Richard Armstrong, 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.


Haren Construction Company, Inc. v. Ford, No. E2023-00503-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 19, 2024). The Chancery Court for Knox County (the “Trial Court”) granted the motion for partial summary judgment filed by Haren Construction Company, Inc. (“Plaintiff”), concluding that Olen Ford d/b/a Olen Ford Masonry and Construction (“Defendant”) had breached his contract with Plaintiff. The Trial Court awarded a judgment to Plaintiff against Defendant in the amount of $64,971.40. Defendant has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the Trial Court’s judgment.


Estate of Ella Mae Haire et al. v. Webster et al., No. E2022-01657-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 22, 2024). Decedent’s son, individually and as personal representative of his mother’s estate, sued several of his siblings and decedent mother’s bank. Among other things, the son alleged that the bank breached its duties to the decedent by disbursing funds out of her checking and savings accounts following her death. Eventually, the bank moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was not negligent in its handling of the decedent’s accounts, nor did it breach any contractual duty to either the decedent or her son. The son appeals and, discerning no error by the trial court, we affirm.


Sexton v. Sexton, No. E2023-00136-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 30, 2024). The Chancery Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) found in this divorce action that Michael Bryant Sexton (“Husband”) was the sole owner of Furious Properties, LLC and that he had purchased two Knox County real properties and deeded them to Furious Properties, LLC. The Trial Court accordingly found that the entire interest in Furious Properties, LLC constituted marital property subject to equitable division and awarded the two Knox County properties to Louise Ann Sexton (“Wife”). The Trial Court ordered Husband or a representative of Furious Properties, LLC to convey the entire interest in the Knox County properties by quitclaim deed to Wife within thirty days of the entry of the judgment. Husband’s issues relate primarily to the property division. To the extent the Trial Court awarded property of a non-party LLC to Wife, we reverse and remand for the Trial Court to clarify its award, while acknowledging that the Trial Court may have intended to award Husband’s interest in Furious Properties, LLC, rather than the LLC’s properties themselves, to Wife. We further modify the Trial Court’s judgment to reflect that the Trial Court granted the parties a divorce on stipulated grounds and to remove language granting the parties a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences. We affirm the balance of the judgment. We deny Wife’s request for attorney’s fees on appeal.


Charles Melton, Individually and as Personal Representative for the Estate of Betty Ruth Shaw Morgan v. Michael Melton, No. E2023-00649-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 27, 2023).  This is an action against the former attorney-in-fact of the decedent for breach of fiduciary duties and conversion. The trial court granted summary judgment against the attorney-in-fact and awarded damages to the estate. The attorney-in-fact appeals, contending the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the matters at issue because the power of attorney was based on Texas law and the actions alleged in the petition were performed in Texas, where he was a resident; however, he does not challenge the court’s personal jurisdiction over him. He also contends that summary judgment was inappropriate because material facts were in dispute. Finding no error, we affirm.

Collins v. Tennessee Dept. of Health, No. E2022-01501-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 27, 2023).  In the Chancery Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”), Christina K. Collins sought judicial review of a disciplinary order entered against her by the Tennessee Board of Nursing (“the Board”). Finding that Ms. Collins’s petition for judicial review was untimely, the Trial Court determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the matter and dismissed her petition. Ms. Collins has appealed the Trial Court’s order of dismissal. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.


Johnson v. Johnson, No. E2022-01635-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 4, 2023) (memorandum opinion).  Because the order appealed from does not constitute a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.


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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