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Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. v. Southern Damage Appraisals, LLC

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

March 21, 2018

TENNESSEE FARMERS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
SOUTHERN DAMAGE APPRAISALS, LLC

         Session Date: September 5, 2017

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Robertson County No. 74CC1-2015-CV-104 Ross H. Hicks, Judge

         Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company ("TN Farmers"), a/s/o Jared Smalley and Cara Gurszecki ("the Homeowners") sued Southern Damage Appraisals, LLC a/k/a Willow Works ("SDA") in connection with a construction project that SDA performed on the Homeowners' house located in Robertson County, Tennessee. SDA filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that the suit was barred by the statute of repose contained in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-202. After a hearing on the motion for summary judgment, the Circuit Court for Robertson County ("the Trial Court") entered its order granting summary judgment to SDA after finding and holding, inter alia, that TN Farmers' claim was for subrogation, the claim was subject to the four year statute of repose contained in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-202, and as the claim had been filed more than four years after substantial completion of the work TN Farmers' claim was barrred. We find and hold that the claim was one for subrogation asserting a right pursuant to an alleged contract between the Homeowners and SDA, that TN Farmers failed to show the existence of any contract between the Homeowners and SDA, and that even if a contract between the Homeowners and SDA did exist coverage for such a contract would be excluded under the insurance policy between TN Farmers and the Homeowners. We, therefore, find and hold that the Trial Court did not err in granting summary judgment to SDA.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Jonathan A. Garner, Springfield, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company a/s/o Jared Smalley and Cara Gurszecki.

          Benjamin E. Goldammer, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Southern Damage Appraisals, LLC a/k/a Willow Works.

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., P.J., M.S. and RICHARD H. DINKINS, J., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Background

         In December of 2009, the Homeowners sustained wind and water damage to their house located in Greenbrier, Tennessee when a tree fell on the house during a storm. The house was approximately two years old at that time. The Homeowners made a claim for the storm damage under their homeowner's insurance policy with TN Farmers ("Insurance Policy").

         At that time, TN Farmers had a contractual agreement with SDA ("the Quality Repair Program") for SDA to be a preferred contractor for TN Farmers. SDA was hired to replace the Homeowners' roof and perform some other work related to the storm damage. Work was completed in April of 2010, and the homeowner, Jared Smalley, signed a Quality Repair Program Certificate of Satisfaction & Authorization to Pay showing a completion date of February 26, 2010. TN Farmers paid the claim pursuant to the Insurance Policy.

         In April of 2012, the Homeowners discovered water damage in their house allegedly due to faulty roof repair. TN Farmers paid to fix the roof and the areas of the house that had been damaged, among other things. TN Farmers then sued SDA in March of 2015 claiming subrogation under the Insurance Policy to the right of recovery of the Homeowners.

         SDA filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that the suit was barred by the four year statute of repose contained in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-202. SDA alleged that the work was completed in February of 2010, the repose period under the statue ended in February of 2014, and TN Farmers did not file suit until March of 2015. SDA also alleged that the claim raised by TN Farmers was barred by the voluntary payment doctrine because TN Farmers was a mere volunteer as to its payment related to the damages from the alleged faulty roof repair and not, therefore, entitled to subrogation.

         After a hearing, the Trial Court entered its order on December 14, 2016 granting summary judgment to SDA after finding and holding, inter alia, that the instant case was a subrogation action subject to the four year statute of repose in Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-202, and as the claim had been filed more than four years after substantial completion of SDA's work, TN Farmers's claim against SDA was barred. The December 14, 2016 order also found and held that TN Farmers' payments to the Homeowners for the 2012 claim were voluntary payments for losses not covered under the Insurance Policy, and therefore, TN Farmers was not entitled to seek subrogation. TN Farmers appealed the December 14, 2016 order to this Court.

         Discussion

         The dispositive issue in this case is whether the Trial Court erred in granting summary judgment to SDA. As our Supreme Court has instructed:

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. We review a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment de novo, without a presumption of correctness. Bain v. Wells, 936 S.W.2d 618, 622 (Tenn. 1997); see also Abshure v. Methodist Healthcare-Memphis Hosp., 325 S.W.3d 98, 103 (Tenn. 2010). In doing so, we make a fresh determination of whether the requirements of Rule 56 of the Tennessee Rules of ...

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