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Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Dorris

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 28, 2017

WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A.
v.
MARCUS DORRIS

          Session November 14, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-002902-16 Rhynette N. Hurd, Judge.

         This case involves the appeal of an action for possession of property initially filed in general sessions court. On appeal to the circuit court, the trial court dismissed the appellant's counterclaims for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The circuit court thereafter determined that the appeal from general sessions court was not timely. We reverse the circuit court's dismissal of the general sessions appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction but affirm the dismissal of the appellant's counterclaims.

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

          Drayton D. Berkley, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Marcus Dorris.

          Bradley E. Trammell and Kavita Goswamy Shelat, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Wells Fargo Bank, N. A.

          J. Steven Stafford, P. J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined.

          OPINION

          J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE.

         Background

         This case originated with the filing of a detainer warrant by Plaintiff/Appellee Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo") in Shelby County General Sessions Court ("general sessions court") against Defendant/Appellant Marcus Dorris ("Appellant"). The warrant sought only possession of the property. At the scheduled June 20, 2016 hearing, Appellant did not appear and the general sessions court awarded possession of the property in question to Wells Fargo. The following day, Appellant filed a motion to set aside the judgment and attached, as exhibits, motions to transfer to circuit court and to dismiss, as well as an answer and three counterclaims. In these filings, Appellant sought to (1) transfer the action to circuit court; (2) dismiss the eviction action; and (3) assert counterclaims for wrongful foreclosure, violation of the federal Truth in Lending Act, and fraudulent suppression of the transfer of the note.

         On July 6, 2016, the general sessions court clerk's office issued a writ of possession regarding the subject property. On July 8, 2016, while the post-judgment motion was pending, Appellant filed a notice of appeal to circuit court. On August 9, 2016, the general sessions court entered its order denying the motion to set aside, stating, in relevant part, that the notice of appeal divested the general sessions court of jurisdiction and the parties should proceed with the appeal in circuit court.

         The case was transferred to the Shelby County Circuit Court ("trial court") and on October 5, 2016, Wells Fargo filed a motion to dismiss Appellant's counterclaims. The motion did not address whether Appellant's counterclaims were timely raised during the detainer proceeding in general sessions court but instead addressed the substance of Appellant's arguments. On December 9, 2016, the trial court granted Wells Fargo's motion to dismiss Appellant's counterclaims.

         The parties then engaged in a period of discovery. On February 13, 2017, however, Wells Fargo filed a motion to enforce the June 20, 2016 judgment of the general sessions court, arguing for the first time that Appellant's appeal was untimely where no notice of appeal had been filed in the ten days following the August 9, 2016 order denying the motion to set aside.[1] On April 7, 2017, the trial court issued an order enforcing the judgment of the general sessions court. The trial court ruled that Appellant failed to file a notice of appeal in the ten days following the general sessions court's denial of the motion to set aside, as required for the trial court to acquire jurisdiction. By this order, all of the claims raised by the parties had been adjudicated and Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court.[2]

         Issues Presented

         Appellant raises two issues on appeal, which are taken, and slightly restated, from his brief:

1. Whether the July 8, 2016 notice of appeal transferred subject matter jurisdiction to the trial court from the general sessions court.
2. Whether the trial court erred in dismissing Appellant's counterclaims against Wells Fargo.

         Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         I.

         As an initial matter, we must first determine whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction to consider Appellant's appeal from the general sessions court. Subject matter jurisdiction concerns "a court's lawful authority to adjudicate a controversy brought before it[, ]" is dependent on the nature of the action and the relief sought, and is determined by reference to the authority granted to the court by the constitution or the General Assembly. Chapman v. DaVita, Inc., 380 S.W.3d 710, 712 (Tenn. 2012) (citing Meighan v. U.S. Sprint Commc'ns Co., 924 S.W.2d 632, 639 (Tenn. 1996); Landers v. Jones, 872 S.W.2d 674, 675 (Tenn. 1994); Kane v. Kane, 547 S.W.2d 559, 560 (Tenn. 1977)). When challenged, the party asserting that the court has subject matter jurisdiction over the controversy bears the burden of proof. Chapman, 380 S.W.3d at 712 (citing Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Memphis, 363 S.W.3d 436, 445 (Tenn. 2012)). The "determination of whether subject matter jurisdiction exists is a question of law, our standard of review is de novo, without a presumption of correctness." Northland Ins. Co. v. State, 33 S.W.3d 727, 729 (Tenn. 2000) (citing Nelson v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 8 S.W.3d 625, 628 (Tenn. 1999)).

         To the extent that this case involves the interpretation of a statute, our review is also de novo with no presumption of correctness. See Rajvongs v. Wright, 432 S.W.3d 808, 811 (Tenn. 2013). "When the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we must apply its plain meaning in its normal and accepted use, without a forced interpretation that would limit or expand the statute's application." Eastman Chem. ...


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