John F. Weaver, 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.


In Re Macee M., No. E2023-00985-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 20, 2024). The father and stepmother of Macee M. filed a petition to terminate the mother’s parental rights on three grounds. The trial court found that one ground had been proven, abandonment for failure to support, and that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in Macee’s best interest. Based on these findings, the mother’s parental rights were terminated. The mother appeals. We affirm the termination of her parental rights.


Etters v. Knox County, Tennessee, No. E2022-01498-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2023). In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant municipal board claimed that a document attached to the plaintiffs’ amended complaint was protected by the attorney work product doctrine and therefore could not be relied upon or otherwise utilized by the plaintiffs. The defendant further urged that such protection had not been waived. The trial court disagreed, finding that although portions of the document were protected by the work product doctrine, such protection had been waived. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.


Dover Signature Properties, Inc. v. Customer Service Electric Supply, No. E2022-00461-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 22, 2023). The appellant, the developer of a senior living facility in Knoxville, appeals the trial court’s determination that it breached a joint check agreement that included itself, an electrical subcontractor, and an electrical supplier as signatories. Although the appellant had initially denied executing the joint check agreement and had expressed a lack of awareness of the electrical supplier’s involvement with the subcontractor and senior living project, it ultimately acknowledged during litigation that its controller had signed the joint check agreement and that the supplier’s materials were incorporated into the project. The proof at trial revealed that, notwithstanding its execution of the joint check agreement, the appellant never issued a joint check that would assure that the supplier received payment. Instead, the appellant paid only the subcontractor who failed to pay the supplier. Herein, we affirm the trial court’s judgment awarding the supplier relief against the appellant.


Moore Freight Services, Inc. v. Grant Mize et al., No. E2021-00590-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 03, 2022). This is an interlocutory appeal involving a discovery dispute. The plaintiff corporation initiated this action to enforce a non-competition provision in an employment agreement, naming as defendants the plaintiff’s former chief operating officer and his current employer. Central to the discovery dispute, the plaintiff averred that it had terminated the chief operating officer’s employment for cause based on having learned that he had been involved in a payment scheme involving benefits and favors to an employee of one of the plaintiff’s customers. The defendants averred that the employment termination had actually been due to the plaintiff’s corporate restructuring. Prior to the chief operating officer’s employment termination, the plaintiff had retained outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation, and the customer whose employee had been identified as the recipient of the scheme had likewise conducted an investigation. Upon the defendants’ motion to compel discovery of materials related to the plaintiff’s internal investigation, the plaintiff opposed the motion, asserting that the materials were entitled to protection pursuant to the attorney-client privilege, common interest privilege, and work product doctrine. Following a hearing, the trial court found that the defendants had established, prima facie, that the plaintiff had waived the asserted privileges and protections by placing the internal investigation materials at issue in the litigation. The trial court then conducted an in camera review of specific materials presented to the court during the final day of the hearing. At the time these materials were submitted, it was undisputed that the only attorney work product included in the materials was “fact” or “ordinary” work product with no “opinion” work product included. Following in camera review, the trial court entered an order granting the motion to compel specifically as to the materials it had reviewed. Upon the plaintiff’s motion, the trial court entered an agreed order granting permission for application to this Court for an interlocutory appeal addressing the certified issue of whether the plaintiff had “waived the work product, attorney-client, and common interest privilege or protection by placing the internal investigation ‘at issue’ in this litigation.” This Court subsequently granted permission for interlocutory appeal.


Meghan Conley v. Knox County Sheriff, Et Al., No. E2020-01713-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 01, 2022). This is a Tennessee Public Records Act case. The trial court found that Appellant willfully denied two of Appellee’s twelve public records requests, but it awarded Appellee attorney’s fees and costs incurred throughout the entire litigation. We affirm the trial court’s findings that Appellant willfully denied two of Appellee’s public records requests. However, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding Appellee costs and fees incurred throughout the entire litigation. Accordingly, we vacate that portion of the trial court’s order and remand with instructions. The trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed, and Appellee’s request for appellate attorney’s fees and costs is denied.


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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