Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 11/25/2020
Format: 11/25/2020
Mindy Donovan v. Joshua R. Hastings
M2019-01396-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal

The trial court dismissed a contractor’s amended countercomplaint against a homeowner for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court then awarded the homeowner her attorney fees in the amount of $3,600 pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-12-119(c). The homeowner appealed arguing that, in limiting her recovery to $3,600, the trial court interpreted the statute too narrowly. Because the trial court properly interpreted the statute, we affirm the trial court’s decision.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
Terry Wallace v. City of Lewisburg, Tennessee
M2019-01690-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Franklin L. Russell

Former city employee brought suit for age discrimination under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. Based upon its determination that the city fired the employee because a majority of the city council members disapproved of his job performance and that the employee failed to prove that age was a determining factor in his termination, the trial court dismissed the employee’s complaint. We affirm.  

Marshall County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
In Re Rommie H.
M2019-01359-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Louis W. Oliver

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child. The trial court concluded that the paternal grandparents had proven three statutory grounds for terminating the mother’s parental rights: abandonment by failure to visit; abandonment by failure to support; and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of her child. The court also concluded that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. On appeal, the mother argues that the grandparents’ petition did not sufficiently plead the statutory grounds for termination. And even if sufficiently pled, the mother argues that the evidence of the grounds and the child’s best interest was less than clear and convincing. We affirm. 

Sumner County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
Loans Yes v. Kroger Limited Partnership I Et Al.
M2019-01506-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry R. Tidwell

A commercial tenant stopped paying rent on leased space six months before the end of its five-year term. The landlord was unsuccessful in its attempts to find a replacement tenant and sued the tenant for breach of contract. The trial court found in favor of the landlord and awarded it damages, including unpaid rent, late fees, prejudgment interest, and attorney’s fees. The tenant appealed. Other than a change in the amount of late fees awarded and instructions regarding recalculating the prejudgment interest, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
In Re Brian W. Et Al.
M2020-00172-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

A mother and father appeal the juvenile court’s decision to terminate their parental rights based on six statutory grounds.  They also challenge the juvenile court’s finding by clear and convincing evidence that termination of their parental rights was in the best interest of the children.  We affirm the juvenile court’s termination of the mother’s and father’s parental rights.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
Heun Kim, et al. v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01027-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner James A. Hamilton, III

This matter is before the court for a second time. Plaintiffs filed a negligence suit in the Tennessee Claims Commission against the State of Tennessee after their six-year-old son fell from the fifth-floor balcony of the state-owned and -operated Paris Landing State Park Inn. Plaintiffs alleged that the State was negligent in two respects: 1) in allowing their son to gain access to an unoccupied guest room and the attached balcony, and 2) in maintaining balcony railings that were shorter in height than was required by applicable building codes. Following a bench trial, the Tennessee Claims Commissioner concluded that the Plaintiffs failed to establish that the State’s negligence was the proximate cause of their son’s injuries. Plaintiffs appealed to this Court, and we held that the Commissioner’s conclusions of law were deficient and vacated and remanded the case for further consideration. On remand, the Commissioner entered a supplemental order that included additional conclusions of law as to both claims for negligence, and, again, determined that the Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proving that the Inn’s acts were the proximate cause of their son’s fall and dismissed the claim in its entirety. Plaintiffs again appeal. We affirm the Commissioner’s holding that Plaintiffs failed to establish that the negligence of the Inn was the proximate cause of their son’s injuries.

Court of Appeals 10/30/20
In Re Alexis S.
E2020-00405-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

This appeal concerns the trial court’s dismissal of termination petitions upon remand. We reverse the dismissal of the petition as applied to the father but affirm the dismissal of the petition as applied to the mother.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
Jeff Druek v. Hydrogen Engine Center, Inc., Et Al.
E2019-02142-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

This action involves the plaintiff’s attempted levy of execution on improved real property in Greeneville, Tennessee, owned by an intervening corporation, HEC-TINA, Inc. (“HECTINA”), and subject to a lease by another corporation, Plastic Innovation, Inc. (collectively, “Intervenors”), to satisfy a judgment against the original defendant/debtor corporation, Hydrogen Engine Center, Inc., of Iowa. The plaintiff alleged that Hydrogen Engine Center, Inc., was the parent corporation of HEC-TINA. Following a hearing and upon Intervenors’ pleadings, the Greene County Circuit Court (“trial court”) entered two orders, one granting Intervenors’ petition to intervene and one granting Intervenors’ motion to quash any levy of execution on assets owned by HEC-TINA. The plaintiff has appealed the latter order. Having determined that the order granting the motion to quash was entered based upon the consent and agreement of both the plaintiff and Intervenors, we affirm. We deny Intervenors’ motions to consider post-judgment facts and Intervenors’ request for attorney’s fees on appeal.

Greene County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
Brian Lee Higdon v. Aehui Nmi Higdon
M2019-02281-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Darrell Scarlett

This appeal arises from a divorce. Brian Lee Higdon (“Husband”) filed for divorce from Aehui Higdon (“Wife”) in the Chancery Court for Rutherford County (“the Trial Court”). The parties executed a marital dissolution agreement (“the MDA”). The Trial Court approved the MDA and entered a Final Decree of Divorce. Wife later filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 seeking to have the MDA and Final Decree of Divorce set aside on grounds of mistake of fact, fraud, and fundamental unfairness. After a hearing at which both Husband and Wife testified, the Trial Court denied Wife’s motion. Wife appeals, arguing among other things that she was coerced into signing the MDA. Deferring to the Trial Court’s implicit credibility determinations, we do not find that Wife was coerced into signing the MDA. Wife failed to meet her burden of clear and convincing evidence that there was mistake of fact, fraud, or fundamental unfairness in the execution of the MDA. In sum, we discern no abuse of discretion in the Trial Court’s decision to deny Wife’s Rule 60.02 motion. We affirm. 

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/29/20
Monsieur Shawnellias Burgess v. Bradford Hills HOA Et Al.
M2020-1371-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

A pro se plaintiff moved to recuse based on comments made by the judge at a hearing. The motion to recuse was denied, and this accelerated interlocutory appeal followed. Because the plaintiff’s filings are deficient, we affirm the denial of the motion for recusal. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/28/20
In Re Autumn D. Et Al.
E2020-00560-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Klyne Lauderback, Jr.

The trial court terminated Father’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by an incarcerated parent through wanton disregard and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of the children. The trial court also found that termination was in the children’s best interests. Father appeals. Because there are significant deficiencies in the trial court’s order, we vacate and remand for further proceedings.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 10/28/20
In Re Estate of Dawson Lewis
W2019-01839-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor George R. Ellis

The petitioners filed a petition to probate the will of the decedent. The will offered for probate had markings on the provisions concerning the appointment of executors to the will and the payment of the head stone. The petitioners filed an affidavit stating that they had no knowledge concerning who made the markings on the decedent’s will. The Trial Court entered an order denying the petition to probate the will, finding that the markings on the will “negated it from being accepted to Probate” and that the decedent had, therefore, died intestate. The petitioners appealed. We reverse the judgment of the Trial Court and remand for the decedent’s will to be admitted to probate.

Gibson County Court of Appeals 10/28/20
Abby Nicole Breeden v. Derrick Jerome Garland, Sr.
E2020-00629-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan

Pro se appellant appeals the trial court’s entry of an order of protection that was entered against him. The appellant’s brief significantly fails to comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27. Accordingly, we find that any issues on appeal are waived and we dismiss the appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/27/20
Doris Davis Flowers, et al. v. Terisa Kimmins, et al.
W2019-02091-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

In this appeal regarding the proceeds of the decedent’s life insurance policy, the Interim Clerk and Master of the Shelby County Chancery Court (“trial court”) issued, pursuant to local rule, a “Notice and Recommendation for Sua Sponte Dismissal for Lack of Prosecution” after no activity concerning the case had occurred for over a year. The notice, which directed the parties to appear before the trial court on September 10, 2019, was not mailed to the defendant. Consequently, the defendant did not appear. Following the hearing, the trial court ordered a scheduling conference, at which the defendant also did not appear. During the scheduling conference, the trial court directed the plaintiffs to submit testimony and other evidence concerning the proceeds of the life insurance policy. Upon the plaintiffs’ request for a declaratory judgment, the trial court entered an order finding, inter alia, that the defendant had failed to appear. The court awarded proceeds of the life insurance policy to the plaintiffs and assessed costs against the defendant. The defendant has appealed. On appeal, the parties have stipulated that the defendant did not receive notice of the hearings. We therefore vacate the trial court’s order of final judgment and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/27/20
Laura Cowan Coffey v. David L. Coffey
E2019-00157-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

This is the second appeal in this action, the facts of which date back to the 1995 death of Steven Coffey, the successful owner of a securities business. In 2015, the deceased’s widow sued the deceased’s father, who had served as executor of the estate. Following summary judgment in favor of the executor, the widow appealed and we remanded the matter to the trial court. Following a bench trial, the trial court ruled, among other things, that the three-year statute of limitations applicable to the widow’s claims were tolled by application of the fraudulent concealment doctrine. The executor appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/26/20
In Re Jude M.
E2020-00463-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This is a termination of parental rights case focusing on Jude M., the minor child (“the Child”) of Sarah M. (“Mother”) and Andy G. (“Father”). In November 2018, Father and his wife, Jamie G. (“Stepmother”), filed a petition in the Greene County Chancery Court (“trial court”), seeking to terminate the parental rights of Mother and allow Stepmother to adopt the Child. The Child previously had been removed from Mother’s custody pursuant to an order entered by the Greene County Juvenile Court (“juvenile court”) upon a petition for emergency custody filed by Father. Following a bench trial, the trial court granted the termination petition upon its finding by clear and convincing evidence that Mother had abandoned the Child by failing to visit her during the statutorily determinative period and that conditions leading to the removal of the Child from Mother’s custody persisted. The trial court further found by clear and convincing evidence that it was in the Child’s best interest to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother has appealed. Having determined that Petitioners failed to demonstrate the threshold requirement of a petition having been filed in the juvenile court that alleged the Child to be a dependent and neglected child, we reverse the trial court’s finding on the ground of persistence of the conditions leading to removal of the Child from Mother’s custody.

Greene County Court of Appeals 10/22/20
In Re Brantley O.
M2019-01265-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas C. Faris

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child. The juvenile court determined that there were three statutory grounds for terminating the mother’s parental rights: abandonment by an incarcerated parent, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody and financial responsibility. The juvenile court also determined 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 both the grounds for termination and the best interest determination, we affirm.

Franklin County Court of Appeals 10/22/20
Wanda Sue Binkley v. Allen Dale Binkley
M2018-02251-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ted A. Crozier

In this case arising from a divorce, Wife appeals the trial court’s classification as marital property a piece of real estate, which was transferred to Wife during the marriage by her mother, and on which Wife owned and operated a business.  Following a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 10/22/20
Carolyn Richardson v. H & J Properties, LLC, et al.
W2019-02082-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

A residential tenant was injured after slipping on water that accumulated from a leak in the ceiling of her home. Prior to the accident, the tenant notified the owner of the residence and the property manager of the leak. The tenant brought suit for her injuries, alleging a common law negligence claim and a claim for the defendants’ alleged failure to comply with requirements in the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on both claims, finding that the tenant had co-extensive knowledge of the dangerous condition, so the defendants were not liable for her injuries. The tenant appeals, primarily arguing that the common law rule on landlord non-liability is displaced by the Act. We affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/21/20
Liberty Construction Company, LLC v. Peter H. Curry, Et Al.
M2019-00951-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This is an action by a construction company to recover on a written stipulated sum contract and an oral cost-plus contract for the construction of a commercial building. The construction company sought to recover for additional work performed that was not included in the scope of the stipulated sum contract and the remaining balance of the cost-plus contract. The building owners contended that the construction company was not entitled to additional payment under the written agreement and counterclaimed for payments the owners made directly to suppliers for work included in the scope of the stipulated sum contract, and for reimbursement of funds expended to correct a defect caused by the construction company. The trial court held that neither the construction company nor the owners were entitled to recover under the stipulated sum contract; that the owners were not entitled to reimbursement because they failed to establish that the construction company caused the defect or, in the alternative, failed to provide a reasonable opportunity to cure; and that the construction company was entitled to judgment for work performed in connection with the cost-plus agreement. We reverse the court’s determination that the owners were not entitled to a credit for certain payments made directly to suppliers, that prejudgment interest commenced on November 10, 2014, when the notice of completion was filed, and that the owners did not provide the construction company with notice and an opportunity to cure. We affirm the trial court’s holding in all other respects.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/21/20
Kabir Afzali Et Al. v. Shirzad Etemadi
M2019-01769-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This appeal concerns a trial court’s dismissal under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) based on the affirmative defenses of res judicata and waiver. This is the second action between the parties involving the same real property. In the first action, the plaintiffs sought to enforce an option to purchase property they were leasing from the defendant. While the action was pending, the defendant recorded a document with the Davidson County Register of Deeds that purported to create an ingress-egress easement across the property to an adjoining tract he owned. During the pendency of the first action, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, pursuant to which the defendant agreed to sell the property to the plaintiffs, and the parties released all claims against each other. After the first action was dismissed, the plaintiffs discovered the purported easement, which prompted them to file a motion to set aside the dismissal. Meanwhile, the parties set a deadline for closing, and the defendant prepared a warranty deed that reserved the same easement he previously attempted to create. The plaintiffs insisted that the deed be rewritten without the easement. When the defendant refused, they proceeded with the closing. Shortly after the closing, the trial court denied the motion to set aside the dismissal of the first action. The plaintiffs recorded a Notice of Acceptance of Deed under Protest the day after the deed was recorded and commenced this action three weeks later. The complaint asserted that the defendant clouded the property’s title by filing a defective easement and breached the settlement by delivering a deed that did not describe the property as bargained for. On the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the trial court found the matter had been adjudicated in the first action and that the plaintiffs waived their claims by closing on the property. We have determined that neither the doctrine of res judicata nor the doctrine of waiver applies. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/21/20
Candace Renea Cavness Howard (Beasley) v. Breck Markham Beasley
W2019-01972-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal concerns a post-divorce motion to terminate transitional alimony. In the parties’ MDA, they agreed the ex-wife would receive transitional alimony for eleven years. In 2013, the ex-husband filed the motion to terminate, alleging that the ex-wife had remarried and was cohabitating with her new spouse and that the new spouse was providing financial support. Several years later, the trial court heard the motion and terminated transitional alimony as of December 31, 2018. In rendering its decision, the trial court failed to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01. Therefore, we vacate the trial court’s decision and remand with instructions to make the necessary findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 10/20/20
City of Athens v. William Straser
E2019-02298-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

In a direct appeal from the Athens City Court (“municipal court”), the McMinn County Circuit Court (“trial court”) determined that the defendant, William Straser, was not entitled to a trial by jury in defense of a citation issued by the plaintiff city. Following a bench trial conducted on November 22, 2019, the trial court further determined that Mr. Straser had erected a carport on his property in violation of a municipal ordinance requiring a thirty-foot minimum setback. Mr. Straser has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 10/20/20
Alexandra Mattie Steadman v. Christopher John Sakacsi
E2020-00977-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge William K. Rogers

The notice of appeal filed by the appellant, Alexandra Mattie Steadman, stated that the appellant was appealing the judgment entered on July 10, 2020. As the July 10, 2020 order does not constitute a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 10/19/20
Ezra Maize v. Friendship Community Church Inc, Et Al.
E2019-00183-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

Plaintiff, a former pastor at a church in Chattanooga, brought suit against the church, church elders, and another pastor at the church, alleging that various torts were committed against him. Following a series of motions by the defendants that sought the dismissal of plaintiff’s claims, the trial court ultimately dismissed all legal theories that were asserted in the case. Among other bases for the dismissal, the trial court held that a number of plaintiff’s claims were barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. Discerning no error in the trial court’s decision to dismiss plaintiff’s claims, we affirm its judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/19/20