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Johnson v. Memphis Guitar Spa, LLC

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 23, 2019

ROBERT JOHNSON
v.
MEMPHIS GUITAR SPA, LLC

          Session April 10, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-002687-17 Rhynette N. Hurd, Judge

         After losing in general sessions court, Plaintiff attempted to appeal the judgment to the circuit court. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss and a counterclaim in the circuit court. Plaintiff's appeal was thereafter dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because it was not perfected in a timely manner. The circuit court then entered a default judgment against the Plaintiff based upon Plaintiff's failure to respond to the counterclaim. Plaintiff appeals, arguing that the circuit court lost subject matter jurisdiction over the counterclaim upon the dismissal of the appeal. Discerning no error, we affirm.

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

          Ted I. Jones, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Robert Johnson.

          David I. Feigelson and Logan A. Klauss, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Memphis Guitar Spa, LLC.

          J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Arnold B. Goldin and Kenny Armstrong, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          J. STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE.

         Background

         Robert Johnson ("Appellant") initiated the present action on February 10, 2017, by filing a civil warrant in the Shelby County General Sessions Court ("general sessions court") against The Memphis Guitar Spa, LLC ("Appellee"). The civil warrant alleged that Appellee was liable for conversion, breach of contract, and damage to Appellant's personal property.[1] Appellee then filed a cross civil warrant against Appellee. On May 31, 2017, the general sessions court entered a judgment in favor of Appellee, as well as a voluntary nonsuit as to Appellee's cross warrant. Thereafter, Appellant attempted to appeal the general sessions judgment to the Circuit Court for Shelby County ("trial court" or "circuit court") by filing a notice of appeal on June 12, 2017. However, Appellant did not pay the cost bond associated with the appeal until June 13, 2017, one day later, and outside of the ten-day window for perfecting an appeal to the circuit court. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-5-108(a)(1) ("Any party may appeal from a decision of the general sessions court to the circuit court of the county within a period of ten (10) days on complying with this chapter.").

         Due to this omission, Appellee filed a motion to dismiss on June 30, 2017 asserting that Appellant's late payment rendered the appeal from the general sessions court untimely, thereby depriving the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction over the matter. Appellant did not respond to the motion to dismiss. Appellee then filed, on August 18, 2017, a counterclaim against Appellant alleging breach of contract based upon what Appellee asserts is a different set of facts from that of Appellant's initial claim.[2] Therein, Appellee asserted that it had expended labor and resources repairing guitars belonging to Appellant based upon an oral agreement between the parties. Appellee alleged that it had never been paid by Appellant for this work, and requested that it be awarded compensatory damages as well as pre- and post-judgment interest.

         On August 25, 2017, the trial court granted Appellee's motion to dismiss, agreeing that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Appellant's original appeal from the general sessions court. Then, on October 13, 2017, Appellee filed a motion for default judgment alleging that Appellant had not answered Appellee's counter-complaint in a timely manner, and that as such Appellee was entitled to a judgment in its favor. Appellant thereafter filed an answer on October 30, 2017, wherein he denied the substantive allegations in Appellee's counterclaim and asserted the affirmative defenses of laches, estoppel, and the statute of frauds. Appellant did not, however, file a response to Appellee's motion for default judgment.

         After a hearing on November 17, 2017, the trial court granted Appellee's motion for default judgment based upon Appellant's failure to answer the counterclaim in a timely manner, and his failure to respond to the motion for default judgment all together. The issue of damages, however, was reserved for an evidentiary hearing to be held later. At this hearing, held on February 21, 2018, the trial court briefly addressed whether it could retain subject matter jurisdiction over the counterclaim since the initial appeal had been dismissed. Apparently concluding that it could, the trial court proceeded to hear testimony from a witness of Appellee, and then orally ruled that Appellee was entitled to compensatory damages of $2, 487.50, plus interest. An order was entered March 13, 2018, reflecting that the total damages awarded to Appellee were $3, 256.92. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court on April 12, 2018.

         Issue Presented

         Appellant raises only one issue for review: Whether the trial court erred in awarding a default judgment against Appellant.

         Analysis

         In arguing that the trial court erred in granting judgment in favor of Appellee, Appellant's argument can essentially be divided into two theories: (1) that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his claim due to the dismissal of the general sessions appeal; and (2) that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over him due to insufficient service of ...


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