Charles K. Smith, Chancellor


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.


Medina-Tratel v. Holloway, Et Al., No. M2022-01640-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 5, 2024). The dispositive issue on appeal concerns a forum selection clause in the LLC Agreement of Catch22Nashville, LLC (“the LLC Agreement”). Catch22Nashville, LLC initially had four members who owned equal membership interests. The principal business of the LLC was a restaurant operating under the name Catch22 Gastropub. A dispute arose when one of the four members, Christopher Holloway (“Mr. Holloway”), purchased the membership interests of two other members, Richard Miley (“Mr. Miley”) and Justin Kamishlian (“Mr. Kamishlian”), resulting in Mr. Holloway owning three-fourths of the membership interests in the LLC. The fourth member, Victor Daniel Medina-Tratel (“Mr. Medina”), claims that Mr. Holloway promised to transfer the interest portion belonging to Mr. Kamishlian to Mr. Medina upon his payment of $40,000, so that Mr. Holloway and Mr. Medina would own Catch22Nashville, LLC in equal interests. Instead, Mr. Holloway transferred a one-fourth membership interest in the LLC to his wife Melanie Holloway (“Ms. Holloway”). Two years later, the landlord of Catch22 Gastropub terminated its lease and evicted the restaurant from the premises, forcing it to cease business. On the day of the eviction, Mr. Medina obtained a cashier’s check in the amount of $100,000 from the LLC’s bank account that was made payable to the Clerk and Master of Wilson County. Mr. Medina then filed a complaint in the Chancery Court of Wilson County against Mr. Holloway and Ms. Holloway (hereinafter “the Holloways”) for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and conversion related to the transfer of Mr. Kamishlian’s membership interest in the LLC. Mr. Medina also filed a motion to interplead into court the $100,000 that he withdrew from the LLC’s corporate account. The LLC then motioned to intervene as a party with a vested interest in the interpleaded funds. The trial court granted both Mr. Medina’s motion for interpleader and the LLC’s motion to intervene. The LLC and the Holloways (hereinafter “Defendants”) then filed motions to dismiss based on the forum selection clause in the LLC Agreement. Section 1.09 of the LLC Agreement states “[v]enue for any dispute arising under this LLC Agreement or any disputes among any Members or the Company will be in the county of the Company’s Registered Office.” The trial court ruled that, under the forum selection clause in the LLC Agreement, exclusive venue for Mr. Medina’s claims was in Oconee County, Georgia, the county of the company’s registered office, and dismissed the case without prejudice for lack of proper venue. Mr. Medina filed a timely appeal. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the decision of the trial court.


Infinity Homes, Inc. v. Horizon Land Title, Inc., No. M2022-00829-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 8, 2023). Appellants, purchasers of several unimproved lots, filed suit against Appellee title company. Appellants asserted five counts against Appellee based on Appellee’s alleged failure to disclose the existence of a lien lis pendens on the lots. The trial court dismissed all but one of the counts against Appellee and certified its orders of partial dismissal as final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02. We conclude that the trial court improvidently certified its orders as final and dismiss the appeal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.


Wilfong v. Kaelin, No. M2021-01007-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 1, 2023).  This matter is before this court on a Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure Rule 9 interlocutory appeal to determine “whether the trial court erred in determining that it cannot order a new trial on the issue of punitive damages only.” Under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 59.07, “[a] new trial may be granted to all or any of the parties and on all or part of the issues in an action . . . .” Accordingly, this court concludes that trial courts may order new trials addressing the limited matter of punitive damages without need of retrying the entirety of the parties’ dispute.


In Re Estate of Mona J. Small, No. M2021-01284-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 12, 2022).  The trial court awarded the estate of Mona Small (“the Estate”) a judgment in the amount of $26,515 against appellants Kevin J. Elliott and Heather R. Elliott, based on its finding that the Elliotts converted that amount when Ms. Small was residing with them. Because the Elliotts’ brief was untimely filed and wholly fails to comply with the applicable Rules of Appellate Procedure, we dismiss this appeal. We also grant the Estate’s request to find this appeal frivolous, and we remand to the trial court for a determination of reasonable attorney’s fees on appeal to be awarded to the Estate.

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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