Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 07/19/2019
Format: 07/19/2019
Vinings Bank v. Homeland Community Bank, Et Al.
M2016-02403-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

The key issue on appeal is the scope of a dragnet clause under Georgia law. Mortgagors refinanced debt secured by their real property with a new lender. Although the new lender sent the original mortgagee the requested payoff amount, the original mortgagee refused to release its deed of trust. The original mortgagee claimed that the real property was also security for other debts by virtue of an unrecorded instrument signed by one of the mortgagors that contained a dragnet clause. The mortgagee sought a declaratory judgment that its unrecorded instrument had priority over the deed of trust recorded by the new lender. The new lender counterclaimed, seeking the statutory penalty for the mortgagee’s failure to release its deed of trust and recovery of attorney’s fees and expenses. The trial court concluded that the unrecorded instrument was unenforceable and not effective as to the new lender due to a lack of actual notice. The court also ordered the original mortgagee to release its deed of trust and awarded the new lender the statutory penalty and attorney’s fees. On appeal by the original mortgagee, we conclude that the unrecorded instrument was enforceable, but under Georgia law, the dragnet clause was limited to the debts of the mortgagor who signed the instrument. Because of the lack of actual notice, the unrecorded instrument was not effective as to the new lender. Despite the new lender being a defendant in the declaratory judgment action, the new lender’s counterclaim for the statutory penalty entitled it to an award of attorney’s fees. We affirm the decision of the trial court as modified.

White County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
Check Printers, Inc. v. David Gerregano, Et Al.
M2018-01030-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This case involves the Commissioner of Revenue for the State of Tennessee’s audit and subsequent adjustment of sales tax due from Appellant, Check Printers, under the Tennessee Retailers Sales Tax Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-6-101, et seq. The trial court granted the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment finding that, although Appellant manufactured the disputed products in Tennessee and ultimately exported the products outside the state, under Appellant’s standard contract language, title passed to the customer in Tennessee at the time the product was tendered for shipping. Based on this intervening taxable event, i.e., the “sale,” as that term is defined in Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-6-102(80)(A), the trial court concluded that the products were not excluded from taxation under either the manufactured-for-export exemption, Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-6-313(a), or the sale-for-resale exemption, Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-6-102(75)(a). Because there is a dispute of material fact concerning whether Appellant’s sale of blow-in cards to its customer, AMI, was consummated in Tennessee, we vacate the trial court’s grant of summary judgment only as to the AMI blow-in cards; the trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
Carol Lee v. Hamilton County, Tennessee
E2018-01531-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

The plaintiff in this action is a retired employee of the defendant county. She filed a complaint in October 2009, asserting claims of negligence, breach of contract, intentional or negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty related to a county employee’s alleged faulty advice and lack of disclosure to her concerning the interplay of her disability benefits policy and her retirement plan. Upon the county’s motion, the trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the county in July 2016, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims of misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court subsequently denied the county’s motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the remaining issues. Following a bench trial in July 2018, the trial court entered a judgment awarding to the plaintiff the amount of $13,985.52. The county timely appealed. Having determined that the trial court’s final order does not sufficiently explain the legal basis upon which the money judgment was awarded, we vacate the judgment and remand to the trial court for entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law explaining the basis of the judgment or, in the alternative, reconsideration of the judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
Roy Edward Bane, Executor of the Estate of Martha Harrison Bane v. John Bane Et Al.
E2018-00790-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

The trial court granted a default judgment to the plaintiff in March 2009, which judgment invalidated a deed for real property transferred from the plaintiff to her son and daughterin- law. The trial court subsequently set aside the default judgment without making sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning the basis for the ruling. Following a consequent bench trial, the trial court upheld the deed from the plaintiff to her son, although the plaintiff sought to have the deed set aside based on undue influence and fraud. The plaintiff has appealed. Based upon our determination that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law in its order that set aside the default judgment, we vacate both the trial court’s final order and the order setting aside the default judgment. We remand this matter to the trial court for entry of sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the legal basis of the trial court’s decision to set aside the default judgment, or, in the alternative, reconsideration of that judgment.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
In Re Charlie-Lynn P., Et Al.
M2018-02285-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

This appeal concerns the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her children. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Matia P. (“Mother”) to her minor children Charlie-Lynn P. and Pharaoh P. (“the Children”). After a trial, the Juvenile Court entered an order terminating Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of failure to establish a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, and persistent conditions. The Juvenile Court also found that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. Mother appeals, arguing only that termination of her parental rights is not in the Children’s best interest because she has taken certain steps to address her mental health and domestic violence issues. We find and hold that the Juvenile Court did not err in finding that clear and convincing evidence was shown as to all three grounds. We find and hold further that, notwithstanding Mother’s purported improvements, the Juvenile Court did not err in finding by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 06/27/19
Simmons Bank v. Vastland Development Partnership
M2018-00347-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This appeal arises from a commercial lease dispute. The trial court summarily ruled that Simmons Bank, which acquired the tenant originally named in the lease in a merger, had the right to exercise a renewal option. The appellant landlord contends this was error because “(1) the plain language of the lease expressly indicated the option could only be exercised by the tenant originally named in the lease and (2) two events of default occurred [as a result of the merger] which precluded the exercise of the option under the plain terms of the lease.” The alleged events of default were that (1) the original tenant failed to “maintain its legal existence,” and (2) the original tenant transferred its interest to Simmons Bank by operation of law. We have determined that regardless of whether the lease was transferred to Simmons Bank by merger pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 48-21-108(a)(2) “without reversion or impairment,” the parties agreed to restrict any transfer of the right to renew the lease to one entity, First State Bank, “the Tenant originally named” in the lease. Accordingly, and relying on the legal principle that a statute shall not be applied to construe a contract when the parties to the contract express a contrary intention, the agreed-upon renewal restriction in the lease controls. As a consequence, Simmons Bank does not have the right to exercise the renewal option. Therefore, we reverse the grant of summary judgment to Simmons Bank and remand this case to the trial court with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of the landlord.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/27/19
Sharon Kay Middendorf v. Byron Scott Middendorf
M2018-00409-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

In this appeal, the parties were declared divorced in February 2013 when the trial court approved their marital dissolution agreement and entered a final decree of divorce; at the same time, the parties entered into a separate agreement which was to govern the transfer of the wife’s marital interest in four businesses operated by the husband. In July 2014, the husband filed a motion pursuant to Rule 60.02(5) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure to have the decree set aside. The court granted the motion and vacated the decree, reinstating the marital relationship; the court also rescinded the agreement transferring the wife’s interest in the businesses on the ground of mutual mistake. Following a trial, the court entered a final decree of divorce in 2017. Both parties appeal. Wife asserts that the trial court erred in vacating the 2013 decree, in rescinding the parties’ agreement, and in failing to award her all of the attorney’s fees she incurred at the trial court level. Husband appeals the division of the marital estate in the 2017 decree, and contends that the trial court erred when it failed to order the return of payments he made to wife pursuant to the agreement that was rescinded and alimony payments he made pursuant to the 2013 decree that was vacated. Both parties seek their attorney’s fees on appeal. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in all respects and decline to award fees on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/27/19
Fiona Eischeid Flodin v. Tan Scott Flodin
E2018-01499-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

This appeal arises from a divorce. Fiona Eischeid Flodin (“Wife”) filed for divorce from Tan Scott Flodin (“Husband”) in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”). Husband, in the latter years of the marriage, was unemployed by his choice. Husband asserted that he contributed by helping Wife with her real estate business. Wife asserted that Husband’s contributions were minimal and that he refused to work despite her urging him to get a job. After a trial, the Trial Court entered an order finding, inter alia, that Husband lived a life of leisure while Wife did the vast majority of the work both for pay and at home. The Trial Court found all the witnesses credible except Husband. The Trial Court proceeded to award Husband around 38% of the marital estate as well as six months of transitional alimony at the rate of $2,000 per month. Husband appealed. Husband argues on appeal that the Trial Court erred in its valuation of certain marital assets, in its division of the marital estate, and in not awarding him more alimony than it did. We find that the evidence does not preponderate against the Trial Court’s factual findings. The values adopted by the Trial Court as to marital assets were within the range of evidence presented. In addition, the Trial Court appropriately considered the relevant factors in its decisions regarding alimony and the marital estate. We discern no abuse of discretion or other error by the Trial Court. We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/26/19
In Re Aliyah C.
E2019-00038-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma D. McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This appeal involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her daughter. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that grounds for termination were proven and that it was in the best interest of the child to terminate parental rights. Mother appeals but only challenges whether the judgment is valid if the guardian ad litem was not present for the termination hearing. After careful review, we conclude that the presence of the guardian ad litem could not be waived by the other parties at the trial on the merits. Therefore, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 06/26/19
G.G. Ex Rel Jackie Johnson Et Al. v. Boyd-Buchanan School Et Al. - Dissenting
E2018-01912-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

John W. McClarty, J., dissenting. The majority holds that the trial court abused its discretion by entering an order that would allow the plaintiffs to discover information that is irrelevant to their breach of contract claim.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/26/19
G.G. Ex Rel. Jackie Johnson Et Al. v. Boyd-Buchanan School Et Al.
E2018-01912-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

This interlocutory appeal involves a discovery dispute. G.G., an eighth-grade student, was expelled from Boyd-Buchanan School after he sent sexually explicit messages to a female student on a social media platform. G.G. and his mother, Jackie Johnson, filed a complaint against Boyd-Buchanan School and other school officials. The trial court dismissed most of plaintiffs’ claims. The only remaining claim is plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim against the school. During discovery, plaintiffs requested the employment files of various school administrators and extensive information relating to the disciplinary records of non-party students. The school filed a motion for a protective order. The court granted the school’s motion in part and denied it in part. The school then requested permission to file an interlocutory appeal. The trial court granted permission to appeal, as did this Court. In this opinion, we clarify the appropriate legal standard for analyzing discovery disputes. We also hold that the trial court abused its discretion by entering an order that would allow plaintiffs to discover information that is irrelevant to their breach of contract claim. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for the entry of an order granting Boyd-Buchanan School’s motion for a protective order in its entirety.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/26/19
Asata D. Lowe v. Mike Parris Et Al.
E2018-01753-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Golden
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Reed Duggan

This case involves a prisoner’s appeal from the trial court’s dismissal of his complaint, wherein he raised numerous claims relating back to his seizure, arrest, prosecution, and conviction, all of which occurred from 1998 to 2000. The trial court dismissed all of the prisoner’s claims on numerous grounds, including that they were time-barred by various statutes of limitations and that many of the defendants were entitled to sovereign immunity. Concluding that because certain defendants are entitled to sovereign immunity and that all of the prisoner’s claims are either time-barred or do not comply with the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, we affirm.

Blount County Court of Appeals 06/25/19
Matthew Marble v. Jaimee Underwood
M2017-02040-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This appeal concerns a legal malpractice action filed by the father of a minor child for his attorney’s alleged negligence in her representation of him. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the attorney. We affirm.

Macon County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Kristin Marie Miclaus v. Andrei Miclaus
E2018-02134-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny W. Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry Michael Warner

Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of his Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 motion, which sought relief from the final decree of divorce entered against him on the ground that he did not receive notice of the trial setting. Because Appellant did not receive proper notice, relief under Rule 60.02(1) should have been granted by the trial court. As such, we vacate the final decree of divorce and remand the case for further proceedings.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Jeanette Currie v. Farmers Insurance Company
M2018-01818-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

Due to the deficiencies in Appellant’s brief, we conclude that she waived consideration of any issues on appeal and hereby dismiss the appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Estate of Herbert Ross Shelton v. Greeneville Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine Clinic Et Al.
E2018-00862-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

The Estate of Herbert Ross Shelton (“Plaintiff”) appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court for Greene County (“the Trial Court”) granting summary judgment to Greeneville Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine Clinic and Takoma Regional Hospital in this healthcare liability action after finding and holding that Plaintiff’s sole expert witness was not qualified to testify in this case. We find and hold that Plaintiff’s expert did not practice in a profession or specialty during the relevant time period which would make his testimony relevant to the issues in this case, and thus, was not qualified to testify pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-115. We, therefore, affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Scott Trent Et Al. v. Mountain Commerce Bank Et AL.
E2018-01874-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

In this action requesting declaratory relief, the appellants filed a petition seeking to reform a deed to add an additional grantor and requesting the Trial Court declare that the appellants hold all rights and interest to the property at issue. The Trial Court determined that no mutual mistake existed to support reformation of the original deed and denied the appellants’ petition. The Trial Court also declined to declare the appellants to be the only parties holding any interest in the property. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
In Re Estate of Billy Joe Kerby
W2018-00728-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal concerns the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of the petitioner’s claim against the estate of the decedent. We affirm.

McNairy County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Shaleen Fowler Et Al. v. Morristown-Hamblen Hospital Association, Et Al.
E2018-00782-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

The plaintiffs, individually and as a proposed class action, alleged violations of Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-11-262.1 The defendants asserted as a defense that Tennessee Code Annotated section 1-3-119 precludes any private right of action under section 68-11-262. Pursuant to Rule 24.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiffs submitted a notice of claim that the statute was unconstitutional and violated Article I, section 17 of the Tennessee Constitution. The State of Tennessee was allowed to intervene in a limited capacity to defend the constitutionality of that statute. In its consideration of the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the trial court held that the statute did not violate the “Open Courts” Clause of Article I, section 17. This holding necessitated a finding that Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-11-262 did not give a private right of action and, therefore, the plaintiffs did not have a cause of action. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim was granted and the plaintiffs’ complaint was dismissed with prejudice in its entirety. The plaintiffs now appeal the finding that Tennessee Code Annotated section 1-3-119 does not violate Article I, section 17 of the Tennessee Constitution. The defendants challenge the trial court’s decision that Plaintiffs fell within the meaning of “uninsured patient” in Tennessee Code Annotated section 68- 11-262. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Cathryn Helrigel Pierce v. Sherman Lane Pierce
E2018-01301-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Mark Stokes

In this divorce action, the Domestic Relations Court of Meigs County (“trial court”) entered a “Final Judgment of Divorce” on June 21, 2018. In this judgment, the trial court awarded to the wife, inter alia, possession of a parcel of marital real property improved with a mobile home, along with its associated mortgage indebtedness, and fifty percent of the marital portion of the husband’s military retirement, or $481.11 per month. The trial court awarded to the husband, inter alia, a different parcel of marital real property improved with a mobile home and further ordered the husband to pay the wife’s automobile loan obligation in the total amount of $22,192.86. The trial court denied the wife’s request for alimony of any type. The wife timely appealed. Following our thorough review of the record, we reverse the portion of the trial court’s judgment denying an award of alimony and attorney’s fees to the wife. Based upon our review of the evidence and the applicable statutory factors, we conclude that the wife is entitled to an award of alimony in futuro in the amount of $1,600.00 per month. We further determine that the wife is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees incurred at the trial court level as alimony in solido. We remand the issue of the amount of reasonable attorney’s fees to be awarded to the wife to the trial court for entry of an appropriate award. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects. Regarding the wife’s request for an award of attorney’s fees incurred on appeal, we determine that such request has been waived.

Meigs County Court of Appeals 06/21/19
In Re Trey S. Et Al.
M2018-01979-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon Guffee

A trial court terminated a mother’s and father’s parental rights to three children on the grounds of wanton disregard for the children’s welfare, substantial noncompliance with a permanency plan, and persistence of conditions. Both parents appealed the termination. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 06/20/19
Washington County Education Association Et Al. v. Washington County Board of Education Et Al.
E2018-01037-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

Kimber Halliburton, the director of the Washington County Board of Education, notified Stacia Howard, a non-tenured teacher, that her employment contract would not be renewed. The Washington County board did not review the director’s decision because the board’s attorney believed that the board lacked the legal authority to do so. Ms. Howard and the Washington County Education Association (WCEA) filed a complaint against the board and the director. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment regarding the authority of the board to review and modify the director’s personnel decisions, including the director’s decision to non-renew Ms. Howard’s contract. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that plaintiffs lacked standing. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion. Plaintiffs appeal. We affirm.

Washington County Court of Appeals 06/20/19
Tennessee Credit Union v. Wanda Powell, Et Al.
M2018-01384-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This is an appeal of an employer’s Petition for Judicial Review, which challenged a ruling by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development that the employer’s former employee was entitled to unemployment benefits. The employer contended the employee was ineligible for benefits because she was terminated for “misconduct,” as defined in the Tennessee Employment Security Act, for violating a policy known to the employee by using the employer’s property for a non-businessrelated purpose. The Department found that the employee’s frequent use of the employer’s internal instant message system to “chat” with co-workers was an error in judgment or discretion but did not rise to the level of “misconduct,” which Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-7-303(b)(3) defines as excluding “good faith errors in judgment or discretion.” The chancery court affirmed the agency’s decision. The employer appeals, contending the “good faith exception” never applies when an employee is discharged for violating an employer’s policy or rule. The Department counters, insisting the good faith exception applies regardless of the employer’s reason for termination. Construing the statute according to the natural, ordinary meaning of the language chosen by the legislature, we have determined that an employee’s violation of an employer’s policy that is due to good faith errors in judgment or discretion does not constitute “misconduct” as that term is defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-7-303. Accordingly, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/19/19
Pamela Diane Stark v. Joe Edward Stark
W2019-00901-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

In this accelerated interlocutory appeal, Wife appeals the trial court’s denial of her motion to recuse the trial judge in her divorce case. Specifically, Wife argues that the trial court’s rulings demonstrate a bias against her because the trial court purportedly ruled in favor of Husband in excess of the relief requested. We affirm the trial court’s denial of Wife’s motion to recuse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/18/19
Midland Funding, LLC v. Thuy Chau
M2018-01542-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

A creditor filed suit in general sessions court to collect an outstanding debt alleged to be due on a sworn account. The debtor’s counsel permitted the creditor to take a default judgment and appealed the judgment to the circuit court. In circuit court, the debtor filed a motion to strike three affidavits filed by the creditor. Later, the debtor filed another motion to strike the creditor’s affidavits and a motion to dismiss for improper service of process. The trial court denied the debtor’s motions to strike and to dismiss and entered judgment for the creditor in the amount of the claimed debt. On appeal, the debtor argues that the trial court erred in denying her motions and in admitting into evidence the documents by which the creditor proved the debt. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/14/19