Robert Samuel Weiss, Judge (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.


Grose v. Kustoff, No. W2021-00427-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 30, 2022).  In this case involving allegations of attorney misconduct and negligence, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant attorneys and their respective firms. The defendants had previously represented the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit until the defendants withdrew from representation. The trial court determined that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the plaintiffs had failed to refute the affidavit of one defendant attorney, who opined that the pertinent standard of care had not been breached. The plaintiffs have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.


Simmons v. Stickland, No. W2020-01562-COA-R3-CV  (Tenn. Ct. App. June 13, 2022).  In this appeal from the trial court’s dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 on the defenses of lack of jurisdiction over the person, insufficiency of process, and insufficiency of service of process, we affirm the trial court. We also conclude the appeal is frivolous and remand for an assessment of damages.


Watts v. Suiter,  No. W2021-00496-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 13, 2022) (memorandum opinion).  This appeal involves unmarried parties who jointly own real property together. After a two-day bench trial, the trial court divided the equity in the jointly owned property equally, stating that it could not “speculate” as to the parties’ agreements or “parse through” their relationship “to determine who paid what or who did what when.” The trial court also dismissed related tort claims and ordered one party to pay a share of the other’s attorney fees. We vacate in part, affirm in part, and remand for further proceedings.


Stark v. Stark,  No. W2020-01692-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 31, 2022) (memorandum opinion). This appeal arises from a complaint for divorce filed in 2018. The multi-faceted litigation of this matter included three interspousal tort claims tried together with the divorce action, the adjudication of a motion for an order of protection and a petition for a restraining order, two contempt proceedings, two motions to recuse, interlocutory appeals to this Court, the denial of permission to appeal by the Tennessee Supreme Court, and the denial of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court. Proceedings in the trial court also precipitated two federal court actions. Following a six-day trial in 2020 and a stay of proceedings pending the Supreme Court’s order on Wife’s application for a writ of certiorari, the trial court entered final judgment in the matter in November 2021. Wife appeals the trial court’s classification, valuation, and division of property. Wife also appeals the trial court’s denial of her second motion to recuse. Discerning no evidence of bias, we affirm the trial court’s denial of Wife’s second motion to recuse. The trial court’s classification, valuation, and division of property is reversed in part, and affirmed in part as modified.


Tarver v. Tarver, No. W2022-00343-COA-T10B-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 14, 2022). This is an interlocutory appeal as of right, pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, filed by John Kirk Tarver (“Petitioner”), seeking to recuse the judge in this case involving post-divorce matters. Following our thorough review of the petition for recusal appeal filed by Petitioner, we discern no error and therefore affirm.


Eman Ibrahim Ahmad Alkhateeb v. Ahmad Mustafa Jamil Alhouwari, No. W2020-01582-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 16, 2022). This is an appeal by Wife from a final decree of divorce. After a thorough review of the record and the trial court’s order, we affirm in part and vacate in part.


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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