Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 10/24/2021
Format: 10/24/2021
Jamie Gravatt v. Michael Barczykowski
M2019-01481-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/14/21
Kimberly Barrera Et Al. v. Bob Parks Realty, LLC, Et Al.
M2020-01027-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This appeal concerns the dismissal of a complaint under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41.02 and denial of a motion to alter or amend under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59. The court dismissed the complaint after finding the plaintiffs consistently violated court orders and unnecessarily delayed litigation by, inter alia, violating discovery and procedural deadlines. The plaintiffs moved to alter or amend the judgment, arguing that the trial court already excused any past violations and their latest violations were due to circumstances outside of the plaintiffs’ control. The trial court denied the motion, and this appeal followed. We have determined that the court’s basis for dismissing the case is properly supported by evidence in the record, the court identified and applied the appropriate legal principles, and its decision was within the range of acceptable alternatives dispositions. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 05/14/21
Clarksville Towers, LLC v. John Straussberger Et Al.
M2020-00756-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

This appeal concerns the potential personal liability of the owner of a corporation, which was engaged as the contractor in a multi-million-dollar construction project. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the construction company’s owner, determining that the owner could not be held personally liable for the corporation’s alleged violations of either the Tennessee Contractors Licensing Act, the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, the Tennessee Trust Fund Statute, or the Prompt Pay Act. The plaintiff has appealed. Upon our de novo review, we affirm the grant of summary judgment to the corporation’s owner.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/11/21
In Re Enrique F. Et Al.
M2019-01765-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

This is an appeal from a termination of parental rights proceeding. Although the trial court found that certain grounds for termination were established against the children’s father, it determined that there was insufficient proof that termination was in the children’s best interests. On appeal, the guardian ad litem and prospective adoptive parents challenge the trial court’s best interests determination, as well as the trial court’s failure to conclude that other grounds for termination were established. Our review of the record reveals that no grounds for termination were properly found by the trial court, and we therefore affirm the trial court’s denial of the petition to terminate on this basis.

Lawrence County Court of Appeals 05/11/21
In Re Anari E., Et Al.
M2020-01051-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy cook Puckett

This appeal concerns the termination of a father’s parental rights to his two minor children. Thomas Miller (“Petitioner”), guardian ad litem, filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Hickman County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Desia E. (“Father”) to Anari E. and Chrifayni O. (“the Children,” collectively). After a trial, the Juvenile Court entered an order terminating Father’s parental rights on six grounds and finding that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest, all by clear and convincing evidence. Father appeals, arguing Petitioner failed to meet his burden as to any of the grounds and as to best interest. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 05/07/21
Robin Nunley, Et Al. v. James E. Farrar D/B/A Farrar Bonding
M2020-00519-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge M. Wyatt Burk

Appellant filed a civil warrant in general sessions court seeking a refund of her payment to Appellee, a bondsman, because the bondee was never released from public custody. The general sessions court granted judgment in Appellee’s favor, and Appellant appealed to circuit court. Eventually, Appellee filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Appellant was not entitled to a refund. In response, Appellant filed a motion to amend her civil warrant to clarify her theories. The trial court granted Appellee’s motion for summary judgment and denied Appellant’s motion to amend her civil warrant. Because Appellee’s failure to comply with Rule 56.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure prevents meaningful review of its motion for summary judgment, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. We vacate the trial court’s denial of Appellant’s motion to amend.

Bedford County Court of Appeals 05/06/21
Regions Commercial Equipment Finance, LLC v. Richard Aviation, Inc.
W2020-00408-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

In this second appeal, Appellant appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on the basis that the ruling is not the product of the trial court’s independent judgment. Appellee argues that the trial court’s ruling can be affirmed on a different basis, as the trial court erred in denying its motion to alter or amend the judgment to include this additional basis for the judgment in its favor. We agree that the trial court’s order does not comply with Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, 439 S.W.3d 303 (Tenn. 2014), and so we once again vacate the grant of summary judgment. We decline, however, to reverse the trial court’s denial of Appellee’s motion to alter or amend.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 05/06/21
Estate of Pagiel Hall Czoka Et Al v. Life Care Center of Gray Et Al.
E2020-00995-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

This case is about the requisite mental capacity to execute a power of attorney. After the death of Pagiel Hall Czoka (“Decedent”), Decedent’s estate initiated a lawsuit against several defendants affiliated with the Life Care Center of Gray (“Defendants”) in January of 2018. The estate’s claims arose from an alleged assault on Decedent while she resided in Defendants’ residential health-care facility in Gray, Tennessee. In response, Defendants sought to compel arbitration of all issues and claims based upon an arbitration agreement entered into by Defendants and Decedent’s power of attorney when Decedent was admitted to Defendants’ facility in 2015. The estate responded by asserting that Decedent lacked sufficient mental capacity to execute the power of attorney on the day it was signed and that the power of attorney and the arbitration agreement were therefore void. As such, the estate argued that Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration should be denied and that the case should proceed to trial. The Circuit Court for Washington County (the “trial court”) granted Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and the estate sought and was granted permission for this interlocutory appeal. Because the evidence in the record does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that Decedent had the requisite capacity to enter into the power of attorney on the date in question, we affirm.

Washington County Court of Appeals 05/06/21
Glenver Ian Smith, et al. v. Stephen L. Hughes, et al.
W2020-01228-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This case involves an action filed by heirs of a deceased debtor seeking to set aside a foreclosure sale and their claims for damages against multiple defendants involved with the sale. The trial court granted summary judgment to the substitute trustee who conducted the sale, granted motions to dismiss filed by five other defendants, and dismissed the two remaining defendants sua sponte. The plaintiffs appeal. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Fayette County Court of Appeals 05/05/21
Sara Marie Poe Mossbeck v. John Pollard Hoover, Jr.
E2020-00311-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ward Jeffrey Hollingsworth

This case involves a post-divorce action, in which the father filed a petition for contempt against the mother, alleging that the mother failed to pay her portion of the child’s medical expenses pursuant to the permanent parenting plan. The Trial Court denied the father’s request that the mother be held in contempt but awarded the father a judgment for the mother’s portion of the child’s medical expenses. The Trial Court declined to award attorney’s fees to the father and ordered that the mother be permitted to make installment payments to the father. We vacate the Trial Court’s order permitting the installment payments as being premature. We further modify the judgment against Mother to $38,759.11 upon our determination that the amount paid by the father to Mountain Management and Denials Management was only $1,781.76. We affirm the Trial Court’s judgment in all other aspects.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/30/21