/21
Faye Maples Hall, Individually and As Personal Representative of The Estate of Alie Newman Maples, Deceased v. Park Grill, LLC
E2020-00993-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

This case involves an alleged breach of a lease following the destruction of the building on the leased premises by the November 2016 Gatlinburg wildfires. The original lessor had entered into a lease in 2009 with the lessee, a company that had utilized the building primarily as a storage facility for its restaurants during the lease term. The lessor died in 2017. Acting in her own capacity and as personal representative of her mother’s estate, the lessor’s daughter filed a complaint in July 2019, alleging that the lessee had breached the lease by failing to utilize fire insurance proceeds to restore the building. The plaintiff requested that she be awarded a judgment for either the fair market value of the leased premises or the amount of the fire insurance proceeds. Upon cross-motions for summary judgment and following a hearing, the trial court found that the lease required the lessee to utilize fire insurance proceeds to make repairs only in the event that those repairs could be made within ten working days, which was undisputedly impossible following the fire. The trial court also found that, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 66-7-102(b), the lessee’s covenant to leave the leased premises in good repair did not obligate the lessee to restore the building absent fault, negligence, or an express agreement to the contrary. The plaintiff has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 05/26/21
In Re Lucas H.
W2020-00122-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

This is an appeal from a denial of relief pursuant to a common law writ of certiorari arising out of a dependency and neglect case brought by Father against Mother in the juvenile court. The Guardian ad Litem appointed in the dependency and neglect case filed a motion to compel Mother to release copies of her mental health records, arguing that she is entitled to them under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 40 and Tennessee Code Annotated section 37-1-411. In turn, Mother objected, arguing that her records are privileged, that she had not waived her privilege, and that the Guardian ad Litem was not otherwise entitled to the records. The juvenile court issued an order compelling Mother to release copies of her mental health records to the Guardian ad Litem. Mother thereafter filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the circuit court, seeking review of the juvenile court’s interlocutory order. The circuit court found the juvenile court’s actions proper under the writ of certiorari standard and granted Mother no relief. For the reasons contained herein, we reverse the decision of the circuit court and find that Mother is entitled to the relief sought under the common law writ of certiorari.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 05/26/21
Jamie Gravatt v. Michael Barczykowski
M2019-01481-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

This appeal arises from the modification of a parenting plan in a post-divorce action, upon a petition filed by the minor child’s mother. We have determined that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings that there was a material change of circumstances under Tennessee Code Annotated sections 36-6-101(a)(2)(B) and 36-6-101(a)(2)(C) and that modification of the parenting schedule and of primary residential parent was in the best interest of the child. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s order.  

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/25/21
Erin Elizabeth Otto v. Timothy Jason Otto
M2020-00660-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael E. Spitzer

This case involves a divorce action and several motions for contempt. Prior to the final hearing, the wife filed multiple motions for civil and criminal contempt against the husband. At the final hearing, the trial court resolved the divorce-related issues and found the husband in civil contempt on eight counts. The husband only appealed the trial court’s contempt ruling. We affirm the trial court’s decision, award the wife attorney’s fees on appeal, and remand.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 05/25/21
Jack Kauffman Et Al. v. Timothy G. Forsythe Et Al.
E2019-02196-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Justin C. Angel

A property owner shot and injured a trespassing dog. The dog’s owner, a family member, and an unrelated party posted negative comments about the property owner during his campaign for public office. After losing the election, the property owner and his wife sued the three individuals for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. The defendants filed a countercomplaint seeking damages for trespass to chattels, conversion, negligence, and trespass. The trial court dismissed all claims. The court also issued a restraining order enjoining the parties from making public comments about each other. We affirm the trial court’s finding that the property owner was a public figure when the allegedly defamatory statements were published. But because we conclude that the complaint sufficiently alleged actual malice, we reverse the dismissal of the defamation and false light invasion of privacy claims. We further conclude that the countercomplaint stated a cause of action for trespass to chattels, conversion, negligence, and trespass. So we reverse the dismissal of those counterclaims. We also vacate the restraining order.

Rhea County Court of Appeals 05/25/21
In Re Estate of Winston Verlon Clark, Sr.
E2020-00912-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

This appeal arose from an order of the Hamilton County Chancery Court (“trial court”) determining that the decedent’s purported will did not meet the statutory requirements for proper execution of a last will and testament and that the decedent’s estate would therefore be probated as an intestate administration. The decedent’s surviving spouse had first attempted to probate the will via common form probate,1 alleging that the purported will met the statutory requirements for a holographic will. However, upon the decedent’s son’s motion to contest the proffered will in common form, the trial court determined that the purported will did not meet the statutory requirements of a holographic will pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 32-1-105. The trial court further instructed that the decedent’s estate would proceed as an intestate estate.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/25/21
Jennifer Clarke, et al., v. City of Franklin
M2020-00662-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This appeal arises from a class action lawsuit against the City of Franklin. The plaintiffs are the owners of 188 properties, in five subdivisions, whose properties are subject to liens in connection with improvement assessments for sanitary sewer services. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, concluding that the City had filed notices of liens against the properties in amounts greater than authorized pursuant to the relevant statutes governing improvement assessments. The trial court declared the notices of liens null and void and directed the City to file amended notices of liens. The next phase of the proceeding focused on damages. The owners of eight properties filed claims for monetary damages allegedly caused by the City’s error when the property owners had attempted to refinance or sell their properties. The trial court concluded that a hearing on damages was not necessary and denied all claims, finding that none of the claimants suffered an injury as a result of the City’s actions. The trial court also denied the plaintiffs’ request for an award of the attorney fees they had incurred. The plaintiffs appeal, asserting that the trial court erred in denying their claims for damages and attorney fees. The City of Franklin argues that the trial court erred in granting partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs on the substantive issue regarding the validity of the notices of liens. For the following reasons, we affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 05/24/21
Nashville Tennessee Ventures, Inc. v. Norma Elizabeth McGill
M2020-01111-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

Appellant, a Tennessee corporation in the timeshare exit business, brought suit against Appellee, a former employee, for breach of contract, breach of the duty of loyalty, and civil conspiracy. Appellant alleged that during Appellee’s employment, she conspired with a competing company to steal business from Appellant. Appellee filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss, and the trial court dismissed the complaint in full with prejudice because the alleged employment contract, attached as an exhibit to the plaintiff’s complaint, did not name the plaintiff as a party to the contract. We affirm the trial court’s dismissal of the breach of contract claim but reverse the dismissal of the breach of the duty of loyalty claim and the civil conspiracy claim.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/24/21
Bradley Church v. Cristal McMillan Church Jones
E2020-00584-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

A father filed a petition to modify his monthly child support payments. Due to several delays, the trial court did not resolve the father’s petition for approximately four years. After hearing all the evidence, the trial court drastically reduced the father’s monthly support obligation and ordered the modification effective as of the last day of the modification hearing. The father appeals the trial court’s decision not to make the modification retroactive to the date the petition to modify was filed. Finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/24/21
In Re: Porcalyn N.
E2020-01501-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

Thomas N. (“Father”) appeals the order of the Juvenile Court for Knox County (“trial court”) terminating his parental rights to his minor child, Porcalyn N. (the “Child”). Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/21/21
Jumitrius R. Hutchins v. Chattanooga Hamilton County Hospital Authority D/B/A Erlanger Health System
E2020-01486-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

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

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/19/21
Savannah Leigh Jackson, ET Al. v. The State of Tennessee, Et Al.
E2020-01232-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: William A. Young, Commissioner

Parents filed a healthcare liability and wrongful death complaint after the mother delivered a stillborn infant. We granted this interlocutory appeal to review whether the claims commission erred in denying summary judgment to the defendants. Finding no error in the Commission’s ruling, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 05/19/21
In Re Angelleigh R. - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2020-00504-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Wyatt Burk

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s decision to reverse the trial court’s determination that Angelleigh R. (“the Child”) had been the victim of severe child abuse while living with her mother, Amanda B. (“Mother”), and Mother’s paramour, J.M. As noted in the majority opinion, both Mother and J.M. were parties to the proceedings in juvenile court as well as the de novo appeal to the Marshall County Circuit Court (“trial court”). However, the trial court’s dependency and neglect determination as to Mother was based solely on educational neglect while the trial court’s determination of severe child abuse was based solely on its finding of sexual abuse perpetrated against the Child by J.M. Mother was not accused of severe child abuse or failing to protect the Child from such abuse. Although Mother has perfected an appeal to this Court, J.M. did not appeal the determination that he had severely abused the Child, and thus the existence of Mother’s standing to appeal that particular determination, which was not rendered with respect to her, is somewhat uncertain. See Clark v. Perry, No. 02A01-9704-CH-00080, 1998 WL 34190562, at *7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 19, 1998) (“As a general rule, . . . a party lacks standing to appeal an order entered against a co-party who has elected not to appeal that order.”). Nevertheless, assuming, arguendo, that Mother possesses the proper standing to appeal the trial court’s determination that J.M. severely abused the Child, I believe that the trial court’s determination should be affirmed.  

Marshall County Court of Appeals 05/19/21
In Re Angelleigh R.
M2020-00504-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Wyatt Burk

This appeal stems from the circuit court’s finding that a child was dependent and neglected. In particular, Mother appeals the trial court’s finding that the child was a victim of severe abuse and educational neglect. We reverse the trial court as to both determinations.  

Marshall County Court of Appeals 05/19/21
In Re Braylee B.
E2020-01408-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Elizabeth C. Asbury

John B. (“Father”) appeals the termination of his parental rights to the minor child, Braylee B. (“the Child”). In September 2019, Brook W. (“Mother”) and Charles W. (“Stepfather”) filed a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights in the Scott County Chancery Court (“Trial Court”). Father filed a motion to compel discovery and continue the trial, which was denied by the Trial Court. Following a trial, the Trial Court terminated Father’s parental rights on two grounds of abandonment due to Father’s failure to support the Child and his wanton disregard for the Child’s welfare. The Trial Court further found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the Child’s best interest. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Scott County Court of Appeals 05/18/21
Mary Hanes Lancaster Lockett v. Marc Kevin Runyan Sr.
E2020-01343-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge John C. Rambo

Appellant/Wife filed a petition for civil contempt against Appellee/Husband alleging that Husband failed to make payments on a debt owed to Wife as required under the parties’ Marital Dissolution Agreement (“MDA”). The trial court: (1) held that the MDA was ambiguous; (2) entered judgment for Wife in the amount of $14,636.66; (3) held that Husband was not in contempt of the MDA; and (4) denied Wife attorney’s fees and costs under the MDA. We conclude that the MDA was not ambiguous and that the trial court erred in allowing parol evidence of payments Husband allegedly made prior to executing the MDA. Accordingly, we: (1) reverse the trial court’s finding that the MDA is ambiguous; (2) reverse and modify the trial court’s entry of judgment for Wife in the amount of $14,636.66; (3) vacate the trial court’s finding that Husband was not in contempt; and (4) reverse the trial court’s denial of Wife’s request for attorney’s fees and costs. We remand the case for: (1) entry of judgment in favor of Wife in the amount of $82,000.00 plus post-judgment interest; (2) reconsideration of the question of Husband’s contempt; and (3) calculation of Wife’s reasonable attorney’s fees, costs, and expenses incurred in the litigation, including this appeal, and entry of judgment on same.

Washington County Court of Appeals 05/17/21
LVH, LLC v. Freeman Investment, LLC
M2020-00698-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal

A property development company brought suit against a property owner for specific performance to enforce an option agreement entered into between the company and the property owner.  The trial court held that the option agreement was enforceable and awarded specific performance and damages to the development company.  We have concluded that the option agreement is not sufficiently definite with respect to the option price and, therefore, is not an enforceable contract.  We reverse the decision of the trial court and remand for further proceedings regarding the development company’s alternative cause of action for unjust enrichment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/14/21
Mark Young, Et Al. v. H & H Testing, LLC Et Al.
M2020-00145-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

This appeal arises from a financial dispute between a drug testing laboratory, H & H Testing, Inc. (“H & H Testing” or “H & H”), and Wesley Young, for whom H & H performed 64 qualitative drug screens while Mr. Young was a client of Transcend Recovery Community (“Transcend”), which operates recovery communities nationwide. Upon commencing treatment for drug addiction at Transcend, Mr. Young agreed to adhere to treatment guidelines that included abstaining from drugs and alcohol and submitting to a rigorous drug screening protocol. Pursuant to this protocol, Transcend forwarded 64 of Mr. Young’s random urine samples to H & H Testing for comprehensive laboratory testing. After H & H performed each drug screen, it submitted a claim to Mr. Young’s health insurance provider, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (“BlueCross” or “BCBST”). BlueCross approved each and every claim submitted by H & H Testing and remitted payment for the services rendered by H & H in the aggregate of $85,837.11. Because H & H Testing was an out-of-network provider, BlueCross remitted payment for the services rendered by H & H to its insured, Mr. Young, expecting he would forward the proceeds to H & H. Instead of remitting the funds to H & H Testing, Mr. Young entrusted the money to his parents, but they did not forward the proceeds to H & H. When H & H Testing demanded payment, Mr. Young and his parents commenced this action to declare the rights of the parties to the funds. They contended that H & H Testing was not entitled to the insurance proceeds because Mr. Young did not have a contract with H & H Testing, its services were not medically necessary, and the charges were exorbitant. H & H Testing filed an answer and counterclaims for breach of contract, conversion, and unjust enrichment. Following a hearing on cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of H & H Testing without identifying the claims upon which the judgment was granted and imposed a constructive trust over the insurance proceeds. This appeal followed. We affirm the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of H & H Testing based on its claims of conversion and unjust enrichment. But we vacate the trial court’s decision to impose a constructive trust over the proceeds because the parties failed to raise the issue in any of the pleadings.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/14/21