Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 12/07/2021
Format: 12/07/2021
State of Tennessee v. Julia Hurley, Loudon County Commissioner For The 2nd Judicial District
E2020-01674-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Frank V. Williams, III

We granted this extraordinary appeal to determine whether the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because the trial court considered the proper statute, the relevant facts, and the arguments advanced by the parties, we conclude that the application for an extraordinary appeal was improvidently granted. We therefore dismiss this appeal.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 06/22/21
In Re Elijah R.
E2020-01520-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge John C. Rambo

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights to his son. The trial court found grounds for termination based on persistent conditions and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume custody or financial responsibility. It also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the best interest of the child. We reverse the trial court’s finding of persistent conditions but otherwise affirm the termination of parental rights and remand.

Washington County Court of Appeals 06/21/21
David Jernigan, As Next Of Kin and Surviving Husband To Jane Ann Jernigan, deceased v. Robert Evan Paasche, M.D., Et Al.
M2020-00673-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

In this health care liability action, an initial jury trial resulted in a verdict for the defendant physicians. The plaintiff filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court granted. Prior to the second jury trial, the trial court determined that the trial should be bifurcated such that the first phase would address only the applicable standard of care and whether the defendants deviated therefrom, and the second phase would address causation. Following completion of the standard of care phase, the jury again ruled in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff filed a second motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. The plaintiff timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 06/21/21
Nandigam Neurology, PLC Et Al. v. Kelly Beavers
M2020-00553-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry Tatum

This case arises from a defamation and false light lawsuit filed in the General Sessions Court for Wilson County (the “general sessions court”). The action was dismissed pursuant to the Tennessee Public Participation Act (the “TPPA”) and the plaintiffs appealed the dismissal to the Circuit Court for Wilson County (the “circuit court”). After concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the appeal, the circuit court transferred the case to this Court. On appeal, the parties dispute whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction, and the defendant argues that the ruling of the general sessions court should be affirmed. We conclude that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction to decide this appeal and, discerning no error, we affirm the decision of the general sessions court dismissing the plaintiffs’ legal action pursuant to the TPPA. 

Wilson County Court of Appeals 06/18/21
Sam B. Crenshaw v. Saad Kado et al..
E2020-00282-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

This appeal concerns a foreclosure sale of the plaintiff’s property. The defendants filed motions to dismiss the plaintiff’s action alleging, in part, that the action violated the statute of limitations. In response, the plaintiff alleged that his action was timely due to equitable estoppel. The Trial Court granted the defendants’ motions and dismissed all of the plaintiff’s claims against the defendants. Taking the facts alleged in the plaintiff’s complaint as true, the plaintiff pled sufficient facts in his complaint to support a claim of equitable estoppel for purposes of the statute of limitations. Therefore, we hold that the Trial Court erred by granting the defendants’ motions to dismiss filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6).

Knox County Court of Appeals 06/17/21
Wilmington Savings Fund Society Et Al. v. Estate of Sallie L. Miller
E2020-00717-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

This is a detainer action concerning real property owned by the decedent and sold at a trustee’s sale. The trial court granted possession of the property to the purchaser. We now affirm the decision on appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 06/17/21
Carol Buckley v. The Elephant Sanctuary In Tennessee, Inc.
M2020-00804-COA-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

In this Rule 10 extraordinary appeal, the plaintiff seeks review of the trial court’s decision to grant a new trial on the basis of an improper comment made during closing arguments, despite the fact that a curative instruction was given. Having reviewed all of the grounds asserted in support of the motion for new trial, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion.

Lewis County Court of Appeals 06/16/21
Jeremy James Dalton v. Clerks Of Courts In Fentress County Et Al.
M2020-01658-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Elizabeth C. Asbury

Appellant, acting pro se, appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his writ of mandamus for failure to state a claim and to comply with procedural requirements. We do not reach the merits of the appeal due to Appellant’s failure to comply with the briefing requirements outlined in Rule 6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee and Rule 27 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Fentress County Court of Appeals 06/16/21
John C. Helton v. Esther R. Helton
E2020-00599-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge William B. Acree

This is an appeal from the trial court’s judgment finding Husband in civil contempt for his failure to comply with certain monetary obligations under the parties’ final decree of divorce. In addition to finding Husband in contempt, the court entered a monetary judgment against Husband and awarded Wife attorney’s fees in connection with the proceedings. Husband argues that the trial court erred in finding him in civil contempt, contending that he does not have the present ability to pay. He does not object to any other aspect of the trial court’s order, including the judgment entered against him. For her part, Wife raises an issue regarding the amount of the trial court’s award of her attorney’s fees. We vacate the trial court’s finding Husband in civil contempt and remand for reconsideration of Husband’s ability to pay, and we further vacate the trial court’s award of Wife’s attorney’s fees and remand for reconsideration.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/15/21
Allan F. White Jr. Et Al. v. Bradley County Government Et Al.
E2020-00798-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

A police officer pursued and shot a man whom she encountered outside her home at two in the morning. After the man died from his injuries, his parents and estate brought suit in the Bradley County Circuit Court against the officer, the sheriff who supervised her, and the county, alleging negligence and violation of the man’s rights under federal law and the United States Constitution. Defendants removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee (“the district court”). The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on the federal civil rights claims and remanded the state law tort claims to the Circuit Court. On remand to the Circuit Court, the claims against the sheriff were voluntarily dismissed and the remaining defendants moved for summary judgment. In reliance on the district court’s legal conclusions, the Circuit Court granted summary judgment to the police officer based on the doctrine of collateral estoppel and to the Bradley County government based on governmental immunity. Plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, we hold that collateral estoppel bars the claims against both the police officer and the county. Accordingly, we affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 06/15/21
In Re Aayden C. Et Al.
E2020-01221-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dwight E. Stokes

In this termination of parental rights action, the mother has appealed the juvenile court’s final order terminating her parental rights to the minor children, Aayden C. and Patrick C. (“the Children”), based on three statutory grounds. On October 11, 2019, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition seeking to terminate the mother’s and the father’s parental rights to the Children. Following a bench trial, the juvenile court found that statutory grounds existed to terminate the parental rights of both parents upon its determination by clear and convincing evidence that the mother and the father (1) had abandoned the Children by failing to provide a suitable home; (2) were in substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans; and (3) had failed to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume custody of or financial responsibility for the Children. The juvenile court further found by clear and convincing evidence that it was in the Children’s best interest to terminate the parental rights of both parents.1 The mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 06/14/21
Gene Lovelace Enterprises, LLC Et Al. v. City of Knoxville Et Al.
E2019-01574-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

This is the second appeal of this action concerning the enforceability of a licensing ordinance applicable to sexually oriented businesses in the City of Knoxville. The trial court found the ordinance lawful upon remand from this court and granted summary judgment in favor of the City. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 06/11/21
Frederick Jones Et Al. v. Reda Homebuilders, Inc.
M2020-00597-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan, Jr.

Appellants purchased a home from Appellee home builder and later discovered numerous defects in the construction of the home. Appellants sued Appellee for breach of contract, breach of warranty, and negligence, and the trial court entered judgment in favor of Appellants. Appellants appeal the trial court’s denial of their motion for attorney’s fees under the provisions of the parties’ contract. Appellee appeals the trial court’s award of damages as speculative. We affirm the trial court’s award of damages in favor of Appellants and reverse the trial court’s denial of Appellants’ motion for attorney’s fees.  

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 06/10/21
In re Anna H., et al.
E2020-01206-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

This case involves a petition to terminate parental rights. The petition was filed by the children’s biological father and stepmother against the biological mother. The trial court terminated the mother’s rights, finding that the mother abandoned the children under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-113(g)(1) and -102(1)(A)(iv) and that termination was in the best interest of the children. We affirm the trial court’s decision and remand.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 06/09/21
In Re Brittany W. Et Al.
E2020-01631-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brad Lewis Davidson

This appeal concerns the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Cocke County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Jamie W. (“Mother”) to her minor children, Brittany W. and Isaiah W. (“the Children,” collectively). After a hearing, the Juvenile Court entered an order terminating Mother’s parental rights on three grounds. Mother appeals, arguing that termination of her parental rights is not in the Children’s best interest. We find, first, that the grounds found against Mother were proven by clear and convincing evidence. We find further, also by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. We affirm the Juvenile Court.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 06/08/21
P.H. v. Gregory O. Cole
M2020-01353-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

P.H. and Gregory O. Cole dated for a period of time between 2014 and 2018. P.H. learned in 2018 that she had become infected with HSV-2, a sexually transmitted disease commonly known as genital herpes. P.H. believed she contracted HSV-2 from Mr. Cole and filed a complaint against him asserting claims for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence per se, and fraud. Mr. Cole denied transmitting HSV-2 to P.H. and underwent blood tests to determine whether or not he was infected. When his blood test came back negative for HSV-2, Mr. Cole moved for summary judgment and attached as an exhibit the declaration of Dr. Fritz Wawa, the physician in charge of the medical center where Mr. Cole had his blood drawn, as well as the test results showing his negative status for HSV-2. P.H. opposed the motion for summary judgment and suggested that Mr. Cole’s test results may have shown a false negative, and not be reliable, if he were immunocompromised. In response, Mr. Cole returned to the medical center to have additional blood drawn and tested for HIV. The additional test results showed that Mr. Cole did not have HIV and that he was not immunocompromised. Mr. Cole filed a reply to P.H.’s opposition to his motion for summary judgment and attached a second declaration from Dr. Wawa and a copy of his second blood test to show that he was not immunocompromised.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/07/21
Flora Gordon v. Cherie Felps Harwood Et Al.
E2021-00459-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ward Jeffrey Hollingsworth

The notice of appeal filed by the appellant, Flora Gordon, stated that the appellant was appealing the judgment entered on April 1, 2021. Because the order appealed from does not constitute a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/04/21
In Re Jayden L.
E2020-01668-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daniel G. Boyd

This is an appeal from a termination of parental rights case. While the trial court concluded that two grounds for termination existed in this case, it determined that there was a lack of clear and convincing evidence that the termination of the mother’s rights was in the child’s best interests. For the reasons stated herein, namely the absence of appropriate findings under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-113(k), we vacate the trial court’s order with respect to the grounds for termination and remand the case for the preparation of appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 06/03/21
Diversified Financial Services, LLC v. Jeffrey Wayne Daniels
W2020-00826-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

Defendant appeals the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the plaintiff in this breach of contract case. Because Appellant failed to comply with Rule 27 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, we dismiss this appeal and remand to the trial court for a determination of the plaintiff’s damages incurred in defending a frivolous appeal.

Lauderdale County Court of Appeals 06/02/21
Khalid Almuawi v. Antwan Gregory
M2020-01018-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

The plaintiff and defendant were in a car accident when the defendant’s car rear-ended the plaintiff’s car. The defendant admitted liability, leaving only the issue of damages for trial. The jury awarded the plaintiff some damages, but the plaintiff argued he was entitled to a larger sum than the jury awarded. The plaintiff also argued that the defendant’s attorney misrepresented the evidence in his closing argument and that he was entitled to a new trial. We conclude that the jury’s verdict was supported by material evidence and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/02/21
Cedra Deanntre Potts (Taylor) v. Starr Anastasia Potts
M2020-00170-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip Robinson

This appeal arises from the denial of the plaintiff’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 motion requesting relief from an agreed-upon permanent parenting plan that was approved by the court and incorporated into the final divorce decree. The plaintiff contended that the defendant spouse lacked standing to seek custody and visitation of the minor children, who were conceived by in vitro fertilization;[1] therefore, the permanent parenting plan was void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, i.e., standing was jurisdictional. The material facts are that the couple entered into a contract with a reproductive clinic in October 2013 to perform an in vitro fertilization procedure, with each party signing the contract as “Prospective Parent.” The reproductive clinic impregnated the plaintiff with embryos created from the plaintiff’s eggs and donated sperm. As a result of the procedure, the plaintiff gave birth to twins in July 2014. The parties, a same-sex couple, married in June 2015, shortly following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. 644 (2015). In August 2017, the plaintiff filed for divorce, contending there were no children born of the marriage, and the defendant filed an answer and a counter-complaint alleging there were two children born of the marriage and requesting that the court designate her as the primary residential parent. After the parties resolved all issues, the trial court entered a final divorce decree, incorporating an agreed-upon permanent parenting plan that (1) stated the children were a product of the parties’ marriage, (2) designated the plaintiff as the primary residential parent with 240 days of parenting time per year and designated the defendant as the alternate residential parent with 125 days of parenting time, (3) provided for joint decision-making authority, and (4) ordered the defendant to pay child support. Three months after the divorce decree became a final judgment, the plaintiff filed the Rule 60.02 motion at issue in this appeal. Following briefing and a hearing, the trial court determined that the defendant was able to establish parentage under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-2-403 because she met the requirements of the statute, in that she was a party to the written contract consenting to the in vitro fertilization procedure, and she accepted full legal rights and responsibilities for the embryos and any children that resulted. The trial court also determined that the defendant was entitled to the presumption that she was the children’s parent in accordance with § 36-2-304(a)(4) because the defendant held the children out as her natural children. For these and other reasons, the trial court denied the plaintiff’s Rule 60.02 motion for relief. This appeal followed. Because the custody and visitation statutes specifically provide that only a parent has standing to seek custody and visitation in a divorce action, “the issue of standing is interwoven with that of subject matter jurisdiction and becomes a jurisdictional prerequisite.”Osborn v. Marr, 127 S.W.3d 737, 740 (Tenn. 2004). Therefore, the defendant must fit the statutory definition of “parent” for the court to have jurisdiction to grant visitation. Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-2-403 provides the single means of establishing the parentage of children born as a result of the in vitro fertilization procedure. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-2-401. Contrary to the plaintiff’s contention that all of the gametes (both the sperm and the egg) must be donated for § 36-2-403 to apply, we read the statute as addressing situations such as this one, where only half of the gametes are donated, as well as situations where all of the gametes are donated. Because the defendant contractually agreed to accept full legal rights and responsibilities for the embryos and any children produced as a result, the defendant is presumed to be the children’s parent under § 36-2-403(d); therefore, the defendant had standing to seek custody and visitation in the underlying divorce action. Accordingly, the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction over the controversy. For these reasons, we affirm the trial court’s decision to deny the plaintiff’s Rule 60.02 motion for relief from the judgment.

[1] Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “in vitro fertilization” as “fertilization by mixing sperm with eggs surgically removed from an ovary followed by uterine implantation of one or more of the resulting fertilized eggs.” “In vitro fertilization.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/in%20vitro%20fertilization (last visited May 28, 2021). The applicable statutes—Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-2-401 to -403—primarily use the term “embryo transfer,” which is defined as “the medical procedure of physically placing an embryo in the uterus of a female recipient intended parent.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-2-402(4). The terms “in vitro fertilization” and “embryo transfer” are used interchangeably throughout this opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/02/21
Kwame Leo Lillard v. James Walker, Et Al.
M2020-00328-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This appeal arises out of a dispute over a mobile home and real property. Because the appealed order awards reasonable attorney’s fees but does not set the amount of those fees, we dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/02/21
In re Ashlynn H.
M2020-00469-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa A. Jackson

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his child. The trial court determined that there were statutory grounds for terminating the father’s parental rights and that termination was in the child’s best interest. On appeal, we conclude that the father was given sufficient notice of three statutory grounds: abandonment by failure to visit or support the expectant mother, abandonment by wanton disregard, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility of his child. The record contains clear and convincing evidence to support two of the grounds for termination. But, because the trial court’s order lacks sufficient findings regarding the child’s best interest, we vacate and remand.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 05/28/21
Teresa McCain v. Saint Thomas Medical Partners
M2020-00880-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Plaintiff employee appeals the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment on her claims under the Tennessee Human Rights Act. We affirm, as modified, the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/27/21
Harpeth Financial Services, LLC v. Jim Clay Pinson, Jr. Et Al.
M2019-02106-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

A collecting bank sued the drawer of a check, claiming that the drawer stopped payment on the check with fraudulent intent. The general sessions court, as well as the circuit court on de novo appeal, ruled in favor of the drawer. The bank argues that, because it was a holder in due course, the drawer was still liable on the check despite the stop-payment order. And it seeks an award of interest, court costs, attorney’s fees, and treble damages from the drawer, contending that the proof showed the drawer acted with fraudulent intent. We affirm the dismissal of the claim based on the drawer’s alleged fraudulent intent, but we vacate the dismissal of any claim based on the drawer’s obligation on the check.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/27/21