CAMILO SANCHEZ ET AL.
ROBERT L. BANTON
Assigned on Briefs June 1, 2017
from the Chancery Court for Loudon County No. 12279 Frank V.
Williams III, Chancellor
case involves a dispute between owners of adjacent property.
Plaintiffs sued Defendant for erecting a gate and steel
posts, which they alleged impeded access to a deeded joint
roadway. The court ordered Defendant to remove the gate and
steel posts and awarded plaintiffs punitive damages. We
reverse the award of punitive damages because the court did
not find by clear and convincing evidence that Defendant
acted with the requisite intent to justify such an award. We
affirm the judgment in all other respects.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part
L. Banton, Philadelphia, Tennessee, appellant, pro se.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which John W. McClarty and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.
NEAL MCBRAYER, JUDGE
and Kathy Sanchez own land adjacent to Robert Banton in
Philadelphia, Loudon County, Tennessee. A dispute arose among
them over Mr. Banton's construction of a gate with steel
posts on a gravel road. The Sanchezes claimed that the gate
and posts "impeded [their] legal use of a deeded joint
roadway" and "denied all other's [sic] access
to [their] property." According to Mr. Banton, he
constructed the gate and posts on his own property for
security, namely "to block members of the public that
would come on the property to seemingly do drugs and engage
in illegal activity."
November 26, 2014, the Sanchezes filed suit against Mr.
Banton in the Chancery Court of Loudon County, Tennessee.
According to the complaint, although he initially agreed to
removal of the gate, Mr. Banton became "combative,
adversarial, and recalcitrant in regard to removing the
gate." The complaint further alleged that Mr. Banton
"placed debris along the Sanchez boundary line to which
these encroachments are intentional acts designed to
intimidate [the plaintiffs]." Also according to the
complaint, Mr. Banton "engaged in verbal abuse, spewing
racial epithets, and demanding the use of his property and
threatening others from coming near his property or his
perceived boundary line."
damages, the complaint requested a monetary award of $1, 600
so that the Sanchezes could hire "machine labor and
workers" to remove debris from their property.
Additionally, "to punish [Mr. Banton] for his conduct,
" the complaint sought $100 per day from November 30,
2012, the date of a demand letter from the Sanchezes'
attorney, through November 1, 2014, totaling $71, 000.
Banton, through counsel, filed an answer asserting that the
"steel gate and posts ha[d] been removed since the
litigation was filed." The answer "denied that
th[e] gate impede[d] Plaintiffs Sanchez's [sic] legal use
of a deeded joint roadway as it was removed" and alleged
that "Plaintiffs always had alternate access to their
unimproved property." And Mr. Banton claimed that,
"[a]s soon as [he] became aware of the rights conferred
in [an easement], he promptly [and] voluntarily removed the
gate and counsel for the Plaintiffs Sanchez[es] was advised
of this removal." The easement referenced by Mr. Banton,
which was also referenced by the Sanchezes in their
complaint, is referred to by the parties as the "deeded
Mr. Banton discharged his counsel and filed pro se two
separate complaints, one against the Sanchezes and one
against their attorney. Against the Sanchezes, Mr. Banton
sought various forms of relief related to the construction of
the gate, including a declaratory judgment, compensatory
damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief. Against
counsel, among other things, Mr. Banton sought damages for
"emotional distress, stress, fear[, ] . . . slander,
defamation, . . . [and] for filing a frivolous law
suit." The Sanchezes and their counsel responded to the
filings as a counter-complaint and third-party complaint,
respectively. They denied all material allegations of the
pleadings and moved for dismissal.
a hearing on August 16, 2016, the chancery court entered a
judgment in favor of the Sanchezes and dismissed Mr.
Banton's counter and third-party complaints. The court
found that the gate was constructed on land not owned by Mr.
Banton, that the gate had not been completely removed, and
that the gate interfered with access to the Sanchezes'