Felicia Corbin Johnson, Judge


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.


Graves v. Calloway, No. W2022-01536-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2023).  This is a negligence and premises liability action. One of the defendants, Appellee property owner, filed a motion for summary judgment three days after answering and before any discovery was scheduled or conducted. Appellant filed motions for permission to amend his complaint and for additional time to conduct discovery pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.07. The trial court denied Appellant’s motion for additional time, reserved his motion to amend his complaint, and heard Appellee’s motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted Appellee’s motion for summary judgment, dismissed Appellant’s claims “with prejudice,” and explicitly reserved its judgment pending adjudication of Appellant’s pending motion for permission to amend. The trial court subsequently determined it did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate Appellant’s motion to amend and instructed Appellant to file a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60 motion to set aside the judgment. The trial court denied Appellant’s Rule 60 motion and motion to amend and certified its order awarding summary judgment to Appellee as final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02. We vacate the award of summary judgment to Appellee and remand for further proceedings.


FedTrust Federal Credit Union v. Brooks, No. W2022-01119-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 14, 2023). This appeal concerns a circuit court’s dismissal of an appeal by a Defendant from judgments  entered by a general sessions court. The circuit court dismissed the Defendant’s appeal as untimely. The Defendant appealed that dismissal to this Court. In addition to asserting that the circuit court erred in concluding her appeal was untimely, the Defendant also raises issues related to recusal and notice. We affirm the circuit court’s dismissal of the Defendant’s appeal.


Quinn v. Shelby County Schools, No. W2022-00104-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 31, 2023).  This is an employment discrimination case. The plaintiff, a female secretary at a high school, sued the county school board for discrimination alleging that she was terminated because of her sex in violation of the Tennessee Human Rights Act. Following a bench trial, the trial court held in favor of the plaintiff and awarded damages. The school board appeals, asserting that the plaintiff failed to make out a prima facie case of discrimination. We have determined that the plaintiff failed to identify a “similarly situated” employee and therefore failed to make out a prima facie case of sex discrimination. We reverse the judgment of the trial court.


Waddell v. Waddell, No. W2020-00220-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2023).  In this divorce case, Wife/Appellant appeals the trial court’s: (1) pre-trial rulings concerning certain entities; (2) denial of her motions for leave to amend the complaint for divorce; (3) pre-trial procedural rulings; (4) evidentiary rulings; (5) designation of Husband/Appellee as the primary residential parent and parent with sole decision-making authority over the parties’ child; (6) child support award; (7) alimony award; (8) denial of retroactive temporary support; and (9) denial of her request for attorney’s fees. Wife also asks this Court to award her attorney’s fees incurred in this appeal. For the reasons discussed below, we vacate in part, reverse in part, and affirm in part. Wife’s request for appellate attorney’s fees is denied.


Yarbrough v. Mitchell, No. W2021-01174-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 3, 2023) (memorandum opinion). In this contract action, the defendant appeals the trial court’s judgment in favor of the plaintiff for failure to comply with Rule 52.01 of the Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure. Upon review, we conclude that the trial court has failed to include in its final order appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Rule 52.01. Thus, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand this case to the trial court for the entry of a more detailed order.


Collin C. b/n/f Craft v. Tutor, No. W2023-00153-COA-R3-T10B-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2023).  A Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B petition for recusal appeal was filed in this Court following the denial of a motion that sought the trial court judge’s recusal from the case. Herein, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the recusal motion.


Pamela Lott v. Veronica Mallett, M.D., et al., No. W2020-01233-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 25, 2022). Appellant initially filed suit against a doctor and the hospital where she had surgery. Nearly a year later, Appellant amended her complaint to add the doctor’s employer as an additional defendant. The first suit was voluntarily dismissed, and the plaintiff refiled against the doctor and her employer, relying on the savings statute. The trial court dismissed the claims against the doctor on the basis that Appellant failed to substantially comply with the Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121 in the second action and therefore was not entitled to an extension on the savings statute. The trial court granted the employer summary judgment on the basis that the first complaint naming it was not filed within the applicable statute of limitations. Discerning no error, we affirm.


Richard Mack, ET AL. v. Cable Equipment Services INC., ET AL., No. W2020-00862-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2022). This appeal arises from litigation involving an incident that occurred in 2010. Suit was originally filed in 2011. After a voluntary nonsuit, the complaint was refiled in 2014. Years later, the plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add additional defendants. The trial court granted leave to amend but reserved ruling on whether the claims against the new parties would relate back to the date of the original complaint under the provisions of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 15.03. The amended complaint was filed in 2018. The newly added defendants moved to dismiss on the basis that none of the elements required for relation back under Rule 15.03 had been shown to exist. After a hearing, the trial judge agreed and provided an oral ruling in favor of the defendants. Before a written order was entered to that effect, the plaintiffs filed a notice of voluntary nonsuit without prejudice. The trial court subsequently entered an order granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The trial court found that at that point in the proceeding, the allowance of a nonsuit was discretionary, and permitting a nonsuit after its oral ruling would have been unfairly prejudicial to the defendants. As such, it granted the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on the basis that the claims were barred by the statute of limitations and did not relate back to the filing of the original or refiled complaint. The plaintiffs filed motions to alter or amend or set aside the order, arguing that the trial court lost jurisdiction at the moment the plaintiffs filed their notice of nonsuit, and therefore, the order of dismissal was void. They also argued that the trial court impermissibly relied on facts that were not found within the amended complaint in resolving the motion to dismiss. The trial court denied both motions. The plaintiffs appeal. 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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