Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/26/2020
Format: 05/26/2020
Martha L. Butler v. James L. Burrow, Et Al.
M2018-02283-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joe Thompson

This appeal arises from an action for trespass, injunctive relief, and to quiet title pursuant to a theory of common law adverse possession. The multiple parties are adjoining neighbors and/or affiliated businesses. The centerpiece of this litigation concerns the ownership of a strip of railroad property that is 66 feet wide and comprises 2.9 acres. The railroad removed the track and abandoned the property in 1977, after which all that remained was a berm on which the former track lay. After the track was removed, one of the neighboring owners erected a fence along the center of the entire length of the railroad property. Since that time, the neighboring property owners considered the fence to be the new property line and used the 33 feet of the property on their side of the fence as their respective property. However, the neighboring property owners never paid taxes on the abandoned railroad property. In 2015, one of the three defendants acquired the abandoned property by quitclaim deed from the railroad and removed the fence and leveled the berm in order to install a road to serve a residential development planned for an adjacent 42-acre tract. Thereafter, the owners of two separate adjoining properties filed suit against the three affiliated defendants seeking an injunction and to recover damages caused by flood water that had been diverted onto the plaintiffs’ property due to the removal of the berm. The plaintiffs also asserted claims for trespass and to quiet title to the 33 feet of the former railroad property that adjoined their property. The defendants filed counterclaims alleging that the temporary injunction halted development of the road and caused them to suffer damages. Following a bench trial, the court ruled that the plaintiffs acquired half of the abandoned railroad property through adverse possession. The court also awarded damages against the defendants for removing the fence the plaintiffs used to contain their cattle and for flood damage that resulted from the removal of the berm. The court also ordered the defendants to replace the berm. The defendants appealed. We have determined that Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-110(a) bars the plaintiffs’ claim of adverse possession because it is undisputed that they did not pay taxes assessed on the railroad property for more than 20 years. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs own half of the railroad property and hold that the defendant who acquired the property from the railroad by quitclaim deed in 2015 is the rightful owner of the entire 2.9-acre tract. We also reverse the award of damages to the plaintiffs for replacement of the fence and restoration of the entire berm; however, we affirm the trial court’s determination that the defendants are jointly and severally liable for diverting water onto the plaintiffs’ property by removing the railroad berm, and remand this claim for the trial court to award damages and/or determine the appropriate measures the defendants should take to remedy the flooding caused by the removal of the berm. Further, the defendants claim for damages resulting from the temporary injunction is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/07/20
In Re: Draven K.
E2019-00768-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the trial court’s termination of her parental rights to the minor child on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by willful failure to visit and abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1), §§ 36-1-102(1)(A)(i) (ii); (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3); (3) failure to substantially comply with the reasonable requirements of the permanency plan, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2); and (4) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility for the child, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1- 113(g)(14). Mother also appeals the trial court’s determination that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because the record does not contain an adjudicatory order of dependency and neglect, we reverse the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on the ground of persistence of conditions. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on all other grounds and on its finding that termination of Mother’s rights is in the child’s best interest.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/07/20
Jeff Robinson v. Cody Haynes Et Al.
E2019-00477-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

This is an appeal from a case involving a contract for the sale of real property. The Trial Court disposed of some of the claims by granting summary judgment. Other claims were dismissed or voluntarily non-suited, and the Trial Court attempted to render its judgment final by citing to Rule 54 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The Trial Court, however, reserved disposition of a petition for attorney’s fees and an amended petition for attorney’s fees. As a result of the reservation of the disposition of the petitions for attorney’s fees there is no final judgment, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Anne Frost Montgomery Renner v. Robert Bruce Renner, Sr.
E2019-01879-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri Bryant

Movant, defendant in a divorce case, seeks accelerated review of the denial of his motion for recusal. He claims a lack of impartiality on the part of the chancellor presiding over the divorce case due to her knowledge of unrelated litigation in which the movant was a party. He contends that the chancellor revealed her lack of impartiality in making adverse credibility determinations against movant, determining movant violated a statutory injunction, and ignoring prior orders and agreements of the parties in making factual findings. Movant also complains of the manner in which the chancellor conducted an emergency hearing, alleging that the chancellor “lacked patience and cooperation with the litigants on th[at] day.” After a de novo review, we affirm the denial of the motion for recusal.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
William Acree Ex Rel. John D. Acree v. Metropolitan Government Of Nashville And Davidson County
M2019-00056-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal arises from an action in tort against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Tennessee (“the Metropolitan Government”) as the sole defendant. The action is brought by the brother on behalf of the decedent who died after being shot by police officers employed by the Metropolitan Government. The plaintiff asserts that the Metropolitan Government owed a special duty of care to the decedent because the police officers were reckless by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation concerning the decedent’s mental health before attempting to serve a felony warrant.  Moreover, the plaintiff asserts that police officers failed to abide by internal police department guidelines pursuant to which, the complaint alleges, the officers should have withdrawn from the area before the decedent exited the rear door of his house pointing a handgun at police officers. The undisputed material facts are that when the officers attempted to serve the decedent at his residence, the decedent refused to respond to the officers at the front door of his residence and, instead, abruptly exited through the rear door armed with a loaded handgun where the decedent and one of the police officers exchanged gunfire, resulting in the death of the decedent. The trial court summarily dismissed the complaint under the Governmental Tort Liability Act finding, inter alia, that the police officers owed a general duty to the public at large when serving the felony capias; the internal policies and procedures of the Metropolitan Police Department did not establish a duty enforceable in tort; there were no genuine issues of material fact to show the police officers acted recklessly, thus the special duty exception to the public duty doctrine did not apply; and because the special duty doctrine did not apply, the police officers and the Metropolitan Government were immune from liability. The trial court also found the claim was barred by the doctrine of comparative fault based on the undisputed fact that the decedent was at least 50% at fault for his injuries and death because he aimed a loaded weapon at the police officer before the officer opened fire. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Donita Dale Dowden v. Ronald J. Feibus
E2019-00036-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge J.B. Bennett

This appeal arose from post-divorce litigation concerning the trial court’s distribution of marital assets, specifically the distribution of the marital portion of the husband’s federal government pension to the wife. In its divorce decree entered on August 10, 2004, the trial court awarded to the wife “1/2 of [the husband’s] Administrative Law Judge Government Pension through the date of this Final Decree.” Upon the husband’s appeal, this Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in all respects, including the trial court’s award to the wife of one-half of the marital portion of the husband’s pension. Dowden v. Feibus, No. E2004-02751-COA-R3-CV, 2006 WL 140404 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 18, 2006) (“Dowden I”). The husband sought no further judicial review at that time. Following his retirement from federal employment on May 1, 2017, the husband received correspondence concerning the calculation of the wife’s portion of his pension from the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”). On August 2, 2018, the husband filed a “Motion for Clarification and/or Relief from Judgment” contending, inter alia, that OPM miscalculated the portion of his pension that would be diverted to the wife because the trial court’s final decree was “too vague” and did not “provide sufficient guidance to OPM to allow them to correctly compute” the wife’s interest in the pension. On December 6, 2018, the trial court entered an order finding that there was “no lack of clarity” in its final decree and denying the husband’s motion. The husband has appealed. Having determined that the trial court did not err in denying the husband’s motion, we affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand to the trial court for enforcement of the judgment. We decline to award attorney’s fees on appeal to the wife.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Linda Bridges v. Lifford L. Lancaster, M.D., Et Al.
M2019-00352-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This is a health care liability action.  The trial court determined that Plaintiff’s evidence did not establish that any act or omission of Defendant caused Plaintiff to suffer an injury that would not have otherwise occurred.  The trial court awarded summary judgment to Defendant physician.  We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
James F. Logan, Jr. Et Al. v. The Estate of Mildred Cannon Et Al.
E2018-02043-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Frank V. Williams, III

Upon remand from this Court in a previous appeal, the trial court conducted a bench trial on a claim of common law adverse possession initiated by the plaintiff concerning a onequarter ownership interest in an unimproved 7.18-acre tract of real property located in Bradley County, Tennessee. In its final order, the trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s action in its entirety upon finding that although the plaintiff had presented evidence that preponderated in favor of adverse possession, the evidence did not rise to the level of the clear and convincing standard required to establish ownership through adverse possession. The plaintiff has appealed. Having determined that the plaintiff demonstrated adverse possession of the property interest at issue by clear and convincing evidence, we reverse.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., et al. v. City of Memphis, et al. - dissent
W2019-00299-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

The majority chooses to affirm the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint filed by EPE on the basis of the doctrine of res judicata. Because I conclude that an essential element of the doctrine of res judicata has not been established, I must respectfully dissent.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/26/19
Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., et al. v. City of Memphis, et al.
W2019-00299-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

Appellants appeal the trial court’s grant of Appellees’ Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 motions in this declaratory judgment action. The trial court dismissed Appellants’ complaint on the ground that Appellants had no standing to seek a declaratory judgment interpreting a contract, to which Appellants were neither parties nor third-party beneficiaries. We affirm the dismissal of Appellants’ complaint for declaratory judgment on the ground that the complaint is barred as res judicata.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/26/19
Heather P. Hogrobrooks Harris v. Jimmie L. Smith
W2019-00394-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

This appeal arises from a lawsuit over a car accident. Heather P. Hogrobrooks Harris (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, sued Jimmie L. Smith (“Defendant”) in the Circuit Court for Shelby County (“the Trial Court”) for diminution in the value of her vehicle, medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of use of her vehicle, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. On several occasions over the course of the case, Plaintiff failed to show up to court. When Plaintiff failed to appear for trial, the Trial Court granted a continuance with a warning that, should Plaintiff fail to appear again, her case would be dismissed. Plaintiff subsequently failed to appear, and the Trial Court dismissed her case with prejudice for lack of prosecution, as it warned it would. Plaintiff appeals to this Court, arguing among other things, that the Trial Court Judge was biased against her and that the Trial Court erred in dismissing her case. First, we find no evidence whatsoever that the Trial Court Judge was biased against Plaintiff. Second, Plaintiff’s stated reasons for failing to show up for trial, that it was cold and rainy that day and her car was old and unreliable, respectfully will not suffice. We find no abuse of discretion in the Trial Court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s case for lack of prosecution. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/20/19
Steven J. Dale v. Sharon K. Ball Dale
M2018-01999-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

In this post-divorce matter, the mother appeals the award of attorney fees to the father, who prevailed in his opposition to the mother’s request to relocate out of state. The mother gave notice to the father that she wanted to move to Arizona while the parties’ competing petitions to modify the parenting plan were pending. The trial court denied the mother’s request to relocate and awarded attorney fees to the father as the prevailing party in the relocation matter. As for the petitions to modify the parenting plan, the court ruled that the mother was the prevailing party and awarded to the mother the attorney fees she incurred in the modification matter. The mother appeals contending she should have been awarded fees in both matters as the “overall” prevailing party. Alternatively, the mother contends the trial court erred by awarding the father attorney fees solely on the basis he was the prevailing party in the relocation matter. Having found the trial court identified and properly applied the most applicable legal principles and that the award of attorney fees to the father was within the range of acceptable alternative dispositions, we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/20/19
Vanquish Express, LLC v. Dixie Ohio Xpress, LLC, Et Al.
M2018-01934-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Golden
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson
This is an appeal from the trial court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to set aside an agreed order, which, among other things, dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice. Defendants alleged that their former counsel entered into the agreement without their authorization. Finding that the defendants submitted no evidence to support the allegation, the trial court denied the motion. Defendants appeal. We affirm.
 
Sumner County Court of Appeals 12/20/19
Alan O. Tennessee Department of Children's Services
E2019-01053-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan

The Appellant filed suit complaining that the Department of Children’s Services denied him an administrative hearing concerning the determination that he was a child abuser. The trial court ultimately dismissed the Appellant’s petition for review, noting that there had already been a prior judicial determination, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Appellant had committed severe child abuse. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/19/19
Battery Alliance, Inc. v. Clinton Beiter, et al.
W2018-02117-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

Defendants appeal the trial court’s denial of its motion for relief from a default judgment. In support of its motion, defendants raised three grounds: (1) that the judgment was void due to improper service of process; (2) that the judgment was void due to improper notice related to the motion for default judgment; and (3) the judgment should be set aside due to mistake, inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect. A thorough review of the record indicates that the trial court exercised its independent judgment to adjudicate only the first of the three grounds alleged. As such, we vacate the denial of the motion and remand for consideration of the remaining grounds.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/19/19
Jonathan M. Thomas v. Kevin Millen
W2019-00086-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

Tenant appeals the dismissal of his appeal from general sessions court for failure to post a bond constituting one year’s rent. Because the posting of a bond constituting one year’s rent is non-jurisdictional, we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/19/19
Todd Goldman v. Nicole Griffin
M2019-00138-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: M2019-00138-COA-R3-CV

This is a consolidated appeal concerning the trial court’s dismissal of two orders of protection in this domestic relations action.  We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Timothy Rosebrough v. Karen Caldwell f/k/a Karen Rosebrough
W2018-01168-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

In this post-divorce custody action, the mother filed a motion seeking to modify the permanent parenting plan to designate her the primary residential parent. During trial, the parents requested that the Trial Court modify the residential parenting schedule. Following trial, the Trial Court entered an order denying the mother’s request to be designated primary residential parent but granting the parties’ request to modify the parenting schedule. Most of the Trial Court’s order consisted of its detailed recitation of the testimony presented during trial, without finding which testimony was credible or otherwise making sufficient findings of fact regarding the evidence presented to support its ruling as to changing the primary residential parent. As such, we find and hold that the March 9, 2018 order does not comply with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01 by including sufficient findings of fact concerning the mother’s motion to modify the permanent parenting plan to designate her the primary residential parent. We, therefore, vacate that portion of the Trial Court’s judgment and remand for the Trial Court to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law in compliance with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01. Because the Trial Court did make sufficient findings of fact as to the parenting schedule and it was not raised as an issue on appeal, the Trial Court’s judgment regarding modification of the residential parenting schedule is affirmed.

Madison County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Ritchie Phillips Et Al. v. Mark Hatfield
E2019-00628-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor E. G. Moody

In this declaratory judgment action involving neighboring landowners in a residential development, the trial court determined that the restrictive covenants applicable to the development would prevent the defendant from constructing a commercial business on his property. The trial court accordingly entered an injunction preventing the defendant from constructing a business on his real property. The defendant has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Jimmy Wayne Helton v. Earl Lawson
E2018-02119-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence after he was injured in a construction accident on the defendant’s property. The defendant claimed that he was not the employer of the plaintiff. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant and awarded the plaintiff no damages. The plaintiff appeals. We reverse the jury’s verdict only as to damages.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Lisa Priestas, et al. v. Kia Properties, LLC, et al.
W2019-00728-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

In this premises liability case, Mr. Priestas, an independent contractor, filed suit against Appellees, the owner/landlord and lessee of a convenience store, seeking damages for injuries he sustained during an attempted robbery at the store. The trial court granted Appellees’ motion for summary judgment, finding that: (1) the lessee did not breach its duty because: (a) Mr. Priestas was an independent contractor; (b) he was aware of the danger at the store; and (c) he was warned that the store had been robbed on several occasions; and (2) the owner/landlord was not liable because of the general rule of non-liability of a landlord for harm caused to a third party on leased premises. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Catrice Thomas Dye v. Willie B. Dye, Jr.
W2019-02011-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

The issue in this Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B interlocutory appeal is whether the trial court erred in denying a mother’s motion for recusal based upon alleged bias due to the court’s prior employment of and actions by the guardian ad litem. We find no error in the trial court’s ruling.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/18/19
Donna Felecia Watson v. Quince Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, LLC, et al.
W2019-00261-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This is an appeal from the trial court’s denial of a motion to compel arbitration. The subject arbitration agreement was executed in connection with a patient’s admission to a nursing home facility and signed by the patient’s son. The trial court found that the son lacked authority to bind his mother to the agreement. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/17/19
Linda L. Rozen, et al. v. Wolff Ardis, PC
W2019-00396-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

Appellants filed a legal malpractice action against their former law firm after two civil judgments were not renewed after a ten-year period. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled that the appellants’ claim was filed beyond the statute of limitations. The trial court also found that no attorney-client relationship existed to impose a duty on the law firm to renew the civil judgments before they expired. We find no reversible error in the trial court’s ruling regarding the statute of limitations. As such, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/17/19
Bonnie R. Lovell v. Warren County, Tennessee
M2019-00582-COA-r3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry R. Tidwell

A woman was incarcerated after being arrested and charged with several crimes.  Prior to trial, the charges against her were dropped and she was released.  Within a year of her release, the woman filed a claim against the county for false imprisonment.  The county moved for summary judgment, asserting that the complaint was barred by the one-year statute of limitations.  The trial court granted the county’s motion and the woman appealed.  We reverse the trial court’s judgment and hold that the statute of limitations for false imprisonment claims does not begin to run until the imprisonment ends.

Warren County Court of Appeals 12/16/19