Jonathan L. Young, Judge (Service Ended August 31, 2022)


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.


Dennis Owen v. Kenneth A. Grinspun et al., No. M2021-00681-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 25, 2022). Appellant appeals the trial court’s dismissal of this cause of action on the basis that it was filed by a deceased plaintiff and therefore a nullity that could not be corrected via amendment. We affirm.


Town of Monterey, Tennessee et al. v. The Garden Inn, LLC et al., No. M2020-01511-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 24, 2022). This is a declaratory judgment action concerning an express ingress/egress easement that provides access via The Garden Inn at Bee Rock in Monterey, Tennessee, to a neighboring natural landmark owned by the Town of Monterey, Tennessee. After years of public use of the easement to access the landmark, The Garden Inn took steps to physically hinder the public’s use of the easement. As a consequence, the Town of Monterey and others commenced this action against The Garden Inn, LLC, to declare the respective rights and responsibilities of the parties. After years of litigation, The Garden Inn contended that a conservation foundation was an indispensable party. In doing so, The Garden Inn contended that failure to add the conservation foundation, which holds a conservation easement by which it may prohibit certain uses of the landmark property, would subject The Garden Inn to multiple or otherwise inconsistent obligations. The trial court disagreed, holding that the conservation foundation “has no interest in the fight with respect to the interpretation of this easement for ingress and egress.” Thereafter, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the Town of Monterey concerning the scope and uses of the easement. The Garden Inn appealed, challenging only the trial court’s determination that the conservation foundation was not an indispensable party. We affirm.


Pandharipande v. FSD Corporation, No. M2020-01174-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2022).  This is a dispute between a property owner and his homeowners’ association concerning the scope and applicability of restrictive covenants. Two restrictive covenants are at issue. One is a covenant contained in the neighborhood’s 1984 Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions that limited usage of the homes to residential use as “a residence by a single family.” The other is a covenant contained in a 2018 Amendment that relaxed the 1984 residential use restriction by authorizing short-term rentals of no less than 30 consecutive days, subject to specific criteria. The plaintiff, who purchased a home in the development in 2015 and has been leasing it on a short-term vacation rental basis to third parties as a business venture, seeks a declaratory judgment that he may lease his home for rentals as short as two days. For its part, the homeowners’ association seeks to enforce the restrictive covenants in the 1984 Declaration as well as the 2018 Amendment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the homeowners’ association on both issues. In doing so, the court held that restrictions in the 1984 Declaration prohibited nonresidential renting. The court also held that Plaintiff’s current use of his property is subject to the 2018 Amendment, which authorized short-term leasing subject to stipulations including that “[t]the length of the lease must be for a minimum of 30 consecutive days.” The plaintiff appeals. We affirm.


Clay County v. Purdue Pharma L.P., No. E2022-00349-COA-T10B-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 20, 2022).  A Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B petition for recusal appeal was filed in this Court following the denial of a motion that sought the disqualification of the trial court judge. As explained herein, because we conclude that concerns contributing to an appearance of partiality necessitate the trial judge’s recusal, we reverse. In addition, we vacate an order on substantive matters that was signed by the trial judge while the recusal motion was pending.


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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