Russell T. Perkins, Chancellor

Biography

Reports of Cases Reviewed by Appellate Courts – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Text is the appellate court’s summary of the opinion. 

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Tomlin, Individually, and d/b/a The Tomlin Company v. Nephrology Associates, P.C. Et Al., No. M2022-00937-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 27, 2024). A renal care company retained a broker to locate sites for new dialysis clinics.  The company agreed to pay the broker a commission when leases were signed and “at the renewal or extension of said leases.”  The company later negotiated amendments to the leases without the broker’s participation.  The broker sued the company for breach of contract, alleging that he was due a commission on the lease amendments.  The trial court determined that eight lease amendments were renewals or extensions of the original leases.  And it entered a judgment against the company for the amount of the unpaid commissions.  We conclude that the evidence preponderates against the court’s finding that two of the lease amendments were renewals or extensions.  So we affirm the judgment as modified.

 

 

Unifirst Corp. v. Indus. Fabrication & Repair, Inc., No. M2022-00625-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 4, 2024). This appeal arises from confirmation of an arbitration award. The appellants objected to confirmation, arguing that they lacked notice of the arbitration. One of the appellants also claimed that it never agreed to arbitrate. The winning party submitted that the objections were untimely and did not state a cognizable ground for vacatur under the Federal Arbitration Act. We vacate and remand.

Snyder v. Second Avenue Nashville Property, LLC, No. M2023-00498-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 31, 2023). Neighbors sued to invalidate zoning ordinances that would allow two real estate development projects to be built at significantly taller heights than prior zoning regulations allowed. The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim in part because it found that the passage of two zoning ordinances gave the developers vested property rights under the Tennessee Vested Property Rights Act of 2014 (VPRA). We conclude the trial court erred in its application of the VPRA, but we affirm the dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a claim.

 

American Business Supply, Inc. et al v Tennessee State Board of Equalization, No. M2022-01411-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2023).  This case concerns the procedure used by the Tennessee State Board of Equalization when it determined the 2018 appraisal ratio for Shelby County. In 2017, Shelby County real property was reappraised. Accordingly, the Board of Equalization set the County’s 2017 appraisal ratio at 1.000. In 2018, the Board of Equalization used the 2017 reappraisal to set the Shelby County 2018 appraisal ratio at 1.000. Appellants—owners of commercial tangible personal property in Shelby County—challenged the Board’s methodology as violative of Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-5-1605 and 67-5-1606 and unsupported by substantial and material evidence. Following review under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, the trial court determined that: (1) the Board did not violate Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-5-1605 and 67-5-1606 when it set the County’s appraisal ratio at 1.000 in 2018; (2) the Board’s decision was supported by substantial and material evidence; and (3) the Board’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

American Business Supply, Inc. v. Tennessee State Board of Equalization, No. M2022-01411-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 27, 2023). This case concerns the procedure used by the Tennessee State Board of Equalization when it determined the 2018 appraisal ratio for Shelby County. In 2017, Shelby County real property was reappraised. Accordingly, the Board of Equalization set the County’s 2017 appraisal ratio at 1.000. In 2018, the Board of Equalization used the 2017 reappraisal to set the Shelby County 2018 appraisal ratio at 1.000. Appellants—owners of commercial tangible personal property in Shelby County—challenged the Board’s methodology as violative of Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-5-1605 and 67-5-1606 and unsupported by substantial and material evidence. Following review under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, the trial court determined that: (1) the Board did not violate Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-5-1605 and 67-5-1606 when it set the County’s appraisal ratio at 1.000 in 2018; (2) the Board’s decision was supported by substantial and material evidence; and (3) the Board’s decision was not arbitrary or capricious. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

Baskin v. Pierce & Allred Construction, Inc., No. M2021-00144-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Sept. 28, 2023).  In this appeal, we address whether a Tennessee resident may sue an Alabama corporation in a Tennessee court for alleged breach of contract and breach of warranty pertaining to its construction of a custom lake house in Alabama. Tennessee resident Roger Baskin hired Pierce & Allred Construction, an Alabama corporation with its principal place of business in Alabama, to build a house on a parcel of land in Alabama. Mr. Baskin supplied the architectural plans and some of the materials, all sourced from Tennessee, and the parties communicated throughout the project from their respective states. However, all of Pierce & Allred Construction’s activities on the project occurred in Alabama. Mr. Baskin ultimately became dissatisfied with the quality and expense of the construction work, and he filed suit in the Davidson County Chancery Court. Pierce & Allred Construction moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that the corporation lacked the “minimum contacts” with Tennessee that due process protections require. Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). The trial court granted the motion, finding that the events relevant to the claims occurred in Alabama and that the corporation’s contacts with Tennessee were minor and attenuated. The Court of Appeals reversed, looking to recent decisions from this Court, see Crouch Ry. Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC, 610 S.W.3d 460 (Tenn. 2020), and the United States Supreme Court, see Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021) (explaining that the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction requires that a plaintiff’s claim arise out of or relate to the defendant’s forum contacts). We granted permission to appeal. Based on our review, we have determined that Pierce & Allred Construction’s contacts with Tennessee were not such that the corporation reasonably should have anticipated being haled into a Tennessee court to answer this suit. In making this determination, we conclude that certain contacts with Tennessee did not reflect that the corporation purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting business activities in Tennessee, while certain other contacts were not sufficiently related to Mr. Baskin’s claims to support the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction. Thus, we hold that Mr. Baskin failed to establish a prima facie case of the minimum contacts necessary for a Tennessee.

 

Huffstetter v. Metro. Historical Zoning Commission of the Metro. Government of Nashville and Davidson County, No. M2022-00850-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 3, 2023).  The appellant is a property owner who sought review of a decision by the Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission by filing a petition for writ of certiorari in chancery court. The chancery court affirmed the decision of the Historic Zoning Commission. The appellant property owner appeals. We affirm.

 

Easai, Inc. v. Gerregano, Commissioner of Revenue, State of Tennessee, No. M2021-01408-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 24, 2023).  The issues on appeal involve the assessment of state business taxes against a pharmaceutical company that stored and sold its products from a warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee. The trial court granted summary judgment to the taxpayer, Eisai, Inc. (“Eisai”), on the ground that its pharmaceutical sales were not subject to business tax because the pharmaceuticals did not constitute “tangible personal property” as the term is defined in Tennessee Code Annotated § 67-4-702(a)(23), which exempts products that are “inserted or affixed to the human body” by physicians or “dispensed . . . in the treatment of patients by physicians.” The Department of Revenue (“the Department”) appeals. We affirm the judgment of the trial court, but also rule in favor of Eisai on a different ground raised in the trial court and on appeal. In order to prevail in this case, the Department must establish that Eisai made “wholesale sales” to “retailers,” as distinguished from “wholesaler-towholesaler” sales, the latter of which are exempt from business tax. The undisputed facts reveal that Eisai’s sales were “wholesaler-to-wholesaler” sales. Accordingly, Eisai’s sales were not subject to business tax. As such, Eisai need not establish that the exception in § 67-4-702(a)(23) applies. Nevertheless, if Eisai’s sales to its distributors are within the scope of the business tax, we affirm the trial court’s ruling that Eisai’s sales are exempt under Tennessee Code Annotated § 67-4-702(a)(23). For these reasons, we affirm.

 

Gentry v. Speaker of the House, No. M2022-00654-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 27, 2023).  Plaintiff sues to enforce his perceived right to address the House of Representatives. Finding that the case is identical to a prior case in that it involves a court of competent jurisdiction, the same parties as a previous case, a prior final decision on the merits, and the same parties and cause of action, the trial court applied the doctrine of res judicata and dismissed the case. We affirm.

 

Vance v. Blue, No. M2021-00064-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2022).  Co-owners sought partition of their real property. They agreed that the property, a single family home, could not be partitioned in kind. But they disagreed on the appropriate remedy. One owner asked the court to order a public sale and divide the proceeds between the parties. The other owner sought permission to buy out her co-owner’s interest. The court declined to order a sale. Instead, based on the equities, it directed one owner to buy out the other owner’s interest at a fixed price. Because the court’s decision contravened the partition statutes, we reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand for further proceedings.

 

Davis v. Tennessee Board of Appeals, No. M2020-01255-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 12, 2022). A preferred service employee appealed the termination of his employment. After failing to obtain relief at the Step I and Step II reviews, the employee requested a Step III hearing before the Tennessee Board of Appeals. The Board determined that the employee engaged in conduct unbecoming of an employee in state service but termination was too harsh a punishment. So it modified the employee’s discipline to a one-step demotion and recommended that he be transferred. The employee sought judicial review of the Board’s decision. The chancery court reversed, finding that the decision to demote the employee was not supported by substantial and material evidence. We reverse the chancery court and affirm the decision of the Board.

 

Houston Humphries, LLC v. Houston Properties, LLC, No. M2021-00235-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 19, 2022).  This appeal concerns the purchase and sale agreement for a 98,094-square-foot, multi-use commercial development in Nashville, Tennessee, known as Houston Station. Before marketing the property for sale, the defendant-seller discovered that approximately 100 square feet of the building encroached on neighboring property owned by CSX Transportation, Inc. and sought a lease from CSX to cover the encroachment. But before it could reach an agreement with CSX, the seller agreed to sell the property to the plaintiff-buyer. The buyer deposited $3 million as earnest money, and the parties scheduled a closing. Before closing, however, CSX demanded $550,000 per year for the encroachment. The seller then informed the buyer that it could not meet its obligations under their agreement. Meanwhile, the seller breached the agreement by executing two new leases without the buyer’s approval. The buyer extended the closing several times to allow the seller to cure its defaults, but the seller refused to terminate the new leases and could not reach a mutually agreeable arrangement with CSX. The buyer then let the closing deadline lapse and sued for, inter alia, reformation of the purchase agreement, specific performance, and damages. The seller then moved for summary judgment and requested an award of the earnest money on the theory that the buyer waived its objections by allowing the closing deadline to lapse. The trial court granted the motion, reasoning that the buyer had constructive notice of the encroachment and then breached the purchase agreement by failing to buy the property. Accordingly, the court found the seller was entitled to the $3 million deposit as liquidated damages and an award of attorneys’ fees and expenses under the agreement as the prevailing party. The buyer appeals. Following a thorough review, we respectfully disagree that the buyer had constructive notice that the seller did not have good and marketable title. We also disagree that the seller had a right to terminate the contract and receive the earnest money. Thus, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 

Mathes v. 99 Hermitage, LLC, No. M2021-00883-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 6, 2022).  This appeal involves a real property dispute. Resolution of the competing interests ultimately turns on the propriety of certain adverse possession claims that have been asserted. Following a bench trial, the trial court determined that there was no adverse possession established due to its finding that Mr. Whiteaker, a former record owner of the property, had “acquiesced in, and permitted” the possession of Mr. Eads, an original plaintiff in this action who is now deceased. Judgment was accordingly entered in favor of the Appellee herein, an entity that purchased the property at a sheriff’s sale. The Appellants, who assert rights to the property by dint of Mr. Eads’ alleged adverse possession, submit that there is no evidence to support the trial court’s view that Mr. Eads’ possession was subservient to Mr. Whiteaker. For its part, the Appellee maintains that several considerations countenance against the assertion of adverse possession rights. Having considered the various issues and arguments raised by the parties, we hold that the judgment of the trial court should be reversed, as we conclude that Mr. Eads previously acquired title to the property by common law adverse possession.

 

Holland v. Tennessee Dept. of Correction, No. M2022-00889-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 6, 2022) (memorandum opinion).  This is an appeal from a final order dismissing an inmate’s Petition for Declaratory Judgment. Because the inmate 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 Rule 4(a) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, we dismiss the appeal.

 

Starbuck v. Tennessee Republican Party, No. M2022-00735-SC-R10-CV (Tenn. June 10, 2022).  Plaintiff Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck sought to be a Republican candidate for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District for the United States House of Representatives. The Tennessee Republican Party and the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee (“Defendants”), acting under relevant statutory authority and party rules, determined that Mr. Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican and informed the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections of the decision to exclude Mr. Starbuck from the ballot. Mr. Starbuck initially sought relief in federal court and failed to obtain injunctive relief. After voluntarily dismissing his federal action, Mr. Starbuck filed a complaint in the Davidson County Chancery Court alleging, among other things, that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act by determining in a non-public meeting that he was not a bona fide Republican. The chancery court granted Mr. Starbuck a temporary injunction on the basis that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and ordered that Mr. Starbuck be restored to the ballot. Defendants filed an application for extraordinary appeal under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 10. This Court assumed jurisdiction over the appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d) and Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 48 and granted the application for extraordinary appeal. We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the injunction because the Tennessee Open Meetings Act does not apply to Defendants. We vacate the injunction and remand to the trial court.

 

Hillmann v. Young Street Partners II, LLC, No. M2021-00142-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 20, 2022).  This case involves the interpretation of a commercial lease provision containing a tenant improvement allowance. Following a hearing, the trial court initially entered an order in August 2020, granting partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs/assignees and directing the defendant/assignor, Young Street Partners II, LLC (“Young Street”), to reimburse the plaintiffs for $92,000.00 they had paid to a tenant claiming the improvement allowance, as well as costs, attorney’s fees, and statutory prejudgment interest. Upon the filing of subsequent competing motions for summary judgment and following a hearing, the trial court confirmed its prior judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and further dismissed Young Street’s counterclaim for attorney’s fees and costs in an order entered in January 2021, thereby denying Young Street’s motion for partial summary judgment. Following entry of an order of voluntary dismissal without prejudice against all defendants except Young Street and upon the plaintiffs’ motion, the trial court entered an order certifying its January 2021 order as final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02. Young Street has appealed. Determining that the trial court improvidently granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, we vacate the judgment and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings. We deny the plaintiffs’ request for an award of attorney’s fees on appeal.

 

Moore v. Lee, No. M2022-00434-SC-RDO-CV, p. 5 (Tenn. Apr. 13, 2022) (part of three-judge panel).  The Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the reapportionment plan for the districts of the Tennessee Senate that the Tennessee General Assembly enacted after the 2020 census. Specifically, the Plaintiffs alleged that the reapportionment plan violates article II, section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution because it fails to consecutively number the four Senatorial districts included in Davidson County. The Plaintiffs requested declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court granted a temporary injunction enjoining the Defendants from enforcing or giving any effect to the boundaries of the Senatorial districts. The trial court provided the General Assembly with fifteen days to remedy the defect pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-18-105, stating that if the defect was not remedied, the trial court would impose an interim plan for the 2022 election. Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-5-101(a)(1) sets the deadline for filing candidate nominating petitions as the first Thursday in April at noon. Thus, the trial court further extended the statutory April 7, 2022 filing deadline for Senatorial candidates until May 5, 2022. The Defendants filed an application for extraordinary appeal in the Court of Appeals pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. This Court assumed jurisdiction over the case pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d)(3). We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the injunction because it failed to adequately consider the harm the injunction will have on our election officials who are detrimentally impacted by the extension of the candidate filing deadline, as well as the public interest in ensuring orderly elections and avoiding voter confusion. We vacate the injunction and remand to the trial court.

 

Halliburton v Tenn. Board of Parole, No. M2021-00470-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 7, 2022). This appeal arises from the denial of parole to an inmate by the Tennessee Board of Parole. The Tennessee Board of Parole denied the inmate parole in March 2020. The inmate’s administrative appeal was also denied. Thereafter, the inmate filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the chancery court. However, the chancery court dismissed the petition without prejudice due to outstanding costs in prior civil cases. The inmate then filed a second petition with the chancery court. The chancery court dismissed the second petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because it was not filed within sixty days of the Tennessee Board of Parole’s final decision in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-102. The inmate appeals. We affirm.

 

Metro. Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson Cty., Tennessee v. Davidson County Election Com’n, No. M2021-00723-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2022).  At issue is an election commission’s decision to set an election on proposed referendum measures to a local government’s charter. In pre-election litigation over this decision, the trial court concluded, for various reasons, that the election commission’s decision to hold the election should be reversed. The election commission now urges this Court to reinstate its decision to hold an election and to remand this matter to it with instructions to schedule a referendum election at a future date pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-3- 204(a). As explained in more detail in this Opinion, we conclude that this requested relief is not proper under the cited statute. Moreover, because this appeal cannot serve as a vehicle to grant the election commission any relief, we consider the matter moot. Notwithstanding this posture in the case, we do find it appropriate, in the exercise of our discretion, to address one of the specific legal issues presented by this appeal as an exception to the mootness doctrine. As to that issue, which concerns the interpretation of a form requirement the local government’s charter places on petitions to amend the charter by referendum election, we agree with the trial court that the referendum petition at issue in this case ran afoul of the requirement in dispute.

 

In Re SmileClubDirect Securities Litigation,  No. M2021-00469-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 18, 2022). In this action alleging violations of a federal securities law due to purported misrepresentations and omissions in an initial public stock offering, the plaintiffs sought to certify a class consisting of all persons who purchased common stock during the initial public offering. The trial court certified the class, determining that the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 23 had been satisfied. The defendants have appealed. Although we dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims under section 12 of the Securities Act of 1933, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 77l, due to lack of standing, we otherwise affirm the trial court’s certification of the proposed class.

 

Halliburton v. Tennessee Board of Parole, No. M2020-01657-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 17, 2022).  This appeal concerns the Open Courts Clause of the Tennessee Constitution. Michael Halliburton (“Halliburton”), an inmate, filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari in the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) against the Tennessee Board of Parole (“the Board”) seeking judicial review of his March 10, 2020 parole proceedings before the Board. The Trial Court dismissed Halliburton’s petition. In so doing, the Trial Court relied on Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-812, which provides that “on notice of assessment of any fees, taxes, costs and expenses under this part, a clerk of a court may not accept for filing another claim by the same inmate until prior fees, taxes, costs and other expenses are paid in full.” This Court af- firmed, holding in part that Halliburton waived his issue of whether Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21 -812 violates the Open Courts Clause in Article I, Section 17 of the Tennessee Constitution. However, the Tennessee Supreme Court found that Halliburton sufficiently raised the issue in his answer to the Board’s motion to dismiss. Our Supreme Court granted Halliburton’s applica- tion for permission to appeal, and remanded for this Court to consider his Open Courts issue. We hold, inter alia, that Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-812 places a constitutionally permissible limitation on the right of inmates to file civil actions. The statute does not permanently bar inmates from seeking redress; it simply requires they pay outstanding fees first. Therefore, we hold that Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-812 does not violate the Open Courts Clause. We affirm. [Footnote omitted.]

 

Roger Baskin v. Pierce and Allred Construction, Inc., No. M2021-00144-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 28, 2022). Plaintiff Roger Baskin sued Pierce & Allred Construction, Inc. (“Defendant”) for breach of contract and breach of warranty, alleging Defendant failed to construct a house in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, in accordance with the parties’ contract. Plaintiff alleged that although he “paid construction costs totaling more than $1,700,000, [Defendant] failed to complete construction of the house and has left Plaintiff with a home riddled with construction defects that affect every major system of the home.” Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(2) and (3), asserting that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over it, and that venue was improper in Davidson County. The trial court dismissed the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. We hold that Defendant’s contacts with Tennessee, including its purposeful applications for a certificate of authority to transact business and for a contractor’s license in Tennessee, are such that Defendant should reasonably anticipate being haled into court in this state. Consequently, Tennessee courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendant. We further find that Davidson County is a proper venue for this action, and therefore reverse the judgment of the trial court.

 

Eric Neff et al. v. Dennis Wood et al., No. M2020-00748-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 27, 2022). A property owner sued a neighboring property owner for breach of an easement agreement.  The defendant filed a countercomplaint alleging that the plaintiff committed the first material breach.  The trial court found that the defendant had violated the agreement, but the violation did not rise to the level of a material breach.  The court also found that the defendant had not proven that the plaintiff breached the agreement.  So the court dismissed both the complaint and the countercomplaint.  But the court also granted detailed declaratory relief.  On appeal, we conclude that the court erred in failing to award attorney’s fees as mandated by the easement agreement.  The court also erred by imposing a construction deadline on one party that was not included in the easement agreement.  In all other respects, we affirm.

 

David L. Liles, ET AL. v. Michael E. Young, ET AL., No. M2020-01702-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 13, 2022). This appeal involves the interpretation of a partnership agreement for the purpose of determining the respective ownership percentages of the partners. After our review of the partnership agreement, we affirm the ruling of the trial court.

 

Bearing Distributors, Inc. v. David Gerregano, Commissioner of Revenue, State of Tennessee, No. M2020-01075-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 5, 2022). In this case involving the plaintiff corporation’s challenge to the business tax assessed against it by the defendant, Tennessee Commissioner of Revenue David Gerregano (“Commissioner”), the parties filed competing motions for summary judgment. Following a hearing, the trial court upheld the business tax assessed against the plaintiff at a retail tax rate, rather than the lower wholesale tax rate that the plaintiff argued was applicable, and which the plaintiff had paid. Granting summary judgment in favor of Commissioner, the trial court awarded to Commissioner a judgment for unpaid taxes in the amount of $141,004.70 plus interest from the date of the adjusted assessment. The plaintiff prematurely appealed the grant of summary judgment prior to the trial court’s entry of a post-judgment order awarding statutory attorney’s fees and expenses to Commissioner. Following entry of the post-judgment order, this appeal proceeded concerning the summary judgment order. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

 

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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