Louis W. Oliver, III, 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 Brooklyn M., No. M2023-00024-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 5, 2024). A father and stepmother appeal from an order dismissing their petition to adopt a child and to terminate the mother’s parental rights. The trial court held that the evidence presented supported termination of the mother’s parental rights based on her failure to support and failure to visit the child. However, the trial court found that the alleged ground of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume custody or financial responsibility of the child had not been proven. The court also found that termination of the mother’s rights was not in the child’s best interest. We affirm.



Jetton Developments, LLC v. Estate of Dorothy Huddleston et al., No.  M2023-00026-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 21, 2023).  A limited liability company filed suit in relation to a piece of real property for which the company had executed an agreement to purchase. Although closing did not occur by the time stated in the executed agreement, the trial court ultimately held that the opposing side in this case was estopped from denying that the contract had been extended. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Fuqua v. The Robertson County Election Commission, No. M2022-01126-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 28, 2023) (memorandum opinion).  Appellant filed this action against his local election co mission seeking to prevent a candidate from being placed on the ballot of the August 4, 2022 Robertson County election for circuit court clerk. We dismiss this appeal as moot.


Estate of Willie Harold Hargett v. Brown, No.  M2022-00250-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 9, 2023).  A decedent’s estate sued his girlfriend for the proceeds of his life insurance policy, items from his home that were missing or damaged, and money withdrawn from his credit union account. The trial court found for the estate on the basis of fraud, conversion, and undue influence. The girlfriend appealed. We affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand.


Sabah v. Tenn. Dept. of Labor and Workforce DevelopmentNo. M2022-00526-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 6, 2023). This case involves the denial of a claim for pandemic unemployment assistance and the subsequent administrative proceedings before the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The applicant failed to appear for his appeals hearing despite being notified of the hearing and the procedures required to participate in the hearing. The applicant’s request to reopen his case was denied because he failed to show good cause for his failure to attend. The applicant petitioned for judicial review in the chancery court. After finding substantial and material evidence to support the denial of benefits, the chancery court affirmed the decision of the Commissioner’s Designee. We affirm the chancery court’s decision.


Home Service Oil Co. v. Baker, No. M2021-00586-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 23, 2023).  A judgment creditor petitioned to enroll and enforce a Missouri judgment under the Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act. The judgment debtor opposed the petition claiming that the doctrine of laches prevented the judgment creditor from enforcing its judgment. Alternatively, the judgment debtor claimed that equitable estoppel prevented the judgment creditor from collecting the full amount remaining on the judgment. The trial court enrolled the judgment but agreed that equitable estoppel applied. We conclude that equitable estoppel does not apply. So we affirm the enrollment of the foreign judgment and vacate the trial court’s decision as to enforceability.


In Re Jacob J., No. M2023-00029-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan 11, 2023). A father appeals the termination of his parental rights. Because the father did not file his notice of appeal with the clerk of the appellate court within thirty days after entry of the final order as required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.


Davis v. Hofer, M2021-01132-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 19, 2022).  In this divorce, one of the former spouses appeals the court’s division of certain marital debt.  She claims that the division was inconsistent with the court’s final judgment and that there was no basis to revisit its previous decision absent a request for relief under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02.  Because we conclude that the previous decision addressing debts was not a final judgment, we affirm the court’s division of marital debt.     

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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