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Patton v. Shelby County Government

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

February 23, 2017


          Session: January 18, 2017

         Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-002153-15 Felicia Corbin Johnson, Judge.

         In 2014, the plaintiffs filed this claim against several defendants pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act due to the recording of a forged deed in 2009. The circuit court dismissed the lawsuit based on the GTLA's one-year statute of limitations. We affirm.

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

          Larry D. Patton, Memphis, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Mildred H. Patton, Memphis, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          John Barnett Turner, Jr., and Virginia Patterson Bozeman, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellees, Shelby County Government, Shelby County Reigster, Emma Summerville, and Christina Morgan.

          Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John W. McClarty and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.



         I. Facts & Procedural History

         On October 8, 2014, Mildred H. Patton and her son Larry D. Patton (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed a pro se "Petition for Judicial Review for Forgery, Fraud[ulent] Conveyance and Negligence with Malice" in the chancery court of Shelby County. The complaint named as defendants the Shelby County Government, the Shelby County Register of Deeds, Shelby County Government employee and notary public Emma Summerville, and the deed examiner at the Shelby County Register of Deeds office, Christina Morgan (collectively, "Defendants"). The complaint set forth a claim pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act ("GTLA"), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-101, et seq. According to the complaint, on June 6, 2009, defendant Emma Summerville notarized a forged and fraudulent quitclaim deed to property located at 2087 Benton Street in Memphis that was owned by Mildred Patton and her other son, Crawford Patton. The Benton Street property was vacant at the time, as Larry Patton and Crawford Patton were both living with their mother Mildred at another home in Memphis. The forged quitclaim deed purportedly conveyed the Benton Street property to Jerry L. Harris. The Register of Deeds office rejected the deed because it was incomplete and sent a letter to the Benton Street address stating that the deed lacked necessary information. Upon receipt of the letter, Larry Patton called the Register's office and spoke with deed examiner Christina Morgan. He explained that the Patton family did not know a Jerry Harris and had not conveyed the Benton Street property to anyone, nor did they intend to do so. Allegedly, Ms. Morgan said that she would call the Pattons "if anything else [came] up."

         According to the October 8, 2014 complaint, on June 23, 2009, defendant Emma Summerville notarized a second forged and fraudulent quitclaim deed again purporting to convey the Benton Street property from Mildred and Crawford Patton to Jerry Harris. Unbeknownst to the Pattons, this deed was successfully recorded in the Register of Deeds office. Six months later, on January 20, 2010, Larry Patton paid the real property taxes for the Benton Street property and was provided with a receipt listing the name Jerry Harris. The October 8, 2014 complaint stated, "This is when I found out that Emma Summerville had notarized and Christina Morgan had filed that forged, fraudulent deed on the property[.]" According to the complaint, Larry Patton called Christina Morgan to ask why she did not verify the validity of the deed but received no explanation. In June 2010, Larry Patton and Mildred Patton went to the Memphis Police Department and filed a complaint regarding the forgery. Mildred and Crawford Patton executed a quitclaim deed on June 8, 2010, conveying the Benton Street property to Mildred and Larry Patton. On or about June 16, 2010, Larry took the deed to the Shelby County Register's office, but he was told that he could not file his deed.

         The October 8, 2014 complaint recited that Mildred, Crawford, and Larry Patton had jointly filed a pro se lawsuit in chancery court on June 23, 2010, entitled "Petition for Cancellation of Forged Deed and to Quiet Title." The only defendant in that lawsuit was Jerry L. Harris. The 2010 complaint alleged that the June 23, 2009 deed was "fraudulent, forged, and void." While the matter was pending, Larry Patton returned to the Shelby County Register of Deeds office and successfully filed his June 8, 2010 quitclaim deed on August 31, 2012. The chancery court entered an order in the action to quiet title on May 1, 2013, granting summary judgment in favor of Mildred and Crawford Patton, declaring that the June 23, 2009 deed was a forgery and "null and void" and ordering the deed stricken from the records of the Shelby County Register.

         In their October 8, 2014 complaint, Mildred Patton and Larry Patton alleged that defendant Christina Morgan committed "negligence with malice" by recording the June 23, 2009 deed days after speaking with Larry Patton about the prior forged deed. They alleged that the Register's office failed to exercise reasonable care in allowing the forged deed to be filed. Plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages due to Defendants' actions. They attached numerous documents to their complaint, including the various quitclaim deeds, numerous letters and tax notices regarding the property, documents related to their complaint with the police department, their previous chancery court petition and the May 1, 2013 summary judgment order, in addition to other items.

         On November 14, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the October 8, 2014 complaint based on the GTLA's one year statute of limitations and the allegations relating to events that occurred in June 2009. The case was subsequently transferred to circuit court due to its jurisdiction over GTLA claims. Defendants renewed their motion to dismiss in circuit court.

         Before the motion to dismiss was heard, Mildred Patton filed pro se a First Amended Complaint. The First Amended Complaint removed Larry Patton as a plaintiff. It repeated the allegations regarding the forgery in June 2009 but omitted all references to the discovery of the forgery and the prior chancery court lawsuit filed in 2010. The First Amended Complaint stated, "On or around January, 2014, Plaintiff learned for the first time that the Quit Claim Deed (Inst. No. 09075677) recorded by Jerry L. Harris contained the forged signatures of the Plaintiff and Crawford Patton and that Defendant Summerville knowingly and fraudulently attested" the deed. Defendants filed another motion to dismiss. They argued that the allegation that Mildred Patton did not learn about the forgery until 2014 was "patently false" given her statements in the original complaint and the previous chancery court lawsuit she filed against Jerry Harris in 2010. Defendants argued that Mildred Patton had unequivocal knowledge that a forgery had occurred, at the very latest, when the chancery court entered the order on May 1, 2013, declaring the deed a forgery, and therefore her complaint against Defendants filed on October 8, 2014, was barred by the one year statute of limitations.

         Mildred Patton subsequently filed a motion for permission to amend her complaint, again, to rename Larry Patton as a plaintiff and necessary party. The motion alleged that Larry Patton was "inadvertently tak[en] off" the First Amended Complaint and that he possessed all of the knowledge regarding the lawsuits and investigation, while Mildred Patton did not. The motion to amend alleged that Larry Patton was the principal plaintiff who incurred the loss and damage when the property was deeded to Jerry Harris. The motion to amend also asserted that the complaint was filed "well within the one year statute of limitations."

         In response, Defendants did not object to Larry Patton being renamed as a plaintiff, but they asked the court to deny any further amendment to the complaint as futile due to the statute of limitations. In a reply, Plaintiffs contended that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until October 2013, when Larry Patton received a property tax bill and learned that the Register's office had finally complied with the May 1, 2013 order and changed its records to reflect that the property was owned by Mildred Patton and Larry Patton. Larry Patton argued that he became aware of his "legal ability" to file a lawsuit at that time. He ...

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