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Alshinnawi v. Denry

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 28, 2017

HIAM ALSHINNAWI
v.
JUDY DENRY

          Assigned on Briefs February 2, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Rutherford County No. 70300 J. Mark Rogers, Judge

         This case originated when the plaintiff filed an action against the defendant process server, alleging that the defendant failed to accomplish service within the specified time period. The plaintiff's action was dismissed by the trial court due to the plaintiff's failure to present sufficient evidence to prove her case at trial. The plaintiff timely appealed. Because the plaintiff has failed to comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27 and Tennessee Court of Appeals Rule 6, we dismiss this appeal.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Appeal Dismissed

          Hiam Alshinnawi, Roswell, Georgia, Pro Se.

          Derek R. Howard, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the appellee, Judy Denry.

          Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Richard H. Dinkins, J., and J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., joined.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          THOMAS R. FRIERSON, II, JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Hiam Alshinnawi, filed a civil warrant in the Rutherford County General Sessions Court ("General Sessions Court") against the defendant, Judy Denry, alleging that Ms. Denry failed to accomplish service of process upon an individual after receiving payment to do so. The General Sessions Court issued summons to Ms. Denry to appear on June 23, 2015. The record is sparse and contains no court order from the June 23, 2015 trial date. A letter from Ms. Alshinnawi appears in the record, reflecting that she had attempted to change the court date, failed to appear in court on June 23, 2015, and had her case dismissed by the General Sessions Court. Thereafter, Ms. Alshinnawi filed a blank form "Motion, " with no actual pleading included, with the General Sessions Court, which was "denied w[ith] prejudice" on September 11, 2015.

         Ms. Alshinnawi appealed to the Rutherford County Circuit Court ("trial court"). The trial court, reviewing the matter de novo, conducted a trial on November 5, 2015. The trial court ultimately ruled in favor of Ms. Denry, finding that "[Ms. Alshinnawi] failed to meet her burden of proof" and that the matter should be dismissed.[2] Ms. Alshinnawi timely appealed to this Court.

         As her appellate brief, Ms. Alshinnawi initially filed a document resembling a letter directed to this Court. Ms. Alshinnawi informed the clerk of this Court that the letter should be treated as her appellate brief. On August 19, 2016, upon determining this document to be noncompliant with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27, this Court ordered that the document be stricken and afforded Ms. Alshinnawi an additional fourteen days within which to file an appellate brief that substantially complied with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27. In its order, this Court informed Ms. Alshinnawi that "[a]ny facts asserted in the brief shall be supported by appropriate citations to the record on appeal" and that this Court "will not consider any facts not supported by the record on appeal." Ms. Alshinnawi subsequently filed a motion for an extension of time to file her appellate brief, which was granted. The time to file an appellate brief was extended to October 3, 2016. Ms. Alshinnawi filed a second motion for extension of time to file her appellate brief, and this Court granted Ms. Alshinnawi an additional fourteen days in which to file her appellate brief. On October 17, 2016, Ms. Alshinnawi filed her appellate brief with this Court. Ms. Denry did not file a responsive brief in this matter.

         We recognize that Ms. Alshinnawi is a pro se litigant and respect her decision to proceed self-represented. With regard to self-represented litigants, this Court has explained:

Pro se litigants who invoke the complex and sometimes technical procedures of the courts assume a very heavy burden. Gray v. Stillman White Co., 522 A.2d 737, 741 (R.I. 1987). Conducting a trial with a pro se litigant who is unschooled in the intricacies of evidence and trial practice can be difficult. Oko v. Rogers, 125 Ill.App.3d 720, 81 Ill.Dec. 72, 75, 466 N.E.2d 658, 661 (1984). Nonetheless, trial courts are expected to appreciate and be understanding of the difficulties encountered by a party who is embarking into the maze of the judicial process with no experience or formal training.

Irvin v. City of Clarksville, 767 S.W.2d 649, 652 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1988). Parties proceeding without benefit of counsel are "entitled to fair and equal treatment by the courts, " but we "must not excuse pro se litigants from complying with the same substantive and procedural rules that represented parties are expected to observe." Hessmer v. Hessmer, 138 S.W.3d 901, 903 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003). This Court must "be mindful of the boundary between fairness to a pro se litigant and unfairness to the ...


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