Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 08/29/2015
Format: 08/29/2015
Nonprofit Housing Corporation, et al. v. Tennessee Housing Development Agency
M2014-01588-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Three non-profit corporations filed suit alleging that they were wrongfully denied low income housing tax credits. The trial court determined that the plaintiffs’ claims were moot, and we concur.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/27/15
Springfield Investments, LLC et al v. Global Investments, LLC et al.
E2014-01703-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor W. Frank Brown, III

This case involves a claim for, inter alia, intentional interference with business relationships. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants, owners and operators of a franchise pursuant to an agreement with Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers Restaurant (“Wendy's') in Cleveland, Tennessee, interfered with the plaintiffs' ability to timely secure a franchise agreement with Wendy's to build a new restaurant in Cleveland. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants improperly used a non-compete agreement, entered into in 1998 by the defendants and a brother of one of the plaintiffs, to object to Wendy's grant of the new franchise. Following a bench trial, the trial court found, inter alia, that the plaintiffs failed to establish the claim of intentional interference with business relationships. The court did enter a judgment, however, in favor of the plaintiffs for nominal damages in the amount of $500. The plaintiffs have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 08/27/15
Julian Hinson, D/B/A Trivia Time v. Thom O'Rourke
M2014-00361-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

Plaintiff, a sole proprietor of an entertainment business featuring trivia and bingo games, filed this action to enforce an Independent Contractor Agreement, a Noncompetition Agreement, and a Contractor Confidentiality Agreement and for violation of the Tennessee Uniform Trade Secrets Act. The defendant asserted that the covenant not to compete was unenforceable and that none of the information provided to him by Plaintiff constituted trade secrets or confidential information. The trial court dismissed all claims finding the covenant not to compete was unenforceable and that none of the information qualified as a trade secret. Following the dismissal of the claims, the defendant filed a motion for attorney’s fees pursuant to the Trade Secrets Act. The trial court denied the motion finding that the claim under the Trade Secrets Act was not brought in bad faith. Both parties appeal. We affirm the trial court in all respects. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/25/15
Open Lake Sporting Club v. Lauderdale Haywood Angling Club
W2014-00436-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge William C. Cole

At issue in this case is the interpretation of an agreement that, inter alia, provides for a lease for the use of Open Lake in Lauderdale County by Lauderdale Haywood Angling Club. Following summary judgment proceedings, the trial court determined that the parties' agreement had terminated on two grounds. After declaring that all rights under the agreement had ended, it later required one of the parties to post a bond in order to continue using certain duck blinds for the remainder of the 2013-2014 duck hunting season. Although we conclude that one of the grounds relied upon by the trial court in declaring that the agreement was terminated was in error, we affirm the entry of summary judgment on the other ground. We also affirm the propriety and amount of the bond ordered by the trial court.

Lauderdale County Court of Appeals 08/25/15
Nicholas Grimaldi, D.O. et al v. Ronald Christopher, M.D.
E2014-02556-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This consolidated appeal involves the denial of two motions to alter or amend the court's dismissal of a complaint requesting corporate dissolution of a medical practice and a shareholder derivative suit involving the same medical practice. We affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 08/25/15
Ronald Christopher v. East Tennessee Spine and Orthopaedic Specialists, P.C.
E2014-02552-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This consolidated appeal involves the denial of two motions to alter or amend the court's dismissal of a complaint requesting corporate dissolution of a medical practice and a shareholder derivative suit involving the same medical practice. We affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 08/25/15
Royal Properties, Inc. v. The City of Knoxville et al.
E2014-01937-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Daryl R. Fansler

This is an appeal from a judgment in a certiorari review action. The petitioner sought approval for the construction of a surface parking lot as a use permitted on review in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Metropolitan Planning Commission denied the application. The petitioner appealed the denial to the Knoxville City Council, which failed to vote on the matter. The trial court upheld the de facto denial, holding that the Knoxville City Council had not exceeded its jurisdiction, followed an unlawful procedure, acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently, or acted without material evidence to support its decision. The petitioner appeals. For the reasons discussed herein, we reverse and remand this case to the trial court with instructions to remand to the Knoxville City Council for a definitive ruling on whether the requested surface parking lot is permissible as a use permitted on review.

Knox County Court of Appeals 08/25/15
RCR Building Corporation v. State of Tennessee
M2014-01555-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner, TN Claims Commission

This appeal concerns the construction of a welcome center along I-65 North in Ardmore, Tennessee. The State entered into an agreement with a contractor to construct the welcome center and the adjacent roadways and parking lots. As construction progressed, the contractor submitted requests for several changes to the scope of the project, which were denied; the State also denied several pay requests for work the contractor or its subcontractors had already completed. The contractor filed suit against the State alleging nine separate claims for damages. The Claims Commission ruled in favor of the contractor on all claims. The State appeals four of the claims, asserting that the Commission erred in awarding damages. Concluding that the evidence does not preponderate against the Commission’s findings of fact, we affirm the Commissioner in all respects.

Court of Appeals 08/24/15
Stasha B. Taylor, et al. v. Melvinie E. Seymore, MD, et al.
W2015-01272-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

This accelerated interlocutory appeal arises from the trial court‘s denial of motions for recusal in two separate health care liability cases. We have consolidated the cases on appeal because they contain common facts and questions of law. Having reviewed the motions under the de novo standard of review required by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we affirm the trial court‘s decision to deny both motions.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/24/15
In re Christopher M.
W2014-02520-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Butler

This appeal involves the termination of a mother's parental rights to her eleven-year-old son. In 2004, the son was adjudicated dependent and neglected due to his mother's substance abuse and was placed in the custody of his maternal grandmother and step-grandfather. In 2012, these same grandparents filed a petition, as prospective adoptive parents, seeking to terminate the mother's parental rights on the statutory ground of persistent conditions. The trial court found that the ground of persistent conditions had not been proven by clear and convincing evidence. The grandparents appeal. We affirm.

Madison County Court of Appeals 08/24/15
Freddie Odell Norris v. Susan Marguriete Norris
E2014-02353-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry Warner

This appeal arises from a divorce. Freddie Odell Norris (“Husband”) sued Susan Marguriete Norris (“Wife”) for divorce in the Probate and Family Court for Cumberland County (“the Trial Court”). The Trial Court granted a divorce to Husband on the ground of irreconcilable differences and ordered him to pay transitional alimony. Wife appeals to this Court, raising a number of issues. We amend the divorce decree to modify the grounds for divorce, modify the alimony type from transitional to in futuro, and remand this case for a calculation of reasonable attorney's fees for Wife. The judgment of the Trial Court is modified and this matter is remanded to the Trial Court for further proceedings.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 08/24/15
Cecil Sims Irvin v. Bass, Berry, and Sims, PLC, et al
M2014-00671-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

This case arises from the 1986 sale of a family farm. One family member filed suit against another family member, who was also an attorney, and his law firm alleging malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud in connection with the sale. The attorney and his law firm filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. Because we find, as did the trial court, that the claims are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations, we affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/21/15
Pam Hayes, et al v. City of Memphis, et al.
W2014-01962-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenny W. Armstrong

This appeal involves a dispute stemming from a resolution adopted by the Memphis City Council renaming three public parks. Several organizations and individuals filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the resolution. The Shelby County Chancery Court dismissed the lawsuit, holding that the allegations in the plaintiffs’ complaint were insufficient to establish their standing. On appeal, we hold that the allegations of the complaint are sufficient to establish standing as to one of the organizations, Sons of Confederate Veterans Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp #215. We therefore reverse the trial court’s dismissal as to that organization. We affirm dismissal of the remaining plaintiffs’ claims for lack of standing.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/21/15
Valorie K. Stapleton v. Glen A. Stapleton
E2014-02014-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge J.Michael Sharp

In this post-divorce matter, the appellant challenges an award of attorney fees to his former wife in the amount of $15,591.43. We affirm the ruling of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 08/21/15
Estate of Walter Bradley by Next of Kin, Irene King et al v. Hamilton County
E2014-02215-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey Hollingsworth

Following his conviction, Mr. Bradley was placed at the Hamilton County Jail in March 2012. Over the next seven months, Mr. Bradley spent several weeks in and out of Erlanger Medical Center and Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute due to his poor health. In October 2012, he passed away from tuberculosis. His sister brought this action for wrongful death and negligence under Tennessee's Governmental Tort Liability Act against Hamilton County. She later amended the complaint in order to add a claim for severe emotional distress she personally suffered as a result of her brother's alleged mistreatment. Hamilton County filed a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment. The trial court consolidated the two motions together and dismissed the complaint in its entirety. The sister appeals. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 08/21/15
James R. Vandergriff et al. v. Parkridge East Hospital et al.
E2014-02253-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

The parents of a minor child filed a pro se complaint asserting claims on behalf of their daughter and individual claims by each parent. The complaint alleges that the daughter was born with brain injuries and remains severely disabled due to the failure of health care providers to treat her mother for a severe womb infection during two hospitalizations preceding birth. Plaintiffs also allege that the complaint was filed timely, although it was filed ten years after birth, because the defendants fraudulently concealed the fact that the mother was not treated for the infection. The complaint states that the parents learned of the infection in 2012 when they obtained medical records that included a previously-undisclosed placenta pathology report. The defendants responded to the complaint by filing Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motions to dismiss the parents’ individual claims pursuant to the one-year statute of limitations, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-116(a)(1)-(2), and the daughter’s claims based upon the three-year statute of repose, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-116(a)(3).

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 08/21/15
Yvonne Waters v. Donald Waters
E2014-01768-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge J.Michael Sharp

This divorce action involves a marriage of twenty-seven years' duration. Both parties were employed outside the home throughout the marriage. The parties kept their finances separate during the marriage, maintained separate bank accounts, and divided household expenses equally. At the time of trial, the wife had accumulated a significantly larger amount of money, despite having a much lower earning capacity. The trial court therefore determined that the wife had made a greater contribution to the marital estate and awarded her approximately 68% of the marital estate upon divorce. The court further awarded the wife her attorney's fees and costs. The husband timely appealed. We affirm the trial court's division of the parties' marital property. We reverse the trial court's award of attorney's fees incurred at trial to the wife, but we affirm the award of discretionary costs in the amount of $2,713. The wife's request for an award of attorney's fees on appeal is denied

McMinn County Court of Appeals 08/20/15
Tammy McNabb v. Thomas Dean McNabb
E2014-02424-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

This divorce action involves a marriage of nineteen years' duration. The deed to the parties' marital residence, purchased during the marriage, reflected title in the names of the husband and his mother. Also during the marriage, the husband had purchased a vacant lot adjacent to the marital residence, and the parties had acquired a boat. Following a bench trial, the trial court determined that the husband's one-half ownership interest in the marital residence was marital property subject to division. The trial court also determined that the adjacent lot and boat were marital assets. An equitable division was ultimately ordered. The trial court further awarded the wife alimony in futuro, determining that she had demonstrated a need for alimony and that the husband maintained an ability to pay. The husband has appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court's judgment in all respects. The wife has sought an award of attorney's fees incurred in defending this appeal. In our discretion, we remand this matter to the trial court for determination of a reasonable award of attorney's fees to the wife.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 08/20/15
William F. Hunt v. Veropele Nashville I, LLC
M2014-01046-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

This appeal arises from competing claims by a landlord and tenant that the other breached their commercial lease agreement. Less than one year after entering into a five year lease, tenant vacated the premises declaring that landlord had materially breached Paragraphs 10 and 29 of the lease by, inter alia, refusing to make ADA accessibility improvements that tenant insists were required for tenant to obtain a use and occupancy permit. After tenant vacated the premises, landlord commenced this action alleging that tenant breached the lease by vacating the premises and refusing to pay rent (a) without justification, (b) based upon an unreasonable ultimatum, (c) before landlord could submit code compliant architectural plans to the Department of Codes and (d) before the Department of Codes could make a determination regarding the necessity of making ADA accessibility improvements. Tenant responded by asserting claims for breach of the lease, fraudulent misrepresentation, and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Following a four-day bench trial, the court found that tenant breached the lease by vacating the premises without justification and failing to pay rent, and awarded landlord damages for breach in the amount of $90,342 and attorney’s fees. The trial court dismissed the remainder of tenant’s claims. Finding no error, we affirm and remand for the trial court to award landlord its reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/18/15
Ronald Allen Brady v. Karen Louise Brady
M2014-01598-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor George Sexton

This appeal concerns the division of a marital estate. The trial court ordered a special master to investigate and report on the identification, classification, and valuation of all marital property and assets. The special master issued a detailed report and recommended awarding seventy-two percent of the marital home’s equity to the husband and twenty-eight percent to the wife. The special master also proposed that both parties be given an option to purchase the marital home, first husband and then wife, and that, if neither exercised the option, the house be auctioned. Both parties filed objections to the special master’s report, but neither party alleged that the special master had acted outside his authority. Following a hearing on the objections, the trial court adopted the special master’s findings and recommendations. In connection with a hearing on the auction of the marital home, wife objected on the basis that the special master acted outside of his authority. Wife appeals, challenging the manner in which the marital home was valued and divided. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.  

Cheatham County Court of Appeals 08/18/15
John B. Evans v. Piedmont Natural Gas Co., Inc.
M2014-01099-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carol Soloman


This appeal arises from a property damage dispute. Homeowner claims his sewer line was damaged during the installation of a natural gas pipeline in 1984 and that the damage was concealed. The gas company maintained that a subcontractor for a predecessor entity installed the pipeline and that it had no knowledge of any damage. After homeowner obtained a judgment in general sessions court, the gas company appealed to the circuit court for Davidson County. Homeowner moved to dismiss the appeal on the basis that the gas company did not timely set the case for trial. After homeowner’s motion to dismiss was denied, the gas company moved for summary judgment. Following a hearing, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the gas company because: (1) there was no evidence in the record that the gas company or the predecessor entity damaged the sewer line or concealed any damage; (2) homeowner’s claims were barred by the statute of repose; and (3) homeowner failed to allege facts to support an award of punitive damages. Homeowner appeals. Although the trial court properly granted summary judgment on the issue of punitive damages, we conclude the court erred in limiting homeowner’s discovery. In light of this conclusion, we vacate the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in all other respects and remand.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/18/15
Tonya A. Andrews, Administrator For The Estate of James Christopher Sprinkle
M2014-01398-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

The sole issue in this action by a decedent’s estate to set aside a fraudulent conveyance in order to execute on a monetary judgment is whether life insurance proceeds paid to the decedent’s surviving spouse are exempt from claims of a creditor of the surviving spouse. The unusual twist in this matter is that the creditor is the estate of the surviving spouse’s deceased husband. Following the husband’s death and the appointment of the decedent’s mother as the Administrator of his estate, the estate obtained a judgment against the surviving spouse for conversion of the decedent’s separate assets soon after his death. After obtaining the judgment against the surviving spouse in a separate action, the estate commenced this action to satisfy the judgment by executing on real property that the surviving spouse acquired after her husband’s death and subsequently conveyed to her sister-in-law for no consideration. The trial court set aside the conveyance of the real property as fraudulent and authorized the estate to “levy execution against the real property to the extent necessary to satisfy the judgment.” The surviving spouse does not appeal the fraudulent conveyance ruling; instead, she contends the real estate is immune from the estate’s claim because she used life insurance proceeds to purchase the real estate, and proceeds from a life insurance policy are immune from the claims of the estate’s creditors pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-202 and Tenn. Code Ann. § 56-7-203. The trial court found the surviving spouse’s reliance on the statutes to be misplaced because the statutes exempt life insurance proceeds payable to the surviving spouse or children from claims of “the decedent’s creditors,” not from creditors of the surviving spouse. We affirm. We also find that the appeal is frivolous and remand so the trial court may award just damages pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-1-122.

Marshall County Court of Appeals 08/18/15
Open Lake Sporting Club v. Lauderdale Haywood Angling Club
W2014-01574-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This is an appeal from proceedings on remand from a prior appeal concerning a long-standing boundary dispute between two hunting clubs in West Tennessee. Previously, in an attempt to resolve their dispute, the clubs agreed to be bound by the findings of a third-party surveyor. After the agreed-upon surveyor filed his survey, however, one of the clubs moved to set the survey aside, arguing that the surveyor had not made an independent determination. The trial court declined to hold a hearing on the motion, and the case was subsequently appealed to this Court. On appeal, we concluded that the case should be remanded to the trial court for a hearing on the motion to set the survey aside. Specifically, we directed the trial court to consider whether the surveyor made an independent determination of the disputed boundary line. Following a hearing on remand, the trial court held that the findings of the third-party surveyor were the product of an independent determination. We affirm.

Lauderdale County Court of Appeals 08/18/15
Angela Rose Kee Ezekiel v. David Ezekiel
W2014-02332-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

This is an appeal of an award of alimony in futuro relative to a divorce. The trial court awarded Wife $250.00 in alimony in futuro until her retirement, and then $100.00 in alimony in futuro thereafter. We reverse the trial court‟s judgment and award Wife $43.00 in transitional alimony until her retirement, which alimony shall be modifiable upon a showing of a substantial and material change in circumstances.

Lauderdale County Court of Appeals 08/17/15
Brenda Benz-Elliott v. Barrett Enterprises, LP, et al
M2013-00270-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

A property owner (“Seller”) who had 91 acres contracted to sell 5.01 acres to Buyers. The contract contained the condition that Buyers would reserve a 60-foot strip of land along the western edge for Seller and that Buyers would construct a road along the 60-foot stretch to enable Seller to access her property from the west. The closing on the property occurred in March 2005, seven months after the contract was signed, but the warranty deed did not carve out the 60-foot strip consistent with the contract. Seller did not realize the deed did not reserve the 60-foot strip until November 2007, when she went to see her attorney. She contacted Buyers’ attorney immediately in an effort to have the deed corrected. When that effort was not successful, she filed a complaint alleging breach of contract in September 2008, less than four years after the sale was closed. Buyers argued Seller was barred by waiver and estoppel from succeeding on her contract claim because she sat on her rights for years while Buyers constructed a new building and left no space for a road to be built along the western edge. The trial court disagreed and awarded Seller damages in the amount of $850,000. After the case was on appeal, the defendants had a road constructed that provided Seller access to her property, but it was in a different location than the contract contemplated. The case was remanded to the trial court for the consideration of these additional facts, and the trial court reduced its earlier damages award down to $650,000. The Buyers appealed the trial court’s judgment, arguing the trial court erred in ruling Seller was not barred by estoppel, waiver, or laches, from recovering on her breach of contract claim. Buyers also argue the trial court erred in its award of discretionary costs. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 08/14/15