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Articles Posted in Miscellaneous

Where plaintiff’s tort claims against the church and church elders where he was previously pastor were all connected to the church’s termination of plaintiff as pastor and his resistance to that termination, the claims were barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.

In Maize v. Friendship Community Church, Inc., No. E2019-00183-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 19, 2020), plaintiff was the former pastor at defendant church. After plaintiff had inappropriate communications with a female church member on Facebook, the church elders (also named as defendants) met and subsequently requested plaintiff’s resignation. Plaintiff refused and was then given a termination letter, which he “refused to abide by.” After a second termination letter was delivered to plaintiff, the church elders held another meeting, wherein “it was suggested that [the termination] had to be done through a church vote in order to be effective.” Because plaintiff was refusing to acknowledge his termination, the church sent an email to its members explaining the termination and stating that plaintiff was likely to attempt to hold church services.

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Where the correct acreage of a piece of real property was contained on a publicly recorded plat, plaintiffs could not maintain a cause of action for misrepresentation or concealment based on the seller or realtor stating that the property was larger than it actually was.

In Archer v. The Home Team, Inc., No. M2019-01898-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2020), plaintiffs alleged that the seller and realtor of a piece of property they purchased represented that the property was 1.9 acres, when it was actually 1.16 acres. They filed suit against both the seller and realtor for multiple causes of action, including misrepresentation, concealment, and breach of contract. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants based on the fact that the correct acreage was listed on a publicly recorded plat, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

For claims of either intentional or negligent misrepresentation, a plaintiff must show that he reasonably relied on the alleged misrepresentations. (internal citations omitted). In relation to the seller, plaintiffs alleged that the seller made one oral misrepresentation that the property was around 2 acres, but testimony showed that this statement was made “between middle of March to sometime before closing.” Plaintiffs, however, had signed the purchase and sale agreement on February 23rd, which was well before this oral statement was made. The Court thus ruled that “no reasonable trier of fact could find that Plaintiffs relied on [the seller’s] alleged misrepresentation of the acreage when deciding to purchase the property” and affirmed summary judgment.

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Where plaintiff fell and broke her hip in a grocery store due to her shopping cart missing a wheel, yet she mostly recovered from the injury, a jury verdict of approximately $90,000 in medical expenses and the maximum allowable amount of $750,000 in noneconomic damages was affirmed.

In Wortham v. Kroger Limited Partnership I, No. W2019-00496-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 16, 2020), plaintiff, an 88-year-old woman, went to defendant grocery store with her adult daughter. The daughter retrieved a shopping cart from the vestibule for plaintiff’s use, and plaintiff proceeded to shop for around thirty minutes. Near the end of her shopping trip, plaintiff turned her cart to the right and it tipped over, causing her to fall. After plaintiff fell, it was discovered that the shopping cart was missing one wheel, and despite searching the property, the missing wheel and/or parts that would have held the wheel in place were not found. Plaintiff broke a bone and injured her hip in the fall, and she required surgery. She spent time four days in the hospital and fourteen days in a rehabilitation center, and despite doing well, she testified that the she still had some pain and had lost much of her independence due to the fall.

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Where plaintiff claimed that defendant created a nuisance by allowing debris to drain onto her land and by causing a sewage smell, but the only evidence consisted of conflicting witness testimony with the trial court crediting defendant’s testimony, dismissal of the nuisance claim was affirmed.

In Magness v. Couser, No. M2019-01138-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 27, 2020), the parties were neighbors who had been involved in contentious litigation since 2004, including claims and counterclaims from both parties. At issue in this appeal was Ms. Couser’s (hereinafter plaintiff) nuisance claim against Mr. Magness (hereinafter defendant). In June 2004, defendant had begun constructing a large commercial building on his property that was located close to plaintiff’s property line. Plaintiff alleged that “the construction of the large building resulted in gravel and debris draining onto her land” even after the completion of the construction in 2006. Plaintiff alleged that the runoff created a gully on her property, destroyed her fence, and that it was destroying a natural spring. In addition to the claim based on runoff, plaintiff alleged defendant created a nuisance by incorrectly installing a septic tank and causing a “sewage smell and foul odor” to permeate her property.

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We have seen several wrongful death lawsuits filed the the families of deceased employees, claiming that the employers negligently caused the death of the decedents by, for example, “knowing” about the decedent’s COVID-19 symptoms and disregarding them.  Here is an example on one such lawsuit in Illinois.   

The Illinois lawsuit alleges “The lawsuit alleges Walmart was negligent because it did not adequately clean the store, enforce social distancing, notify employees about colleagues who were showing coronavirus symptoms and provide protective gear, such as gloves and masks.”

Candidly, we don’t know anything about Illinois law, but we can tell you that dog won’t hunt in Tennessee.  Tennessee has a very strong “exclusivity doctrine,” which means that subject to several exceptions (discrimination lawsuits, for example – see Anderson v. Save-A-Lot, Ltd., 989 S.W.2d 277 (Tenn. 1999)) an employee (or in the event of death an employee’s family) only right to sue an employer for conduct in the workplace that gives rise to injury or death is under the law of worker’s compensation (not the law of negligence).

Where a plaintiff was injured while working on a construction site owned by defendant, but the trial court ruled that plaintiff was actually an employee of an independent contractor retained by defendant, the Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict finding defendant only 10% at fault for plaintiff’s injuries.

In Helton v. Lawson, No. E2018-2119-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2019), Defendant was having a house built on a piece of property that he owned, and he had retained “local handyman Gene Housewright” to help. Housewright was then contacted by plaintiff, who was looking for a job, and Housewright told him he needed laborers for defendant’s house project. On November 6, 2012, Housewright and another worker had assembled bracing to be used when working on the house. Later than day, plaintiff was standing on the bracing and was injured when the bracing pulled loose from the house, causing him to fall.

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The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently held that “the statute of limitations for false imprisonment claims does not begin to run until the imprisonment ends.”

In Lovell v. Warren County, Tennessee, No. M2019-00582-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 16, 2019), plaintiff had been arrested and put in jail on August 16, 2012. Later, the charges against her were dismissed and she was released from jail on August 5, 2013. She filed this false imprisonment claim on June 6, 2014. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the one-year statute of limitations, which the trial court granted, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

There was no dispute that the statute of limitations for false imprisonment was one year, but the parties disagreed over when the one year time period began to run. Defendant argued that the cause of action accrued when plaintiff was first put in jail, but plaintiff asserted that the limitations period did not begin until her release.

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Where an attorney working for a bank gave the bank president advice about his resignation but also recommended that he seek independent counsel, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment on a negligent misrepresentation claim.

In Batten v. Community Trust and Banking Company, No. E2017-00279-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 26, 2019), plaintiff was the president and CEO of defendant bank. Plaintiff had an employment contract with the bank that included a provision allowing him to resign and receive 36 months of additional compensation. When the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions (TDFI) examined the bank, it found serious problems, eventually declaring that the bank was in a troubled condition.

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Where defendants’ truck rolled into a duplex owned by plaintiff causing real property damage, a directed verdict for defendants on all but plaintiff’s negligence claim as well as a jury verdict for diminution in value to the property was affirmed.

In Twenty Holdings, LLC v. Land South LLC and Brandon Majors, No. M2018-01903-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 5, 2019), plaintiff owned a duplex in Nashville, and defendant Majors lived nearby. Majors drove a tractor trailer truck for defendant Land South, and on the day of the incident, he “parked the truck, with an attached 53 foot trailer…, near his residence at the top of a steep hill with the front of the truck pointing toward the drop off of the hill and toward Plaintiff’s property.” Within hours of the truck being parked, it rolled down the hill. The trailer detached from the truck, but the truck portion struck the duplex and stopped in one of the living rooms, causing significant damage to the building. According to Majors, he had parked the truck on a safe area and “took various precautions in securing the tractor-trailer, including engaging the parking brake, placing garden timbers under the wheels, letting the trailer down, and placing the tractor-trailer in reverse.”

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