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Tran v. Bui

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

November 17, 2016

DEBBIE TRAN
v.
MANILA BUI, ET AL.

          Assigned on Briefs October 4, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Knox County No. 189267-2, Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr., Chancellor.

         This case concerns a constitutional challenge to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 20-12-119(c). When the trial court grants a motion to dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, Section 20-12-119(c) provides for an award of reasonable attorneys' fees to the dismissed party. In this case, the trial court granted Appellees the statutory maximum of $10, 000 in attorneys' fees. Appellant challenged the constitutionality of the statute on the ground that it violated the separation of powers doctrine. The trial court rejected Appellant's challenge, ruling that Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-12-119(c) is remedial in nature and does not violate Article II, section 2 of the Tennessee Constitution. Discerning no error, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed and Remanded.

          Daniel Kidd, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Debbie Tran.

          Wynne du M. Caffey, and John Towers Rice, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee Manila Bui.

          Christopher D. Heagerty, Guardian Ad Litem, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee Allyanna Bui.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andree S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Timothy R. Simonds, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          KENNY ARMSTRONG, JUDGE

         I. Background

         In September 2004, Appellant Debbie Tran divorced her husband Phu Viet Bui. Their marriage produced two daughters, Appellees Manila and Allyanna Bui. Pursuant to the marital dissolution agreement ("MDA"), Ms. Tran and Mr. Bui were to execute quitclaim deeds for two pieces of property such that each spouse would have sole ownership of one piece of property. However, after the divorce, the couple continued to live and work together, and the quitclaim deeds were never executed. Subsequent to the divorce, Mr. Bui acquired two additional properties. Ms. Tran and Mr. Bui also purchased a residence together. Mr. Bui and Ms. Tran lived in the residence with their two children until Mr. Bui was killed in an accident on January 17, 2010. Mr. Bui did not leave a will.

         Ms. Tran was named the personal representative of Mr. Bui's estate; thereafter, she filed a motion with the divorce court and the probate court to effectuate the property transfer required by the MDA. Ms. Tran and her daughters continued to live in the residence previously purchased by Ms. Tran and Mr. Bui, and Ms. Tran managed the three rental properties for the benefit of her daughters. Unfortunately, the relationship between Ms. Tran and her eldest daughter, Manila, began to deteriorate. In January 2014, Ms. Tran moved out of the residence with her younger daughter, Allyanna, but continued to manage the rental properties.

         In March 2015, Ms. Tran filed a petition for declaratory judgment, or in the alternative, for partition and for other relief in the Chancery Court of Knox County. Ms. Tran sought a declaratory judgment that she and Mr. Bui had a marriage by estoppel. In the alternative, Ms. Tran sought a sale of the residence she purchased with Mr. Bui, and asked the court to award each daughter one rental property and to sell the fourth property. Ms. Tran alleged that she should be compensated for managing the rental properties, which she had allegedly done without compensation since Mr. Bui's death. Ms. Tran further alleged that Allyanna was entitled to damages for excessive funds Manila withdrew from the rental account. In her petition, Ms. Tran asked the Court to appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for Allyanna, who was still a minor. The court appointed a GAL for Allyanna by order entered March 23, 2015. After the appointment of the GAL, both Appellees filed a motion for partial dismissal of Ms. Tran's petition for failure to state a claim pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6). Ms. Tran's petition was heard on June 24, 2015. The trial court recognized that Ms. Tran made a "legitimate and ...


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