Yolanda Kight Brown, Judge


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.


University Place, S.E., LP v. Bosan, No. W2023-00790-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 13, 2023).  This case arises from a forcible entry and detainer proceeding. Because Appellant’s principal brief fails to comply with Rule 27 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, the appeal is dismissed.


Gerrish & McCeary, P.C. v. Lane, No. W2022-01441-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 5, 2023).  Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of her Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 motion. In 2003, the trial court entered judgment against Appellant and in favor of Appellee/law firm. In her role as Appellee’s bookkeeper, Appellant committed fraud, misrepresentation, conversion, and negligence in stealing funds from the Appellee’s operating account. The 2003 order of judgment also contains a separate judgment for conversion against Appellant’s then-husband, who is not a party to this appeal. However, there is no finding of joint-and-several liability in the 2003 order, and Appellant did not appeal the order. After receiving an extension of its judgment, in July 2021, Appellee filed a garnishment against Appellant, claiming that the outstanding balance on the judgment, with interest, was in excess of $1,000,000.00. After the garnishment was filed, Appellant sought a finding that she should receive a credit against the judgment based on the payment
made by her then-husband in satisfaction of the 2003 judgment entered against him. Appellant also sought credit for monies paid by Appellee’s bank under a private settlement. The bank was never sued. The trial court denied the credits on its finding that the bank and Appellant’s then-husband were neither joint tortfeasors, nor jointly and severally liable. The trial court noted that any relief from the 2003 judgment for mistake in the omission of joint-and-several language was time-barred as Appellant failed to bring her Rule 60.02 motion, under subsection (1) for mistake, within the one-year time period contemplated in the rule. Having determined that there was no joint-and-several liability, the trial court determined that Appellant was not entitled to credits for either her then-husband’s payment or the bank’s payment and denied relief under Rule 60.02(4) for satisfaction of the judgment. Appellant appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.


Patterson v. Patterson, No. W2022-01187-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 18, 2023).  This is an appeal from a trial court’s order finding that Husband’s alimony to Wife constituted alimony in solido and that Husband was in breach of the parties’ marital dissolution agreement for failure to pay alimony to Wife in accordance with their agreement. Having reviewed the record before us, we affirm.


Tennessee Farmer’s Mut. Ins. Co. v. Payne, No. W2021-00376-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 13, 2022). This appeal concerns a dispute over insurance coverage. Amy Higgs (“Higgs”) individually and on behalf of her deceased son, Cayson Emmit Turnmire (“Cayson”), sued David Payne (“Payne”) for the negligent maintenance of his property in relation to Cayson’s death by drowning in Payne’s swimming pool. Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company (“Tennessee Farmers”), Payne’s homeowners’ insurance carrier, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court for Shelby County (“the Trial Court”) against Payne and Higgs. Tennessee Farmers argued that, due to an exclusion in Payne’s homeowners’ insurance policy against claims “arising from or in connection with the swimming pool,” it is not obligated to defend or indemnify Payne. Tennessee Farmers and Higgs filed cross motions for summary judgment. The Trial Court granted Tennessee Farmers’ motion and denied Higgs’ motion. Higgs appeals. Citing the concurrent cause doctrine, Higgs argues that Tennessee Farmers must defend and indemnify Payne as, apart from the pool, certain non-excluded causes contributed to Cayson’s death—namely, Payne’s failure to fence or gate his property. We hold, inter alia, that each of Higgs’ alleged non-excluded concurrent causes are bound up inextricably with Cayson’s tragic drowning in Payne’s pool, an excluded cause under Payne’s insurance policy. 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.



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