Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/19/2022
Format: 05/19/2022
Hope King v. Stephen Bradley
E2021-00261-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

In this negligent misrepresentation case, an insured alleges that her insurance agent made misrepresentations about the contents of an agreement she authorized her husband to sign on her behalf. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance agent, finding that the insured was “responsible for what she signs or what she has her agent to sign.” Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/08/22
In Re Estate of Patsy Glover Bonifield
W2020-01593-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor George R. Ellis

Appellant, an attorney, filed a creditor’s claim against Decedent’s estate for legal fees allegedly owed to Appellant for his representation of Decedent in her divorce action and in her challenge of the seizure of certain assets by the State of Tennessee. Appellant argued that he represented Decedent in the seizure matter under a contingency fee agreement; however, Appellant failed to produce a valid contingency fee agreement. At the hearing, the only proof of fees Appellant produced was an invoice for $3,847.51, and the trial court awarded him the full amount of that invoice. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Crockett County Court of Appeals 03/07/22
Barry Vaulton Et Al. v. Polaris Industries, Inc. Et Al.
E2021-00489-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

This appeal concerns an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) accident. Sam Vaulton, a minor, by his parents, next friends and natural guardians, Barry Vaulton and Joy Vaulton, and Barry Vaulton and Joy Vaulton, individually (“Plaintiffs,” collectively) sued Polaris Industries, Inc. (“Polaris”) and Ritchie Power Sports, LLC (“Ritchie”) (“Defendants,” collectively) in the Circuit Court for Jefferson County (“the Trial Court”) for injuries Sam Vaulton received from the winch on his ATV (called “The General”). The General was manufactured by Polaris and sold by Ritchie. Sam Vaulton lost his right index finger when he directed his friend to push the “out” button on the winch-controls while Sam Vaulton was holding the winch-hook and the cable went in rather than out. Defendants filed motions for summary judgment, which the Trial Court granted. Plaintiffs appeal. We affirm the Trial Court’s conclusion that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether Plaintiffs were provided an owner’s manual or safety instructions; the undisputed evidence shows they were provided. However, there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether a tether was attached to the winch-hook and whether the General’s winch was in a defective or unreasonably dangerous condition when it left Polaris’ control. We hold further that the Trial Court erred in concluding at this summary judgment stage that Polaris had no duty to attach a rubber stopper to the winch. We, therefore, reverse the Trial Court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendants, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. The judgment of the Trial Court is thus affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 03/04/22
Deborah Elaine Murdock v. Joel Montgomery Murdock
W2019-00979-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

In this divorce case, Husband and Wife filed cross-appeals seeking review of the trial court’s: (1) division of marital property; (2) award of alimony in futuro to Wife; and (3) award of alimony in solido to Wife. Husband raises additional issues concerning the trial court’s reliance on testimony from Wife’s medical expert and the trial court’s refusal to apply the missing witness rule. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/02/22
In Re Kendall R. et al.
M2020-01226-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

Father appeals from the Williamson County Circuit Court’s order suspending his parenting time with his minor children.  The Circuit Court had tried the matter de novo following an appeal by Father from prior proceedings in the Williamson County Juvenile Court.  Based upon our review of the record, we conclude that Father failed to timely perfect his appeal to the Circuit Court from the Juvenile Court’s order.  Therefore, we conclude that the Circuit Court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the appeal, and we vacate its order and dismiss the case. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 03/02/22
Fitness and Ready Meals LLC et al. v. Eat Well Nashville LLC
M2021-00105-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

A seller entered into an agreement to sell its meal preparation business and assets to a purchaser who was also in the meal preparation business.  When the seller failed to perform certain of its obligations under the agreement, the purchaser ceased performing its contractual obligations.  The seller filed a breach of contract claim against the purchaser, and the purchaser moved for summary judgment based on the seller committing the first material breach.  The trial court granted summary judgment to the purchaser, and the seller appealed.  We affirm as modified and remand for a determination of the purchaser’s reasonable attorney fees incurred on appeal.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 03/01/22
State of Tennessee v. S.L.
E2021-00418-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tammy M. Harrington

A juvenile was adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court, as well as circuit court on de novo appeal, for rape of a child and incest. On appeal to this Court, the juvenile argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he committed those offenses. We affirm.

Blount County Court of Appeals 03/01/22
James A. Welch, ET AL. v. Oaktree Health and Rehabilitation Center LLC D/B/A Christian Care Centers of Memphis, ET AL.
W2020-00917-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

This appeal involves an arbitration agreement executed in connection with a patient’s admission to a nursing home. The arbitration agreement was executed by the patient’s brother, who had been designated as the patient’s attorney-in-fact for health care pursuant to a durable power of attorney for health care executed by the patient several years earlier. When the patient’s brother filed this wrongful death suit in circuit court, the nursing home defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The patient’s brother then asserted that he did not have authority to bind the patient to the arbitration agreement because the patient had been mentally incompetent when he executed the durable power of attorney for health care years earlier. The defendants argued that the trial court was not permitted to “look beyond” the durable power of attorney for health care to determine the competency of the patient at the time of its execution. The trial court ruled that it would “look beyond” the power of attorney for health care in order to consider the patient’s competency and allowed the parties to engage in discovery related to the issue of incompetence. Discovery ensued, and the parties submitted additional evidence regarding the patient’s competency. The trial court then found by clear and convincing evidence that the patient was incompetent at the time the durable power of attorney for health care was executed. As a result, the trial court concluded that the patient’s brother lacked authority to sign the arbitration agreement as attorney-in-fact for health care. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration, and the defendants appealed. Pursuant to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Owens v. National Health Corp., 263 S.W.3d 876 (Tenn. 2007), we hold that the trial court erred in looking beyond the durable power of attorney for health care to examine the patient’s competency at the time it was executed. We reverse the decision of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/28/22
In Re Estate of Tom Cone, Jr.
M2020-01024-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge D. Randall Kennedy

A decedent bequeathed his ownership interest in a corporation to his sister.  During the decedent’s lifetime, the corporate assets were sold, and the corporation terminated.  The decedent’s widow petitioned the probate court to construe the will.  Among other things, she argued that the decedent’s gift to his sister had been adeemed by extinction.  The probate court granted the widow summary judgment on this issue.  Based on the undisputed facts, we conclude that the gift was adeemed by extinction.  So we affirm.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/28/22
Thomas A. Buckley individually and derivatively on behalf of TLC of Franklin, Inc. v. Grover C. Carlock, Jr. et al.
M2019-02294-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

A minority shareholder in a close corporation brought a shareholder oppression claim.  The trial court heard the claim in two phases.  After the first phase, the trial court found that there was shareholder oppression by the majority shareholder and determined that redemption of the minority shareholder’s shares was the appropriate remedy.  After the second, the court found the fair value of the minority shareholder’s shares.  The court later awarded attorney’s fees to the minority shareholder, but it failed to award fees associated with the second phase of trial.  The court also denied the minority shareholder’s request for prejudgment interest and dismissed an unjust enrichment claim.  On appeal, the minority shareholder takes issue with the court’s fair-value determination.  He also claims that he was entitled to prejudgment interest, as well as attorney’s fees for both phases of trial.  And he argues that the court erred in dismissing his unjust enrichment claim.  We affirm.  

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/28/22
Noblelynn Shelby Norris v. Terry Jamar Norris
M2020-01289-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

This appeal arises from a petition for divorce filed in the Chancery Court for Rutherford County (the “trial court”). Noblelynn Shelby Norris (“Wife”) was granted a divorce from Terry Jamar Norris (“Husband”) after a hearing held on September 30, 2019. The trial court named Wife primary residential parent of the parties’ minor son, set child support, and awarded Wife her attorney’s fees. Because the trial court has never awarded Wife a specific amount of attorney’s fees, however, the order appealed from is nonfinal and must be dismissed.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/28/22
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee v. Abdiqani Gelle- Dissent
M2020-01360-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

John W. McClarty, J., dissenting.

The majority affirms the trial court’s judgment that the defendant, Abdiqani Gelle (“Defendant”), violated a reckless driving city ordinance, Metropolitan Code of Law §12.68.180, by driving 65 miles per hour in a 45-mile-per-hour zone.  The trial court determined that Defendant had failed to rebut the presumption created by the ordinance that he demonstrated “a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property,” i.e., drove recklessly.  Defendant challenges the constitutionality of the ordinance.  Specifically, Defendant raises the issue of whether the ordinance violates his due process rights under the Tennessee Constitution, article 1, section 8, whether the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) has jurisdiction to administer a “criminal-type punishment” due to violation of its ordinance, and whether such punishment would violate Defendant’s rights under the Tennessee Constitution, article 1, section 16. Metro argues that Defendant waived the issues by failing to properly raise them during the trial proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/25/22
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee v. Abdiqani Gelle
M2020-01360-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

The defendant appeals the trial court’s judgment finding that he violated a reckless driving city ordinance, Metropolitan Code of Law § 12.68.180, when he drove 65 miles per hour in a 45-mile-per-hour zone.  During trial, Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, Tennessee (“Metro”) presented evidence regarding the defendant’s speed to support its allegation that the defendant was driving recklessly.  Following proof of the defendant’s excessive speed, the trial court found that the defendant had failed to rebut the presumption created by ordinance that he was driving in such a way as to demonstrate “a wilful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”  The defendant challenges the constitutionality of such ordinance, which provides a rebuttable presumption that the defendant was driving recklessly when driving at least fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit.  However, the defendant’s issues concerning constitutionality of the ordinance were not properly raised or decided by the trial court, and upon our determination that the ordinance is not facially unconstitutional, we hold that the defendant has waived his issues regarding the constitutionality of the ordinance.  Upon our review of the record, we affirm the trial court’s judgment that the defendant violated Metropolitan Code of Law § 12.68.180.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/25/22
In Re Emma F. Et Al.
E2021-00852-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

This action involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her minor children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence in support of one statutory ground of termination, the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court also found that termination was in the best interest of the children. We vacate the judgment of the trial court, holding that the record does not contain clear and convincing evidence to support the sole statutory ground of termination found by the trial court.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 02/25/22
In Re Naomi B.
E2021-00892-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

This appeal concerns termination of parental rights. Paternal grandparents Russell B. (“Grandfather”) and Louella B. (“Grandmother”) (“Grandparents,” collectively) filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Washington County (“the Trial Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Alexandria Y. (“Mother”) and Ricky B. (“Father”) to their minor child, Naomi B. (“the Child”). After a hearing, the Trial Court entered an order terminating Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Child. Mother and Father appeal. Grandparents raise additional issues as appellees. We find, inter alia, that in addition to the grounds found by the Trial Court, the proof is clear and convincing in support of the grounds alleged by Grandparents of abandonment by failure to visit against Mother and persistent conditions against both Mother and Father. We find further, as did the Trial Court, that termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights is in the Child’s best interest. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court as modified, resulting in affirmance of the termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Child.

Washington County Court of Appeals 02/24/22
In Re Kenneth D.
M2021-00214-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child.  Because the trial court’s order lacks sufficient factual findings and legal conclusions, we vacate and remand.

Warren County Court of Appeals 02/24/22
In Re TWT Acquisition, LLC Property ID: 003 009.04 Tax Years 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
M2020-01100-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge David D. Wolfe

Two counties assessed the same property for multiple tax years.  The taxpayer appealed the double assessments to the State Board of Equalization.  The administrative law judge determined that Houston County had assessed the taxpayer’s real and personal property for more than five years before Stewart County assessed the same property.  Based on Tennessee Code Annotated § 5-2-115(d), the judge voided the later assessment.  The Assessment Appeals Commission reversed in part.  The Commission ruled that the state statute only applied to real property.  And because the personal property was located in Stewart County, Stewart County was the proper taxing authority for that property.  The trial court affirmed the agency decision.  On appeal, we conclude that Tennessee Code Annotated § 5-2-115(d) only applies to real property.  Because the agency’s decision is also supported by substantial and material evidence in the record, we affirm.

Houston County Court of Appeals 02/24/22
HCTEC Partners, LLC v. James Prescott Crawford et al.
M2020-01373-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

In 2012, plaintiff HCTec Partners, LLC (“HCTec”) and James Prescott Crawford (“Crawford”) entered into an employment agreement under which Crawford was prohibited from disclosing any of HCTec’s confidential information and competing with HCTec for one year after Crawford’s employment with HCTec ended. When Crawford left HCTec to work for a competitor in 2019, HCTec sought to enforce the agreement. HCTec sued Crawford for breach of contract and sued Crawford’s new employer, The Rezult Group, Inc. (“Rezult”), for inducement of breach pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 47-50-109. After extensive discovery, HCTec moved for summary judgment as to both claims, which the trial court granted. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court’s decision in all respects.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/24/22
William B. Stinson v. Vest Family Limited Partnership et al.
M2021-00151-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Middle Section Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

The plaintiff in this action filed a petition for declaratory judgment to quiet title to his farm in Maury County, Tennessee. In his petition, the plaintiff asked for all relief necessary to quiet title, including a declaration on the boundaries of his farm and a declaration on his rights to the disputed property. In their answer, the defendants asserted adverse possession under Tennessee Code Annotated
§§ 28-2-102 and -103. The plaintiff later nonsuited one of his claims and, during the hearing on his motion for summary judgment, stated that he was seeking only a declaration on where the boundaries of his farm were “on the face of the earth.” Finding that matters related to possession of the property were not at issue, the trial court granted summary judgment to the plaintiff and declared the location of his “legal boundary.” The court then denied the defendants’ Motion for Relief from Judgment under Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 52.02, 58, 59.04, 60.01, and 60.02. On appeal, the defendants contend, inter alia, that the trial court’s order was not final because it did not adjudicate the parties’ respective rights to possess the area in dispute. We agree. Because the purported final judgment does not resolve all of the claims between the parties, we dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment.

Maury County Court of Appeals 02/23/22
Tom Slagle et al. v. The Church of the Firstborn of Tennessee et al.
M2020-01640-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

Appellants seek review of an order granting partial summary judgment. Because the order is not a final order giving rise to a Tenn. R. App. P. 3 appeal, we do not have jurisdiction; accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 02/18/22
Calvin Dibrell v. State of Tennessee
E2021-00405-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William A. Young

Appellant, a former inmate with the Tennessee Department of Correction, filed a complaint against Appellee State of Tennessee in the Tennessee Claims Commission (“Commission”). Appellant asserted numerous claims based on alleged misconduct of several assistant district attorneys. The Commission granted the State’s motion to dismiss based on the Commission’s findings that Appellant’s claims were not within the Commission’s jurisdiction, and were barred by prosecutorial immunity and the applicable statute of limitations. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 02/17/22
In Re Estate of Lester Stokes
W2021-00249-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christy R. Little

This case concerns the trial court’s enforcement of an antenuptial agreement. Appellant and Decedent executed an antenuptial agreement five days prior to marriage. Decedent died two years later. Appellant petitioned the trial court for her elective share, exempt personal property, year’s support, and homestead allowance. Appellees, beneficiaries under Decedent’s will, opposed Appellant’s petition arguing that she waived her spousal rights in the antenuptial agreement. Appellant argued that the antenuptial agreement was unenforceable because she did not enter into it with the required knowledge and/or she executed it under duress. In enforcing the antenuptial agreement, the trial court found that both Appellant and Decedent entered into it with the requisite knowledge of the other’s holdings. On review, we conclude that Appellant lacked knowledge of the full nature, extent, and value of Decedent’s holdings prior to executing the antenuptial agreement. Accordingly, we hold that the agreement is unenforceable. The trial court’s order is reversed.

Madison County Court of Appeals 02/17/22
Jeremy C. Koffman v. Madison County Tennessee ET AL.
W2021-00385-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

In this case, which stemmed from an attack on an inmate at a county jail, the trial court granted judgment in favor of the Defendants. Among other things, the trial court concluded that the assault on the inmate was not foreseeable. We affirm.

Madison County Court of Appeals 02/17/22
Robert K. Perry v. Thomas Brockway, Sr. et al.
M2021-00532-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge David L. Allen

Plaintiff appeals the dismissal of his action to set aside several alleged fraudulent conveyances. Because the orders appealed do not resolve all the claims between the parties, we dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment.

Wayne County Court of Appeals 02/16/22
Eman Ibrahim Ahmad Alkhateeb v. Ahmad Mustafa Jamil Alhouwari
W2020-01582-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This is an appeal by Wife from a final decree of divorce. After a thorough review of the record and the trial court’s order, we affirm in part and vacate in part.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/16/22