Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 04/26/2015
Format: 04/26/2015
Christopher Douglas v. Caruthers & Associates, Inc.
W2013-02676-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Special Judge Robert L. Childers
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Arnold B.Goldin

This case involves an employment contract. After the employee’s employment was allegedly constructively terminated, he sued the employer for damages. The parties proceeded to trial, and the trial court ruled that the employer breached its employment contract with the employee and that the employee was entitled to an award of damages. The trial court then ordered that all issues of damages would be referred to a Special Master. After trial, the Special Master issued a report calculating employee’s damages, to which the employee objected. Upon sustaining several of the employee’s objections, the trial court again referred the matter to the Special Master. The trial court subsequently concurred in the revised findings of the Special Master, and the employer appealed, raising several issues. We vacate the ruling of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
In re Amadi A., et al.
W2014-01281-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christy R. Little

This case involves a dispute over legal maternity of twin children born as the result of a surrogacy agreement. The intended parents of the children filed a joint petition, along with the surrogate mother and her husband, asking the juvenile court to declare the intended parents as the legal parents of the children and to require the Tennessee Department of Health to list them as the parents on the children’s birth certificates. The trial court initially granted the requested relief, but upon consideration of a motion to alter or amend filed by the Department of Health, the trial court ruled that the surrogate mother was the legal mother of the children and the party to be listed on the birth certificates. The intended parents, the surrogate, and her husband appeal. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Madison County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
Rita McCartt Kordon et al v. Beulah Newport et al.
E2013-01980-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Andrew Tillman
Rita McCartt Kordon and Rose McCartt Young appeal the decision of the Chancery Court for Scott County (“the Trial Court”) dismissing their claims for failure to prosecute pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 41.02(1). We find no abuse of discretion in the Trial Court’s dismissal of Ms. Kordon’s and Ms. Young’s claims, and we affirm.
 
Scott County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
James G. Clayton et al. v. Davidson Contractors, LLC et al.
E2013-02296-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

In connection with the purchase of a newly constructed home, buyers signed an application for a home warranty, providing for arbitration of warranty disputes. After the buyers experienced several problems with their home, they sued the builders for breach of the implied warranty of habitability and negligent construction, among other things. Over five years after answering the buyers' complaint, the builders moved to stay the litigation and compel arbitration based on the home warranty's arbitration provision. The trial court denied the motion because the arbitration provision did not comply with the Tennessee Uniform Arbitration Act. The trial court also found that the builders' delay in seeking to compel arbitration constituted a waiver of their right to arbitrate. The builders appeal. Because we conclude that the Federal Arbitration Act governs the arbitration provision and consideration of the waiver defense was premature, we vacate and remand.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/24/15
In re Jaiden W., et al
M2014-00953-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy R. Brock

This is the third appeal of this case, involving the issue of child support and arrears. In the second appeal, this Court remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of Appellant Father and Appellee Mother’s respective incomes for the period of August 22, 2008 through September 28, 2009. Based upon Mother’s testimony at the hearing on remand, the trial court set Mother’s income for the relevant period at $300 per month. Father appeals, arguing that, based upon the trial court’s previous finding that Mother was voluntarily unemployed, the trial court should have imputed income to Mother at the statutory rate. Because the law of the case is that the trial court should determine the parties’ actual circumstances, we conclude that the court correctly set Mother’s income as the amount she actually earned. Affirmed and remanded.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
James C. Loden, M.D., P.C. d/b/a Loden Vision Centers, and James C. Loden, M. D., Individually v. Gerald Michael Schmidt
M2014-01284-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

Doctor filed this lawsuit against a former patient, alleging malicious prosecution, tortious interference, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After the patient refused to respond to discovery, the trial court eventually entered an order striking the patient‘s answer and entering a default judgment against the patient. The trial court later awarded the doctor nominal damages and a permanent injunction. Affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Whitney Leigh Harmon, et al v. Gregg Ian Shore, et al
M2014-01339-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

This is a Health Care Liability case. Appellees are the treating physician and hospital. The trial court granted Appellees' Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 motions to dismiss Appellant's lawsuit for failure to comply with the Tennessee Code Annotated Section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) notice provision for health care liability claims. Specifically, the trial court determined that the required Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) medical authorization provided by Appellant was not substantially compliant with the statutory requirements in that the relevant medical records were released only to Appellant's lawyer. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Maury County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Najo Equipment Leasing, LLC v. Commssioner of Revenue
W2014-01096-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Arnold B. Goldin

Taxpayer brought action against the Tennessee Department of Revenue (“Department”) to challenge its assessment of business taxes against taxpayer. Taxpayer asserted it was entitled to an exemption for its leasing trucks and trailers to a public utility. Taxpayer and the Department filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Department finding that the exemption provision was unambiguous and did not apply to the taxpayer’s business activities. On appeal, we hold that the exemption provision is ambiguous, but also that the taxpayer failed to meet its burden in proving it was entitled to the exemption. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Gregory D. Allen v. Debbie D. Albea
W2014-01414-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

This appeal arises from a jury verdict in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $11,513.78. On appeal, Plaintiff raises several evidentiary issues, contends that juror misconduct requires a new trial, and asserts that the verdict is not supported by the evidence. We affirm.

Madison County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
In re Dallas H.B. et al
E2014-00063-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey F. Stewart

This is a parental termination case that focuses on the minor children of J.D.B. (Father) and J.A.B. (Mother). After Father and Mother divorced, Father married J.M.B. (Stepmother). A year later, Father and Stepmother (collectively, Petitioners) filed a petition seeking (1) the termination of Mother's parental rights and (2) adoption of the children by Stepmother. After a trial, the court found, by clear and convincing evidence, (1) that Mother had abandoned the children by failing to pay child support, and (2) that termination is in the best interest of the children. Mother appeals. We affirm.

Rhea County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Richard Harkleroad et al v. Frontier Building and Development, Inc.
E2013-00664-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Harold Wimberly, Jr.

This appeal concerns an alleged breach of contract. Richard and Shannon Harkleroad (“the Harkleroads”) sued Frontier Building and Development, Inc. (“Frontier”) alleging faulty construction of their residence. Frontier filed a counterclaim alleging non-payment. The Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) found that the Harkleroads were entitled to recovery in the amount of $10,000 for construction defects to their porches and driveway. Regarding Frontier’s counterclaim, the Trial Court found that Frontier had performed work in addition to that required in the original contract and awarded Frontier $4,103.75 for this work. The Trial Court awarded neither side attorney’s fees under their contract. The Harkleroads appeal. We reverse the Trial Court as to its award of damages to Frontier and remand this case for the Trial Court to award reasonable attorney’s fees under the contract to the Harkleroads. Otherwise, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
In re Ayris R.
E2014-01950-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert G. Lincoln
This is a termination of parental rights appeal brought by the putative father. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence to support termination of the putative father’s parental rights because he failed to establish paternity. The court also found that termination of the putative father’s parental rights was in the best interest of the child. The putative father appeals the best interest finding. We affirm.
 
Washington County Court of Appeals 04/23/15
Vanderbilt University v. Tennessee State Board of Equalization, et al
M2014-01386-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Vanderbilt University applied for a 100% property tax exemption for eleven of its fraternity houses pursuant to the educational exemption, Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-212(a)(1), or the dormitory exemption, Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-5-213(a). The State Board of Equalization (“SBOE”) denied Vanderbilt’s application, and Vanderbilt sought administrative review. An administrative law judge and the Assessment Appeals Commission both reached the same conclusion as the SBOE. Vanderbilt then sought judicial review, and the trial court determined that the fraternity houses were entitled to the 100% exemption because they satisfied the requirements for the educational exemption. The State appealed, and we reverse the trial court’s decision. The fraternity houses are not used “purely and exclusively” for educational purposes, as that provision has been interpreted and applied by the courts. We also decline to find the fraternity houses qualify for the dormitory exemption because they are not used primarily for dormitory purposes, as the statute requires.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/22/15
In re Adison P. - dissent
W2015-00393-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve Beal

I must respectfully dissent from the majority opinion for two reasons.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 04/21/15
In re Adison P.
W2015-00393-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve Beal

This accelerated interlocutory appeal results from the trial court’s denial of Appellant William R. F.’s (“Father”) motion for recusal. Having reviewed the trial court’s ruling on the motion for recusal pursuant to the de novo standard of review required under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 04/21/15
Anthony Holder, et al. v. Shelby County, Tennessee
W2014-01910-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen R. Williams

Appellant father filed a complaint for damages against the defendant county, alleging that the negligence of a county employee caused the death of his son. The county filed a motion to dismiss the complaint based upon sovereign immunity. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, concluding that the county employee’s actions constituted intentional torts for which immunity was not removed, and that the employee’s actions were outside the scope of his employment. We reverse and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/21/15
In re Dayton R., et al.
W2014-01904-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry J. Logan

This case involves a petition for grandparent visitation filed by the great-grandparents of the children at issue. The trial court concluded that great-grandparents do not qualify as “grandparents” under Tennessee’s grandparent visitation statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-306. Accordingly, the court concluded that the great-grandparents lacked standing to pursue their petition and dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 04/21/15
Amelia Jane Langlo v. Roger Eldar Langlo
E2014-00548-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett
This appeal arises from the parties’ post-divorce issues. The mother filed a petition for contempt for failure to remit alimony. The father responded with a petition to reduce his alimony obligation. He later orally requested to modify his child support obligation. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the mother’s petition for contempt, the father’s petition to reduce his alimony obligation, and the father’s request to reduce his child support obligation. The father appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.
 
Bradley County Court of Appeals 04/20/15
Lydranna Lewis, et al. v. Shelby County, Tennessee
W2014-00408-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert S. Weiss

Plaintiffs worked as counselors in a correctional facility that houses male inmates in a dorm-like setting in Shelby County. In September 2010, they were attacked and beaten by an inmate. Plaintiffs filed an action for negligence against Shelby County under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, alleging the County was liable for damages caused by the negligent acts and/or omissions of County employees. Plaintiffs alleged that the supervising counselor/shift supervisor negligently failed to respond to their “code red” calls for help; that he negligently failed to provide adequate staffing and equipment; and that he negligently failed to implement the facility directives. The trial court determined that the County was entitled to summary judgment under the discretionary function exception contained in Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-20-205. We reverse and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/17/15
In re Estate of Mary Pauline Stumpe Schorn
E2013-02245-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William Everett Lantrip
This is an estate case before this court a second time. The decedent’s eldest son was named the personal representative of his mother’s estate. Two siblings, citing accounting irregularities and other issues, eventually sought their brother’s removal from the personal representative position. The trial court agreed with the siblings and named a substitute personal representative. The initial personal representative appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.
 
Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/17/15
William Timothy Hayes, et al. v. Coopertown Mastersweep, Inc.
W2014-00783-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen R. Williams

This is an appeal from the grant of two motions for directed verdict. Appellants contracted with Appellee chimneysweep company to redesign and reconstruct portions of their fireplace and chimney to address a problem with smoke escaping into the den, upper floors, and attic. More than a year after the construction was completed, Appellants’ home was damaged by a fire, which started when wood flooring joists in close proximity to the firebox ignited. Appellants brought claims for negligence and breach of contract against Appellee. The case was tried before a jury. At the close of Appellants’ proof, the trial court granted the Appellee’s motions for directed verdict on the ground that the Appellants had failed to establish that the Appellee owed them a duty of care to conduct a destructive investigation of the safety of the Appellants’ fireplace and also on the ground that the suit was barred by the applicable statute of repose. We affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/17/15
Thomas Wenzler, Sr. v. Shelby County, Tennessee, et al.
W2014-01097-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Arnold B. Goldin

This case involves judicial review of a decision of the Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board. The appellee was terminated from his employment with the Shelby County government due to an alleged violation of a conflict of interest policy. After a two-day hearing, the Civil Service Merit Board upheld the employee‟s termination. The employee sought judicial review in chancery court. After reviewing the record, the chancellor found no substantial and material evidence to support the termination of the employee and ordered him reinstated with backpay and benefits. The County appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm the decision of the chancery court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/16/15
Terry Pritchett v. Comas Montgomery Realty & Auction Company, Inc. et al
M2014-00583-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Corlew,III

Plaintiff purchased a commercial building at auction. After determining that the building was smaller than represented in the auction advertisements, Plaintiff filed suit asserting a claim against the auction company for negligently misrepresenting the square footage of the building. Defendant admits the advertisement incorrectly stated the square footage but insists it is not liable because, prior to the auction, Plaintiff signed a “Terms of Sale” agreement stating that Plaintiff “shall rely entirely on [his] own inspection and information,” and that “[e]verything will be sold ‘AS IS, WHERE IS’, with no guarantee of any kind, regardless of statement or condition made from the auctioneer,” and the same terms were restated immediately prior to the commencement of bidding. Defendant further relies on the contract of sale, which included the “as is” clause and did not contain a representation concerning the square footage of the building. After engaging in discovery, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff could not have justifiably relied on the representations in light of the “as is” disclaimers he signed and heard, and that Plaintiff failed to establish the applicable standard of care. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant, which Plaintiff contends was error. We have determined that Plaintiff’s agreement to rely entirely on his own inspection and information and to purchase the property on an “as is” basis negates any reliance on Defendant’s representation, which is an essential element of a claim for negligent misrepresentation. Therefore, we affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 04/15/15
Terry Pritchett v. Comas Montgomery Realty & Auction Company, Inc. et al
M2014-00583-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Corlew,III

Plaintiff purchased a commercial building at auction. After determining that the building was smaller than represented in the auction advertisements, Plaintiff filed suit asserting a claim against the auction company for negligently misrepresenting the square footage of the building. Defendant admits the advertisement incorrectly stated the square footage but insists it is not liable because, prior to the auction, Plaintiff signed a “Terms of Sale” agreement stating that Plaintiff “shall rely entirely on [his] own inspection and information,” and that “[e]verything will be sold ‘AS IS, WHERE IS’, with no guarantee of any kind, regardless of statement or condition made from the auctioneer,” and the same terms were restated immediately prior to the commencement of bidding. Defendant further relies on the contract of sale, which included the “as is” clause and did not contain a representation concerning the square footage of the building. After engaging in discovery, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff could not have justifiably relied on the representations in light of the “as is” disclaimers he signed and heard, and that Plaintiff failed to establish the applicable standard of care. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant, which Plaintiff contends was error. We have determined that Plaintiff’s agreement to rely entirely on his own inspection and information and to purchase the property on an “as is” basis negates any reliance on Defendant’s representation, which is an essential element of a claim for negligent misrepresentation. Therefore, we affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 04/15/15
Christy L. Griffith v. Glen H. Griffith
E2014-00892-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This divorce case involves issues of property classification, valuation, and division. The parties were married for fifteen years, with one child born of the marriage. At the time the parties married, the husband owned an interest in his family's motorcycle dealership. The husband inherited remaining interests in that dealership from his parents during the marriage. At trial, the court found that the dealership was a separately owned asset that became marital property by reason of transmutation. The trial court also made determinations regarding the value of the dealership and the real property upon which it operates. Following these determinations, the trial court rendered what it considered to be an equitable division of the parties' marital assets. Husband has appealed. Because we determine the trial court's classification and valuation of the dealership to be in error, as well as the valuation of the business-related real property, we further determine the overall distribution of marital assets to be in error. We vacate the trial court's judgment with regard to those issues and remand for further proceedings. The balance of the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 04/14/15