Jerri S. Bryant, 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.


Paschke v. Paschke, No. E2023-00239-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2024) (memorandum opinion).  Appellant filed this declaratory judgment action against his sister, seeking to enforce a contract concerning property owned by the siblings’ parents at their deaths. After a bench trial, the trial court found that the contract was unenforceable, as there was no meeting of the minds due to a mutual mistake of fact. The trial court further found that a conveyance of real property was barred by the statute of frauds. Because Appellant has failed to supply this Court with a transcript or statement of the evidence presented at trial, we must affirm the trial court’s finding that there was no meeting of the minds due to a mutual mistake.

Carden v. Carden, No. E2022-00721-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 4, 2023).  The father of two children learned that the mother eventually planned to relocate to Florida. The father opposed the relocation and applied for a temporary restraining order to disallow the mother from leaving the state. He further requested modification of the permanent parenting plan entered at the time of the divorce (a default judgment). In response, the mother filed a counter-petition requesting permission to relocate out-of-state. The paternal grandparents filed a petition to intervene in the action to establish visitation. The court conducted a best interest analysis to determine whether it was in the children’s best interest to relocate with the mother. Concluding that it was in the children’s best interest to relocate, the court entered a modified parenting plan, which provided a period of co-parenting time for the father to be supervised by the grandparents and set forth a parenting schedule reflective of the distance between the parties upon the mother’s relocation. The father and the grandparents appealed. We affirm the judgment allowing the relocation. The trial court’s order regarding the grandparents’ visitation petition, however, is unclear. Accordingly, we vacate the modified parenting plan and remand this matter for specific findings under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-307 and for a ruling whether the visitation by the grandparents will be separate from or derivative of the father’s time.


Conn v. Donlon, No. E2022-00419-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 8, 2023).  The developer of a subdivision filed suit seeking to enforce restrictive covenants against the owners of property within the first phase of a multi-phase subdivision. In response, the homeowners filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the developer had breached his fiduciary duty to timely turn over control of the homeowners’ association to the homeowners for the first phase of the subdivision. The developer also filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied by the trial court. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the homeowners upon its determination that the developer could no longer enforce the restrictive covenants against the homeowners in the first phase of the subdivision because he was required to turn over control of the homeowners’ association for the first phase of the subdivision to the property owners. We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the homeowners.


Self v. Self, No. E2021-01130-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 1, 2022).  In this divorce action the husband raises multiple issues on appeal concerning, inter alia, the factual accuracy of the trial court’s judgment; the trial court’s grant of divorce to the wife on the ground of inappropriate marital conduct; the trial court’s equitable distribution of the marital property, including the trial court’s one-time award to the wife of $50,000 as part of the distribution; the trial court’s findings concerning the husband’s income, expenses, and ability to work; and the trial court’s award to the wife of $3,000 in attorney’s fees as alimony in solido. The husband has not directly raised an issue regarding the trial court’s award to the wife of $850 monthly as alimony in futuro. We determine that with the exception of one issue related to the trial court’s miscalculation of the marriage’s duration, which we deem to have been harmless error, the husband has waived all issues by failing to comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24(b)-(c) and Tennessee Court of Appeals Rule 7. We accordingly affirm the trial court’s judgment. Deeming this to be a frivolous appeal, we grant the wife’s request for reasonable attorney’s fees on appeal and post-judgment interest on the trial court’s alimony awards.


Ellis v. Ellis, E2020-00869-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 30, 2022).  In this divorce case, Claude Ellis (“Husband”) challenges the trial court’s division of the marital estate, the award of spousal support and attorney’s fees to Melisa1 Jane Godfrey Ellis (“Wife”), and the trial court’s finding that Husband dissipated marital assets. We hold that the trial court misclassified some of the assets in contention as marital, and we remand for a reconsideration of the division of the marital estate in light of this holding. Because the issue of attorney’s fees as alimony in solido is only properly considered after the issues of estate valuation and distribution are settled, we vacate the award of alimony in solido, so that the trial court has the opportunity to reconsider the award if the court finds it necessary. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects.


Mitchell v. Mitchell, E2021-01283-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 2, 2022).  This post-divorce appeal concerns the trial court’s entry of a permanent parenting plan, calculation of child support, and classification of assets. We affirm the court’s decisions.


Hollis v. Hollis, Jr., No. E2020-01123-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 29, 2022).  This appeal concerns a divorce. Melanie Miller Hollis (“Wife”) sued Charles Myers Hollis, Jr. (“Husband”) for divorce in the Chancery Court for Bradley County (“the Trial Court”). After a trial, the Trial Court granted Husband a divorce based upon Wife’s inappropriate marital conduct. The Trial Court also divided the marital estate and awarded Wife alimony and child support. Wife appeals, arguing that the Trial Court erred by failing to classify and value as part of the marital estate Husband’s “book of business” from his job as a financial advisor at UBS, a financial services firm. Husband raises separate issues regarding child support, alimony, and the division of the marital estate. Discerning no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court in its entirety. We also remand for the Trial Court to determine and enter an award to Wife of her reasonable attorney’s fees incurred on appeal, but only as they relate to issues of child support and alimony.

In re Morgan R., No. E2021-01206-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. June 2, 2022).  This is an appeal by Mother from the trial court’s termination of her parental rights on the grounds of abandonment. Mother contends that her actions were not willful such as to warrant termination, while also arguing that termination is not in the best interest of the child. For the reasons discussed herein, we affirm the trial court’s termination.


Jennifer Susan Bennett v. Duncan Geoffrey Bennett, No. E2021-01086-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 11, 2022). Because the notice of appeal was not timely filed, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.


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.



"The Book" - Information on Tennessee Trial Judges Copyright © 2023 by BirdDog Law, LLC. All Rights Reserved.