Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 08/20/2019
Format: 08/20/2019
G.G. Ex Rel. Jackie Johnson Et Al. v. Boyd-Buchanan School Et Al.
E2018-01912-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

This interlocutory appeal involves a discovery dispute. G.G., an eighth-grade student, was expelled from Boyd-Buchanan School after he sent sexually explicit messages to a female student on a social media platform. G.G. and his mother, Jackie Johnson, filed a complaint against Boyd-Buchanan School and other school officials. The trial court dismissed most of plaintiffs’ claims. The only remaining claim is plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim against the school. During discovery, plaintiffs requested the employment files of various school administrators and extensive information relating to the disciplinary records of non-party students. The school filed a motion for a protective order. The court granted the school’s motion in part and denied it in part. The school then requested permission to file an interlocutory appeal. The trial court granted permission to appeal, as did this Court. In this opinion, we clarify the appropriate legal standard for analyzing discovery disputes. We also hold that the trial court abused its discretion by entering an order that would allow plaintiffs to discover information that is irrelevant to their breach of contract claim. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for the entry of an order granting Boyd-Buchanan School’s motion for a protective order in its entirety.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/26/19
Asata D. Lowe v. Mike Parris Et Al.
E2018-01753-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Golden
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Reed Duggan

This case involves a prisoner’s appeal from the trial court’s dismissal of his complaint, wherein he raised numerous claims relating back to his seizure, arrest, prosecution, and conviction, all of which occurred from 1998 to 2000. The trial court dismissed all of the prisoner’s claims on numerous grounds, including that they were time-barred by various statutes of limitations and that many of the defendants were entitled to sovereign immunity. Concluding that because certain defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity and that all of the prisoner’s claims are either time-barred or do not comply with the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, we affirm.

Blount County Court of Appeals 06/25/19
Matthew Marble v. Jaimee Underwood
M2017-02040-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This appeal concerns a legal malpractice action filed by the father of a minor child for his attorney’s alleged negligence in her representation of him. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the attorney. We affirm.

Macon County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Kristin Marie Miclaus v. Andrei Miclaus
E2018-02134-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny W. Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry Michael Warner

Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of his Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 motion, which sought relief from the final decree of divorce entered against him on the ground that he did not receive notice of the trial setting. Because Appellant did not receive proper notice, relief under Rule 60.02(1) should have been granted by the trial court. As such, we vacate the final decree of divorce and remand the case for further proceedings.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Jeanette Currie v. Farmers Insurance Company
M2018-01818-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

Due to the deficiencies in Appellant’s brief, we conclude that she waived consideration of any issues on appeal and hereby dismiss the appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Estate of Herbert Ross Shelton v. Greeneville Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine Clinic Et Al.
E2018-00862-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

The Estate of Herbert Ross Shelton (“Plaintiff”) appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court for Greene County (“the Trial Court”) granting summary judgment to Greeneville Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine Clinic and Takoma Regional Hospital in this healthcare liability action after finding and holding that Plaintiff’s sole expert witness was not qualified to testify in this case. We find and hold that Plaintiff’s expert did not practice in a profession or specialty during the relevant time period which would make his testimony relevant to the issues in this case, and thus, was not qualified to testify pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-115. We, therefore, affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Scott Trent Et Al. v. Mountain Commerce Bank Et AL.
E2018-01874-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

In this action requesting declaratory relief, the appellants filed a petition seeking to reform a deed to add an additional grantor and requesting the Trial Court declare that the appellants hold all rights and interest to the property at issue. The Trial Court determined that no mutual mistake existed to support reformation of the original deed and denied the appellants’ petition. The Trial Court also declined to declare the appellants to be the only parties holding any interest in the property. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
In Re Estate of Billy Joe Kerby
W2018-00728-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal concerns the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of the petitioner’s claim against the estate of the decedent. We affirm.

McNairy County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Shaleen Fowler Et Al. v. Morristown-Hamblen Hospital Association, Et Al.
E2018-00782-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

The plaintiffs, individually and as a proposed class action, alleged violations of Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-11-262.1 The defendants asserted as a defense that Tennessee Code Annotated section 1-3-119 precludes any private right of action under section 68-11-262. Pursuant to Rule 24.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiffs submitted a notice of claim that the statute was unconstitutional and violated Article I, section 17 of the Tennessee Constitution. The State of Tennessee was allowed to intervene in a limited capacity to defend the constitutionality of that statute. In its consideration of the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the trial court held that the statute did not violate the “Open Courts” Clause of Article I, section 17. This holding necessitated a finding that Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-11-262 did not give a private right of action and, therefore, the plaintiffs did not have a cause of action. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim was granted and the plaintiffs’ complaint was dismissed with prejudice in its entirety. The plaintiffs now appeal the finding that Tennessee Code Annotated section 1-3-119 does not violate Article I, section 17 of the Tennessee Constitution. The defendants challenge the trial court’s decision that Plaintiffs fell within the meaning of “uninsured patient” in Tennessee Code Annotated section 68- 11-262. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Cathryn Helrigel Pierce v. Sherman Lane Pierce
E2018-01301-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Mark Stokes

In this divorce action, the Domestic Relations Court of Meigs County (“trial court”) entered a “Final Judgment of Divorce” on June 21, 2018. In this judgment, the trial court awarded to the wife, inter alia, possession of a parcel of marital real property improved with a mobile home, along with its associated mortgage indebtedness, and fifty percent of the marital portion of the husband’s military retirement, or $481.11 per month. The trial court awarded to the husband, inter alia, a different parcel of marital real property improved with a mobile home and further ordered the husband to pay the wife’s automobile loan obligation in the total amount of $22,192.86. The trial court denied the wife’s request for alimony of any type. The wife timely appealed. Following our thorough review of the record, we reverse the portion of the trial court’s judgment denying an award of alimony and attorney’s fees to the wife. Based upon our review of the evidence and the applicable statutory factors, we conclude that the wife is entitled to an award of alimony in futuro in the amount of $1,600.00 per month. We further determine that the wife is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees incurred at the trial court level as alimony in solido. We remand the issue of the amount of reasonable attorney’s fees to be awarded to the wife to the trial court for entry of an appropriate award. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects. Regarding the wife’s request for an award of attorney’s fees incurred on appeal, we determine that such request has been waived.

Meigs County Court of Appeals 06/21/19
In Re Trey S. Et Al.
M2018-01979-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon Guffee

A trial court terminated a mother’s and father’s parental rights to three children on the grounds of wanton disregard for the children’s welfare, substantial noncompliance with a permanency plan, and persistence of conditions. Both parents appealed the termination. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 06/20/19
Washington County Education Association Et Al. v. Washington County Board of Education Et Al.
E2018-01037-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

Kimber Halliburton, the director of the Washington County Board of Education, notified Stacia Howard, a non-tenured teacher, that her employment contract would not be renewed. The Washington County board did not review the director’s decision because the board’s attorney believed that the board lacked the legal authority to do so. Ms. Howard and the Washington County Education Association (WCEA) filed a complaint against the board and the director. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment regarding the authority of the board to review and modify the director’s personnel decisions, including the director’s decision to non-renew Ms. Howard’s contract. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that plaintiffs lacked standing. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion. Plaintiffs appeal. We affirm.

Washington County Court of Appeals 06/20/19
Tennessee Credit Union v. Wanda Powell, Et Al.
M2018-01384-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This is an appeal of an employer’s Petition for Judicial Review, which challenged a ruling by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development that the employer’s former employee was entitled to unemployment benefits. The employer contended the employee was ineligible for benefits because she was terminated for “misconduct,” as defined in the Tennessee Employment Security Act, for violating a policy known to the employee by using the employer’s property for a non-businessrelated purpose. The Department found that the employee’s frequent use of the employer’s internal instant message system to “chat” with co-workers was an error in judgment or discretion but did not rise to the level of “misconduct,” which Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-7-303(b)(3) defines as excluding “good faith errors in judgment or discretion.” The chancery court affirmed the agency’s decision. The employer appeals, contending the “good faith exception” never applies when an employee is discharged for violating an employer’s policy or rule. The Department counters, insisting the good faith exception applies regardless of the employer’s reason for termination. Construing the statute according to the natural, ordinary meaning of the language chosen by the legislature, we have determined that an employee’s violation of an employer’s policy that is due to good faith errors in judgment or discretion does not constitute “misconduct” as that term is defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-7-303. Accordingly, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/19/19
Pamela Diane Stark v. Joe Edward Stark
W2019-00901-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

In this accelerated interlocutory appeal, Wife appeals the trial court’s denial of her motion to recuse the trial judge in her divorce case. Specifically, Wife argues that the trial court’s rulings demonstrate a bias against her because the trial court purportedly ruled in favor of Husband in excess of the relief requested. We affirm the trial court’s denial of Wife’s motion to recuse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/18/19
Midland Funding, LLC v. Thuy Chau
M2018-01542-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

A creditor filed suit in general sessions court to collect an outstanding debt alleged to be due on a sworn account. The debtor’s counsel permitted the creditor to take a default judgment and appealed the judgment to the circuit court. In circuit court, the debtor filed a motion to strike three affidavits filed by the creditor. Later, the debtor filed another motion to strike the creditor’s affidavits and a motion to dismiss for improper service of process. The trial court denied the debtor’s motions to strike and to dismiss and entered judgment for the creditor in the amount of the claimed debt. On appeal, the debtor argues that the trial court erred in denying her motions and in admitting into evidence the documents by which the creditor proved the debt. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/14/19
Steven H. Parker v. Brunswick Forest Homeowners Association, Inc.
W2018-01760-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

Following a bench trial, the trial court awarded the Defendant/Appellee $28,372.06 in attorney’s fees based upon an attorney’s fees provision in the parties’ written agreement. Plaintiff/Appellant appeals the award of attorney’s fees on the basis that the relevant provision is inapplicable under the circumstances. Because we conclude that the trial court did not err in awarding the Appellee its attorney’s fees, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/13/19
Deutsche Bank National Trust Company v. Stacy Lee, Et Al.
M2018-01479-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

This appeal arises from an action for default on a promissory note. Approximately eight and a half years after the debtors stopped making monthly payments under an installment note, the creditor filed suit for missed monthly payments going back six years from the date of the filing of the complaint, as well as for future installments and the final payment that were to become due under the terms of the note. The debtors asserted that the debt, or some portion thereof, was time-barred. As a result, the debtors raised the statute of limitations as a defense and filed a counterclaim, alleging that the creditor violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act by seeking a judgment on a time-barred debt. The creditor moved for summary judgment on all issues. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that the amounts that the creditor sought are not barred by the statute of limitations and that the undisputed material facts established the creditor’s claim against the debtor as a matter of law. This appeal followed. We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/13/19
Julie Marie Alexander v. Sean Stephen Alexander
M2017-01475-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

This post-divorce appeal concerns the court’s denial of the mother’s motion for relief from an order of the court calculating her child support arrearage. We reverse the court’s denial of relief and hold the challenged judgment void. We remand for further hearing.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 06/13/19
Michael McKenzie v. Brandywine Homeowners' Association, Inc.
W2018-01859-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

This appeal involves a non-judicial foreclosure by Brandywine Homeowners’ Association (the HOA) for non-payment of assessments due to the HOA by former property owner, plaintiff Michael McKenzie. It is undisputed that there was no irregularity in the recording, notice or foreclosure of the HOA’s lien on the property. Plaintiff argues that the foreclosure sale price, $4,445.90, is shockingly low in light of the trial court’s finding that the property was worth about $100,000. Plaintiff does not allege, nor did the trial court find, any “misconduct, fraud, or unfairness on the part of the [HOA] that caused or contributed to an inadequate price.” Holt v. Citizens Central Bank, 688 S.W.2d 414, 416 (Tenn. 1984). The trial court granted the HOA summary judgment, refusing plaintiff’s request to set aside the foreclosure on equitable grounds. Because the Supreme Court in Holt held that the “lone infirmity” of a “conscience shocking inadequate price . . . will no longer justify voiding a foreclosure sale,” id., we are compelled to affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/12/19
Leann Barnes v. David Ellett Barnes
M2018-01539-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma D. McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

This is the third appeal to address the issue of alimony between these parties. Pursuant to our decision in the first appeal, Husband was required to pay Wife $6,000 per month in alimony in futuro. In this proceeding, Husband sought termination or reduction of his alimony obligation due to a disability that rendered him unable to work. After Husband filed his petition, he unilaterally reduced the amount of alimony that he paid during the proceeding. Following a hearing, the trial court found that a substantial and material change in circumstances had occurred due to Husband’s disability, and the court concluded that a reduction of the alimony obligation was warranted. The trial court reduced the alimony in futuro award from $6,000 per month to $3,900 per month. However, the trial court found Husband in contempt for willfully failing to pay alimony in accordance with the existing order during this proceeding. The trial court awarded Wife a judgment for the arrearage but calculated it based on the reduced rate of $3,900 per month. Wife appeals, asserting that Husband maintains the ability to pay alimony at the previous level of $6,000 per month despite his disability. She also requests recalculation of the arrearage and seeks an award of attorney’s fees. For the following reasons, we reverse the decision of the trial court and reinstate the alimony award of $6,000 per month. The arrearage should also be recalculated based on the original award of $6,000 per month plus post-judgment interest. We further conclude that Wife is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees on appeal and remand for the trial court to determine an appropriate award. The trial court should reconsider Wife’s request for attorney’s fees incurred in the trial court.

Bedford County Court of Appeals 06/12/19
In Re M.M.
E2018-01515-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Todd Ross

In this child-custody dispute, father filed a petition for legitimation and to establish a parenting plan. Father was subsequently determined to be the biological father of the minor child M.K. After mother took the child to excessive medical visits, made unsubstantiated claims that the child suffers from ailments and had her treated for the same, and accused father of physically and sexually abusing the child, the trial court ordered mother to undergo a mental-health evaluation. Mother was subsequently diagnosed with Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another, formerly known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. After a bench trial, the court held that it is in the child’s best interest for father to be designated the primary residential parent of M.K. Mother’s parenting time was limited to eleven hours of supervised visitation a week. Mother appeals. We affirm.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 06/11/19
Bobbie Seals Stubblefield v. Morristown-Hamblen Hospital Association Et Al.
E2017-00994-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

The claim at issue relates to the alleged negligent post-operative care of Bobbie Seals Stubblefield (“Plaintiff”) at Morristown-Hamblen Hospital Association (“the Hospital”). On October 20, 2010, Plaintiff underwent a cardiac catheterization performed by Pragnesh Patel, M.D. at the Hospital. Plaintiff remained at the Hospital overnight for routine post-operative care and was attended to by Angela Adams, R.N., among others. Per Dr. Patel’s instruction, Nurse Adams administered nitroglycerin intravenously throughout the night. Plaintiff later complained that the nitroglycerin was causing “an unbearable headache and nausea.” Plaintiff claims that she “begged” Nurse Adams to stop administering nitroglycerin, while Nurse Adams claims that Plaintiff consented to further doses once she was advised of the medical necessity. It was later discovered that Plaintiff developed a hematoma and pseudoaneurysm in her groin at the catheterization site. The hematoma continued to grow, despite treatment provided by the nurses on staff. The nurses paged the cardiologist on-call, Sunil T. Ramaprasad, M.D. for assistance. He did not report to the Hospital. Instead, he ordered placement of a device to stop the bleeding and arranged for the intervention of a vascular surgeon, who reported to the hospital immediately and performed emergency surgery to repair the femoral artery in the early morning hours of October 21.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 06/11/19
Harris Building Group, Inc. v. Tennessee Electrical, Inc.
M2018-00499-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

When the defendant failed to answer a petition for declaratory judgment, the plaintiff sought and obtained a default judgment.  The defendant moved to set aside the default judgment, arguing that it never received the motion for default judgment nor notice of the hearing date on the motion.  The trial court denied the defendant the requested relief, finding that the defendant’s failure to answer the petition until months after entry of the default judgment was willful.  Discerning no abuse of discretion, we affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/10/19
Hydra Pools, Inc. v. Danny Mitchell Lingerfelt
E2018-01399-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri Bryant

This appeal concerns whether a confidentiality agreement was assigned from one corporation to another. Danny M. Lingerfelt (“Lingerfelt”) was an employee for many years of P.I., Inc. (“P.I.”), a manufacturer. In 2015, Lingerfelt left P.I and a year later went to work for another company. In the meantime, Hydra Pools, the P.I. division in which Lingerfelt had worked, had become a separately chartered corporate entity, Hydra Pools, Inc. In 2016, Hydra Pools, Inc. filed a verified complaint against Lingerfelt in the Chancery Court for McMinn County (“the Trial Court”) alleging that he violated the terms of a non-competition and confidentiality agreement (“the Agreement”) he had entered into with P.I. Lingerfelt filed a motion for summary judgment asserting, among other things, that Hydra Pools, Inc. had no privity of contract with him because he had worked for P.I. and not its supposed successor. The Trial Court granted summary judgment to Lingerfelt on the basis that Hydra Pools, Inc. was not a party to or successor in interest to the rights or obligations of the Agreement. Hydra Pools, Inc. appeals. We hold that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Agreement was assigned by P.I. to Hydra Pools, Inc. We reverse the Trial Court’s grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 06/10/19
Charles Ray Faubion Et Al. v. Charles Sigerseth Et Al.
E2018-01556-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John F. Weaver

This appeal follows the trial court’s confirmation of an arbitration award. Insofar as this appeal relates to Dreamaker Properties, LLC, we must dismiss the appeal because the company is not represented by counsel and has therefore failed to validly participate and properly raise any issues for our review on appeal. With regard to the remaining appellant, who is proceeding pro se, we affirm the trial court’s judgment because his raised issue lacks merit. As we understand his argument, the appellant maintains that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enforce the arbitration award because he was never a party to an agreement to arbitrate. As the record transmitted to us on appeal confirms, however, an “Agreed Order” was entered in this case directing that the case be ordered to arbitration. Moreover, the record reveals that, prior to the actual arbitration, the contesting appellant entered into an “Agreement to Arbitrate” regarding “any and all disputes.”

Knox County Court of Appeals 06/07/19