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Sprouse v. Dotson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

November 18, 2016

MICHAEL ALLEN SPROUSE
v.
TIFFANY DOTSON

          November 2, 2016 Session

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Robertson County No. 12-34800 Joel Perry, Judge

         This appeal requires us to interpret a version of a juvenile court statute effective prior to July 1, 2016. A juvenile court magistrate held a hearing on competing petitions to modify a parenting plan filed by a child's parents. The magistrate announced her ruling from the bench at the conclusion of the hearing but did not enter a written order until several days later. Mother, dissatisfied with the magistrate's ruling, filed a request for a rehearing before a juvenile court judge. Mother filed her request within five days of the entry of the magistrate's order but ten days after the hearing before the magistrate. The juvenile court concluded that mother's request for rehearing was untimely and confirmed the magistrate's findings and recommendations as an order of the juvenile court. Because we conclude that the time for requesting a rehearing ran from the entry of the magistrate's written order, mother's request for rehearing was timely. Therefore, we reverse.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Reversed and Case Remanded

          Terrance E. McNabb, Pleasant View, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tiffany Dotson.

          John E. Evans, Springfield, Tennessee, for the appellee, Michael Allen Sprouse.

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

          OPINION

          W. NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Tiffany Dotson ("Mother") and Michael Allen Sprouse ("Father") are the parents of a child. On January 5, 2015, a magistrate of the Juvenile Court of Robertson County, Tennessee, held a hearing on separate petitions related to the child: a petition for civil contempt and modification of parenting plan filed by Father and a counter-petition to modify parenting plan and child support filed by Mother. Although there is no transcript in the record from the hearing, Mother and Father agree that the magistrate announced her ruling from the bench and directed Father's counsel to prepare a proposed written order.

         On January 14, 2016, the magistrate signed a written order containing her findings and recommendations. The magistrate found a material change of circumstance had occurred that warranted a change in the existing parenting plan for the child. In light of the material change of circumstance, the magistrate named Father the primary residential parent of the child and adopted Father's proposed parenting plan. The magistrate also ordered Mother to pay child support in accordance with the child support guidelines.

         In addition to the ruling, the order contained language in bold type above the magistrate's signature. The language included the following statements:

Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-107, this becomes an order of the Juvenile Court if an appeal is not filed within five (5) days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, from the date this order is entered. This order may be appealed to the Juvenile Court Judge by filing a request for rehearing with the Juvenile Court Clerk within said five (5) day period.

         The day after the magistrate signed the order, Mother filed a pro se request for rehearing and motion to set. In making her request, she used a form provided for that purpose by the juvenile court. The form included a section entitled "NOTICE to Requestor of ...


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