Session: April 26, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-002526-09
Robert L. Childers, Judge
case involves a divorced party's request to recover
unpaid child support and alimony. The petitioner filed her
lawsuit in the Shelby County Circuit Court, which denied her
request for relief. Although the petitioner appeals, we
conclude that the trial court was without subject matter
jurisdiction over the petitioner's claims. Because the
petitioner's ex-husband is deceased and the claims at
issue are against the ex-husband's estate, the petitioner
was required to file her claims against the estate in the
Shelby County Probate Court. We therefore vacate the judgment
of the trial court and dismiss the case for lack of subject
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Vacated and Dismissed
Christopher F. Donovan, Memphis, Tennessee, for the
appellant, Sherra Robinson Wright.
R. Wharton, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, The Estate
of Lorenzen Verne-Gagne Wright, Herbert Wright, Executor.
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Brandon O. Gibson and Kenny Armstrong, JJ., joined.
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
Appellant, Sherra Wright ("Ms. Wright"), and
Lorenzen Wright ("Mr. Wright") were divorced in
February 2010 by order of the Shelby County Circuit Court.
of the divorce, Mr. Wright was required to maintain a life
insurance policy to support the parties' six children in
the event of his death. Less than a year after the divorce,
on July 28, 2010, Mr. Wright passed away.
to her ex-husband's untimely death, Ms. Wright became
involved in litigation in both the Circuit Court and the
Shelby County Probate Court. Although we need not detail all
of the particulars of this prior litigation for purposes of
our review in this appeal, we note that much of the
litigation concerned who should control certain assets.
Namely, a number of disputes arose between Ms. Wright and
Herbert Wright, Mr. Wright's father and the executor of
his estate. For example, in the Circuit Court, where Ms.
Wright had been designated trustee over the proceeds of the
aforementioned life insurance policy, efforts were taken by
Herbert Wright to remove Ms. Wright as trustee. For her part,
Ms. Wright petitioned the Probate Court to remove Herbert
Wright as the executor of Mr. Wright's estate. These
matters were ultimately resolved by way of a confidential
present litigation ensued in February 2016 when Ms. Wright
filed a petition in the Circuit Court alleging that her
ex-husband had failed to make child support and alimony
payments to her before his death. The petition sought to
enjoin certain funds held by Mr. Wright's estate and
prayed that Ms. Wright be awarded a judgment for the
outstanding support payments allegedly owed to her. Mr.
Wright's estate filed a response in opposition to the
petition in March 2016. In addition to arguing that Ms.
Wright's claims should have been asserted in the Probate
Court, not the Circuit Court, the estate's response
argued that the doctrine of res judicata barred Ms.
Wright's requests for relief. With respect to this latter
argument, the estate contended that the asserted child
support and alimony issues had been resolved by the
parties' prior confidential settlement agreement.
a hearing, on March 21, 2016, the Circuit Court entered an
order denying the relief requested by Ms. Wright's
petition. In addition to concluding that a permanent order
for alimony or child support had never been entered, the
Circuit Court agreed with the position of Mr. Wright's
estate that the asserted claims were barred by the doctrine
of res judicata. Although Ms. Wright subsequently filed a
motion to alter or amend on April 15, 2016, the Circuit Court
entered an order denying the motion on May 18, 2016. In
addition to reaffirming its conclusion that Ms. Wright's
claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata, the
Circuit Court opined that "even if ...