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Woodard v. Farmers Family Restaurant

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 9, 2015


Assigned on Briefs November 12, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Dickson County No. 22CC2009CV105 Michael R. Jones, Judge

Judy Woodard, Dickson, Tennessee, Pro Se.

R. Eric Thornton, Dickson, Tennessee, for the appellees, Farmers Family Restaurant Dickson, LLC and Dickson Farmers Operations, LLC.

Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P. J., M. S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J. joined.



I. Factual Background

On August 20, 2009, Judy Woodard filed a complaint against her former employer, Farmers Family Restaurant Dickson, LLC, and Dickson Farmers Operations, LLC (collectively "Farmers"), for sexual discrimination, employer retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, retention and supervision practices, and workers' compensation retaliation. On December 21, 2012, Ms. Woodard and Farmers entered into an agreement that compromised and settled her complaint. Pursuant to the agreement, the court entered an agreed order on January 10, 2013, which dismissed the case with prejudice stating that "all matters in controversy between these parties have been compromised and settled and [Ms. Woodard's] case should be dismissed." Ms. Woodard was represented by counsel from the filing of the action through its dismissal.[2]

On February 8, 2013, Ms. Woodard, proceeding pro se, filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 motion to vacate the January 10 order on the ground of fraud. On February 28, Circuit Judge Larry Wallace entered an order setting aside the January 10 order dismissing the case because the order had erroneously been presented to him to enter.[3] On June 21, Farmers filed a Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement, requesting that the court enter the agreed order of dismissal which had been set aside by Judge Wallace; in the alternative, Farmers requested that the court enter its own order dismissing the case with prejudice pursuant to the terms of settlement agreement.

On August 22, 2013, the court entered an order on Farmers' motion and Ms. Woodard's response to the motion. The court determined that the issues presented were "limited to the enforcement of the settlement agreement and whether the complaint should be dismissed"; after making certain findings of fact, the court dismissed the complaint.

On September 20, 2013, Ms. Woodard filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 motion for relief from the court's August 22 order.[4] In the motion, Ms. Woodard asserted several facts, but did not assert a specific ground to set aside the order dismissing the case. Following a hearing, the court entered an order denying the motion; Ms. Woodard appeals.[5]

II. Discussion

As an initial matter, we acknowledge that Ms. Woodard has articulated four issues for resolution in her brief on appeal.[6] The record before us, however, presents the sole question of whether, applying the standards appropriate to Tenn, R. Civ. P. 60.02, the court erred in denying Ms. Woodard's motion to set aside the August 22 order dismissing the case.[7]

Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 allows the trial court to relieve a party from a final judgment "upon such terms as are just" for a limited number of reasons. A motion for relief under Rule 60 addresses itself to the sound discretion of the trial court, and the scope of review on appeal is whether the trial court abused that discretion. Toney v. Mueller, 810 S.W.2d 145, 147 (Tenn. 1991); Day v. Day, 931 S.W.2d 936, 939 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996). In reviewing the trial court's decision on a Rule 60.02 motion, this court will overturn the decision only if the court has abused its discretion. Lindsey v. Lambert, 33 S.W.3d 572, 576-77 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2010) (citing Henry v. Goins, 104 S.W.3d 475, 479 (Tenn. 2003)). As noted in Lindsey:

"The abuse of discretion standard requires us to consider: (1) whether the decision has a sufficient evidentiary foundation; (2) whether the trial court correctly identified and properly applied the appropriate legal principles; and (3) whether the decision is within the range of acceptable alternatives." The abuse of discretion standard does not allow this Court to substitute the panel's judgment for the judgment of the trial court. We will uphold the decision of a trial court so long as reasonable minds can disagree about its correctness, and will set aside the court's decision only if the court has applied an incorrect legal standard or has reached an illogical or unreasoned decision that causes an injustice to the complaining party.

Id. at 577 (internal citations omitted).

In the August 22 order the court held that the issues presented were the enforcement of the settlement agreement and whether the complaint should be dismissed. This was a correct statement of the state of the record at the time, where the parties had entered into a settlement agreement in which, among other things, the parties agreed that the terms of the agreement were in compromise and settlement of the suit and that they would enter an agreed order dismissing the suit.[8] Further, the court made numerous findings of fact, particularly that the settlement contained an enforcement mechanism by which Ms. Woodard retained the ability to seek specific performance of the agreement or damages for its breach.[9] The order denying the motion recited that the court considered both the motion to suspend and the motion for relief under the standards applicable to motions seeking relief under Rule 60.02, and that the motions were not well taken.

Upon our review of the record, we have determined that the court correctly identified and applied the appropriate legal standards; that it found sufficient facts to support its ruling; and that denying the motion to set aside the dismissal of the complaint was an acceptable alternative given the record presented. Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 motion.

III. Conclusion

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

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