Thomas W. Brothers, Judge


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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Green v. State of Tennessee et al., No. M2024-00322-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 7, 2024). This is an appeal from an Order Granting Respondents’ Motions to Dismiss and Denying Petitioner’s Writ of Certiorari and Mandamus. Because the appellant did not file a notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the final judgment as required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.


Plofchan v. Hughey, No. M2021-00853-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 5, 2024). A man sued his arresting officers and others.  He claimed he was neither drunk nor violent when he was arrested and charged with public intoxication, resisting arrest, and assault on an officer.  During discovery, the man claimed to have no communications between him and a companion that were not protected by attorney-client privilege or as work product.  When such communications were uncovered, the defendants moved for sanctions and attorney’s fees.  The trial court awarded attorney’s fees to the defendants and the companion.  And it dismissed the case as a sanction.  Discerning no abuse of discretion, we affirm.
Beasley v. Jae Nails Bar, LLC, No.  M2022-01330-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 11, 2023). This is a premises liability action in which the plaintiff slipped and fell while she was walking to a pedicure station in a nail salon. Two principal issues are presented. First, the plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by denying her Tenn. R. Civ. P. 34A.02 motion for spoliation of evidence by finding that the defendant was not put on notice that a video recording from a surveillance camera in the nail salon was relevant to pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation. Second, the plaintiff contends that the trial court erred by summarily dismissing her complaint on the basis that there was no proof that the defendant had created the allegedly hazardous condition in the nail salon or that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the condition. We affirm.

Hasan v. Burrow, No. M2023-01354-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 13, 2023) (memorandum opinion).  This is an appeal from an order denying a motion for relief under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02. Because the appellant did not file his notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the order as required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.


Barrett v. Garton, No.  M2022-01064-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 6, 2023).  A plaintiff filed suit alleging that the defendant’s negligence caused her to sustain personal injuries in an automobile accident. The plaintiff filed the complaint within one year of the accident, but she failed to have process issued within one year from the filing of the complaint. Thus, the defendant sought summary judgment based on a statute of limitations defense. In response, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant should be estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense because the parties had agreed that issuance of process was unnecessary. The trial court rejected the plaintiff’s estoppel argument and granted summary judgment to the defendant. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court’s decision.


Hollis v. Sanchez, No. M2022-01190-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 12, 2023) (memorandum opinion).  After a car accident, a plaintiff sued a defendant, but never served him with process. Almost two years later, the defendant moved to dismiss the case as time-barred. The plaintiff opposed the dismissal and moved for an enlargement of time to serve the defendant. The court denied the requested enlargement and dismissed the case. We affirm.


Tricon Construction, Inc. v. Perry, No. M2022-00664-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 21, 2023).  Husband and wife appellants, acting pro se, appeal the trial court’s decision to pierce the corporate veil of husband’s construction company to hold husband individually responsible for the corporation’s breach of contract, as well as the judgment against both husband and wife for contemptuous conduct. We do not reach the merits of the case due to the appellants’ failure to comply with the briefing requirements set out in Rule 27 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee and dismiss the appeal.


Richards v. Vanderbilt University Medical Center, No. M2022-00597-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 11, 2023). This appeal concerns a complaint for health care liability. Although Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c) provides for an extension of the applicable statutes of limitations in health care liability actions when pre-suit notice is given, it also specifies that “[i]n no event shall this section operate to shorten or otherwise extend the statutes of limitations or repose applicable to any action asserting a claim for health care liability, nor shall more than one (1) extension be applicable to any [health care] provider.” After a prior lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, Plaintiff provided new pre-suit notice and refiled in reliance on the Tennessee saving statute and an extension under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c). The trial court dismissed the refiled complaint with prejudice, however, holding, among other things, that Plaintiff could not utilize the statutory extension in his refiled action because he had already utilized a statutory extension in the first lawsuit. For the reasons discussed herein, we affirm the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s lawsuit.  Concurring Opinion by Stafford, J. :  Although I ultimately agree with the majority’s conclusion, I write this separate concurrence to express my concerns with the result in this case.


Owens v. Vanderbilt University Medical Center, No. M2021-01273-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 18, 2023).  A patient brought a health care liability action against a hospital after she developed a pressure wound during her hospital stay. The hospital moved for summary judgment on the ground that the patient’s standard of care expert was not competent to testify under the Health Care Liability Act. Alternatively, it sought to narrow the remaining claims through a partial summary judgment. The trial court disqualified the expert witness and granted the hospital summary judgment on all claims. The court’s decision was based, in part, on grounds not raised in the hospital’s motion for summary judgment. Because we conclude that the expert was competent to testify and the trial court erred in ruling on additional grounds not raised by the movant, we vacate the judgment in part.


Mears v. Nashville Center for Rehabilitation and Healing, LLC., No. M2022-00490-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 29, 2023).  Plaintiff alleges she was injured from a fall at a skilled nursing facility while using a defective shower chair with a broken lock and torn netting. The circuit court concluded the Plaintiff did not need to file a certificate of good faith under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act because the common knowledge exception is applicable and the complaint’s negligence allegations do not require expert testimony. The nursing facility appeals, arguing expert testimony is required to establish both the standard of care and proximate causation; therefore, a certificate of good faith must be filed. Because the allegations set forth in the complaint do not require expert testimony to maintain the Plaintiff’s claim, we affirm the circuit court’s judgment.


Seely v. Geico Advantage Ins. Co., No. M2021-01263-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 6, 2023).  This is a dispute between two insureds, David Seely and Subhadra Guanawardana (“Plaintiffs”), who co-own the insured vehicle, and their automobile insurance carrier, GEICO Advantage Insurance Company. The dispute arises from a vehicular accident in a McDonald’s restaurant parking lot. Following its investigation into the cause of the accident, GEICO determined that Mr. Seely was at fault when his vehicle collided with another. As a consequence, GEICO paid the claim asserted by the other motorist, placed an “at fault designation” on Plaintiffs’ Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (“CLUE”) reports, and raised Plaintiffs’ premium. Thereafter, Plaintiffs commenced this action against GEICO asserting claims for (1) bad faith, (2) unconscionable contract, (3) violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, (4) violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and (5) defamation. The trial court dismissed all claims, some pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) for failure to state a claim, and the remaining claims were dismissed on summary judgment. This appeal followed. We affirm.  Editor’s Note:  Footnote omitted.


Mantis Funding LLC v. Buy Wholesale Inc.,  No. M2022-00204-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 30, 2022).  Plaintiff filed a petition to have a New York confession of judgment enrolled as a judgment in Tennessee. Defendant claimed the Tennessee circuit court had no jurisdiction because the confession of judgment was not permitted by Tennessee law, violated Tennessee public policy, and was fraudulent and usurious. The trial court enrolled the judgment. Defendant appealed. We affirm.


Fernandez v. Tenn. Dept. of Revenue, No. M2021-01417-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 17, 2022).  Lori S. Fernandez (“Appellant”) was employed by the Tennessee Department of Revenue from 2014 until March 6, 2020, when she resigned. Following her resignation, Appellant sued the Department and several of its employees (the “Appellees”) for various causes of action including, inter alia, racial and disability discrimination. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss which the trial court granted. Thereafter, Appellant filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59 motion to alter or amend the trial court’s order, as well as an amended complaint. The trial court denied the motion to alter or amend and declined to address the outstanding amended complaint. Appellant timely appealed to this court. We conclude that the order appealed from is non-final. Accordingly, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and the appeal must be dismissed.


Cunningham v. Fresenius Medical Care, Inc., No. M2021-01087-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 22, 2022).  In this appeal arising out of a negligence action, the plaintiff died while the litigation was pending, and no motion for substitution of the plaintiff was filed within the ninety-day period following the filing of the suggestion of death as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 25.01. After the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff’s counsel filed a motion to enlarge the time, pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 6.02. The trial court found no excusable neglect warranting enlargement of the ninety-day period and dismissed the action pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 25.01. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s denial of its motion to enlarge and the dismissal of the suit. Discerning no error, we affirm.


Guo v. Rogers, No. M2020-01209-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 26, 2022).  This appeal concerns a claim of legal malpractice. Xingkui Guo (“Plaintiff”) filed a lawsuit for legal malpractice in the Circuit Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) against his former attorney Jon David Rogers (“Defendant”). Defendant filed an answer denying Plaintiff’s allegations as well as a counterclaim alleging that Plaintiff failed to pay him in full pursuant to the terms of their agreement. Defendant later filed motions for summary judgment as to both Plaintiff’s complaint against him and his counterclaim against Plaintiff. The Trial Court granted Defendant’s motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff appeals. We hold, inter alia, that there is no genuine issue of material fact necessitating trial. The undisputed material evidence shows that Plaintiff’s loss in the underlying lawsuit was not due to negligence in Defendant’s representation. The undisputed material evidence shows further that Plaintiff breached his retainer agreement with Defendant by failing to pay him in full pursuant to the terms of the agreement. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.


Roy Kelly et al. v. Debre Keranio Medhanialem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church et al., No. M2019-02238-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2022).  Parents sued a property owner after their child, while playing on the property, received an electrical shock from a downed power line. The property owner moved for summary judgment. Based on the undisputed facts, the trial court determined that the property owner was essentially a landlord and had neither actual nor constructive knowledge of the downed power line. So the court dismissed the parents’ claims against the property owner. On appeal, the parents argue that the property owner was a co-possessor of the portion of the property where the child was injured rather than a landlord. And, as a result, they contend that the property owner owed a duty to inspect the property to discover dangerous conditions such as the downed power line. At the very least, they contend that the questionof constructive notice was for the jury. We affirm the grant of summary judgment.


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.



"The Book" - Information on Tennessee Trial Judges Copyright © 2023 by BirdDog Law, LLC. All Rights Reserved.