Anne C. Martin, Chancellor

Biography

Reports of Cases Reviewed by Appellate Courts – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Text is the appellate court’s summary of the opinion. 

Scroll down for important information.

 

Turner Construction Company v. AGCS Marine Insurance Company d/b/a Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, No. M2023-01178-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 16, 2024). The cabinets delivered from a Turkish company for a Tennessee construction project did not meet United States formaldehyde standards and could not be used as they were. The construction management company filed an insurance claim. The insurance company denied the claim and the construction management company sued. The trial court found for the construction management company and the insurance company appealed. We have determined that the trial court’s order was not final and, therefore, dismiss the appeal and remand the matter for further consideration.

 

Throckmorton et al. v. Lefkovitz et al., No. M2022-01124-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 29, 2024). The plaintiff attorneys filed this action alleging tortious interference with a business relationship and unlawful procurement of breach of contract, Tennessee Code Annotated section 47-50-109, against the defendant attorney and his law firm for his defense of their former clients in an action to recover fees. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant attorney and the law firm. We affirm.

 

Baron Construction, LLC v. 4J Construction Company, Inc. et al., No. M2022-00412-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 23, 2024). A general contractor sued two business entities and their sole owner for breach of contract. The defendants denied liability and filed a counter-complaint. Four years later, the contractor moved for sanctions under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 16.06. The trial court entered a default judgment against the defendants and dismissed their counterclaims with prejudice due to their repeated failure to comply with pretrial orders. The defendants moved to set aside the final judgment. The trial court granted the owner relief from the judgment. But it refused to set aside the judgment against his two companies. And it granted the contractor summary judgment against the owner on the remaining claims. We affirm.

 

The Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County v. Tennessee Department of Education, No. M2022-01786-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 10, 2024) (Chancellor Anne C. Martin; Judge Tammy M. Harrington; Judge Valerie L. Smith). This appeal concerns a lawsuit challenging the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program, Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-2601, et seq. (“the ESA Act”). A group of parents and taxpayers from Davidson and Shelby Counties (“Plaintiffs”) sued state officials (“State Defendants”) in the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”). In their operative amended complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that the ESA Act violates the Tennessee Constitution and state law by diverting taxpayer funds appropriated for public schools in Davidson and Shelby Counties to private schools, resulting in unique harm to these localities. A group of parents with children eligible for the ESA Act (“Bah Defendants”) and another group (“Greater Praise Defendants”) (all defendants collectively, “Defendants”) intervened in defense of the ESA Act. Defendants filed motions to dismiss, which the Trial Court granted on grounds that Plaintiffs lack standing and their claims are not ripe for judicial review. In reaching its decision, the Trial Court found that the ESA Act has not caused the affected counties any unequal hardship. Plaintiffs appeal the dismissal of their first, second, and sixth causes of action only. We conclude that the Trial Court erred by deciding factual disputes over the impact of the ESA Act on Plaintiffs at the motion to dismiss stage. Plaintiffs alleged enough in their amended complaint to establish standing both as parents and taxpayers. Plaintiffs’ claims also are ripe for judicial review. We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Trial Court as to Plaintiffs’ first, second, and sixth causes of action and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Cobbins v. Feeney, No. M2022-01357-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 15, 2023).  This appeal involves claims to three disputed areas based on adverse possession and prescriptive easement. We affirm the trial court’s decision denying the plaintiff’s claims.

 

Williams v. Collins, No. M2023-00452-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 20, 2023).  This is a contract dispute. The trial court granted non-resident Appellees’ Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. After conducting a de novo review, we agree with the trial court that Appellees did not have minimum contacts with Tennessee that would permit the exercise of personal jurisdiction over them. Discerning no error, we affirm.Walker v. Tenn. Bd. of Parole, No. M2023-00219-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2023).  This appeal arises from a Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by Martin Walker (“Petitioner”), an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”). Petitioner seeks review of the decision by the Tennessee Board of Parole (“Board”) to deny him parole. He raises numerous challenges to the propriety of the Board’s action and procedures. Finding no error, we affirm.

 

Waste Management of Tennessee, Inc. v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson County By and Through Davidson County Solid Waste Region Board, No. M2022-00531-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 30, 2023). This appeal involves judicial review of the denial of approval to expand a private construction and demolition waste landfill. The board overseeing the metropolitan government’s solid waste management plan denied the application for expansion, finding that expansion of the landfill was inconsistent with the waste management plan. The operator of the landfill filed a petition for review in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, arguing that the board failed to act within ninety days of receiving the application, followed an uncertified plan, and lacked substantial and material evidence to support the denial. The chancery court affirmed the board’s denial, and the operator has appealed. We have determined that the operator waived its arguments regarding the plan’s certification status by failing to raise those arguments before the board. We affirm the trial court’s decision in all other respects.

 

Aureus Holdings, LLC, d/b/a Media Brewery v. 3803 Partners, LLC,, (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 15, 2023). This case involves competing claims for breach of a commercial lease agreement. The tenant commenced this action seeking to recover the security deposit and pre-paid rent, contending that the landlord breached the lease by failing to comply with the notice-and-cure provision in the lease before leasing the premises to another tenant. The landlord denied any breach and filed a counterclaim for damages and attorney’s fees contending that the tenant breached the lease by not paying rent. Each party moved for summary judgment, seeking affirmative relief as well as dismissal of the other party’s claims. After ruling that the tenant was the first to materially breach the lease by failing to pay rent and holding that the landlord failed to comply with the notice-and-cure provision in the lease, the court summarily dismissed the tenant’s complaint and the landlord’s counterclaims. Both parties appeal. We affirm the dismissal of the tenant’s complaint but reverse the dismissal of the landlord’s counterclaims and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 

Thomas Builders, Inc. v. CFK Excavating, LLC, No. M2021-00843-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 2, 2023). An arbitrator awarded a subcontractor damages against a general contractor. In chancery court, the general contractor moved to vacate the award on the basis that the arbitrator exceeded his powers. The chancery court denied the motion to vacate and, at the request of the subcontractor, confirmed the arbitration award. We affirm.  Editor’s Note – 1st sentence of DissentI respectfully disagree with the majority’s holding that the doctrine of prior suit pending is inapplicable here.

 

Youree v. Recovery House of East Tennessee, LLC, No. M2021-01504-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 30, 2023).  A landlord leased property to company A. When company A breached the lease, the landlord filed suit against the company to recover monetary damages. A default judgment was entered against company A and, when company A failed to make any payments on that judgment, the landlord filed suit against company B and company C. The landlord alleged that the corporate veil should be pierced to hold company B and company C liable for company A’s debt because they were the alter egos of company A. After a default judgment was entered against company B and company C, they motioned to have the judgment set aside because the landlord’s complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for piercing the corporate veil. The trial court denied the motion to set aside, and the two companies appealed. Discerning that the complaint does not state sufficient factual allegations to articulate a claim for piercing the corporate veil, we reverse and remand.

 

Emergency Medical Care Facilities, P.C. v. Division of Tenncare, No. M2020-01358-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. May 25, 2023). Article II of Tennessee’s Constitution vests legislative authority in the General Assembly. We have held, however, that the General Assembly may “grant an administrative agency the power to promulgate rules and regulations which have the effect of law in the agency’s area of operation.” Bean v. McWherter, 953 S.W.2d 197, 199 (Tenn. 1997). The General Assembly frequently has done so. But it also established important guardrails for administrative agencies by enacting the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act. One of those guardrails is the requirement that agencies engage in notice-and-comment rulemaking: a process that gives the public and other affected parties an opportunity to weigh in. Here, we consider whether a reimbursement cap imposed by TennCare is a “rule” within the meaning of the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act that should have been promulgated through the notice-and-comment process. We hold that it is and reverse the Court of Appeals’ contrary decision.

 

Wheelhouse Partners, LLC v. Wilson & Assoc. PLLC No. M2022-00369-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 17, 2023).  This case stems from an unpaid promissory note secured by real property that was sold in foreclosure. Wheelhouse Partners, LLC (“Wheelhouse”), the beneficiary under a second deed of trust on the subject property, sued Wilson & Associates, PLLC (“Wilson”), the substitute trustee under the first deed of trust on the subject property, and James G. Akers and Deborah L. Akers (the “property owners” or, together with Wilson, “Defendants”). Wheelhouse alleged that the foreclosure sale produced excess funds sufficient to satisfy its second deed of trust and promissory note after satisfying the first deed of trust, but that Defendants refused to deliver such funds to Wheelhouse. Wheelhouse also alleged breach of contract against the property owners. Wilson interpleaded the surplus funds into the court and, following a successful motion for summary judgment, Wheelhouse was awarded the balance of its promissory note as well as its attorney’s fees. Mr. Akers appeals. Because his appellate brief does not comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27, his issues are waived and the lower court’s judgment is affirmed. Because Wheelhouse’s deed of trust clearly provides for an award of attorney’s fees and Wheelhouse properly requested its appellate attorney’s fees, we award Wheelhouse said fees.

 

The State of Tennessee ex rel. Westerman v. Mathes, No. M2022-00611-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 3,  2023).  The trial court granted Defendants/Appellees’ motion for a directed verdict at the close of Plaintiff/Appellant’s proof. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

Durham v. Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, No. M2021-01455-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 2, 2022).  This case involves the imposition of a civil penalty by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance as the result of multiple violations of the Campaign Financial Disclosure Act and the Campaign Contribution Limits Act. An appeal of the Registry’s decision was decided by an Administrative Law Judge who generally affirmed the decision of the Registry but significantly reduced the civil penalty. After further review by the Registry, the penalty was largely reinstated. Upon further appeal, the Chancery Court affirmed the decision of the Registry. We affirm.

Hogue v. P & C Investments, Inc., No. M2021-01335-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 23, 2022).  This is an appeal from a jury verdict holding a real estate agent liable for common law negligence, intentional misrepresentation and fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and violation of the Tennessee Real Estate Broker License Act for his failure to disclose flooding and water intrusion issues at a home he had listed for sale. The jury awarded the plaintiff, a first-time home buyer, compensatory and punitive damages. The real estate agent appeals the jury’s verdict holding him liable for intentional misrepresentation and fraud, the admission of certain expert testimony, the admission of opposing counsel’s alleged prejudicial statements during closing argument, the amount of compensatory damages, and the award of and amount of punitive damages. Finding that the trial court failed to follow the appropriate procedures in reviewing the jury’s award of punitive damages, we vacate the award of punitive damages and remand the case for further proceedings. In all other respects, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

 

Family Trust Services LLL vs. Green Wise Homes, LLC, No. M2021-01350-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 21, 2022).  This appeal involves claims by four plaintiffs against an attorney, his business partner, and the attorney’s and partner’s limited liability company. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants fraudulently redeemed properties sold via tax sales, utilizing forged or fraudulent documents. Following a bifurcated jury trial, the plaintiffs’ claims were dismissed except for the claim of one plaintiff against the attorney defendant, which resulted in a verdict for damages in the amount of $53,450. The trial court subsequently denied a motion for new trial filed by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs have appealed. Upon thorough review, we conclude that the trial court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motion for new trial should be reversed. However, we affirm the trial court’s pre-trial determination that judgment on the pleadings was appropriate concerning the plaintiffs’ claims of unjust enrichment and “theft” of the right of redemption. We further affirm (1) the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants concerning the plaintiffs’ claim based on Tennessee Code Annotated § 66-22-113 and (2) the court’s denial of the defendant company’s motion to dissolve the lien lis pendens on its property. The remaining issue raised by the defendants is pretermitted as moot. We remand this matter to the trial court for a new trial.

 

Meadows v. Story, No. M2020-00886-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2022).  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 reversible error, we affirm.

 

Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County v. Tennessee Department of Education, No. M2020-00683-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. May 18, 2022).  This case is before us on an interlocutory appeal limited to a single claim: Plaintiffs’2 constitutional challenge to the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program (the “ESA Act” or the “Act”), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-6-2601 to -2612, under article XI, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution (the “Home Rule Amendment” or the “Amendment”). The trial court held that Plaintiffs had standing to pursue this claim and denied Defendants’ motions to dismiss on that basis. The court held that the ESA Act is unconstitutional under the Home Rule Amendment and granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on this claim. The trial court then sua sponte granted Defendants an interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Appeals granted their application for an interlocutory appeal by permission pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment with respect to the issue of standing and the issue of the constitutionality of the ESA Act under the Home Rule Amendment. We hold that Plaintiffs have standing to bring their Home Rule Amendment claim and affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that issue. However, we hold that the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment such that the Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Amendment, and we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that issue. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court with respect to Plaintiffs’ claim under the Home Rule Amendment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the trial court for entry of a judgment dismissing that claim, for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, and for consideration of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims.

    • Concurring/dissenting opinion (final paragraph): For these reasons, I agree the Plaintiffs have standing because of the ESA Act’s harm to their sovereignty. But I respectfully dissent from the Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program under the Home Rule Amendment. I would find the ESA Act unconstitutional.

Southaphanh v. Tennessee Dept. of Correction, No. M2021-00234-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 14, 2022). A parolee petitioned for a common law writ of certiorari after the Tennessee Board of Parole revoked his parole and did not credit his sentence with a portion of the time he spent on parole. The chancery court concluded that the Board did not act arbitrarily, fraudulently, illegally, or in excess of its jurisdiction. The chancery court dismissed the petition. We affirm.

 

Understanding the Limitations and Use of the Information Found in This Book

Tennessee’s trial judges resolve hundreds of thousands of legal and factual issues in tens of thousands of cases every single year.  No appeal is filed in the vast percentage of those cases, indicating that while the “losing” party may not like a ruling on a particular issue, that party understands there was an appropriate reason for the judge’s decision or, at a minimum, the judge was acting within his or her discretion.

 

Of course, a small number of decisions of trial judges do result in an appeal. Experienced trial lawyers know that the number of cases appealed out of a particular trial judge’s court does not, in and of itself, reveal much about the trial judge. For example, some judges hear more complex cases than others, and those cases are more likely to be appealed. Convictions in child sex abuse cases are frequently appealed, as are many criminal cases resulting in long sentences. There are a large number of parental rights termination cases that find their way to the appellate courts.  Judges who routinely try those types of cases will, other things being equal, see more of their cases reviewed by appellate courts than judges who do not see such cases.

 

Second, certain litigants (and certain lawyers) are more likely to appeal a case than others.  Thus, judges who have those litigants or lawyers regularly appear in their courtrooms will find more cases reviewed by the appellate courts.

 

For these and other reasons, the reader is cautioned not to read too much into the number of cases appealed from a court.  Stated differently, there is no reason to believe that a judge who has ten cases reviewed by an appellate court in a single year is a “worse” judge than one who has one case appealed, or that a judge who has three cases appealed is a “better” judge than one who has nine cases appealed.

 

Next, the number of times a judge’s ruling is reversed by an appellate court is not necessarily indicative of the quality of his or her work. For example, experienced lawyers know that there are “holes in the law,” i.e., cases where there is no law directly on point and the judge is forced to predict what an appellate court would rule on the issue. The fact that a judge decided an open legal issue one way and an appellate court decided it another way does not mean that the trial judge was “wrong” or does not understand the law. It simply means that the trial judge had a different view of what the law should be than the appellate court that decided the issue. A trial judge is not blessed with a crystal ball that can with 100 percent accuracy forecast how an appellate court will rule on an undecided legal issue.

 

In addition, the trial court is sometimes not provided with the same in-depth legal arguments and law that is supplied to the appellate court by the parties, or which is provided by law clerks at the appellate level (many trial courts do not have law clerks). The trial judge may have reached the same conclusion as the appellate court if he or she had been supplied with additional law or argument.

 

Finally, the law changes constantly, and the trial judge may rule on a case based on today’s law, which may evolve between the time of that ruling and the issuance of an opinion of the appellate court. In such cases, the reversal of the case by the appellate court is a question of timing of the original court decision as compared to changes in the law, not one of error by the trial court.

 

So, what is the value of this book?  How can the trial lawyer use it to help his or her clients given the limitations expressed above? Permit me to digress slightly.

 

You have seen the coffee cups or t-shirts that proclaim, “A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge.”

 

Some read this phrase as suggesting that the “great lawyer” is one who has an improper relationship with the judge – that he or she can use a personal relationship to improperly influence the judge.  But most lawyers know better.  Most lawyers understand that “knowing the judge” means knowing the judge’s background, preferences concerning the presentation of evidence (including exhibits), arguments of motions, drafting of proposed orders, and given that experience, how he or she is likely to rule on a particular issue.  “Knowing the judge” also means knowing the local rules, local forms, local customs, and what things irritate the judge (and every judge is irritated by at least one thing that lawyers or litigants may do).

 

Many lawyers, particularly those in more rural areas of the state or who limit their practice to one area of law, understand the personality and preferences of the judges they see on a regular basis. Many of these lawyers may have a fair advantage appearing before that judge. (The advantage is “fair” because it results from experience and knowledge.)  That advantage – knowing how the judge thinks and his or her preferences – is not outcome-determinative, but it still may be an advantage, similar to a sports team playing on their home field.

 

Why did I say it “may” be an advantage, given what I said earlier about the benefits of “knowing the judge?”  Because simply knowing the judge’s thought processes and preferences is not enough. You still need to have the law and the facts on your client’s side.  And you need to be prepared to be able to give the judge what he or she needs to know to make a ruling.

 

So, the purpose of “The Book” is to give Tennessee lawyers case-related information to help them understand the trial judge who will rule on their client’s case or preside over a jury trial. By looking at past appellate court rulings arising from cases decided by the trial judge, anyone unfamiliar with a judge can get a “feel” for the judge. The case data contained herein does not compare with daily or weekly appearances in front of the judge on issues like a given case, but it is readily available information that give you an idea of how the judge has ruled in the past on a variety of matters.

 

The cases included are those originally decided by the trial judge that were in appellate court opinions released on or after January 1, 2022.  Note that there are a substantial number of judges who first took office in 2022 and thus it is reasonable to assume that there will be no appellate decisions for such judges until late 2023 or 2024.

 

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