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Sanchez v. Banton

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 24, 2018

CAMILO SANCHEZ ET AL.
v.
ROBERT L. BANTON

          Assigned on Briefs June 1, 2017

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Loudon County No. 12279 Frank V. Williams III, Chancellor

         This 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.

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

          Robert L. Banton, Philadelphia, Tennessee, appellant, pro se.

          W. Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John W. McClarty and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION[1]

          W. NEAL MCBRAYER, JUDGE

I.

         Camilo 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."

         On 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."

         As 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.

         Mr. 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 joint easement."

         Later Mr. Banton discharged his counsel[2] 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.

         Following 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' ...


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