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Buckner v. Goodman

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 29, 2016

KEN BUCKNER ET AL.
v.
MIKE GOODMAN ET AL.

          Session October 18, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Bradley County No. 2014-CV-262 Jerri S. Bryant, Chancellor

         This case involves a contract to purchase a home on the sellers' condition that the home be removed from the sellers' real property at the buyers' expense. The sellers and the buyers entered into a written contract on January 25, 2013, at which time the buyers paid a $2, 500 deposit toward an agreed price of $5, 000 for the home. The contract did not set forth a deadline for the home to be removed from the sellers' property, although the sellers were required to demonstrate to the lender financing their new construction loan that the home had been removed. The buyers contacted several potential house movers to transport the home but did not execute a final written contract with any of them. The sellers subsequently entered into a written agreement with movers who had originally been contacted by the buyers, retaining the movers to "take possession" of the home and transport it but providing the original buyers a first option to purchase. After learning of the agreement between the sellers and the movers, the buyers contacted the movers, "firing" them. The sellers then had the home demolished. The buyers filed a complaint against the sellers, alleging breach of a home sales contract. The sellers filed a counter-complaint, alleging that the buyers had materially breached the contract first by failing to timely remove the home. The buyers subsequently filed a second complaint against the movers, alleging intentional interference with contractual relations. The trial court consolidated the two actions. Following presentation of the buyers' proof during a bench trial, the trial court found that the buyers had materially breached the contract. The court granted the sellers' and the movers' respective motions for involuntary dismissal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02. Upon hearing the sellers' evidence regarding damages, the court entered a judgment in favor of the sellers in the amount of $5, 200, comprised of $7, 700 in total damages offset by the $2, 500 previously paid by the buyers. The buyers timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

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

         Affirmed; Case Remanded

          William J. Brown, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellants, Ken Buckner and Brenda Buckner. James F. Logan, Jr., Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellees, Mike Goodman and Cindy Goodman.

          Jerrold L. Becker, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Hugh Edward Mayes and Kay Mayes d/b/a B&B Construction/B&B Moving and Foundation Services.

          Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Andy D. Bennett, J., joined.

          OPINION

          THOMAS R. FRIERSON, II, JUDGE

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In November 2013, defendants Mike Goodman and Cindy Goodman ("the Goodmans") were building a new home, intending to replace the approximately 1, 500-square-foot home ("the Home") in which they had been residing on their real property located at 1192 Hunt Road in Cleveland, Tennessee ("the Property"). The Goodmans placed a notice in the Tennessee Trader, a classified advertising circular, stating that they were offering the existing house for sale "[t]o be moved off property." The plaintiffs, Ken Buckner and Brenda Buckner ("the Buckners"), contacted the Goodmans on November 27, 2013. Over the telephone, Ms. Buckner and Mr. Goodman agreed on a purchase price of $5, 000 for the Home, provided that the Buckners would remove the Home from the Property and pay the attendant cost.

         On January 25, 2013, the Buckners and the Goodmans entered into a written contract ("the Contract"), and the Buckners paid a $2, 500 deposit toward purchase of the Home. The Contract, which was drafted in handwritten form by Ms. Goodman, was signed by Mr. Buckner as the "Buyer" and both Mr. and Ms. Goodman as the "Seller[s]."[1] The text of the Contract states in full:

Mike & Cindy Goodman has sold the brick home located at 1192 Hunt Rd. Cleveland. TN to Ken Buckner for the amount of $5000.00 dollars. The house is sold as is and will be moved off the property.
A deposit of $2500.00 has been paid. Remainder will be paid when house is moved.

         The Goodmans filed a notice of completion for their newly constructed home with their lender on January 14, 2013. The parties' respective testimonies differed as to when an understanding existed between the Buckners and the Goodmans that the original Home needed to be moved by a certain date. Mr. Goodman testified via deposition that in early January, he informed Mr. Buckner that the Home had to be moved soon because the Goodmans' construction loan period was ending. According to Mr. Goodman, Mr. Buckner told him that a mover had given him a date of February 4, 2013, to move the Home. Mr. Goodman stated that he then set the closing on the Goodmans' construction loan for ten days following this date, or February 14, 2013.

         Testifying during trial, Mr. Buckner denied that he had a mover identified on February 4, 2013. According to Mr. Buckner, he and his wife did not learn of any specific time period for moving the Home until Mr. Goodman called him on January 29, 2013, four days following the Contract's execution, and informed him that the lender was requiring the Goodmans to have the Home removed from the Property by February 14, 2013, in order to convert the construction loan to permanent financing. Mr. Buckner maintained that he told Mr. Goodman he would "try" to have the Home removed by February 14, 2013, but did not promise this would be accomplished.

         The Buckners contacted at least three potential house movers regarding removal of the Home to acreage owned by the Buckners in Cleveland. Prior to execution of the Contract and upon Mr. Goodman's recommendation, the Buckners initially contacted a mover named Tom Rutledge regarding an estimate to move the Home, but the Buckners and Mr. Rutledge were unable to reach an agreement. The Buckners then contacted a potential mover named Donald Payne. Mr. Buckner testified that he met Mr. Payne at the Home on January 6, 2013, and that he and Mr. Payne inspected the Home after being admitted by Ms. Goodman's mother. According to Mr. Buckner, the Home was "packed clean to the ceiling with boxes" at that time, and Mr. Payne said he would not be able to commit to the move because he was scheduled to leave the country a few days later.

         Mr. Buckner further testified that on February 2 or 3, 2013, he contacted defendants Edward and Kay Mayes d/b/a B&B Construction and B&B Moving and Foundation Services ("the Mayeses"), regarding potentially hiring them to move the Home. Although Ms. Mayes testified that this initial contact occurred on February 1, 2013, while Mr. Mayes stated it occurred on February 5, 2013, it is undisputed that the Mayeses sent a proposed contract to the Buckners via facsimile on February 6, 2013, with a total estimated price for moving the Home of $21, 000. According to Mr. Buckner, he contacted Ms. Mayes via telephone the same day and stated that he did not agree with some provisions of the proposed contract. She told him to mark his proposed changes and return it. The Buckners maintained that they returned a marked version of the contract to the Mayeses via facsimile on February 8, 2013. According to Mr. and Ms. Buckner's respective testimonies, they repeatedly attempted to contact the Mayeses prior to February 14, 2014, but received no response except for one brief telephone conversation with Mr. Mayes during which he said that he would get back to Mr. Buckner. Mr. Buckner testified that he made initial contact with three other house movers while waiting for a response from the Mayeses.

         In contrast, the Mayeses, testifying via deposition, each respectively claimed never to have seen the Buckners' marked version of the proposed contract until it was produced during the pre-trial discovery process. Mr. Mayes testified that following Mr. Buckner's initial contact, he met Mr. Buckner at the Property on February 5, 2013, viewed the Home, and then drove to the Buckners' property to which the Home purportedly would be moved. According to Mr. Mayes, Mr. Buckner informed him that he had only seven days to move the Home. Mr. Mayes testified that following his visits to the Goodmans' and Buckners' respective properties, still on February 5, 2013, he told Mr. Buckner that he would not be able to move the Home within seven days because of obstacles posed by power lines, trees, and the Property's topography. Mr. Mayes also stated that he advised Mr. Buckner that a permit would be needed from "environmental health" before the Home could be placed on the Buckners' property. Mr. Mayes maintained that he told Mr. Buckner on February 5, 2013, that he would speak to Mr. Goodman in an attempt to determine whether anything could be done to extend the February 14 deadline. According to Mr. Mayes, he spoke to Mr. Buckner "several times" over the next few days. It is undisputed that the Mayeses and the Buckners never entered into a contract or reached an agreement.

         Mr. Goodman testified at trial that he and his wife obtained an extension on the closing date of their construction loan to February 25, 2013, for which they had to pay a $1, 000 penalty. They were also required to pay $100 per day in additional interest fees. Mr. Goodman stated that while he was contemplating the need to obtain an extension, he contacted Mr. Buckner via telephone on February 12 or 13, 2013, and offered him an extension of time to move the Home if he would pay the $1, 000 penalty. According to Mr. Goodman, Mr. Buckner agreed over the telephone to pay the $1, 000 penalty the next day in person but then failed to appear or provide the penalty fee.

         In the meantime, Mr. Mayes and Mr. Goodman came to an understanding on February 14, 2013, that if the Home could be moved to a parcel of land owned by the Goodmans that was adjacent to the Property at issue, the Goodmans' lender would be satisfied and the Buckners could be allowed additional time to move the Home to their property. On February 15, 2013, the Goodmans and the Mayeses entered into a written agreement ("Goodman-Mayes Agreement"), "confirming [their] conversation and agreement by telephone on Thursday, February 14, 2013 . . . ." According to the Goodman-Mayes Agreement, the Mayeses, doing business as B&B House Movers, would "take possession" of the Home and "remove the house to the lot adjacent of the right side of existing house to location on the same property to be determined by Mr. Goodman to serve as a staging area until house can be moved to permanent location." The Goodman-Mayes Agreement provided that Mr. Buckner was granted a "first option to purchase the said house for a move bill plus expenses of removing telephone lines, power poles and any utilities." The Goodman-Mayes Agreement further provided that upon sale of the Home by B&B House Movers, Mr. Goodman would receive "a minimum of $3, 000 for his interest in said house with an option for an additional percentage to be agreed upon." If the Home did not sell within sixty days after removal to the adjacent lot, the Goodman-Mayes Agreement provided that the Mayeses would begin making a lease payment of $350 per month to the Goodmans.

         At trial, the Buckners presented two voice mail recordings left on Ms. Buckner's cellular telephone. In the first, dated February 14, 2013, Mr. Mayes explained the agreement reached by the Mayeses and Goodmans, stating that he would sell the Home to the Buckners for the "move bill." In the second voice mail, dated February 15, 2013, Ms. Mayes repeated an explanation of the agreement and stated that the Buckners would have an "option" to purchase the Home. In his deposition testimony, Mr. Mayes testified that he spoke with Mr. Buckner for thirty to forty-five minutes during the evening of February 14, 2013, attempting to explain his intention to preserve the Home and resolve the situation favorably for everyone involved. It is undisputed that Mr. Buckner subsequently telephoned Ms. Mayes and stated that the Mayeses were "fired if they had anything to do with the house."[2]

         Mr. Buckner testified that he also spoke to Mr. Goodman via telephone on February 15, 2013, and expressed his belief that he and Ms. Buckner had already purchased the Home when they paid $2, 500 and signed the Contract. It is undisputed that Mr. Goodman offered to return the $2, 500 to the Buckners during this conversation and that Mr. Buckner refused to accept a refund. According to Mr. Goodman, Mr. Buckner then told him to "keep the money and tear the house down." At trial, Mr. Buckner denied having made this statement. Mr. Goodman acknowledged that the ultimate decision to demolish the Home was his. He and Mr. Mayes each respectively testified that Mr. Mayes, after receiving the message that Mr. Buckner had called and "fired" the Mayeses, called Mr. Goodman and advised him that he might need to demolish the Home in order to avoid a lawsuit.

         On February 16, 2013, the Goodmans had the Home demolished and removed in pieces. Mr. Goodman informed the Buckners of the demolition on February 23, 2013, through a voice mail, again offering to return the Buckners' $2, 500 deposit to them. The Buckners did not accept a return of the deposit. Mr. Buckner testified that he previously had learned of the demolition on February 16, 2013, through a telephone call from his daughter, who had witnessed a portion of the demolition.

         On February 27, 2013, the Buckners filed a complaint against the Goodmans, alleging breach of the Contract for sale of the Home. The Goodmans filed an answer and counter-complaint on July 13, 2013, alleging that the Buckners had materially breached the Contract by failing to timely remove the Home from the Property. On November 19, 2014, the Buckners filed a complaint against the Mayeses, alleging common law and statutory claims for intentional interference with contractual relations and requesting treble damages pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 47-50-109. Upon the Buckners' motion, the trial court consolidated the two actions in an order entered May 20, 2015.

         The trial court conducted a trial over the course of two days on September 16, 2015, and October 8, 2015. Mr. and Ms. Buckner each respectively testified. In addition, the parties stipulated to admission of Mr. and Ms. Goodman's respective deposition testimonies and redacted versions of Mr. and Ms. Mayes's respective deposition testimonies as exhibits. In an attempt to demonstrate their damages, the Buckners called a certified home appraiser, Billy Thacker, to testify to the value of the Home. The Buckners had retained Mr. Thacker to estimate the value of the Home in January 2013. Using what he termed a "cost approach, " Mr. Thacker estimated the value of the Home on its foundation on the Property as $87, 528. To estimate the value of the Home if it were removed from the foundation and placed on "rails" to be moved, Mr. Thacker stated that he would deduct $21, 000 for the cost of the move and $12, 000 for the brick material that would be removed, for a total estimated value of $54, 000. Mr. Thacker acknowledged that he had not performed a full walk-through appraisal and had reached his estimate by viewing a photograph of the Home.

         Following presentation of the Buckners' proof, the Goodmans and the Mayeses each respectively moved for involuntary dismissal of the Buckners' complaints pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02. The trial court granted the motions and dismissed the Buckners' complaints with prejudice upon finding that the Buckners had "caused the breach of the contract to the Goodmans by failing to get the house moved within the time allotted, " which the court found to have ended on February 14, 2013. The court also found that the Mayeses could not have interfered with the Contract because the Contract was no longer enforceable at the time the Mayeses entered into the Goodman-Mayes Agreement. The court further found that the Buckners had failed to establish an intent to induce a breach or any malicious behavior on the part of the Mayeses. Prior to granting the motions for involuntary dismissal, the court also found that Mr. Thacker's valuation of the Home was too speculative to be probative, stating: "The plaintiff bargained for a house for $5, 000 and that's the only proof of what value it would have been."

         Proceeding with trial, still on October 8, 2015, the trial court heard evidence presented by the Goodmans on their breach of contract claim, including testimony by Mr. Goodman. Upon finding that the Buckners had breached the Contract by failing to timely remove the Home from the Property, the court further found that the Goodmans had incurred a total of $7, 700 in damages, including $6, 000 for the cost of removal; a $1, 000 penalty to extend their construction loan; and $700 in interest fees, consisting of $100 per day for seven days. Offsetting the damages by the $2, 500 the Buckners previously had paid toward purchase of the Home, the court entered a judgment in the amount of $5, 200 in favor of the Goodmans. The Buckners timely appealed.

         II. Issues Presented

         The Buckners present three issues on appeal, which we have restated as follows:

1. Whether the trial court erred by finding that the Buckners materially breached the Contract by failing to remove the Home from the Property by February 14, 2013.
2. Whether the trial court erred by dismissing the Buckners' claim against the Mayeses for intentional interference with contractual relations between the Buckners and the Goodmans.
3. Whether the trial court erred by declining to accept testimony proffered by the Buckners' expert witness regarding the fair market value of the Home ...

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