IN RE ESTATE OF WILLIAM C. LINK
Session May 16, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 14C1299 Ben
Cantrell, Special Judge
the successor administrator for the decedent's estate,
brought a negligence suit against the Metropolitan Government
of Nashville and Davidson County based on the probate
clerk's failure to cite the prior administrator in
accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 30-2-602.
Following the Metropolitan Government's filing of a
motion for summary judgment, the trial court concluded that
the asserted claims were barred by the Tennessee Governmental
Tort Liability Act's one-year statute of limitations. For
the reasons stated herein, we reverse.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Court Reversed and Remanded.
Patrick B. Mason and Steven C. Ebbers, Germantown, Tennessee,
for the appellant, Paul Allen Gontarek.
J. Oliver and Melissa Roberge, Nashville, Tennessee, for the
appellee, Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson
B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Brandon O. Gibson, J.,
B. GOLDIN, JUDGE.
and Procedural History
March 19, 2003, the Seventh Circuit Court for Davidson County
(the "Probate Court") entered an order appointing
John Clemmons ("Mr. Clemmons") to serve as
Administrator C.T.A. for the Estate of William C. Link (the
"Estate"). As is relevant to this appeal, the order
required Mr. Clemmons to file an inventory and annual
accountings for the Estate. Despite filing an accounting on
September 15, 2004, Mr. Clemmons never filed another
accounting for the Estate during his ten year tenure as
April 10, 2013, Mr. Clemmons was removed from his position as
Administrator C.T.A. for the Estate, and in his stead, the
Probate Court appointed Paul A. Gontarek ("Mr.
Gontarek") as Successor Administrator C.T.A.
Approximately seven months later, on November 15, 2013, Mr.
Clemmons pled guilty to stealing over $770, 000.00 from the
Estate and was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment as a
result of his theft.
April 1, 2014, Mr. Gontarek, in his capacity as Successor
Administrator C.T.A., filed a complaint in the Davidson
County Circuit Court against the Metropolitan Government of
Nashville and Davidson County ("Metro"). The
complaint sought relief on account of Mr. Clemmons's
wrongdoing and asserted that the employees in the Probate
Court Clerk's office had been a cause of the Estate's
damages through their negligent failure to monitor Mr.
Clemmons. Namely, the complaint alleged that despite Mr.
Clemmons's failure to provide annual accountings pursuant
to Tennessee Code Annotated section 30-2-601, the Probate
Court Clerk had not cited Mr. Clemmons for this shortcoming.
As alleged in the complaint, the Probate Court Clerk is
required by statute to cite the personal administrator for
failing to carry out his or her administrative duties.
See Tenn. Code Ann. § 30-2-602 ("If any
personal representative fails to settle the accounts as
prescribed in § 30-2-601, the clerk shall cite the
personal representative to appear and settle on a given
day[.]"). Following the filing of the complaint, the
trial judge assigned to the case recused himself. A few
months thereafter, the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme
Court assigned the matter to be heard by a Special Judge.
April 1, 2016, Metro moved for summary judgment as to the
claims asserted against it. In addition to alleging that Mr.
Gontarek's lawsuit was time-barred, Metro claimed that
liability against it was precluded due to the fact that Mr.
Gontarek had already obtained a default judgment against Mr.
Clemmons for 100% of the Estate's losses in a
separately-filed case. Metro's request for summary
judgment was subsequently taken under advisement following a
hearing in May 2016.
September 26, 2016, the trial court entered an order granting
summary judgment in favor of Metro and dismissing Mr.
Gontarek's complaint. As a basis for its dismissal, the
trial court concluded that the claims asserted against Metro
were barred by the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability
Act's one-year statute of limitations. The trial court
did not opine on the merits of the alternative basis for
dismissal that Metro cited in its motion, holding that
"[a]ll other issues . . . are . . . moot." This
timely appeal followed.
reviewed the parties' principal appellate briefs, we
perceive that the following two issues are presented for our
1. Whether the claims in the complaint are time-barred.
2. Whether the present lawsuit is barred due to principles of
this appeal stems from a grant of summary judgment, our
inquiry "involves purely a question of law."
Staples v. CBL & Assocs., Inc., 15 S.W.3d 83, 88
(Tenn. 2000). Our standard of review is de novo, and
we afford no presumption of correctness to the trial
court's determination. Maggart v. Almany Realtors,
Inc., 259 S.W.3d 700, 703 (Tenn. 2008) (citations
omitted). When ascertaining whether a grant of summary
judgment was proper, we must make a fresh determination that
the requirements of Rule 56 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil
Procedure have been satisfied. Green v. Green, 293
S.W.3d 493, 514 (Tenn. 2009) (citations omitted). Under that
rule, a motion for summary judgment should only be granted
when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, ...