Laurence M. McMillan, Jr., Chancellor (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.


In Re Estate of John Bruce Wilson, No. M2021-01549-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 20, 2022).  This is an appeal from the dismissal of a petition for a declaratory judgment regarding a will and trust. Because the appellant did not file his notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the final judgment as required by Rule 4(a) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, we dismiss the appeal.

Lunn v. Dickson County, Tennessee, No. M2021-00543-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2022). In this certiorari review of the decision of a board of zoning appeals upholding the zoning director’s interpretation and application of the zoning resolutions to permit the building of a fuel terminal, the appellants challenge the decision as being arbitrary and unsupported by the evidence. The trial court concluded that ample material evidence existed to support the decision of the director. Upon our de novo review, we agree and accordingly affirm the decision of the trial court.


Gray v. Dickson County, Tennessee, No. M2021-00545-COA-R3-CV  and No. M2021-00546-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2022).  This consolidated appeal involves citizen challenges, via the common law writ of certiorari, to the procedure by which the Dickson County Planning Commission and Dickson County Commission approved a settlement agreement negotiated with Titan Partners, L.L.C. Specifically, the Petitioners allege that they were entitled to notice that the settlement agreement was going to be discussed at the regularly scheduled meetings of the Planning Commission and County Commission. They further allege that executive sessions were improperly utilized to discuss the settlement agreement in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The trial court found no violation of the Open Meetings Act and affirmed the actions of the Planning and County Commissions. Upon our review of the record, we agree that there was no violation of the Open Meetings Act and affirm the trial court in all respects.


Turnbull Preservation Group, L.L.C. v. Dickson County, Tennessee, No. M2021-00542-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2022).  This is an Open Meetings Act case regarding the Dickson County Planning Commission’s approval and subsequent denial of a site plan for the construction and operation of a fuel terminal. A non-profit and two Dickson County residents filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing that the Planning Commission acted in violation of the Open Meetings Act when it held an unpublicized meeting and initially approved the site plan. The trial court found the case was moot because the Dickson County Planning Commission overturned its approval of the site plan at a subsequent meeting. We agree and affirm the trial court’s dismissal of the case as moot.


Harper v. Harper, No. M2020-00412-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 25, 2022).  In proceedings between ex-spouses long after the entry of their final divorce decree, the trial court concluded that it lacked authority to order the division of service-related disability benefits. The court also declared void a portion of the divorce decree that divided military retirement as marital property. As a result of the rulings, one of the parties sought relief from the divorce decree, arguing that she should be awarded alimony. The trial court denied relief. We affirm with modifications.


In Re Conservatorship of John Bruce Wilson, Jr., No. M2021-00145-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 15, 2022). This appeal arises from a conservatorship case in which the chancery court authorized the attorneys ad litem for the ward of the conservatorship to enter into a compromise and settlement regarding a dispute among the ward and his four siblings over their deceased father’s estate. The sole issue on appeal is whether the Chancellor abused his discretion in finding the settlement was in the ward’s best interest. Finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm.


Tom Slagle et al. v. The Church of the Firstborn of Tennessee et al., No. M2020-01640-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 18, 2022). Appellants seek review of an order granting partial summary judgment. Because the order is not a final order giving rise to a Tenn. R. App. P. 3 appeal, we do not have jurisdiction; accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.


New Dairy Kentucky, LLC v. Mike Tamarit, No. M2021-00091-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 2, 2022). This is an action by a dairy on a sworn account against the former owner of a dairy distributor who signed a personal guaranty that obligated him to pay any past-due debts accrued by the distributorship to the plaintiff dairy. When the former owner signed the personal guaranty, he was the sole member/owner of the distributorship; however, he sold his membership interest in the distributorship in May 2015. At the time of the sale, the distributor owed $60,484.95 to the plaintiff dairy. One month later, when the plaintiff dairy learned of the sale, it created a new account for the distributor and sent both the distributor and the guarantor a demand for payment of the old account balance, the amount owing when the guarantor sold his membership interest in the distributor. Neither the distributor nor the guarantor paid the old account balance, and the dairy sued them both. The dairy later voluntarily nonsuited the distributor, with whom the dairy was continuing to do business under the new account number, leaving the guarantor as the sole defendant. Thereafter, the trial court granted the dairy’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to the guarantor’s liability and held an evidentiary hearing on damages. After the hearing, the court entered a judgment against the guarantor for $130,102.12, including the principal debt, prejudgment interest, and attorney’s fees. On appeal, the guarantor argues that the creditor breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing by not seeking payment from the distribution company. We disagree. The personal guaranty obligated the guarantor to pay all amounts not paid by the distributor, whether or not the dairy sought payment from the distributor. Thus, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.


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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