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Bruce v. Jackson

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

May 17, 2019


          Assigned on Briefs April 1, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Knox County No. 1-327-18 Kristi M. Davis, Judge

         The petitioner commenced this action in the Knox County Circuit Court ("trial court"), naming as respondents his mother, his brother, and a purported family trust. He alleged, inter alia, that his mother and brother had "brought about" the wrongful death of his father and had mishandled trust funds. Additionally, the petitioner requested "financial separation" from familial assets, a money judgment, and injunctive relief to freeze familial assets. Following a hearing, the trial court entered an order dismissing this action with prejudice upon finding that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because all parties involved in the matter resided in Campbell County and all acts forming the basis for the petitioner's claims had occurred in Campbell County. The petitioner has appealed. We determine that although the trial court correctly found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction, the court erred by dismissing this action with prejudice. We further determine that, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 16-1-116 (2009), this matter should be transferred to the court wherein jurisdiction lies. We therefore vacate the portion of the trial court's judgment dismissing the case with prejudice and remand for entry of an order transferring this action to the Campbell County Circuit Court.

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

          Shane Maddox Bruce, LaFollette, Tennessee, Pro Se.

          Adam M. Bullock, LaFollette, Tennessee, for the appellees, Carolyn Marsh Jackson, Jackson Family Trust, and Morgan Jackson.

          Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The petitioner, Shane Maddox Bruce, proceeding at all relevant times without benefit of counsel, filed a "Petition for Financial Separation and Wrongful Death Suit" in the trial court on September 18, 2018. Mr. Bruce named as respondents his mother, Carolyn Marsh Jackson; his brother, Morgan Jackson; and the Jackson Family Trust. Mr. Bruce's father, Okey Jackson ("Decedent"), had died on December 4, 2017. Among multiple allegations set forth in the petition, Mr. Bruce alleged that Ms. Jackson and Morgan Jackson (collectively, "Respondents")[1] had "brought about" the wrongful death of Decedent by "ignoring, even obstructing [Decedent's] treatment of elemental arsenic poisoning . . . ."

         As to the petition for financial separation, Mr. Bruce alleged that Respondents had misappropriated funds through establishment and management of a family trust and that they had "mingled assets based on combined family enterprises," from which Mr. Bruce requested "his interests to be separated with financial compensation due him . . ." in the amount of $246, 085.16. Mr. Bruce concomitantly filed a motion for injunctive relief, requesting a temporary restraining order "to freeze assets, properties and accounts from [being] transferred to any other parties seeking them outside any normal activities of maintenance of properties or usual billings . . . ." Although no responsive pleading was filed in the trial court, we note that on appeal, Respondents assert that no "Jackson Family Trust" exists and that the "only trust is a joint living trust titled to [Ms.] Jackson and [Decedent]."

         Mr. Bruce subsequently filed a motion to join Morgan Jackson's former wife, Jessica Jackson, as a respondent in the action. Through this motion, he also sought to increase the amount of "personal compensation" he was seeking to $450, 000.00, although he did not style the motion as one to amend his complaint. Mr. Bruce then filed a motion to join a purported associate of Morgan Jackson's as a defendant in the wrongful death claim, requesting a judgment for "a nominal $500, 000.00 in loss of expected profits" against Morgan Jackson's associate. We note that neither of these individuals was joined to this action prior to dismissal by the trial court, although Jessica Jackson is represented by Respondents' counsel on appeal.

         Following a hearing conducted on October 19, 2018, the trial court entered an order on October 24, 2018, dismissing this action with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[2] The court stated in pertinent part:

The court has reviewed the Petition and concludes that all parties involved in this matter reside in Campbell County, Tennessee, and the acts that form the basis of the claims in the Petition occurred in Campbell County, Tennessee. [Mr. Bruce] acknowledged this at the hearing on October 19. Accordingly, jurisdiction does not lie in Knox County, Tennessee, and this matter must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The dismissal is with prejudice.

         Mr. Bruce filed a timely notice of appeal on November 2, 2018. On November 26, 2018, Mr. Bruce filed a motion to vacate the judgment in the trial court. Although Mr. Bruce cited in his motion only a statute regarding a trial court's discretion in granting a change in venue, see Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-4-204, his motion appears to have been filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02. We note that absent remand from this Court, the trial court was without subject matter jurisdiction to consider Mr. Bruce's post-judgment motion. See Burke v. Huntsville NH Operations LLC, 491 S.W.3d 683, 692 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015) ("Absent an application for remand, the trial court's attempt to enter further orders addressing a party's Rule 60.02 motion is a nullity." (quoting Born Again Church & Christian Outreach Ministries, Inc. v. Myler Church Bldg. Sys. of the Midsouth, Inc., 266 S.W.3d 421, 425 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007))). We therefore will proceed with this appeal, having determined that the appeal was docketed with this Court upon the timely filing of Mr. Bruce's notice of appeal. See Tenn. R. App. P. 5; Burke, 491 S.W.3d at 691-92.

         II. Issue Presented

         Mr. Bruce has not included a statement of the issues in his principal brief on appeal as required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27(a)(4). See Tenn. R. App. P. 13(b) ("Review generally will extend only to those issues presented for review."); Owen v. Long Tire, LLC, No. W2011-01227-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 6777014, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2011) ("The requirement of a statement of the issues raised on appeal is no mere technicality."). Noting this omission, Respondents have gleaned from Mr. Bruce's argument the following issue, which we have restated slightly:

Whether the trial court erred by dismissing this action with prejudice rather than without prejudice.

         In addition, we note that Mr. Bruce has asserted in the argument section of his principal brief that the trial court erred by dismissing the action based on lack of jurisdiction rather than transferring the matter based on lack of improper venue. Inasmuch as this Court must determine, as a threshold matter, whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction even when the issue is not presented for review, we will begin our analysis by addressing the trial court's finding of lack of jurisdiction. See Tenn. R. App. P. 13(b) ("The appellate ...

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