Rhynette N. Hurd, 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.

 

Grose et al. v. Stone, No. W2023-00090-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 25, 2024). This is a wrongful death action that was filed pro se by two sons of the decedent, in their capacity as co-administrators of the estate of the decedent, on behalf of the decedent’s six children. The trial court found that the action was filed by persons not authorized to practice law on behalf of the estate and/or others, and therefore, it was void ab initio and a nullity. Accordingly, the trial court dismissed the complaint in its entirety. The two pro se sons appeal. We conclude that the complaint was void to the extent that the pro se sons asserted claims on behalf of other heirs of the decedent, as they were engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. However, the complaint was partially proper to the extent that the two pro se sons were also asserting their own right of action under the wrongful death statute. Consequently, the trial court erred by dismissing the complaint in its entirety. However, on remand, the additional heirs will be given an opportunity to file a motion to intervene. In the event they do not, the trial court is directed to consider Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 19.01 and 19.02 in order to determine whether the other heirs are indispensable parties and to consider issues related to such a determination. Thus, the decision of the circuit court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 

Hwang v. Holt et al., No. W2023-00627-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 15, 2024). The trial court dismissed Appellant’s lawsuit for failure to comply with discovery. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 37.02(C) and 41.02(1). Because Appellant’s brief fails to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27 and Tennessee Court of Appeals Rule 6, we do not reach Appellant’s issues and dismiss the appeal.

 

State of Tennessee Ex rel Goetz v. Autin, No. W2023-01385-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 12, 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.

 

Harvey v. Shelby County, Tennessee, No. W2022-00683-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 28, 2023).  Plaintiffs filed this inverse condemnation suit against numerous defendants, alleging that their involvement with a construction project on an interstate highway resulted in increased surface waters and flooding of Plaintiffs’ home and property. The trial court dismissed all of the claims at various stages of the litigation. In a prior appeal, this Court affirmed the dismissal of multiple claims, but we vacated the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings for two defendants because the trial court’s order stated that its decision was based on “the entire record” and cited an exhibit to the complaint. See Harvey v. Shelby Cnty., No. W2018-01747-COA-R3-CV, 2019 WL 3854297, at *4-6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 16, 2019). We remanded for consideration pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Id. at *6. After some limited discovery on remand, the trial court granted motions for summary judgment filed by the two remaining defendants. Plaintiffs appeal. We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 

Nolan v. Nolan, No. W2021-01018-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 17, 2023). The circuit court, finding that Father committed twenty-one counts of criminal contempt, imposed a jail sentence and awarded Mother attorney’s fees. Father appeals, arguing that the court’s holding violates the prohibition against double jeopardy, that the evidence is insufficient to support thirteen of the counts, and that the court erred in awarding attorney’s fees. We conclude that double jeopardy is not implicated in the findings of contempt and that Father has not presented an argument entitling him to relief regarding the attorney’s fees award. However, because the evidence is insufficient to support the finding of contempt on Counts 9, 16, 36, and 40, we reverse the circuit court’s finding of contempt on these counts. In addition, we conclude that Count 12 must be vacated because the factual predicate of the trial court’s findings appears to potentially rest upon an unsupported basis. The remaining 16 counts are affirmed and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

 

Cedarius M. v. State of Tennessee, No. W2020-01594-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 3, 2022).  The appellant is a minor who was charged with a serious crime. After the state notified the appellant of its intent to seek transfer of the appellant for prosecution as an adult, the appellant asked for an in-person transfer hearing. The juvenile court denied the motion, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The appellant then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the circuit court, which was denied. On appeal, the appellant contends that the juvenile court’s order violates various constitutional protections that he should be afforded under the circumstances. But the parties now agree that transfer hearings are taking place in-person in the Shelby County Juvenile Court. Because we conclude that this appeal is now moot and not subject to any recognized exception to the mootness doctrine, we dismiss this appeal.

 

Doe v. Woodland Presbyterian, No. W2021-00353-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 3, 2022).  This appeal arises from a lawsuit alleging that a number of Presbyterian church entities were negligent regarding the sexual abuse of minors by a Presbyterian clergyman. John Doe 1, John Doe 2, and John Doe 3 (“Plaintiffs”), members and/or attendees of Woodland Presbyterian Church (“Woodland”) in the 1990s, sued former pastor James B. Stanford (“Stanford”) and a host of Presbyterian institutional defendants for negligence in the Circuit Court for Shelby County (“the Trial Court”). The institutional defendants filed motions to dismiss, which were granted by the Trial Court. Plaintiffs appeal arguing, among other things, that the statute of limitations was tolled due to fraudulent concealment. They argue further that the Trial Court erred in dismissing their claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress stemming from certain of the institutional defendants allegedly releasing Plaintiffs’ names to the media in 2019. We affirm the Trial Court’s dismissal of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), A Corporation and Evangelical Presbyterian Church for lack of personal jurisdiction. However, we hold further, inter alia, that in view of the Tennessee Supreme Court’s holding in Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Memphis, 363 S.W.3d 436 (Tenn. 2012), the Trial Court erred in dismissing Plaintiffs’ complaint at the motion to dismiss stage based upon the statute of limitations when Plaintiffs alleged that efforts were made by certain of the institutional defendants to hide the sexual abuse and a “whitewash” ensued. As Plaintiffs successfully alleged fraudulent concealment, we reverse the Trial Court with respect to the statute of limitations issue. We also reverse the Trial Court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against Woodland and Presbytery of the Central South, Inc. We, therefore, affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Trial Court, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. [Footnotes omitted.]

 

Auto Owners Insurance v. Thompson, W2021-00268-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 21, 2022).  The plaintiff challenges the trial court’s order granting the defendant’s Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss as a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56 motion for summary judgment and dismissing the plaintiff’s cause of action with prejudice. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion both as a Rule 12.02(6) motion to dismiss and as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment despite stating in its order that it had not excluded extraneous evidence presented by the defendant and that it would treat the motion as one for summary judgment. We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the defendant’s motion as a Rule 12.02(6) motion to dismiss after having considered extraneous evidence and that the trial court erred by failing to include in its order the legal grounds for its decision to grant the defendant’s motion as a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment. Inasmuch as the plaintiff failed to file a proposed amended complaint in the trial court, we are unable to address the issue raised concerning the motion to amend the complaint. We vacate the trial court’s order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion and Rule 56.

 

Walker v. Rivertrail Crossing Homeowner’s Association, Inc., No. W2020-01201-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 23, 2022).  This is a premises liability case arising from injuries sustained by Appellant Anthony Walker when he attempted to mow a section of ground within the common area controlled by Appellee, Rivertrail Crossing Homeowner’s Association. The trial court granted Appellee’s motion for summary judgment. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

Ahmed Mote Alzamzami v. Arwa Al-Sulaihi, No. W2020-01467-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 7, 2022). This is an appeal of a divorce involving children, which includes issues of default judgment, jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the statute of frauds, and attorney’s fees. The trial court granted a motion for default judgment against the husband only as to the wife’s counter-complaint for divorce and subsequently denied the motion to set aside the default judgment. Thereafter, the trial court entered a final decree of divorce holding that the wife was entitled to a divorce on the grounds of inappropriate marital conduct and dismissed the husband’s complaint for divorce. The trial court divided the marital estate and adopted a permanent parenting plan. Additionally, the trial court awarded a judgment against the husband in the amount of $15,000.00 for the wife’s attorney’s fees and litigation expenses incurred. The husband appeals. We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 

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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