Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court

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The Tennessee Uniform Trust Code is intended to give trustees broad authority to fulfill their duties as trustee and gives trustees the power to enter into predispute arbitration agreements, so long as doing so is not prohibited under the operative trust instrument. At issue in this interlocutory appeal was whether the signature of the trustee of a trust on an investment/brokerage account agreement that included a provision requiring the arbitration of disputes bound the beneficiary of the trust to the predispute arbitration provision. The Supreme Court held (1) under both the Tennessee Uniform Trust Code and the operative trust instrument, the trustee had authority to enter into the arbitration agreement contained within the account agreement; and (2) applying the principle that a third party who seeks the benefit of a contract must also bear its burdens, the trust beneficiary in this case may be bound to arbitrate claims against the investment broker that sought to enforce the account agreement. The court vacated the trial court order compelling arbitration of all claims and remanded the case to the trial court for a determination as to which, if any, of the claims asserted by the trust beneficiary seek to enforce the account agreement. View "Harvey ex rel. Gladden v. Cumberland Trust & Investment Co." on Justia Law

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Upon their divorce, Wife and Husband entered into a marital dissolution agreement (MDA) that contained a provision entitling the prevailing party to an award of appellate attorney’s fees in subsequent legal proceedings. The MDA was incorporated into the parties’ final divorce decree. Wife later filed a relocation motion seeking to modify the parties’ parenting plan. Wife then filed a motion for judgment against Husband for reimbursement of uncovered medical expenses. After a hearing, the trial court granted both motions filed by Wife and awarded Wife attorney’s fees based on the MDA. The court of appeals affirmed but declined Wife’s request for an award of fees and costs on appeal. Wife appealed, arguing that she was entitled to appellate attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Wife was entitled to an award of appellate attorney’s fees incurred before the court of appeals under the parties’ MDA. View "Eberbach v. Eberbach" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Landlord entered into a written agreement for the lease of commercial real estate to Tenant. In 2009, Landlord filed a complaint against Tenant and Richard Johnson alleging that Tenant breached the lease and that Johnson breached the personal guaranty agreement in the lease. The trial court dismissed Landlord’s claims against Johnson, concluding that Johnson was not personally liable for the obligations in the lease because he did not sign the lease in his personal capacity. At issue on appeal was whether Johnson agreed to be personally liable for Tenant’s obligations when he signed the agreement a second time. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Johnson’s second signature, “which followed a paragraph clearly indicating that the parties agreed that [Johnson] would be personally responsible for [Tenant’s] obligations,” was effective to bind Johnson. Remanded. View "MLG Enters., LLC v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed an action against Defendant within the extended statute of limitations set by a tolling agreement. Plaintiff voluntarily nonsuited the action and refiled it within one year but after the extended statute of limitations in the tolling agreement. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, determining that the case was not timely filed. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the tolling agreement precluded application of the savings statute and, therefore, Plaintiff’s claims were barred. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that, under the parties’ agreement, the savings statute applied to save the suit that Plaintiff refiled after the extended statute of limitations set in the tolling agreement but within the one-year period provided by the savings statute. Remanded. View "Circle C. Constr., LLC v. Nilsen" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a bank, filed suit against multiple defendants for fraud, constructive fraud, civil conspiracy, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, and violation of the Tennessee Securities Act. Three non-resident defendants (the “Ratings Agencies”) moved to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the judgment of the trial court finding that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction under a theory of general jurisdiction or specific jurisdiction; but (2) vacated the dismissal of Plaintiff’s action against the Ratings Agencies on the theory of conspiracy jurisdiction, holding that although Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of conspiracy jurisdiction at this point, the case must be remanded for the trial court to determine if Plaintiff should be allowed to conduct jurisdictional discovery on the conspiracy theory of personal jurisdiction in a manner consistent with the guidelines set forth in this opinion. View "First Cmty. Bank, N.A. v. First Tennessee Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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On July 28, 2012, Michael Becker was injured when a Ford truck driven by his son, Phillip Becker, struck a light pole. Michael and his wife filed suit against Ford Motor Company. On August 26, 2013, Ford filed an answer claiming that the accident was caused by a person other than Ford. On October 1, 2013, the Beckers filed a motion to join Phillip as a party to whom fault could be apportioned and a motion to file an amended complaint. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether, after a defendant asserts a comparative fault claim against a non-party tortfeasor who was known to the plaintiff when the original suit was filed, Tenn. Code Ann. 20-1-119 permits the plaintiff to amend its complaint to assert a claim directly against the tortfeasor named by the defendant. The Court held (1) application of section 20-1-119 is not restricted to tortfeasors who were unknown to the plaintiff when its original complaint was filed; and (2) therefore, the statute permits a plaintiff to file an amended complaint against the tortfeasor named by the defendant within ninety days after the filing of the answer in which the defendant first asserts a comparative fault claim against the tortfeasor. View "Becker v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was the minor beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy. Plaintiff filed a complaint against his financial guardian and the insurance company after the guardian misappropriated the insurance proceeds. The trial court entered judgments in favor of Plaintiff. The insurance company appealed. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that, by entrusting the proceeds to the guardian, the insurance company breached its contractual duties. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the insurance company acted in good faith when it relied upon the validity of a juvenile court order establishing a financial guardianship in making payment of the life insurance proceeds, and (2) therefore, the insurance company could not be liable for breach of contract. View "Hood v. Jenkins" on Justia Law

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A mother sued Ford Motor Company on behalf of her six-year-old son, whose spine was fractured in a car wreck, alleging that the defective design of the seatbelt in the vehicle caused her son's permanent paralysis and other injuries. The jury returned a $43.8 million verdict for compensatory damages. Ford's share of the verdict, based on its degree of fault, was $6,570,000. Ford filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the verdict was excessive. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals, however, determined that the verdict was excessive and remanded the case with a suggestion of remittitur from $43.8 million to $12.9 million. The suggested remittitur would reduce Ford's share of the verdict to $1,935,000. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstated the jury's verdict, holding (1) the court of appeals had the authority to suggest a remittitur even though Ford did not request it; but (2) the court of appeals erred in remitting the verdict to $12.9 million, as the jury's verdict was supported by material evidence and was within the range of reasonableness. Remanded. View "Meals ex rel. Meals v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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Husband and Wife signed a contract to make mutual wills and then executed those wills. Soon after Husband's death, Wife executed a new will that was inconsistent with her previous will. Following Wife's death, the children of Husband's earlier marriage filed an action asserting, among other things, that their stepmother's last will was invalid because it breached the contract to prepare mutual wills and that the will prepared by their stepmother pursuant to the contract to make mutual wills should be admitted into probate rather than her last will. The trial court granted summary judgment to Husband's children, determining that the contract to make mutual wills was supported by adequate consideration and that, therefore, Wife's last will was null and void. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Husband's children were entitled to judgment as a matter of law sustaining their challenge to the validity of Wife's will because, as a matter of law, the contract to make mutual wills was supported by adequate consideration. View "In re Estate of Brown" on Justia Law

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Oak Ridge FM, Inc. contractually agreed for Dick Broadcasting Company (DBC) to have a right of first refusal to purchase Oak Ridge's radio station assets. The agreement was assignable by DBC only with Oak Ridge's consent. DBC subsequently asked Oak Ridge to consent to the assignment of the right-of-first-refusal agreement, but Oak Ridge refused. Oak Ridge also refused to consent to the assignment of a time brokerage agreement and a consulting agreement, both of which lacked consent agreements. DBC sued Oak Ridge and others for breach of contract and violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants. The court of appeals vacated the trial court's judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) where parties have contracted to allow assignment of an agreement with the consent of the non-assigning party, and the agreement is silent regarding the anticipated standard of conduct in withholding consent, an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing requires the non-assigning party to act with good faith and in a commercially reasonable manner in deciding whether to consent to the assignment; and (2) genuine issues of material fact remained in dispute in this case. View "Dick Broad. Co., Inc. of Tenn. v. Oak Ridge FM, Inc." on Justia Law