JoeDae L. Jenkins, 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.

 

Haddix d/b/a 385 Ventures v. Stinson, et al., No. W2023-00679-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2024). This appeal arises from a breach of contract action wherein the appellee was directed to deposit funds owed to the appellant with the Clerk and Master. The appellee claimed an interest in some of the deposited funds pursuant to a separate contract. The trial court granted a default judgment in favor of the appellee for the requested amount. Because the appellant failed to comply with the briefing requirements set out in Rule 27 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, we dismiss the appeal.

 

Perrusquia v. Bonner, Jr. et al., No. W2023-00293-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 11, 2024). This case involves a petition for judicial review filed pursuant to the Tennessee Public Records Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 10-7-503, et seq., after the Shelby County Sheriff and the District Attorney General denied a journalist’s request to inspect surveillance video from inside a jail facility. The chancery court denied the petition. The journalist appeals. We affirm.

 

J.E. Allen Company, LLC v. Progress Construction Inc., No. W2022-00648-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2024) (memorandum opinion).  An owner and a contractor executed a standard form construction agreement. The contract identified the “Contractor” as a corporation and two individuals. Only one of the individuals signed the contract, but he did so as president of the corporation. After a dispute arose with a supplier, the owner filed a third-party complaint against the individual who signed on behalf of the corporation. The individual moved to dismiss and/or for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that he was not a party to the contract. The court agreed and dismissed the claims against him with prejudice. We reverse.

Harris v Allen, No. W2023-01794-COA-T10B-CV (Tenn. Ct, App. Jan. 12, 2024). The appellant is the Mayor of Shelby County. He filed a complaint for divorce, and the Shelby County chancellor originally assigned to the case recused herself. The case was reassigned to another Shelby County chancellor who accepted the case. Six months later, the appellant filed a motion to recuse the chancellor based on the Mayor’s budgetary duties regarding Shelby County government, including the chancery court and the chancery court clerk. The chancellor denied the motion, finding that it was not filed promptly in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B. We affirm.

 

Stinson v. Cooper, No. W2023-00161-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 20, 2023) (memorandum opinion).  Appellant, Mark T. Stinson, has appealed an order of the Shelby County Chancery Court that was entered on January 27, 2023. We determine that the January 27, 2023 order does not constitute a final appealable judgment. Therefore, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The appeal is dismissed.

 

State of Tennessee v. Delinquent Taxpayers 2009 (Anthony DeCarlo Hayes), No. W2021-01276-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 30, 2023).  The notice of appeal in this case was not timely filed. Therefore, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

 

Willett v. Olymbec USA, LLC,  No. W2022-00028-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 27, 2023). Tenant appeals the trial court’s decision to grant landlord a judgment under a holdover provision in a commercial lease. Because we conclude that landlord voluntarily relinquished its claim under the holdover provision, we reverse the trial court’s judgment of damages, late fees, and attorney’s fees, but affirm the trial court’s decision to deny tenant’s motion to amend her complaint. We remand this case for the determination of the sole issue agreed to be heard by the parties.

 

Brown v. Shelby County Schools, No. W2022-00123-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 23, 2023). This appeal involves the termination of a tenured teacher for the cause of inefficiency. After receiving a written charge recommending his dismissal, the teacher requested a tenure hearing before a hearing officer, who found that there was substantial evidence to support the charge of inefficiency and that there was just cause for termination. The teacher appealed, the board of education voted to sustain the decision of the hearing officer, and the teacher was terminated. The teacher petitioned for judicial review of the decision in the chancery court. The chancery court reversed and reinstated the teacher with back pay. The school system appeals. We reverse.

 

Moss v. Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board, No. W2017-01813-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Mar. 21, 2023).  The issue presented is whether a civil service merit board acts arbitrarily or capriciously by not allowing an employee to ask questions in a termination hearing about more lenient discipline imposed on other civil service employees. A Shelby County Fire Department employee was fired based on his participation in an altercation involving a firearm at a political rally and his dishonesty during the subsequent investigation. He appealed his termination to the Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board. During the hearing, the Board did not allow the employee’s counsel to ask questions about discipline imposed on other Fire Department employees. The Board affirmed the employee’s termination for just cause. The employee appealed, and the trial court affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Board’s decision to exclude the questions about other discipline was arbitrary and unreasonable, and remanded the case for consideration of such evidence. Under the narrow standard of review provided in the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, we hold that the Board did not act arbitrarily or capriciously by declining to consider evidence of discipline imposed on other employees. We reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

In Re Piper N., No. W2021-01185-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 13, 2023).  his appeal arose from a termination of parental rights proceeding where a mother’s parental rights were terminated on several statutory grounds. The original adoption petition contained no grounds for termination of the parents’ rights, and therefore, the Trial Court used the four months prior to the amended petition, which included grounds for termination, for purposes of the abandonment grounds. We affirm the trial court’s use of this time period before the amended petition. We hold that the record is insufficient for us to conduct a meaningful appellate review in this case and that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact on the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit, abandonment by failure to financially support, and mental incompetence based on the statutory authority in effect at the time of the filing of the amended petition alleging grounds for termination. These grounds are vacated and remanded to the trial court to allow the trial court to develop a proper record from which this Court can conduct a meaningful appellate review and to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(k). The amended petition seeking termination of parental rights was filed prior to the 2018 statutory amendments of the relevant termination statutes. Because the Child was never adjudicated as dependent and neglected, we reverse the ground of persistent conditions under the statute in effect when the amended petition was filed. Additionally, the statutory ground located at Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14) was not pled in the termination petition and was not tried by express or implied consent; therefore, we reverse this ground as to the termination of the mother’s parental rights.

 

Wayne Haddix d/b/a 385 Ventures v. Stinson, W2022-01813-COA-T10B-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 13, 2023).  This accelerated interlocutory appeal is taken from the trial court’s order denying Appellant’s motion for recusal. Because there is no evidence of bias that would require recusal under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Lexington Charter LP v, FBT of Tennessee, Inc., W2021-01138-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2022).  After counsel for the plaintiff partnership filed a claim for attorney fees in the counsel’s firm’s own name, limited partners of the partnership sought a right of intervention to oppose the firm’s claim. The trial court denied the limited partners’ efforts to intervene. We reverse the trial court’s conclusion that intervention was not appropriate, vacate the award giving relief to the firm, and remand the case for further proceedings with the limited partners’ participation as intervening parties.

 

Krajenta v. Westphal, W2021-00832-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 27, 2022).  Appellants, board members and members of Appellee homeowner’s association, filed a pro se lawsuit against the homeowner’s association and other board members, who are also Appellees. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss the amended petition on the ground that Appellants failed to bring a proper derivative action. Appellants filed voluntary nonsuits before the trial court heard the motion to dismiss. Despite the voluntary nonsuits, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss and denied the voluntary nonsuits. The trial court also awarded Appellees a portion of their attorney’s fees under Tennessee Code Annotated section 48-56-401(e), and, alternatively, under Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-12-119(c). Because the trial court should have allowed Appellants’ nonsuits, we: (1) reverse the trial court’s denial of the nonsuits; (2) vacate the trial court’s order granting Appellees’ motion to dismiss; and (3) vacate the trial court’s order granting Appellees’ attorney’s fees. The trial court’s order dividing the special master fees equally between the parties is affirmed.

 

Brown v. Iverson, W2022-00045-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 20, 2022) (memorandum opinion). Appellant, Derrick Lakeith Brown, has appealed an order of the Shelby County Chancery Court that was entered on November 5, 2021. We determine that the November 5, 2021 order does not constitute a final appealable judgment. Therefore, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The appeal is dismissed.

 

Lowery v. Redmond, No. W2021-00611-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 23, 2022).  Appellee filed a petition in chancery court against Respondents/Appellants, alleging various claims related to allegedly false and defamatory statements made by the Respondents/Appellants. An objection was made to the chancery court’s subject matter jurisdiction, seeking dismissal or transfer of the action to circuit court. The chancery court denied the motion to dismiss or transfer and ultimately rendered judgment in favor of Petitioner/Appellee. We conclude that the chancery court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. We therefore reverse the judgment of the chancery court regarding subject matter jurisdiction, vacate all other orders of judgment entered by the trial court, and remand the case for transfer to circuit court.

 

Commercial Painting Co., Inc. v. The Weitz Co., LLC., No. W2019-02089-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 11, 2022). This is the third appeal arising from a commercial construction project. Most recently, the case went to trial before a jury, which awarded the plaintiff subcontractor $1,729,122.46 in compensatory damages under four separate theories and $3,900,000.00 in punitive damages. The trial court further awarded the plaintiff pre- and post-judgment interest and attorney’s fees and costs. We conclude the economic loss rule is applicable to construction contracts negotiated between sophisticated commercial entities and that fraud is not an exception under the particular circumstances of this case. Because punitive damages and interest are not authorized under the parties’ agreement, those damages are reversed. The compensatory damages of $1,729,122.46 awarded for breach of contract are affirmed. The award of attorney’s fees incurred at trial are vacated for a determination of the attorney’s fees incurred in obtaining the compensatory damages award. No attorney’s fees are awarded on appeal. We therefore reverse in part, affirm in part, and vacate in part.

 

Deborah Elaine Murdock v. Joel Montgomery Murdock, No. W2019-00979-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 2, 2022). In this divorce case, Husband and Wife filed cross-appeals seeking review of the trial court’s: (1) division of marital property; (2) award of alimony in futuro to Wife; and (3) award of alimony in solido to Wife. Husband raises additional issues concerning the trial court’s reliance on testimony from Wife’s medical expert and the trial court’s refusal to apply the missing witness rule. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

 

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