Kathryn Wall Olita, Judge


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.


Houbbadi v. Kennedy Law Firm, PLLC, No. M2022-01166-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2024). The plaintiff filed an action for breach of contract and fraud against his former attorneys and the attorneys’ law firm. The defendants moved for a judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the plaintiff failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted, and that the action was untimely. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion, and, having determined that the plaintiff’s action is untimely under Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-104(c)(1), we affirm.

In Re Skylith F., No. M2022-01231-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 9, 2023). This appeal concerns the termination of a mother’s parental rights. Step-grandparents Joe K. and Lois K. (“Petitioners”) filed a petition in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County (“the Trial Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Vernetta G. (“Mother”) to her minor children, Skylith F., Zelda F., and Celeste G. (“the Children”). After a hearing, the Trial Court entered an order terminating Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by failure to support, abandonment by failure to visit, and persistent conditions. Mother appeals. Mother argues, among other things, that she was thwarted by Petitioners from visiting the Children more often than she did. We find by clear and convincing evidence, as did the Trial Court, that Petitioners proved three grounds for termination of Mother’s parental rights. We find further by clear and convincing evidence, as did the Trial Court, that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. We affirm.  Concurring / Dissenting Opinion: I concur in the majority’s thoughtful and well-reasoned opinion, but I write separately to reflect a variance of view with the majority’s determination as to the appropriate four-month statutory time period for assessing the ground for termination for abandonment by failure to support. In assessing abandonment, the General Assembly has directed Tennessee courts to consider “a period of four (4) consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of a proceeding, pleading, petition, or any amended petition to terminate the parental rights . . . .” Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i) (West July 1, 2021 to May 8, 2022). The majority concludes that the correct four-month period to examine for the ground of abandonment by failure to support in this case is the four months prior to the granting of the motion to amend, running from July 18, 2021, to November 17, 2021, rather than the four months prior to the time the amended petition was filed on September 24, 2021. I do not necessarily disagree with the majority on this point. Where I respectfully diverge is that I do not think it is necessary to decide between these two time periods in this case and would reserve doing so for a more appropriate case.


Hammond v. Hammond, No. M2022-01253-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 22, 2023). A husband and wife entered into a marital dissolution agreement in 2019. Part of the agreement provided that once the husband retired from the United States Army, he would pay the wife alimony in futuro in an amount equal to the amount of military retirement to which the wife was entitled under the agreement. In 2021, the wife filed a motion for contempt alleging, inter alia, that the husband was not complying with the alimony requirements. The husband argued that the parties’ agreement was unenforceable because it is pre-empted by federal law. Following a hearing, the trial court found that the husband had failed to comply with the agreement but that the contempt was not willful. The husband appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm. We also grant the wife’s request for her appellate attorney’s fees.


Richmond v. City of Clarksville, TennesseeNo. M2022-00974-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 7, 2023) (memorandum opinion).  This case involves a declaratory judgment action to determine whether the plaintiff, then a member of the Clarksville City Council, was entitled to a declaration of rights concerning alleged communications between the Clarksville City Attorney and the local District Attorney General potentially pertaining to plaintiff. The trial court dismissed the action, concluding that the plaintiff was seeking an impermissible advisory opinion because there was no justiciable controversy. Having reviewed the record, we affirm.


In Re Parker F., No. M2022-01110-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. May 5, 2023). A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to two children. The trial court concluded that the petitioners proved four statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence. The court also concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the children’s best interest. After a thorough review, we agree and affirm.


In Re Alyssa A., No.  M2022-00582-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar.6,2023). This appeal concerns the termination of a father’s parental rights to his children. The trial court found that the petitioner, the children’s grandmother, established several grounds for terminating the father’s parental rights and that termination of his rights was in the best interests of the children. The father appeals, challenging each ground for termination as well as the trial court’s finding that termination of his parental rights was in the children’s best interests. We affirm the termination of the father’s parental rights.


In Re Tyler H., No. M2022-00744-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 6, 2022). A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights. Because the mother did not file her notice of appeal within thirty  days after entry of the final order as required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.


Griffith-Ball v. Ball, No. M2020-00509-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 13, 2022). A husband and wife divorced after a long marriage. They disputed whether certain assets were marital or separate property and whether the wife was entitled to alimony. The trial court found that the disputed assets were the husband’s separate property. And it awarded the wife alimony in futuro, as well as attorney’s fees as alimony in solido. Upon our review, we find the evidence preponderates against the finding that the assets are separate property. So, with those assets included in the marital estate, we remand for a new property division. And, because the division of marital property is a factor in awarding alimony, we vacate the alimony awards. On remand, the court should consider whether alimony is still appropriate under its new property division and, if so, the type, amount, and duration of the award.


Kara Krulewicz v. Joshua Krulewicz, No. M2021-00190-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 1, 2022). The trial court modified the divorced parties’ residential parenting schedule, increasing Father’s parenting time. Mother appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.


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.