Mary L. Wagner, Judge

Biography

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.

 

Trezevant v. Trezevant, No. W2023-00682-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 7, 2024). In this post-divorce case, Husband/Appellant appeals the trial court’s order holding him in criminal contempt. Due to the deficiencies in Husband’s brief, we do not reach the substantive issues. Appeal dismissed.

 

Merritt v. Wipro Limited, No. W2023-00789-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 2, 2024). The notice of appeal in this case was not timely filed. Therefore, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal. The appeal is dismissed.

 

Deloach v. Sahara Daycare Center, Inc., No. W2022-01695-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 5, 2023). This is a breach of contract case involving a business partnership. Due to deficiencies in Appellants’ brief, we do not reach the substantive issues and dismiss the appeal. We grant Appellee’s motion to declare Appellant’s appeal frivolous and award her damages.

 

Hamilton v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals, No. W2022-00054-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 16, 2023).  This appeal arises from a health care liability action filed in circuit court by a conservator on behalf of a ward. After a three-week jury trial resulted in a mistrial, the conservator took a nonsuit. The conservator refiled the complaint against only one defendant hospital, asserting that it was vicariously liable for the actions of a doctor based on a theory of apparent agency. The defendant hospital moved for summary judgment on the basis that the conservator had entered into a consent agreement agreeing not to sue the doctor in the refiled suit if the doctor agreed to withdraw his motion for discretionary costs. According to the defendant hospital, this agreement releasing the alleged agent from liability extinguished the conservator’s right to pursue a vicarious liability claim against the principal. In response, the conservator took the position that the consent agreement was not binding because it was never approved by the probate court that appointed her. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendant hospital, finding that the order appointing the conservator authorized her to dispose of property, execute instruments, enter into contracts, pursue legal causes of action, and manage money, thereby authorizing her to enter into the consent agreement. The circuit court found nothing in the order of appointment, the relevant statutes, or caselaw that would impose a mandatory requirement for approval of the settlement by the probate court. Because the conservator had released the alleged agent from liability, the circuit court found that the conservator could not pursue vicarious liability claims against the defendant hospital. The conservator filed a motion to alter or amend, asking the circuit court to consider an “Advisory Opinion” of the probate court on the matter. The circuit court denied the motion, explaining that it respectfully disagreed with the Advisory Opinion of the probate court. The conservator appeals. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

 

21st Century Mortgage Corporation v. Ford, No. W2022-00168-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 25, 2023). This case involves a dispute over a parcel of real property. Because of the profound deficiencies with Appellants’ brief, we dismiss the appeal and remand the case to the trial court for a determination of damages under Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-1-122.

 

Faulkner v. Nationstar Mortgage LLC, No. W2020-01148-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2022).  This case involves a controversy surrounding certain real property located in Memphis. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Defendant on most claims, and after a jury trial and verdict in favor of the Defendant, the remaining claim was also dismissed. Although the homeowner of the property raises a number of issues in this appeal, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

 

LaFarge North America v. Warren Mills ET AL., No. W2020-00959-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 9, 2022). This is the second appeal of this case. After remand from the first appeal, the trial court denied Appellant’s motion to reopen discovery concerning Appellant’s counterclaim, wherein he asserted that the guaranty he signed was void and unenforceable. In the first appeal, this Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Appellant’s counterclaim, finding that the disputed guaranty was, in fact, valid. As such, we conclude that the trial court did not err in precluding further discovery on the dismissed counterclaim. We grant Appellee’s request for an award of attorney’s fees and costs for frivolous appeal, and remand the case for determination of Appellee’s reasonable appellate attorney’s fees and costs and entry of judgment on same.

 

Julius T. Malone, et al. v. ASF Intermodal, LLC, No. W2020-00430-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 7, 2022). Appellant stipulated that its employee was the at-fault driver in a motor vehicle accident involving Appellee. Appellee and his wife filed suit against Appellant for personal injuries and the issue of damages was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of Appellees. Appellant appeals, arguing that the jury’s award of damages for loss of earning capacity, future medical expenses, permanent injury, and loss of consortium is contrary to the law and evidence. Because there is material evidence to support the jury’s verdict, we affirm the trial court’s judgment on same.

 

n Re Carlee A., No. W2020-01256-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 26, 2022). This appeal follows several related cases involving a now-adopted child. The first case was a surrender proceeding filed in chancery court, the second case was a termination of parental rights proceeding filed in chancery court, and the third case was a proceeding for termination of parental rights and adoption filed in circuit court. Upon the filing of the petition for adoption, the chancery court matters were transferred to circuit court. Three individuals who were parties to the chancery court proceedings jointly filed a motion to intervene in the adoption proceeding, which the circuit court denied. The circuit court also dismissed the claims that had been filed by those three parties in chancery court. The three would-be intervenors appeal the dismissal of their claims filed in chancery court. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

 

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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