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COURT OF APPEALS OPINIONS

In Re Nash M.
E2021-01126-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.
Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. Because of the lack of a sufficiently complete record on appeal, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Knox Court of Appeals

Anthony Herron, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
W2020-01731-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner James A. Hamilton, III

This is a consolidated appeal involving two breach of contract actions filed against the Tennessee Department of Human Services in the Tennessee Claims Commission. Following the presentation of the claimant’s proof, the Commissioner dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We affirm the dismissal.

Court of Appeals

Columbia Housing & Redevelopment Corp. v. Kinsley Braden
M2021-00329-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr., Presiding Judge
Trial Court Judge: Judge David L. Allen

This is a detainer action brought by a landlord to evict its tenant for possessing a firearm in his apartment in contravention of the lease agreement. The landlord, Columbia Housing & Redevelopment Corporation (“Columbia Housing”), provides subsidized housing for the City of Columbia pursuant to the Housing Authorities Law, Tennessee Code Annotated § 13-20-101 to -709, and operates Creekside Acres, a multifamily, low-income public housing complex in Columbia, Tennessee. The tenant voluntarily entered into a lease agreement with Columbia Housing that contained a prohibition against firearms on the premises; nevertheless, the tenant defended the detainer action, contending that the lease agreement violated his rights under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. The circuit court ruled in favor of the landlord on the ground that the lease agreement was a valid and enforceable contract, and the tenant voluntarily waived any rights he may have had to possess a firearm on the leased premises. This appeal followed. Significantly, the landlord is a governmental entity “acting as a landlord of property that it owns.” See Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev. v. Rucker, 535 U.S. 125, 135 (2002). As such, its actions must comply with the Constitution, see Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 930 (1982), and the unconstitutional conditions doctrine “prevent[s] the government from coercing people into giving” up constitutional rights. Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Mgmt. Dist., 570 U.S. 595, 604 (2013). Although laws “forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings” do not violate the Second Amendment, see D.C. v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 626 (2008), not “all places of public congregation” are “sensitive places.” See N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2134 (2022). Moreover, although public housing is government-owned, the leased premises at issue is the tenant’s private home, which is not the kind of “sensitive place” where the government may categorically ban firearm possession. See id. at 2128. Further, complete prohibitions on possession of handguns in the home for self-defense are “historically unprecedented.” See id. Therefore, we hold that Columbia Housing’s prohibition against handguns in the tenant’s “home” is an unconstitutional lease condition. As a consequence, the tenant’s possession of a handgun in his apartment, his home, did not constitute a breach of the lease agreement. Accordingly, the judgment of the circuit court is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Maury Court of Appeals

Jason C. Johnson v. Tennessee Department of Corrections et al.
M2022-01265-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: PER CURIAM
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This is an appeal from an order dismissing an inmate’s Petition for 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.

Davidson Court of Appeals

In Re Kansas B., et al.
M2021-00827-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a dependency and neglect petition with respect to four children, two of whom are the eldest children of the mother and her first husband and two of whom are the youngest children of the mother and her current husband. DCS filed the petition upon receiving a referral that the mother’s sevenyear- old daughter from her first marriage had been sexually abused by her stepfather, the mother’s current husband. The stepfather sought to call the seven-year-old child as a witness during the trial, but the trial court denied his request upon balancing the probative value of the child’s testimony with the potential emotional and psychological harm the child could suffer from testifying. The mother and stepfather have appealed. Upon thorough review, we conclude that the trial court erred in utilizing this balancing test and precluding the stepfather from calling the child as a witness. We therefore vacate the trial court’s final judgment adjudicating the children dependent and neglected and remand the case so that the trial court may hear the child’s testimony, provided that the child is competent to testify and that the court does not exclude the testimony pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 403. If the child is allowed to testify, the trial court should consider utilizing the accommodations set forth in Tennessee Rule of Juvenile Practice and Procedure 306 to ameliorate any potential harm that testifying may cause the child.

Williamson Court of Appeals

Buddy Davis v. Tennessee Board of Appeals
M2020-01255-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

A preferred service employee appealed the termination of his employment. After failing
to obtain relief at the Step I and Step II reviews, the employee requested a Step III hearing
before the Tennessee Board of Appeals. The Board determined that the employee engaged
in conduct unbecoming of an employee in state service but termination was too harsh a
punishment. So it modified the employee’s discipline to a one-step demotion and
recommended that he be transferred. The employee sought judicial review of the Board’s
decision. The chancery court reversed, finding that the decision to demote the employee
was not supported by substantial and material evidence. We reverse the chancery court
and affirm the decision of the Board.

Davidson Court of Appeals

Friendship Water Co. v. City of Friendship, Tennessee
W2021-00659-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

This is an interlocutory appeal considered pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. Specifically at issue is the trial court’s ruling that a contract entered into between the parties is valid and enforceable. The City of Friendship insists that the contract at issue, which involves its purchase of a water distribution system, is void due to the operation of the Municipal Purchasing Law of 1983, Tenn. Code Ann. § 6-56-301 et seq. For the specific reasons stated herein, we respectfully reject the City’s argument and affirm the trial court’s holding that the contract at issue is enforceable.

Crockett Court of Appeals

Matthew Reyes Camacho v. Jessica Lynne Camacho
M2021-00994-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell Parkes

Mother appeals the trial court’s order naming Father primary residential parent. Because the trial court’s findings of fact are at times vague, inconsistent, and appear to improperly rely on the trial judge’s recollection of testimony from a prior hearing rather than appropriate proof, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and award Mother her reasonable attorney’s fees.

Maury Court of Appeals

Jefferson Howell Et Al. v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority D/B/A Erlanger Health System Et Al.
E2021-01197-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

This appeal involves a healthcare liability action. The plaintiffs filed suit against the defendant hospital, which is a governmental entity, alleging negligence by physicians practicing medicine within the hospital emergency department. The supervising physician was not an employee of the defendant hospital but an employee of a company contracting with the defendant hospital. The medical resident physician and medical student treating the patient in the emergency department also were not employees of the defendant hospital. During summary judgment proceedings, the plaintiffs presented no evidence of direct liability by the defendant hospital or of negligence by the nursing staff at the defendant hospital. Plaintiffs presented such evidence only as to physicians not directly employed by the defendant hospital. Determining that the physicians were not employees of the defendant hospital, the trial court held that the defendant hospital could not be held vicariously liable for the actions of these non-employee physicians under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). As such, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton Court of Appeals

Harold R. Gunn v. City of Humboldt
W2022-00029-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

This is an appeal from a grant of an involuntary dismissal. The plaintiff brought suit against the City of Humboldt for damages to his real property due to the collapse of a portion of his parking lot into his adjacent drainage ditch. At trial, the court granted the defendant’s motion for an involuntary dismissal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02(2) at the close of the plaintiff’s proof and dismissed the case. We affirm.

Gibson Court of Appeals

Ruth Mitchell v. City of Franklin, Tennessee
M2021-00877-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

This appeal is an action subject to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, in which a pedestrian suffered injuries after she tripped and fell on a sidewalk in Franklin, Tennessee.  The pedestrian filed a complaint claiming that the city was negligent.  After a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the city and dismissed the case.  The pedestrian appeals.  We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Williamson Court of Appeals

In Re Joshua M. Et Al.
E2021-01527-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brad Lewis Davidson

Grandparents filed a petition in juvenile court seeking to terminate a mother’s parental rights. When the mother failed to file an answer to the petition, the grandparents filed a motion for default judgment. After hearing arguments on the motion and receiving evidence on the termination petition, the court granted the motion for default judgment and entered an order terminating the mother’s parental rights based on the grounds of (1) abandonment by failure to support, (2) persistence of conditions, and (3) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody and financial responsibility of the children. The court also determined termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. We affirm the abandonment by failure to support ground but reverse the other two grounds. Concluding that the juvenile court failed to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding its best interest analysis, we vacate the court’s decision that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the children and remand for further findings.

Cocke Court of Appeals

Danny Ray Franks, et al. v. Roger Bilbrey, et al.
M2021-00766-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This appeal concerns an alleged breach of contract.  Danny Ray Franks (“Mr. Franks”) and his spouse Angela May Franks (“Ms. Franks”) (“Plaintiffs,” collectively) hired Roger Bilbrey (“Mr. Bilbrey”) and Bilbrey’s Construction, Inc. (“Defendants,” collectively) to build a “barndominium,” a metal building that looks like a barn with a stained-concrete floor, garage, and living quarters.  The parties’ contract (“the Agreement”), which was drafted by Mr. Bilbrey, provided that work would start immediately and be completed by Thanksgiving of 2018.  However, the project was not completed by that date.  Some five months later, the project still was unfinished.  Plaintiffs then fired Defendants.  Plaintiffs sued Defendants in the Chancery Court for Overton County (“the Trial Court”) for breach of contract.  The Trial Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor.  Defendants appeal.  We hold that time was of the essence under the Agreement.  We further find that Defendants committed a material breach of the Agreement by failing to timely complete Plaintiffs’ barndominium.  We affirm. 

Overton Court of Appeals

Mark Steven Meadows et al. v. Sharon Kay Story et al.
M2020-00886-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

The members of a limited liability company, a father and his son, sought the LLC’s judicial dissolution.  Disagreements had surfaced between them, primarily over the ownership of assets and the value of their capital accounts.  Father and son were also pitted against each other in a separate lawsuit involving other business entities.  In the proceeding to dissolve the LLC, the trial court appointed a receiver to determine ownership of the assets.  The court approved the receiver’s report.  And, after a bench trial, the court found that father’s capital account was less than his son’s account.  In doing so, the court excluded evidence offered by father related to the separate lawsuit based on relevancy.  The court also excluded the testimony of an attorney based on the attorney-client privilege.  Finding no reversable error, we affirm.

Davidson Court of Appeals

In Re Aubree D.
M2021-01229-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This is a dependency and neglect case.  The child was taken into protective custody by Appellee Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) after an investigation revealed that the then ten-week-old child suffered approximately 15 bone breaks.  The Juvenile Court for Davidson County conducted a hearing and adjudicated the child dependent and neglected on its finding that Appellant, the child’s mother, had committed severe child abuse. Mother appealed to the Circuit Court for Overton County (“trial court”).  Following a de novo trial, the trial court held that mother perpetrated severe child abuse on the child.  Consequently, the trial court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected, and found that it was in the child’s best interest to remain in the custody of Appellee Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). Mother appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Overton Court of Appeals

Ford Motor Credit Comp, LLC d/b/a Lincoln Automotive Financial Services v. Marjori Malone et al.
M2022-01182-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

The defendants have appealed from an order entered on July 25, 2022. Because the defendants did not file their notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the order as required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.

Williamson Court of Appeals

Bill Charles v. Donna McQueen
M2021-00878-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

This case involves a lawsuit alleging claims of defamation and false light arising from an
online review. In response to the lawsuit, the defendant filed a petition under the Tennessee
Public Participation Act to dismiss the lawsuit. The trial court ultimately granted the
petition and dismissed the case. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm in part and reverse
in part.

Williamson Court of Appeals

Thomas Krajenta, et al. v. Volker Paul Westphal, et al.
W2021-00832-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

Appellants, board members and members of Appellee homeowner’s association, filed a pro se lawsuit against the homeowner’s association and other board members, who are also Appellees. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss the amended petition on the ground that Appellants failed to bring a proper derivative action. Appellants filed voluntary nonsuits before the trial court heard the motion to dismiss. Despite the voluntary nonsuits, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss and denied the voluntary nonsuits. The trial court also awarded Appellees a portion of their attorney’s fees under Tennessee Code Annotated section 48-56-401(e), and, alternatively, under Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-12-119(c). Because the trial court should have allowed Appellants’ nonsuits, we: (1) reverse the trial court’s denial of the nonsuits; (2) vacate the trial court’s order granting Appellees’ motion to dismiss; and (3) vacate the trial court’s order granting Appellees’ attorney’s fees. The trial court’s order dividing the special master fees equally between the parties is affirmed.

Shelby Court of Appeals

James D. Duncan v. CoreCivic, et al.
W2022-00333-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha B. Brasfield

Appellant, James D. Duncan, has appealed an order of the Hardeman County Chancery Court that was entered on December 15, 2021. We determine that the December 15, 2021 order does not constitute a final appealable judgment. Therefore, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The appeal is dismissed.

Hardeman Court of Appeals

Joseph Cannistra v. William Charles (Billy) Brown
M2021-00833-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Jeffrey Usman
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christopher V. Sockwell

This appeal involves a challenge to a circuit court’s award to a landlord for a deficiency in lease payments.  The landlord and tenant offered conflicting testimony regarding the terms of the parties’ agreement.  The circuit court judge found the landlord’s description of the agreement more convincing than the tenant’s and awarded the landlord a judgment in the amount of $9,800 as well as costs.  On appeal, the tenant insists the circuit court judge erred in his assessment of the conflicting testimony.  We find the trial court’s determination to be supported by the record and therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Giles Court of Appeals

In Re Hope G. Et Al.
E2021-01521-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

This appeal arises from the termination of a father’s parental rights to his minor child, upon the statutory grounds of abandonment by failure to visit and financially support the child. The Greene County Circuit Court (“Trial Court”) denied the ground of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of and financial responsibility for the child, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14). The Trial Court further found that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. We reverse the statutory ground for the termination of the father’s parental rights of abandonment by failure to visit, determining that the father had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that his failure to visit was not willful. We affirm the remaining ground for the termination of the father’s parental rights, as well as the trial court’s determination that termination of the father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

Greene Court of Appeals

Jabari Issa Mandela a/k/a John Wooden v. Tennessee Department of Correction
W2021-01219-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

Appellant appeals the assessment of costs against him following the dismissal of his petition for a writ of certiorari. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Lake Court of Appeals

Michael Halliburton v. Blake Ballin, et al.
W2022-01208-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal from the denial of motions for recusal of the trial judge. Having carefully reviewed the record provided by the appellant, we affirm the decision of the trial court denying the motions.

Shelby Court of Appeals

State of Tennessee v. Isaiah M.
W2021-01133-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

This appeal arises out of delinquency proceedings that originated in the Madison County Juvenile Court. The State filed an initial delinquency petition, but the petition was unverified. The defect in the petition remained undiscovered by the State until the first witness was sworn at the adjudicatory hearing. The juvenile court dismissed the petition and found that jeopardy attached. The State filed a second verified delinquency petition. However, the juvenile court dismissed the petition finding that it violated principles of double jeopardy. The State appealed to the circuit court. The circuit court dismissed the petition finding that jeopardy attached on the initial petition. The State appeals. We reverse and remand.

Madison Court of Appeals

Lisa Neely Artry v. Lester Ray Artry
W2020-00224-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

In this divorce case, we do not reach the substantive issues concerning the trial court’s division of the marital estate due to the fact that the trial court failed to designate all property as either marital or separate, failed to assign values to all property, and failed to consider the factors set out in Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-121(c). As such, we vacate the trial court’s division of the marital estate and its denial of alimony. Because the trial court failed to resolve the parties’ dispute over the Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24 statement of the evidence by providing this Court with one cohesive statement, we reverse the trial court’s order concerning the statement of the evidence.

Shelby Court of Appeals