Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 08/20/2019
Format: 08/20/2019
Pamela Dallas v. Shelby County Board of Education
W2018-01661-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

Dismissed teacher filed an action against the school board under the Teacher Tenure Act, or alternatively, under the Continuing Contract Law. The board of education filed a motion for summary judgment as to both claims, which the trial court ultimately granted. We conclude that the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment under the Teacher Tenure Act because the plaintiff teacher was not tenured at the time of her dismissal. However, we reverse the grant of summary judgment on the plaintiff teacher’s claim under the Continuing Contract Law.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/19/19
B.W. Byrd Metal Fabricators, Inc. v. Alcoa, Inc.
E2018-01750-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

This appeal involves a lease agreement for the storage of a friction welding/joiner machine. The original agreement was entered into by John F. Humphrey Metal Fabricators, Inc. and Aluminum Company of America. B. W. Byrd Metal Fabricators, Inc. is the successor in interest to John F. Humphrey Metal Fabricators, Inc. and Aluminum Company of America was formerly known as Alcoa, Inc. The trial court awarded to the plaintiff rent payments for the months of May and June 2012, plus interest at 1.5% per month, but it found that the plaintiff had failed to submit invoices to put the defendant on notice of a debt and neglected to mitigate its damages. The plaintiff appeals. We affirm in part and reverse in part and remand for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 08/19/19
Jeremy Paul Barmmer v. Joy Denise Staininger
E2018-02058-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carter Scott Moore

This post-divorce appeal involves the trial court’s denial of a petition for modification of the parenting plan. Having carefully reviewed the record before us, we hold that the evidence supports the parenting plan determination and other rulings made by the court.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 08/19/19
Eric Dubuclet v. Tennessee Department of Human Services
M2018-01309-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

The Tennessee Department of Human Services denied Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to a two-person household based upon its determination that the household’s income exceeded the eligibility requirements.  After a final order was entered by the Department, the household petitioned the Chancery Court of Davidson County for review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322.  The Chancellor affirmed the decision of the agency and dismissed the petition for judicial review; the household appeals the decision.  Upon our review, we affirm, finding that the Department’s decision was not in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions, arbitrary or capricious, in excess of statutory authority, made upon unlawful procedure, or unsupported by substantial and material evidence.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/16/19
Marilyn Kay Anderson v. James Cephas Anderson
M2018-01248-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

This appeal arises from a divorce. All the issues pertain to the classification, valuation, and equitable division of three large tracts of land. Husband acquired two of the tracts before the marriage: a 197-acre tract and a 103-acre tract. Both of these tracts were used in Husband’s farming operation before and during the marriage. During the marriage, Husband and Wife built their marital residence on a portion of the 197-acre tract. Husband acquired the third tract during the marriage but after the parties separated. Wife’s name is not on any of the deeds. Wife contends that the tracts Husband owned prior to the marriage transmuted into marital property. Alternatively, she contends their appreciation in value during the marriage was marital property. Wife also contends the third tract was marital property because Husband purchased it with marital funds from their joint bank account during the marriage. The trial court classified the 197-acre tract and the 103-acre tract as Husband’s separate property and held that none of the land transmuted into marital property. The trial court also concluded that Wife was not entitled to an interest in the appreciation of the properties because she did not substantially contribute to their maintenance or increase in value. The trial court classified the marital residence—that being the improvement but not any of the land associated with the marital residence—as marital property. As for the tract Husband acquired during the marriage, the court ruled that it was Husband’s separate property because Husband purchased it with his separate funds. This appeal followed. Based on the parties’ treatment and use of some of the 197-acre tract on Highland Road as their marital residence, it is evident that the parties intended for some portion of the land to transmute into marital property. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s determination that the entire 197-acre tract remained Husband’s separate property and remand for the trial court to identify that portion of the land the parties treated and used as part of their marital residence, classify that land as marital property, and determine its value. Based on this change of classification, the trial court should also consider whether the change in value necessitates a revision of the equitable division of the marital estate and, if so, enter judgment accordingly. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 08/16/19
Scripps Media, Inc., Et Al. v. Tennessee Department of Mental Health And Substance Abuse Services, Et Al.
M2018-02011-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This appeal concerns a request for public records. Phil Williams (“Mr. Williams”), a reporter, requested records from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (“TDMHSAS”) and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) (“the State,” collectively) concerning an alleged affair between two State officials that may have involved public funds. The State refused on the basis that the records were part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Mr. Williams and his employer, Scripps Media, Inc. (“Scripps”), (“Petitioners,” collectively) then filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) seeking the records via the Tennessee Public Records Act (“the TPRA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-101 et seq. Before the petition was heard, the investigation ended and the State produced the records. The Trial Court found the public interest exception applied notwithstanding the petition’s mootness and determined that the records were exempted from disclosure by Tenn. R. Crim. P. 16. Petitioners appealed. As did the Trial Court, we find this to be a matter of public interest warranting resolution even though moot. We hold that non-investigative public records made in the ordinary course of business, capable of being accessed from their inception by citizens of Tennessee, do not become exempt from disclosure because of the initiation of a criminal investigation in which they become relevant. Finding the State’s legal argument reasonable although erroneous, we decline Petitioners’ request for attorney’s fees under the TPRA. We affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the judgment of the Trial Court. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/16/19
Daniel Harvey, et al. v. Shelby County, Tennessee, et al.
W2018-01747-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

Plaintiffs filed a complaint against multiple governmental entities for flood damages to their property. Each defendant filed a pre-trial motion to dismiss and/or a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment, finding that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Plaintiffs appeal. For the reasons stated herein, the decision of the trial court is affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/16/19
In Re C.M. Et Al.
E2018-02108-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dwight E. Stokes

M.O. (mother) and K.M. (father) appeal from the trial court’s order terminating their parental rights with respect to C.M. and M.M. (the children). The court determined that clear and convincing evidence supported multiple grounds for terminating mother and father’s parental rights. By the same quantum of proof, the court determined that termination is in the best interest of the children. We affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 08/14/19
Milan Suppy Chain Solutions, Inc. f/k/a Milan Express, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc., et al.
W2018-00084-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

This appeal involves a jury verdict in a commercial dispute pertaining to the quality of trucks purchased by the plaintiff, Milan Supply Chain Solutions, Inc. Contending that the purchased trucks were defective, Milan filed suit against Navistar, Inc. and Volunteer International, Inc., alleging various legal claims, including breach of contract, violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, and fraud. Although some of Milan’s claims were dismissed prior to trial, the remaining fraud and Tennessee Consumer Protection Act claims were tried before a jury. Defendant Volunteer International, Inc. was granted a directed verdict upon the conclusion of Milan’s proof and later awarded attorney’s fees, but a monetary judgment for both compensatory and punitive damages was entered against Navistar, Inc. The parties now appeal, raising a plethora of issues for our consideration. For the reasons stated herein, including our conclusion that the asserted fraud claims are barred by the economic loss doctrine, we reverse the judgment awarded to Milan. We affirm, however, the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees in favor of Volunteer International, Inc.

Madison County Court of Appeals 08/14/19
In Re Estate of Rickie Charles Vaughn - Dissenting in part
W2018-01600-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kathleen N. Gomes

I must respectfully dissent from the majority’s decision that Appellant’s April 12, 2018, post-judgment motion should be treated as a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 59.04 motion to alter or amend the judgment so as to extend the time for filing his notice of appeal under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b).

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/14/19
In Re Estate of Rickie Charles Vaughn
W2018-01600-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kathleen N. Gomes

An alleged child of the decedent sought to establish paternity and thereby inherit through intestate succession. The probate court concluded that the child should be excluded as an heir as a result of his failure to timely assert a claim. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/14/19
Angela M. Gunter v. Estate of Jaime B. Armstrong Et Al.
E2018-01473-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

This appeal presents the issue of whether an employer can be held liable for the tortious harm its employee inflicted on a third party during an automobile accident when that accident occurred after the employee departed her workplace but prior to the end of her work shift. The trial court entered an order granting summary judgment in favor of the employer. The third-party plaintiff has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 08/12/19
Dana Darnell v. Mark Darnell
E2018-02007-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This appeal arose from the parties’ divorce proceedings. After approximately five years of marriage, Dana Darnell (“Wife”) filed a complaint in September 2017 with the Bradley County Chancery Court (“Trial Court”), seeking a divorce from Mark Darnell (“Husband”). Following trial, the Trial Court granted the parties a divorce, classified the parties’ property, and divided the marital property and debts. Determining that Wife’s savings account should have been classified as marital property due to commingling, we reverse the trial court’s classification that such account was Wife’s separate property and award Husband one-half of the funds in Wife’s savings account. We affirm the Trial Court’s distribution of the remaining marital assets.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 08/12/19
Marlon Cooper v. City of Memphis Civil Service Commission
W2018-01112-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

A lieutenant with the Memphis Fire Department was terminated after a positive drug test. Although this termination was upheld by the Civil Service Commission, the Shelby County Chancery Court later reversed the termination and ordered that the lieutenant be reinstated to his previous employment. For the reasons stated herein, we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/12/19
Lawrence Wooden v. Club Epic, et al.
W2018-00952-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

This appeal arises from the trial court’s denial of relief from an order of dismissal for lack of prosecution. The trial court entered its final order on June 21, 2016. On June 1, 2017, plaintiff electronically filed a motion for relief pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 due to mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect, but it was rejected and not filed because it did not comply with the e-filing rules of the Circuit Court for the Thirtieth Judicial District. Plaintiff filed a second motion for relief on December 28, 2017. Having determined that plaintiff’s second motion was not timely filed, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/12/19
Regina Smith v. Benihana National Corp.
W2018-00992-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

In 2010, Decedent became ill while dining at the Benihana restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee; despite being transported to the hospital, Decedent quickly died. Surviving relatives of Decedent thereafter filed suit against the restaurant alleging, inter alia, that the restaurant negligently served Decedent seafood or shellfish in spite of a known allergy. After several years of pretrial disputes, the case eventually proceeded to a jury trial. The jury determined that the restaurant was not liable for the death of Decedent and awarded the plaintiffs no damages. The plaintiffs filed no post-trial motions, but filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court. Discerning no error in the jury’s verdict and concluding that several of the issues raised on appeal are waived, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/09/19
Simeon T. Trendafilov v. William E. Bitterman
E2018-01289-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

This appeal follows a jury trial in which the plaintiff was awarded $6,500 for damage to his automobile. The plaintiff raises several issues for our consideration. Two of the issues pertain to pretrial evidentiary rulings made by the trial court; however, the plaintiff failed to raise these issues in his motion for new trial. Because the plaintiff failed to raise these issues in his motion for new trial, they are waived under Rule 3 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The remaining issues concern whether the trial court properly admitted the defendant’s valuation evidence at trial and whether the evidence at trial was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict. Although the plaintiff raised these issues in his motion for new trial, he failed to provide this court with a transcript of the evidence or a statement of the evidence. Without a fair and accurate record of what transpired at trial, we are unable conduct a review of these issues. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in all respects.

Knox County Court of Appeals 08/09/19
Phillip Isaacs, Jr., Et Al. v. Brennon Fitzpatrick, Et Al.
M2018-01863-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

This appeal involves a dispute between neighboring landowners over the use of a driveway that crosses the land of a third neighbor. Two of these landowners were previously involved in a separate lawsuit that resulted in an agreed declaratory judgment establishing an easement for one landowner at the location of the driveway. In the case at bar, the trial court found that the prior declaratory judgment is not binding on the neighboring landowners who were not parties to that earlier proceeding. After a two-day bench trial and on-site view of the premises, the trial court found that these neighbors had established an easement implied from prior use, and alternatively, an easement implied by necessity, enabling them to use the driveway as well. The other landowner, who was granted an easement by the earlier agreed order, has appealed, insisting that he has the exclusive right to use the driveway. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the chancery court.

Perry County Court of Appeals 08/08/19
William L. Boone v. Town of Collierville
W2018-02005-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter L. Evans

After the dismissal of his federal action, plaintiff filed a state court action alleging a violation of the Public Employee Political Freedom Act. The defendant city thereafter filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that because plaintiff’s action was against a state entity, plaintiff could not rely on the saving statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-115. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss but granted an interlocutory appeal. We granted the application for interlocutory appeal and now reverse the decision of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/08/19
James Russell Vaughn, Jr. v. Sandra Pierce Vaughn
E2018-00794-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William K. Rogers

Husband and wife were divorced in 2004. The parties’ marital dissolution agreement obligated husband to pay wife $950 a month in alimony. Husband failed to make payments for over ten years. In 2015, wife filed a motion for contempt and order for body attachment seeking to recover the alimony arrearages. At trial, husband argued that the equitable doctrines of laches, waiver, and unclean hands barred wife’s claim. The trial court disagreed and awarded wife $114,000 in past due alimony and $1,000 in attorney’s fees. Husband appeals. We affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 08/06/19
Gary Lee Odom v. Rachel Lea Zamata Odom
M2018-00405-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

Two days before the parties’ divorce trial, wife discharged her attorney. Her attorney then moved to withdraw. One day before trial, wife moved pro se for recusal of the trial judge. On the morning of trial, the court denied the wife’s recusal motion and granted her attorney’s motion to withdraw. Wife was not present. After confirming that wife had notice of the date, the court proceeded with the trial. In the final decree, the court granted husband a divorce, classified and divided the marital property, and awarded husband a portion of his attorney’s fees. On appeal, we conclude that the trial court did not err in denying wife’s recusal motion, allowing her attorney to withdraw, or conducting the trial in her absence. But the court did err in awarding husband attorney’s fees as alimony in solido. So we reverse the court’s award of attorney’s fees as alimony in solido. In all other respects, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/05/19
In Re Keagan P.
E2019-00055-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tammy M. Harrington

A trial court terminated a father’s parental rights on the basis of abandonment by failure to visit and substantial noncompliance with a permanency plan. The father appealed, and we affirm the termination.

Blount County Court of Appeals 08/05/19
In Re: K.S.
E2018-02274-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

The Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of S.M. (mother) with respect to her child, K.S. The trial court determined that clear and convincing evidence supported multiple grounds for terminating mother’s parental rights. By the same quantum of proof, the court determined that termination is in the best interest of the child. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 08/02/19
Donna L. Stearns-Smith v. James Ronnie Smith
M2017-01902-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Franklin L. Russell

After Wife filed for divorce from her husband, the parties stipulated to an equitable division of personal property and to the grounds for divorce.  The court conducted a trial to resolve questions surrounding the classification and division of two parcels of improved real property and Wife’s requests for alimony and attorney’s fees.  The trial court determined one parcel of real property was separate property while the other was marital and provided for its division.  The court also awarded Wife alimony in solido and attorney’s fees.  On appeal, Husband challenges the classification and division of the real property and the awards of alimony and attorney’s fees.  We conclude that the court erred in calculating the amounts due from Husband to Wife to accomplish its division of marital property, so we modify the judgment in that respect.  Otherwise, because of a failure to fully comply with Rule 7 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Husband’s issues related to the classification, valuation, and division of property are deemed waived.  As to the remaining issues, we affirm the award of lump sum alimony in solido but reverse the award of attorney’s fees as alimony in solido.  

Bedford County Court of Appeals 07/31/19
Michael Cobble Et Al. v. Greene County, Tennessee Et Al.
E2018-02017-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This case involves an action by the petitioner landowners disputing the grant of a zoning variance to their neighbors, the respondent landowners, for the construction of a carport. In a previous appeal, this Court reversed the respondent county zoning board’s grant of the variance and remanded to the trial court for collection of costs and “further proceedings consistent with this [Court’s] Opinion.” See Cobble v. Greene Cty., 559 S.W.3d 118, 127 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017), perm. app. denied (Tenn. May 16, 2018) (“Cobble I”). Our Supreme Court subsequently denied the county’s and zoning board’s application for permission to appeal, and this Court issued a mandate on the same day. On September 4, 2018, the petitioners filed a motion for discretionary costs. The county and the zoning board filed a response, asserting that the motion for discretionary costs was untimely pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.04(2). The respondent landowners also filed a response objecting to the motion. Upon finding that this Court’s mandate was dispositive of all issues and that the petitioners had failed to file their motion within the thirty days allowed by Rule 54.04(2), the trial court entered an order denying the motion for discretionary costs. The petitioners have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 07/31/19