Justia Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court enjoining Defendant's proposal to build a structure for the operation of a retail business, holding that restrictive covenants executed and recorded by the developers of a subdivision after they had sold the parties' lots did not apply to Defendant's property.The developers in this case platted a subdivision and sold the majority of lots with time-limited restrictions against non-residential use stated in the deeds that conveyed the lots. The developers then recorded a declaration of non-time-limited restrictive covenants, including a restriction against non-residential use, purporting to apply to all lots in the subdivision. Years later, Defendant purchased lots and proposed a commercial use of the property. Plaintiffs brought a declaratory judgment action seeking to enforce the restriction against non-residential use. The trial court enjoined Defendant from constructing any retail business or commercial enterprise on his property. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the developers lacked the authority to impose the declaration's restrictions as a servitude upon Defendant's property because they did not own the property when they executed and recorded those restrictive covenants; and (2) the developers' re-acquisition and re-sale of some of Defendant's lots after the recording of the declaration did not retroactively restrict Defendant's property through the declaration. View "Phillips v. Hatfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the trial court and the court of appeals denying reformation of a quitclaim deed, holding that equitable reformation was not available when reformation would benefit parties with constructive notice of a title defect but harm the rights of creditors with recorded judgment liens.A husband and wife quitclaimed parcels of real property. The wife, who owned the property with her husband as tenants by the entirety, was omitted as grantor on one of the quitclaim deeds. Later, two banks obtained judgments against the husband and wife. When the property was sold, the purchasers discovered that the property was subject to the wife's retained ownership interest and the banks' recorded judgment liens. The wife signed a quitclaim deed of correction. The purchasers then filed a declaratory judgment action asking to the trial court to hold, based on mutual mistake, that the corrected quitclaim deed reformed the original quitclaim deed. The court denied reformation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because reforming the quitclaim deed would deprive the banks of their recorded judgment liens and benefit the purchasers and their lender, who acquired the property with constructive notice of the banks' recorded judgment liens and the wife's remaining interest in the property, the purchasers were not entitled to reformation. View "Trent v. Mountain Commerce Bank" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the trial court that documents containing communications between a corporation’s legal counsel and a property management property were protected under the attorney-client privilege, holding that the attorney-client privilege applied to the documents in this case.After acquiring commercial properties, the corporation filed unlawful detainer actions against the properties’ tenants. The tenants sought documents from the property management company that managed the corporation’s properties, but the corporation and property management company objected to producing the documents. The trial court concluded that the property management was an agent of the corporation, and therefore, the attorney-client privilege applied. The Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds, holding (1) the attorney-client privilege extends to communications between an entity’s legal counsel and a third-party non employee of the entity if the non employee is the functional equivalent of the entity’s employee; (2) the property management company in this case was the functional equivalent of the corporation’s employee; and (3) the communications related to the subject matter of counsel’s representation of the corporation and were made with the intention that they would be kept confidential. View "Dialysis Clinic, Inc. v. Medley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question certified to it by a federal court regarding whether a repairman’s lien arising under Tenn. Code Ann. 66-19-101 may be enforced by a method other than attachment of the lien-subject property itself. Here, the lien-subject property was sold to a purchaser and was no longer available for attachment during the pendency of the federal court action, so the lien holder sought to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property. The Supreme Court answered by holding that Tenn. Code Ann. 66-21-101, which addresses enforcement of a statutory lien by original attachment where the lien statute does not specify a method to enforce the lien, is not a statutory vehicle for the lien holder to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property and neither provides for nor excludes other remedies that may be available to the lien holder to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property. View "Embraer Aircraft Maintenance Services, Inc. v. Aerocentury Corp." on Justia Law

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Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., and Cracker Barrel Associates, LLC, (collectively “Plaintiffs”) owned certain real property on Sidco Drive in Davidson County. Richard Epperson and Timothy Causey (collectively “Defendants”) owned adjoining property. Both parcels were subject to a Declaration of Reciprocal Rights and Easements and Restrictive Covenants (“Declaration”), created by the original developer of these two parcels and several others in the same development. In April 2005, Defendants submitted to the Nashville/Davidson County Metropolitan Council a proposal to expand the building on their property. Upon learning of the plan, Plaintiffs notified Defendants that they believed the new construction would violate covenants 1(a), 2, and 3 of the Declaration, granting mutual vehicular easements to the adjoining owners and prohibiting obstruction to traffic flow. Defendants disagreed and persisted in seeking approval for their plan. In August, Plaintiffs filed suit to try and stop Defendants' building plans. The trial court ultimately granted Plaintiffs’ motion for temporary injunctive relief. On October 21, 2005, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Costs and Expenses, seeking almost $62,000 in attorney fees to that point. The ultimately resolved the substantive issues of the lawsuit and on January 30, 2006, the trial court entered an Agreed Judgment and Permanent Injunction, which permanently enjoined Defendants from expanding the building on their property. With regard to fees, the parties agreed that they would submit the fee matter to non-binding mediation. After the parties failed to reach an agreement, Plaintiffs renewed their motion for costs and expenses, requesting $3,913.75 in costs and expenses and a total of $117,334.50 in attorney fees. In their response to Plaintiffs’ motion, Defendants again asserted that Plaintiffs were not entitled to recover attorney fees because the Declaration did not expressly provide for their recovery. The trial court ultimately denied Plaintiffs’ request for attorney fees, explaining that no authority presented supported a finding that the contractual language of Paragraph 9 of the Declaration created a right to recover attorney fees. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of attorney fees. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Plaintiffs’ application for review to clarify the application of the American rule regarding attorney fees to the language in the Declaration, and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., et al. v. Epperson, et al." on Justia Law

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Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) brought this action to set aside a tax sale of real property, arguing that the county’s failure to provide it with notice of the sale violated his right to due process. The purchaser of the real property (Defendant) moved for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that MERS did not tender payment of the sale price plus the accrued taxes before bringing suit, as is statutorily required in a suit challenging the validity of a tax sale, and that MERS did not have a protected interest in the subject property. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion, concluding that MERS did not have an interest in the property. The Court of Appeals on the grounds that MERS lacked standing to file suit. The Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds, holding (1) MERS was not required to tender payment before filing this lawsuit; and (2) MERS acquired no protected interest in the subject property, and therefore, its due process rights were not violated by the county’s failure to notify it of the tax foreclosure proceedings or the tax sale. View "Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys., Inc. v. Ditto" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendants, who for years enjoyed the continuous and exclusive possession of their lands, to settle a boundary dispute. As a result of the boundary litigation Defendants discovered that their ancestors had acquired title during the “gap years” and, consequently, had owned the lands as tenants in common with no right of survivorship rather than tenants by the entirety. Proceeding as third-party plaintiffs, Defendants filed a third-party complaint against descendants of their ancestors, who each claimed an ownership interest in the disputed lands by inheritance, seeking to quiet title to the disputed lands. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the third-party defendants. On remand, Defendants amended their third-party complaint, asserting absolute fee simple title by prescription. The trial court again denied relief. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the third-party defendants’ ignorance of their status as co-tenants in common with their relatives prevented Defendants from taking title by prescription. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that each of the elements of title by prescription had been satisfied in this case, and therefore, the third-party defendants failed to rebut the presumption of title in favor of Defendants. View "Roberts v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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After law enforcement officers discovered child pornography on Defendant’s home computer, Appellant was found guilty of felony sexual exploitation of a minor by knowingly possessing over 100 images of child pornography. The State then filed a complaint for judicial forfeiture against Appellant. Because foreclosure proceedings were already underway, the trial court enjoined the mortgage lender from disbursing to Appellant any excess proceeds from the anticipated foreclosure sale. After Appellant’s home was sold at auction and a trial was held on the complaint for forfeiture, the trial court ordered forfeiture of the proceeds from the sale of Appellant’s home. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) in forfeiture proceedings, the seizing authority is required to present affirmative proof that it complied with both the procedural and the substantive requirements in the forfeiture statutes; (2) both the procedural and the substantive provisions of the forfeiture statutes must be strictly construed; and (3) the State in this case failed to show that it complied with the procedural requirements in the forfeiture statutes. View "State v. Sprunger" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff contracted to sell Defendants certain real property. The contract provided that Plaintiff would retain ownership of a sixty-foot wide strip of property to provide access to her remaining property, but the warranty deed failed to include the reservation. When it became difficult for Plaintiff to access her property due to improvements on the purchased real property, Plaintiff sued Defendants, alleging, among other claims that were subsequently dismissed, breach of contract. The trial court ruled for Plaintiff on the breach of contract claim and awarded her $650,000 in damages. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the gravamen of Plaintiff’s prevailing claim was injury to real property, and therefore, the claim was barred by the three-year statute of limitations applicable to “actions for injuries to personal or real property.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiff’s claim was not barred by the three-year statute of limitations because the gravamen of Plaintiff’s prevailing claim was breach of contract, to which the six-year statute of limitations for “actions on contracts not otherwise expressly provided for” applied. View "Benz-Elliott v. Barrett Enters., LP" on Justia Law

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Property Owners filed an action against Montgomery County, asserting a claim of regulatory taking under Tenn. Const. art. I, 21, for which they sought compensation pursuant to the inverse condemnation statute. The County filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals reversed in part and remanded, holding (1) the Property Owners’ regulatory takings claim should be dismissed because the Court had not yet recognized regulatory takings under the state Constitution; but (2) the Property Owners alleged facts sufficient to state a claim for inverse condemnation. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment insofar as it reversed the trial court’s judgment and dismissed the Property Owners’ regulatory taking claim, holding (1) like the Takings Clause of the federal Constitution, Tenn. Const. art. I, 21 encompasses regulatory takings; and (2) the Property Owners’ complaint was sufficient to allege a state constitutional regulatory taking claim, for which they may seek compensation under Tennessee’s inverse condemnation statute. View "Phillips v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law