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Balentine v. City of Savannah

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

July 13, 2017

ZELLA BALENTINE
v.
CITY OF SAVANNAH, TENNESSEE

         Session June 29, 2017

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hardin County No. CH181 Carma Dennis McGee, Chancellor

         This appeal results from the trial court's ruling that the city was allowed to demolish appellant's home based on her failure to bring the building into compliance as required by the settlement agreement reached by the parties. Based on appellant's failure to comply with the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and the Rules of the Court of Appeals, we decline to address the merits of the case and dismiss the appeal.

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

          Zella Balentine, Savannah, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Dennis W. Plunk, Savannah, Tennessee for the appellee, City of Savannah.

          J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Brandon O. Gibson, and Kenny Armstrong, JJ., joined.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE.

         Background

         In or around December 1998, Plaintiff/Appellant Zella Balentine undertook renovations to her home pursuant to a building permit issued by the Defendant/Appellee City of Savannah. In 2013, however, an inspection of the property resulted in a notice being sent to Ms. Balentine that her property was in violation of the City's Slum Clearance Ordinance and was unfit for human habitation. Ms. Balentine appeared at a hearing before the Building Inspector to state her objections on May 16, 2013. The City issued a written ruling that the structure was unsafe for habitation on May 31, 2013. Ms. Balentine appealed to the City of Savannah Board of Adjustment and Appeals. After Ms. Balentine's appeal was denied, she filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Hardin County Chancery Court, arguing that the City's decision was arbitrary, capricious, and/or discriminatory.

         On January 5, 2016, Ms. Balentine, represented by counsel, and the City announced in open court that they had come to an agreement settling the issues. The agreement was accepted and ratified by the trial court by order of June 7, 2016. Pursuant to the agreement, the parties were to have a status conference regarding whether Ms. Balentine properly undertook her obligations under the agreement to either have the structure demolished or to bring the structure into compliance with building codes within the required time period. At the hearing on July 16, 2016, the trial court found that Ms. Balentine failed to demolish the structure or bring it into compliance as required by the settlement agreement; the trial court therefore ruled that the City had the right to demolish the structure and assess costs against Ms. Balentine. A written order reflecting the trial court's ruling was entered on August 2, 2016. Ms. Balentine thereafter appealed.

         Discussion

         At the outset, we note that although Ms. Balentine was represented by counsel in the trial court, she appears before this Court pro se. We recognize and accept Ms. Balentine's right to appear before this Court self-represented. The law is well-settled in Tennessee, however, that pro se litigants must comply with the same standards to which lawyers must adhere. Watson v. City of Jackson, 448 S.W.3d 919, 926 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014). As explained by this Court:

Parties who decide to represent themselves are entitled to fair and equal treatment by the courts. The courts should take into account that many pro se litigants have no legal training and little familiarity with the judicial system. However, the courts must also be mindful of the boundary between fairness to a pro se litigant and unfairness to the pro se litigant's adversary. Thus, the courts must not excuse pro se litigants from ...

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