Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 05/28/2016
Format: 05/28/2016
Roy Leonard Sewell v. Diane Holland Sewell
E2015-00983-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Neil Thomas, III

In this post-divorce parenting and child support action, the father filed petitions in January 2013 to register and modify the parties' 1997 Georgia divorce decree in the Hamilton County Circuit Court (“trial court”). In the divorce decree, the Georgia court had, inter alia, designated the mother as the primary residential parent of the parties' infant son and directed the father to pay weekly child support. The trial court subsequently entered an agreed order registering the Georgia decree. Following a hearing conducted in March 2013, the trial court entered an order designating the father as the primary residential parent, incorporating a modified permanent parenting plan order, and setting child support to be paid by the mother. The mother subsequently filed a petition to register and enforce a 1998 Georgia court order finding the father in contempt and a 2003 Georgia income deduction order.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/27/16
Julia H. "Robin" Meyers, et al. v. First Tennessee Bank, N.A.
E2014-01943-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

This is a Tenn. R. App. P. 9 appeal by First Tennessee Bank, N.A. (the Trustee) from the trial court's order denying the Trustee's motion for summary judgment. The beneficiaries of the Ray Haney TUW Residual Trust (the Trust) filed suit against the Trustee for breach of trust. The Trustee asserts that the suit is time-barred; it relies upon Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-15-1005 (2007). The trial court denied the Trustee's motion, holding that there are genuine issues of material fact with respect to whether the suit was timely filed. The Trustee filed an application for an interlocutory appeal, which the trial court granted. We followed suit. We now affirm the trial court's decision denying summary judgment.

Greene County Court of Appeals 05/27/16
John A. Brubaker v. H. T. Beckham
M2014-01751-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge George C. Sexton

A dispute arose between the purchaser of real property and a prior owner over certain personalty, including equipment and motor vehicles, left on the real property. After the prior owner removed one item of personalty and dumped tree waste on the real property, the purchaser filed suit against the prior owner seeking, among other things, injunctive relief. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the requested injunctive relief and concluded that the personalty that remained on the real property was owned by the purchaser. The prior owner of the real property appeals the trial court’s decision that the personalty remaining on the real property was abandoned. Because the trial court’s order does not satisfy the requirements of Rule 52.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Cheatham County Court of Appeals 05/26/16
Horace Paul Eledge v. Jerry Paul Eledge
M2015-01055-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

This is an action by Father to rescind a quitclaim deed on the ground the deed was procured by Son’s fraud or constructive fraud. Father, believing his property might be subject to the claims of creditors, sought advice from Son on how to preserve his real property for the benefit of his two children and grandchildren. Son engaged an attorney to prepare a quitclaim deed reserving a life estate for Father and conveying the remainder interest in the property to Father’s two children, Son and Daughter. Father executed the deed without reading it. Two years later, after realizing he only held a life estate, Father asked both children to re-convey the property. Daughter complied, but when Son refused, Father commenced this action against Son. Following a bench trial, the court held that rescission of the deed was warranted because the deed was procured by Son’s fraud or constructive fraud given that “[Father] was under the domination and control of his son at the time the deed was signed.” Fraud can be established by proof of nondisclosure or concealment of a known material fact in situations where a party has a duty to disclose that fact. Justice v. Anderson County, 955 S.W.2d 613, 616 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997). Similarly, constructive fraud is a breach of a legal or equitable duty which is deemed fraudulent because of its tendency to deceive others by, inter alia, violating a private confidence. Kincaid v. SouthTrust Bank, 221 S.W.3d 32, 39 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006). The general rule is that a party to a transaction has no duty to disclose material facts to the other. Homestead Grp., LLC v. Bank of Tenn., 307 S.W.3d 746, 751-52 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2009). However, such a duty may arise when there is a confidential relationship between the parties. Benton v. Snyder, 825 S.W.2d 409, 414 (Tenn. 1992). “The normal relationship between a mentally competent parent and an adult child is not per se a confidential relationship.” Kelly v. Allen, 558 S.W.2d 845, 848 (Tenn. 1977). In certain circumstances, however, a duty may arise out of a “family relationship” when there is proof of “dominion and control” sufficient to establish the existence of a confidential relationship. See Matlock v. Simpson, 902 S.W.2d 384, 385-86 (Tenn. 1995). We have determined that the evidence preponderates against the finding that Father was under the dominion and control of Son. The facts of this case reveal that Father was in good physical and mental health, lived separately from Son, and was not dependent on Son or anyone else for his daily needs. Although Father trusted Son completely, relied on Son for financial advice, and could be persuaded by Son’s ardent opinions, Son did not have control over Father or Father’s finances. To the contrary, Father described situations in which he independently conducted business and made his own decisions, some of which were contrary to Son’s wishes. Having determined that the evidence preponderates against the finding that Father was under the domination and control of Son at the time the deed was signed, we find no basis upon which to conclude that Son owed an affirmative duty to disclose all material facts relevant to the transaction. Because Son did not owe an affirmative duty to disclose all material facts relevant to the transaction, Father’s claim that Son procured the deed by fraud or constructive fraud cannot be sustained. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Lawrence County Court of Appeals 05/26/16
Johnathan Lee McDonough v. Sloan Marie McDonough
M2015-00027-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Phillip E. Smith

Johnathan Lee McDonough (“Father”) appeals the order of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County (“the Trial Court”) denying Father’s post-divorce petition to relocate to Arizona with the parties’ three minor children (“the Children”), and granting Sloan Marie McDonough (“Mother”) primary residential custody of the Children. Father raises an issue with regard to whether the Trial Court erred in finding that Mother’s counter-petition was filed timely, and because of this alleged error, erred in not allowing Father to relocate with the Children pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108. We find and hold that Father failed to prove that he provided the required notice to Mother of the relocation pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-108, and, therefore, the statutory response period never was triggered. As such, we find no error in the Trial Court’s determination that Mother’s counter-petition was filed timely, and we affirm the Trial Court’s order denying Father’s petition to relocate with the Children.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/26/16
Rafia Nafees Khan v. Regions Bank et al.
E2015-01891-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

The trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss on the basis of prior suit pending and dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Crescent Sock Company v. Robert H. Yoe, III et al.
E2015-00948-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael J. Sharp

Crescent Sock Company filed this action against its Chief Executive Officer, Robert H. Yoe, III, the day before Crescent terminated his employment. It sought a declaratory judgment that Yoe’s employment contract and an agreement between Crescent and Yoe Enterprises, Inc., a company wholly owned by Yoe, were invalid and unenforceable. After a seven-day bench trial, the court found the two agreements to be valid. It enforced them and found in favor of Yoe and Yoe Enterprises on some of the causes of action in their counterclaim. The trial court awarded Yoe and Yoe Enterprises attorney’s fees of $765,880.77. Yoe’s employment contract, however, does not include Yoe Enterprises among those entitled to seek "prevailing party" fees and expenses.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Gretchen Michele Benedict v. Donald Lester Benedict, Jr.
E2015-01427-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Pamela A. Fleenor

This is the second time this matter has been before us on appeal. The issue is again the correct amount of Donald Lester Benedict, Jr.’s (Father) income upon which child support is to be based. Gretchen Michele Benedict (Mother) argues that the trial court erred when it set Father’s child support based upon an incorrect income figure. We have determined that the trial court misinterpreted our previous opinion in Benedict v. Benedict, No. E2013-00978-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 2187779 (Tenn. Ct. App., filed May 27, 2014) (Benedict I). The trial court incorrectly held that Father’s income was $75,000 per year for the purpose of setting child support for the period February 2007 to May 2014. The trial court used the $75,000 annual figure even though the evidence showed that Father’s actual income during the period of 2010-2014 ranged from a low of $60,444 to a high of $199,530. We vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for a recalculation of the amount of child support.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
In re J.M.M.
E2015-01116-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice Hope Snider

This is a termination of parental rights case. The Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of W.J.N. (Father) with respect to J.M.M. (the Child). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of five grounds warranting termination. The court found the same quantum of evidence reflecting that termination is in the best interest of the Child. Father appeals. We affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Judy Lance d/b/a J & B Discount v. Owner's Insurance Company
E2015-00274-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

This is a breach of insurance contract action for failure to remit payment pursuant to a business-owners policy after the subject property was destroyed by fire. The case proceeded to jury trial. After denying the insurance company's motion for a directed verdict, the court submitted the case to the jury. The jury found that the plaintiff was entitled to recover under the policy and awarded compensatory and punitive damages and prejudgment interest. The jury also imposed a bad faith penalty and damages pursuant to the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. The insurance company appeals. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

Polk County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
Ted Cope et al. v. Hawkins County, Tennessee
E2015-01615-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

Several property owners brought suit against the county for inverse condemnation when the county commission's road committee rescinded its recommendation to accept a road as a county road. The county sought dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The trial court dismissed the suit. The property owners appeal. We affirm.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 05/25/16
In Re Brody., et al
M2015-01586-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

This appeal concerns the propriety of a writ of certiorari granted by the Williamson County Chancery Court to review a protective custody order entered by the Williamson County Juvenile Court. The chancery court held that the protective custody order from the juvenile court was void and enjoined the Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) from interfering with the paternal grandmother’s physical and legal custody of the minor children at issue. Because we are of the opinion that the chancery court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to review the juvenile court’s order, we vacate the judgment of the Chancery Court and remand.
 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 05/24/16
Megan E. Smith v. Justin L. Smith
M2015-01038-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers

This is an appeal of an order modifying a party’s child support obligation. The trial court granted Appellee’s petition to downwardly modify her child support obligation based on a decrease in Appellee’s income. Appellant objected, arguing that Appellee was voluntarily underemployed. The trial court found that Appellee was not underemployed and determined Appellee’s income for the purpose of child support obligation by averaging the income she earned in each of her previous five positions. We affirm in part and vacate in part.      

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 05/24/16
Matthew Lee Wheeler v. Alethia Danielle Wheeler
M2015-00377-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson

This appeal involves a mother’s post-divorce petition to modify a parenting plan. The court below determined that while a material change of circumstances had occurred, modification of the plan was not in the child’s best interest. The mother appeals. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the Chancery Court.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 05/24/16
Raines Brothers, Inc. v. H. Michael Chitwood, et al.
E2015-01430-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

This is the second appeal in this contract action, which stems from the failure of the defendant, H. Michael Chitwood, to pay for construction work performed by the plaintiff, Raines Brothers, Inc. (“Raines”). The work was performed on a home occupied by Mr. Chitwood but owned by a trustee, James Dreaden, who was also named as a defendant in the original action. Following a bench trial, the trial court awarded Raines a judgment against Mr. Chitwood and Mr. Dreaden (collectively, “Defendants”) in the amount of $66,762.71. The trial court also awarded prejudgment interest at the rate of eighteen percent per annum, beginning August 14, 2007. The trial court denied Raines's claim for attorney's fees. Following a timely appeal by Defendants, this Court determined that Raines adequately proved its entitlement to the trial court's judgment of $66,762.71 against Mr. Chitwood but reversed the trial court's judgment against Mr. Dreaden. This Court modified the trial court's award of the rate of interest from eighteen percent per annum to ten percent in accordance with relevant statutory and case law.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 05/24/16
In re Malaya B. et al.
E2015-01880-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W.Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal arises from the termination of Mother’s parental rights. Mother’s two children were removed from Mother on an emergency basis. A court later adjudicated the children dependent and neglected based on the stipulation of Mother. After the children had been in State custody for nearly eight months, the Department of Children’s Services petitioned to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Following a trial, the juvenile court found that two statutory grounds existed to terminate Mother’s rights—substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan and persistent conditions. The court also concluded that the termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. Mother appeals, arguing that the evidence was not clear and convincing that there were statutory grounds for termination or that termination was in the children’s best interest. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/24/16
In Re Navada N., et al.
M2015-01400-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna Scott Davenport

Both Mother and Father appeal the trial court’s decision to terminate their parental rights to two children. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence supporting several grounds against each parent and also found that termination was in the children’s best interest. With respect to the grounds for termination, we reverse in part, vacate in part, and affirm in part. Additionally, we affirm the trial court’s determination that termination is in the children’s best interest, and therefore, affirm the termination of both Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the children at issue. 

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 05/23/16
In re Estate of Calvert Hugh Fletcher
M2015-01297-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven D. Qualls

This appeal stems from probate proceedings in the Putnam County Probate Court. During the course of the trial proceedings, an issue arose as to the ownership of a certificate of deposit titled in the decedent’s name. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court entered an order concluding that the certificate of deposit was, in fact, the property of the decedent’s estate. On appeal, the decedent’s surviving wife argues that because the funds within the certificate of deposit were derived from a joint marital account, they should have been impressed as entireties property. We agree and conclude that the funds in the certificate of deposit passed to the surviving wife upon the decedent’s death. The judgment of the trial court is accordingly reversed.  

Putnam County Court of Appeals 05/23/16
In re Sophia P.
M2015-01978-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

This is an appeal from the trial court’s denial of a petition for adoption and termination of parental rights filed by the minor child’s maternal grandmother and step-grandfather. During the trial court proceedings, the minor child’s natural father sought to have his paternity and parenting rights established. When the trial court denied the termination petition, it ordered the natural parents to attempt to agree upon a parenting plan. The trial court noted that it would enter a permanent parenting plan on its own if the parents could not reach an agreement. Because the record transmitted to us does not indicate that the trial court ever entered a permanent parenting plan, there is an absence of a final judgment in this case. We therefore dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/23/16
Jeffery Walton v. Tennessee Department of Correction, et al.
W2015-01336-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

Appellant, an inmate at a state prison operated by a private contractor, filed the underlying pro se petition for a writ of certiorari to challenge the result of a disciplinary proceeding against him. The trial court dismissed the petition against the private contractor's employees on the ground that these employees could not impose punishment on the inmate under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 41-24-110(5) and were, thus, not proper parties to the petition. As to the Appellee Tennessee Department of Correction, the trial court dismissed the petition, finding that the board had not acted illegally, arbitrarily, or fraudulently and that the inmate had not stated a claim for violation of due process. We affirm and remand.

Hardeman County Court of Appeals 05/23/16
In re Addison P.
E2015-02102-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on grounds of abandonment by willful failure to visit and wanton disregard. Because the trial court entered an order during the proceedings that excluded wanton disregard as a ground and this ground was not tried by implied consent, we reverse the trial court's finding of wanton disregard. In addition, the trial court failed to make any finding that Mother's failure to visit the child was willful. Accordingly, we vacate this ground and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 05/20/16
Jon R. Ross v. Anna L. Rosswoods
M2015-01475-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

This appeal involves a post-divorce parental relocation. The mother notified the father that she intended to relocate outside of Tennessee with the parties’ minor son. The father filed a petition opposing the relocation on the grounds that it would not be in the child’s best interest; the petition was filed outside the 30-day filing period set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-108. The trial court excused the untimely filing of the father’s petition, reasoning that the mother waived the defense by failing to plead it as an affirmative defense. After a hearing, the court found that the mother’s proposed move would not be in the child’s best interest. The mother now appeals. We conclude that the mother was not required to raise the untimely filing as an affirmative defense. Because the father failed to file a written petition opposing the mother’s relocation within 30 days of receiving notice of her proposed relocation, the trial court erred in conducting any further analysis under Section 36-6-108. We therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for such further proceedings as may be necessary and consistent with this Opinion.
 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/19/16
Lawrence Joseph Wilkerson, III v. Charlene Monique Wilkerson
M2014-02412-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

This appeal arises from post-divorce efforts to modify a permanent parenting plan. Mother filed a petition in which she requested a modification to the permanent parenting plan. Father filed a counter-petition in which he requested to be named the primary residential parent of their children. The trial court found that Father failed to prove a material change in circumstance as necessary to change the primary residential parent designation and that Mother failed to prove a material change in circumstance as necessary to modify the permanent parenting plan. After reviewing the record, we find the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding that there was no material change in circumstance sufficient to modify the residential parenting schedule. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.
 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/19/16
In re Charles K. Jr., et al.
M2015-00714-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

This appeal involves the termination of a mother and father’s parental rights to their children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of each parent’s rights on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to visit, abandonment based upon each parent’s conduct prior to incarceration that exhibited a wanton disregard for the children’s welfare, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court further found that termination was in the best interest of the children. The parents appeal. We affirm the judgment of the trial court as modified in this opinion.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/19/16
Donna Faye Shipley Ex Rel. Frank Shipley v. Robin Williams
M2014-02279-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Health care liability action filed in November 2002 in which patient alleges that physician was negligent in failing to assess her condition, failing to provide proper medical care, failing to admit her to the hospital or refer her to another doctor, and failing to properly follow-up with her. The trial court granted summary judgment on all claims and, following an appeal to this court in which we reversed the grant of summary judgment on all claims, the Supreme Court reinstated summary judgment on the failure to admit claim and remanded the case for trial on the remaining claims. On remand, on the patient’s motion, the trial court set aside the summary judgment on the failure to admit claim, applying the “substantially different evidence” exception to the law of the case doctrine; following further discovery, the court reinstated summary judgment on that claim. After a trial, the jury found that the physician did not breach the standard of care and judgment was entered in her favor. Patient appeals, contending that the court erred in granting partial summary judgment on the failure to admit claim in 2006 and in reinstating the claim on remand; in restricting and excluding certain evidence at trial; in allowing evidence designed to shift blame from the physician to the patient and others; and in awarding sanctions against counsel for the patient. Finding no error or abuse of discretion, we affirm the judgment in all respects.
     

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/19/16