James A. Hamilton, III, Commissioner


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.


Bryant v. State of Tennessee, No. W2022-00968-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 15, 2023). This appeal follows the dismissal of the appellant’s claim for damages in the Tennessee Claims Commission. The appellant, who was injured during a class she participated in while enrolled as a student in the occupational therapy program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, submits that the Commission’s failure to find her professor negligent was in error. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.


Automotive Performance Technologies, LLC v. State of Tennessee, No. W2023-00186-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 8, 2023) (memorandum opinion). The notice of appeal in this case was not timely filed. Therefore, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.


Pharma Education Conference v. State of Tennessee, No. W2021-00999-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 13, 2023).  This appeal arises from a breach of contract case that concerned whether the contract at issue lacked consideration due to an illusory promise. Specifically, the terms of the contract provided that the plaintiff would produce as many programs “as is feasible.” The parties filed competing motions for summary judgment. The claims commission granted the State of Tennessee’s motion for summary judgment finding that the contract between the parties was devoid of consideration due to an illusory promise and was therefore unenforceable. Additionally, the claims commission denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to liability and denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to damages finding that the issue was moot. The plaintiff appeals. We affirm.


Herron v. State of Tennessee, No. W2020-01731-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 13, 2021). 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.


Herron v. State of Tennessee, No. W2019-00595-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 7, 2021).  This case involves a breach of contract claim brought against the Tennessee Department of Human Services pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 9-8-307(a)(1)(L). The defendant moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, claiming the parties never entered into a written agreement. The Tennessee Claims Commission granted the motion and dismissed the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We affirm the Commission’s decision and remand.


Kim v. State of Tennessee, No. W2019-01027-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2020).  This matter is before the court for a second time. Plaintiffs filed a negligence suit in the Tennessee Claims Commission against the State of Tennessee after their six-year-old son fell from the fifth-floor balcony of the state-owned and -operated Paris Landing State Park Inn. Plaintiffs alleged that the State was negligent in two respects: 1) in allowing their son to gain access to an unoccupied guest room and the attached balcony, and 2) in maintaining balcony railings that were shorter in height than was required by applicable building codes. Following a bench trial, the Tennessee Claims Commissioner concluded that the Plaintiffs failed to establish that the State’s negligence was the proximate cause of their son’s injuries. Plaintiffs appealed to this Court, and we held that the Commissioner’s conclusions of law were deficient and vacated and remanded the case for further consideration. On remand, the Commissioner entered a supplemental order that included additional conclusions of law as to both claims for negligence, and, again, determined that the Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of proving that the Inn’s acts were the proximate cause of their son’s fall and dismissed the claim in its entirety. Plaintiffs again appeal. We affirm the Commissioner’s holding that Plaintiffs failed to establish that the negligence of the Inn was the proximate cause of their son’s injuries.


Herron v. State of Tennessee, No. W2020-00776-COA-T10B-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 25, 2020).  This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, from the trial court’s denial of a motion for recusal. Having reviewed the petition for recusal appeal, pursuant to the de novo standard as required under Rule 10B, § 2.01, we affirm the claims commissioner’s decision to deny the motion for recusal.


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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