Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 10/15/2021
Format: 10/15/2021
Udo R. Liell v. Paul Stich
M2020-01071-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

When negotiations over the sale of a boat broke down, the prospective seller and buyer sued each other. Before their claims came to trial, the parties agreed to voluntarily dismiss their claims without prejudice and to try mediation. The agreement provided that, if mediation failed, claims must be refiled within one year of the effective date of the agreement. The buyer refiled his claims against the seller just over one year after the effective date of the agreement but within one year of the dismissal of the original case. The trial court granted the seller’s motion to dismiss, concluding the buyer’s claims were time-barred under the parties’ agreement. We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/14/21
Shahnaz Poursaied v. Tennessee Board of Nursing
M2020-01235-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J.B. Cox

Tennessee’s Department of Health (“TDH” or “the Department”) sought reciprocal revocation of a registered nurse’s Tennessee license after her registered nurse license was revoked in California.  After a hearing on the matter, which the nurse did not attend, the Tennessee Board of Nursing (“Board”) entered a default judgment against the nurse and revoked her Tennessee license.  The nurse appealed to the chancery court and brought an action for damages against the Board.  The chancery court affirmed the Board’s decision and dismissed the nurse’s action for damages.  The nurse then appealed to this Court. We affirm the chancery court in all respects.

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 10/14/21
Paul Zachary Moss v. Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board
W2017-01813-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

This appeal arises from a petition for judicial review of a decision of the Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board. The appellant was a firefighter and paramedic and was terminated from his employment after he was involved in a physical altercation at a political rally. After a hearing, the Board upheld his termination. The appellant then sought judicial review in chancery court. After reviewing the administrative record, the chancery court likewise upheld termination. On appeal, this Court concluded that the decision upholding the appellant’s termination should be reversed due to a violation of his due process rights. The Tennessee Supreme Court found no due process violation and reversed the decision of this Court, remanding for consideration of alternative arguments raised by the appellant that were deemed pretermitted in our previous opinion. Having carefully considered the appellant’s alternative arguments, we affirm the chancery court’s rulings on some issues but ultimately must vacate in part the decision upholding termination and remand for further proceedings before the Board.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/14/21
Matthew Keith Hubbard v. Claiborne County Board of Education Et Al.
E2020-00517-COA-Rr3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Elizabeth C. Asbury

A tenured teacher appealed his dismissal for unprofessional conduct and insubordination. He contended that the decision of the Board of Education lacked sufficient evidentiary support. The teacher also contended that the decision was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of his constitutional and statutory rights. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision. Upon review, we conclude that the teacher received pre-termination notice of the charges and evidence against him. And the Board complied with the procedural framework in the Tenure Act. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-5-512 (2020). The evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings that the teacher was guilty of unprofessional conduct and insubordination. We further conclude that the teacher failed to establish that the Board’s decision was arbitrary or in violation of statutory or constitutional rights. So we affirm.

Claiborne County Court of Appeals 10/13/21
Kacy Collums Davis v. Richard E. Davis, Jr.
W2019-02245-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

In this divorce case, Richard E. Davis, Jr. (“Husband”) challenges the trial court’s division of the marital estate, the award of spousal support and attorney’s fees to Kacy Collums Davis (“Wife”), and the trial court’s designation of Wife as primary residential parent. Wife asserts that the trial court erred in its division of the marital estate, in declining to award her 100% of her attorney’s fees, in denying her motion to disqualify the guardian ad litem, in awarding the parties equal parenting time, and in calculating Husband’s income for child support purposes. We modify the division of the marital estate (1) to correct a miscalculation, agreed by the parties to have been a clerical error in the trial court’s order, counting Wife’s retirement account twice; and (2) to reflect that Wife shall be responsible for the debt for her first attorney’s fees, which is secured by a lien on the marital residence. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/13/21
Thomas A. Smythe v. Fourth Avenue Church Of Christ, Inc.
M2020-01190-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

This appeal involves a contract issue concerning a purported addendum to a land purchase and sale agreement. The trial court granted the seller’s motion for summary judgment holding that there was no mutual assent on at least one material term: whether the modification would include a new date-certain deadline for the diligence period or be openended. The buyer appeals. We affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/13/21
Kodi Gail Knight v. The City of Fairview, Williamson County, Tennessee
M2020-01433-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

This appeal concerns a police officer’s termination. Kodi Gail Knight (“Knight”) was a police officer for the City of Fairview, Tennessee (“Fairview”). After an August 2019 incident in which Knight struck a handcuffed woman (“the Arrestee”) in the face, Fairview police chief Zack Humphreys (“Chief Humphreys”) submitted a request to City Manager Scott Collins (“the City Manager”) that Knight be terminated. The City Manager sent Knight a termination letter. Knight requested, and was granted, a pre-dismissal hearing before the City Manager. Following this hearing, the City Manager affirmed the decision to terminate Knight. Knight filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Chancery Court for Williamson County (“the Trial Court”). The Trial Court affirmed Fairview’s termination of Knight. Knight appeals, arguing among other things that his procedural due process rights were violated because the City Manager both drafted his termination letter and presided over his pre-dismissal hearing. We find that Knight was an at-will employee who lacked a property interest entitling him to procedural due process protection. We also find that the City Manager’s decision was supported by substantial and material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor capricious. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/12/21
Gary W. Garrett v. Tony Parker
M2020-01742-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This is the second action in which the petitioner, an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Corrections (“TDOC”), seeks good sentence credits and prisoner performance credits. The trial court dismissed the present action, filed in 2019, in accordance with Rule 12.02(6) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, determining that res judicata barred the suit. The decision was based on the following findings: the petitioner did not assert that the Davidson County Chancery Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case in the prior action, filed in 2005, “the same parties were involved in both . . . suit[s],” both cases “arose out of the same transaction or series of connected transactions” between the same parties, and “the [prior] suit resulted in a final judgment on the merits . . . .” We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/12/21
Hal Eugene Hill v. Liesa Francine Hill
E2019-02226-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence H. Puckett

In this post-divorce action, the trial court awarded a judgment in the amount of $13,835.17 to the father, representing the mother’s retroactive child support obligation. When calculating the mother’s child support arrearage, the trial court declined to include the father’s inheritance as income for child support calculation purposes because the father had used the majority of his inherited funds to pay private school tuition for the parties’ two children. The court further awarded to the father attorney’s fees and costs in the amount of $18,394.00 related to a previous child custody modification action. The mother has appealed. Discerning reversible error, we vacate the trial court’s child support award and remand the child support issue to the trial court for further proceedings to determine whether a modification was warranted and if so, the appropriate amount of child support to be awarded pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines (“the Guidelines”). We also vacate the trial court’s determination concerning civil contempt and remand that issue to the trial court as well.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 10/12/21
John William Owens v. Meredith Elizabeth Owens
E2021-00608-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Mark Stokes

Issues regarding an award of attorney fees remain pending, so the order appealed from does not constitute a final appealable judgment. As such, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Meigs County Court of Appeals 10/11/21
In Re Amora S.
E2021-00338-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice H. Snider

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights. The child was placed into the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) in May 2019. DCS subsequently filed a petition to terminate the father’s parental rights in the Hamblen County Juvenile Court (“Juvenile Court”). Following trial, the Juvenile Court entered an order terminating the father’s parental rights to the child, upon its finding by clear and convincing evidence that the father had failed to manifest an ability and willingness to parent the child, that returning the child to the father’s custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to the child’s psychological welfare, and that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 10/08/21
Robert C. Pelt, Et Al. v. Richard E. Benjamin Et Al.
M2020-01068-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Charles K. Smith

This case concerns an alleged contract for the sale of real property. Although a prior written offer regarding the property expired pursuant to its stated terms when it was not timely accepted, the trial court held that there was an oral agreement to extend the expiration date for acceptance and concluded that the Statute of Frauds did not serve as an impediment to enforcement of the parties’ alleged contract when the plaintiffs, the appellees herein, filed suit to enforce it. The trial court also concluded that no damages should be awarded under former Tennessee Code Annotated section 66-21-108 to the defendants, who had asserted a slander of title claim in the trial court. The defendants now appeal, challenging both the trial court’s contract law analysis and its decision to not award them statutory damages. Although we reverse the trial court’s judgment with respect to the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim, we affirm its refusal to award the defendants statutory damages for the reasons stated herein.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 10/07/21
Tennesseans For Sensible Election Laws v. Herbert H. Slatery, III Et Al.
M2020-01292-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lye

This is an action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief that challenges the constitutionality of Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-142, which criminalizes the publication of false statements opposing a political candidate. The complaint was filed by a political campaign committee that engages in direct advocacy for and against political candidates. The defendants, the Tennessee Attorney General and the District Attorney General for the 20th Judicial District of Tennessee, contended the action should be dismissed, inter alia, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the campaign committee lacked standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statute. The trial court found that the committee had standing because it faced a credible threat of prosecution and, acting upon the campaign committee’s motion for summary judgment, the trial court held that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-142 contravenes the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 19 of the Tennessee Constitution. The court also awarded the campaign committee its attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(c) as the prevailing party. We have determined the campaign committee failed to establish that it had standing to challenge the constitutionality of Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-19-142; therefore, we hold that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to rule on the matter. For these reasons, we vacate the judgment of the trial court, including the award of attorney’s fees to the campaign committee, and remand with instructions to dismiss.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/07/21
Emergency Medical Care Facilities, P.C. v. Division Of Tenncare, Et Al.
M2020-01358-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This appeal involves a reimbursement limitation that TennCare imposed on “non-emergent” medical services provided by emergency department physicians. TennCare informed its managed care organizations of the reimbursement limitation via email without engaging in rule-making procedures outlined in the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (“UAPA”). The trial court concluded the reimbursement limitation was a “rule” subject to the rule-making requirements of the UAPA and invalidated the reimbursement limitation. We hold that the reimbursement limitation falls within the internal management exception of the 2009 version of the UAPA and was therefore not subject to the UAPA’s rule-making requirements. The ruling of the trial court is reversed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/07/21
In Re Elijah H.
M2020-01548-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles B. Tatum

This termination of parental rights case focuses on Elijah H. (“the Child”), the minor child of Amanda H. (“Mother”) and Kevin W. (“Father”).  In March 2019, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father in the Wilson County Juvenile Court (“trial court”).  The Child had previously been removed from Mother’s custody after he was born exposed to drugs.  Father was incarcerated prior to the Child’s birth and has remained so continuously since that time, awaiting trial for pending criminal charges, including first degree murder.  During a bench trial, Mother voluntarily surrendered her parental rights to the Child. At the conclusion of the bench trial, the trial court terminated Father’s parental rights to the Child, finding by clear and convincing evidence that Father had abandoned the Child by exhibiting wanton disregard for the Child’s welfare prior to Father’s incarceration and that Father had failed to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of or financial responsibility for the Child.  The trial court further found by clear and convincing evidence that it was in the Child’s best interest to terminate Father’s parental rights.  Father has appealed.   Having determined that DCS presented insufficient evidence that Father knew of the Child’s existence at the time of his criminal behavior, we reverse the trial court’s finding that Father abandoned the Child by exhibiting wanton disregard for the Child’s welfare.  We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of Father’s parental rights.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 10/06/21
Ralph Junior Lowe v. Roy Province et al.
E2020-01133-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

This appeal concerns the administration of a husband and wife’s intestate estates, consisting of several tracts of real property that the husband and wife owned as tenants by the entirety. They were both found deceased in their home several days after they had died. The wife’s heir at law, her brother, filed a petition seeking a declaration that the husband died first, that the wife, as the survivor, owned the real property at her death, and it passed to her heir at law. The husband’s heirs at law responded to the petition, contending the evidence was not sufficient to prove that the couple died in any order other than simultaneously. The only witness at the trial was the medical examiner who conducted the autopsies. He testified that it was more probable than not that the husband died first based on the causes of death and medical histories of the spouses. After considering the expert witness testimony, the trial court concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to prove that the husband and wife died otherwise than simultaneously. This appeal followed. Having determined that the trial court was not bound by the medical examiner’s speculative opinion as to who died first, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/05/21
Larry E. Parrish, P.C. v. Nancy J. Strong
M2020-01145-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

This is but the latest appeal in what has been a prolonged course of litigation between the parties. In a prior appeal, this Court ruled in favor of Ms. Strong on all issues raised by the professional corporation and also held, among other things, that an injunction regarding disputed funds in the case should be dissolved. On remand, the trial court accordingly dissolved the injunction and ordered the court’s Clerk & Master to pay the disputed fund proceeds to Ms. Strong and her attorneys. The professional corporation now appeals from this decision. We affirm and hold that the funds should be immediately disbursed to Ms. Strong pursuant to the trial court’s order. Further, finding the professional corporation’s appeal to be frivolous under Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-1-122, we remand the case for a determination of Ms. Strong’s damages incurred on appeal.

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 09/30/21
James G. Akers v. Dyck-O'Neal, Inc. Et Al.
M2021-00063-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Appellant sought an injunction to stop foreclosure on real property. Appellees, the lienholder, the lienholder’s law firm, and the substitute trustee, filed motions to dismiss, which the trial court granted. After Appellant filed this appeal, Appellee lienholder filed a release of its lien on the subject property. As such, Appellant’s appeal is moot, and the appeal is dismissed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/21
Ronald Moore v. Tennessee Board of Parole
M2020-00982-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal

An inmate petitioned for a writ of certiorari after the Tennessee Board of Parole denied him parole. The Board moved to dismiss the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court concluded that, in the absence of a verification attesting to the truth of the contents of the petition and proper notarization of the petition, it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. So the court dismissed the petition. We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/21
William Green v. Timothy Thomas Et Al.
M2021-01140-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael E. Spitzer

This is an appeal from an order dismissing an inmate’s petition for common law writ of certiorari.  Because the inmate did not file his notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the order as required by Rule 4(a) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, we dismiss the appeal.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 09/30/21
In Re Madylynn C. Et Al.
M2021-00184-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Meise

This is a termination of parental rights case.  Appellants, the children’s biological mother and father, appeal the trial court’s termination of their respective parental rights to the four children on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by an incarcerated parent by wanton disregard, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(iv); (2) substantial non-compliance with the requirements of the permanency plans, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2); (3) persistence of the conditions that led to the children’s removal, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3)(A); (4) severe child abuse, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4); and (5) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody, Tenn. Code Ann. §36-1-113(g)(14).  Appellants also appeal the trial court’s determination that termination of their respective parental rights is in the children’s best interest.  Discerning no error, we affirm.

Dickson County Court of Appeals 09/30/21
Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB Et Al. v. Thomas S. Jackson
E2021-00300-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

This appeal arises from an action for default on a promissory note. Wilmington Savings Fund Society, FSB, as certificate trustee on behalf of Bosco Credit II Trust Series 2010-1 (“Plaintiff”), filed suit against Thomas S. Jackson (“Defendant”) in the Chancery Court for Sevier County (the “trial court”), alleging causes of action for breach of contract and unjust enrichment arising from a note executed in 2006. Defendant moved the trial court for summary judgment, alleging that he defaulted on the note in 2007 and that the property was foreclosed in 2008. Defendant averred that Plaintiff’s cause of action accrued when Defendant’s remaining debt was accelerated in 2008 and that Plaintiff’s cause of action was therefore time-barred by Tennessee’s six-year statute of limitations on breach of contract actions. Plaintiff responded to Defendant’s motion but failed to cite to any facts in the record that created a dispute as to Defendant’s statements and failed to produce any countervailing evidence. Accordingly, the trial court granted Defendant’s motion and Plaintiff filed a timely appeal to this Court. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 09/30/21
In Re Allainah B.
M2020-01381-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas C. Faris

Cara S. and Bradley S. (together, “Petitioners”) sought termination of the parental rights of Austin B. (“Father”) as to Father’s daughter, Allainah B. (the “Child”).  Following a bench trial, the Juvenile Court for Franklin County (the “trial court”) found four statutory bases for termination of Father’s parental rights and further concluded that termination was in the Child’s best interest.  Father appealed to this Court.  We conclude that the trial court’s decision should be affirmed as to three statutory grounds for termination and vacated as to the fourth ground.  We also conclude that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the Child’s best interest.  The ultimate holding of the trial court is therefore affirmed. 

Franklin County Court of Appeals 09/29/21
Kimberly Johnson Dougherty v. M.E. Buck Dougherty, III
W2021-01014-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha B. Brasfield

This accelerated interlocutory appeal is taken from the trial court’s order denying Appellant’s motion for recusal. Because there is no evidence of bias that would require recusal under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Fayette County Court of Appeals 09/29/21
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Larry E. Parrish, P.C. v. The Honorable James B. Cox Et Al.
M2021-00029-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

Appellant brought a mandamus action in the trial court praying that the court would mandate certain actions related to other litigation involving Appellant. The trial court dismissed the action. We affirm the court’s dismissal and, finding the appeal to be frivolous pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-1-122, remand the case for a determination of Appellees’ damages incurred as a result of the appeal.

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 09/29/21