Session October 19, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Anderson County No. 17-PB-3 M.
Nichole Cantrell, Chancellor
appeal presents the issue of whether a trial court may
properly transfer a probate proceeding that was allegedly
filed in the wrong county to the county where the decedent
was residing when he passed away. The administratrix of the
probate estate was appointed by the Campbell County Chancery
Court upon the filing of a verified petition alleging that
the decedent died in Lake City, Tennessee. A defendant in a
wrongful death lawsuit, subsequently filed by the
administratrix regarding the death of the decedent, filed a
motion in the Campbell County Chancery Court, seeking to have
the previously issued letters of administration revoked
because the decedent was residing in a nursing facility in
Anderson County at the time of his death. Rather than
revoking the letters of administration, the Campbell County
Chancery Court transferred the probate matter to Anderson
County. Subsequently, the Anderson County Chancery Court
denied a similar motion, stating that it had no jurisdiction
to revoke letters of administration issued by the Campbell
County Chancery Court. The movant has appealed. Discerning no
error, we affirm the Campbell County Court's order
transferring the probate action to Anderson County.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed; Case Remanded
N. L. Humphreys and Matthew F. Bettis, Kingsport, Tennessee,
for the appellant, Summit View of Lake City, LLC.
Justice, B. Chadwick Rickman, and Linn Guerrero, Knoxville,
Tennessee, for the appellee, Paulette Salmons, as
adminstrator of the Estate of Ernest Lester Salmons.
R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and John W. McClarty, J.,
R. FRIERSON, II, JUDGE.
Factual and Procedural Background
Salmons ("Decedent") died on October 13, 2013, at
Summit View of Lake City, LLC ("Summit"), which is
a skilled nursing facility located in Anderson County. On
November 25, 2013, Decedent's sibling, Paulette Salmons,
a resident of Jacksboro, Tennessee, filed a petition in the
Campbell County Chancery Court, requesting that she be
appointed personal representative of Decedent's estate
("the Estate"). In the petition, Ms. Salmons stated
that Decedent died intestate in Lake City, Tennessee, but
failed to list his specific place of residence. The Campbell
County Chancery Court appointed Ms. Salmons as administratrix
of the Estate on November 25, 2013. In that order, the
Campbell County Chancery Court recited that Decedent was a
resident of Campbell County at the time of his death.
2015, Ms. Salmons filed a complaint against Summit in the
Anderson County Circuit Court on behalf of the Estate. In
said action, the Estate alleged that, inter alia,
Summit was liable for the wrongful death of Decedent due to
medical negligence. Subsequently, on September 26, 2016,
Summit filed a motion in the Campbell County Chancery Court,
seeking to have that court's order appointing Ms. Salmons
administratrix of the Estate declared void ab
initio. Summit asserted that in the health care
liability complaint filed on behalf of the Estate, Ms.
Salmons had stated that Decedent was residing at Summit in
Anderson County at the time of his death. Summit thus posited
that the Campbell County Chancery Court lacked jurisdiction
to grant letters of administration regarding the Estate
pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 30-1-102 (2015),
which states that letters of administration "shall be
granted by the probate court of the county where the
intestate had usual residence at the time of the
intestate's death, or, in case the intestate had fixed
places of residence in more than one county, the probate
court of either county may grant letters of administration .
. . ."
Estate filed a response to Summit's motion, alleging that
(1) Summit lacked standing to set aside the letters of
administration and (2) Summit could not demonstrate that
Decedent intended to change his domicile to Anderson County.
The Estate further argued that the proper resolution of any
issue with the Campbell County Chancery Court's
jurisdiction would be to transfer the matter to Anderson
County pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated §
Campbell County Chancery Court conducted a hearing regarding
Summit's motion on December 16, 2016. Subsequently, on
January 25, 2017, the Campbell County Chancery Court entered
an order denying Summit's motion to have the appointment
order declared void ab initio. The court determined
that the November 25, 2013 order and the resultant letters of
administration were not void. The court transferred the
Estate matter to the Anderson County Chancery Court pursuant
to Tennessee Code Annotated § 16-1-116.
January 31, 2017, Summit filed a motion in the Anderson
County Chancery Court, seeking to alter or amend the January
25, 2017 order of the Campbell County Court. On February 13,
2017, the Anderson County Chancery Court entered an order
stating, inter alia, "[t]his Court refuses to
enter an order as requested by the movant finding that
Anderson County Chancery Court, probate division, has no
jurisdiction to enter any order dealing [with] the revocation
of Appointment of an Administrator or Revocation of Letters
of Administration that were issued by another county."
Summit timely filed a notice of appeal pursuant to Tennessee
Rule of Appellate Procedure 3. Summit concomitantly filed a
motion for interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of
Appellate Procedure 9, acknowledging that the most recent
order might not be considered final. This Court denied
interlocutory review pursuant to Rule 9, determining that
"the orders on review in the probate appeals are
appealable as of right." This appeal as of right
followed. See Tenn. R. App. P. 3.
presents two issues for our review, which we have restated
1. Whether the Campbell County Chancery Court possessed
subject matter jurisdiction to enter an order appointing Ms.
Salmons as administratrix of Decedent's estate.
2. Whether the Campbell County Chancery Court's order
appointing Ms. Salmons as administratrix of Decedent's
estate is void.
Salmons, on behalf of the Estate, raises the following
additional issues, which we have also restated slightly:
3. Whether Summit maintained standing to challenge Ms.
Salmons's appointment as administratrix of the Estate.
4. Whether the Campbell County Chancery Court properly
disposed of Summit's challenge by transferring the case
to Anderson County.
5. Whether the letters of administration issued to Ms.
Salmons were merely voidable rather than void.
6. Whether Summit's challenge of the trial court's
appointment has been waived for failure to properly comply
with statutory requirements.
Standard of Review
of law, including issues of statutory construction, are
reviewed de novo with no presumption of correctness
attaching to the rulings of the court below. See Carter
v. Bell, 279 S.W.3d 560, 564 (Tenn. 2009); Blair v.
Brownson, 197 S.W.3d 681, 683 (Tenn. 2006). As our
Supreme Court has explained concerning statutory
The most basic principle of statutory construction is to
ascertain and give effect to legislative intent without
broadening the statute beyond its intended scope. When
statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we must apply
its plain meaning in its normal and accepted use, without a
forced interpretation that would extend the meaning of the
language and, in that instance, we enforce the ...