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Sullivan v. Kreiling

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

May 30, 2019

JOHN WESLEY SULLIVAN ET AL.
v.
BRENDA KREILING

          Session February 19, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Maury County No. 16073 Stella L. Hargrove, Judge

         This appeal arises from an unlawful detainer action initiated by the conservator of the owner of the property. After the general sessions court awarded the conservator possession of the property, the defendant appealed to circuit court. The defendant then filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that the conservator had exceeded the scope of the conservatorship in filing the unlawful detainer action, and that unlawful detainer was not the proper cause of action. The circuit court denied summary judgment, and the case proceeded to a bench trial. Following trial, the circuit court awarded possession of the house to the conservator, and the defendant now appeals. We affirm.

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

          Joshua Richard Thomas and David A. Kozlowski, Columbia, Tennessee, for the appellant, Brenda Marie Kreiling.

          Kevin Ryan Bragg, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the appellee, Joshua R. Sullivan.

          Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas R. Frierson II and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          FRANK G. CLEMENT JR., P.J., M.S.

         John Wesley Sullivan has owned the residential property at issue, located at 213 Ashwood Drive in Columbia, Tennessee, for more than twenty years. During this time, up to and until December 2016, Mr. Sullivan and his girlfriend, Brenda Kreiling, lived together at this address without Ms. Kreiling being asked to pay rent, utilities, or household maintenance.

         In December 2016, Mr. Sullivan suffered a debilitating stroke and has resided in an assisted living facility ever since while Ms. Kreiling has continued to reside in Mr. Sullivan's home on Ashwood Drive without paying rent.

         In February 2017, Mr. Sullivan's son, Joshua R. Sullivan, his daughter, Dana Michelle Jones, and his girlfriend, Ms. Kreiling, filed separate petitions in the Chancery Court for Maury County to be appointed the conservator for Mr. Sullivan.[1] In August 2017, after a lengthy hearing, the chancellor appointed Joshua Sullivan (hereinafter "the Conservator") conservator of his father's person and estate.[2]

         During the hearing on the petition to appoint a conservator, the chancellor specifically discussed the utilization of the home on Ashwood Drive as an income-producing asset, stating that the Conservator would be responsible for management of the Ashwood Drive property including whether Ms. Kreiling was to pay rent.

         Shortly after his appointment, the Conservator informed Ms. Kreiling that she would have to pay rent if she intended to stay in the home. The Conservator said this discussion was undertaken in the hopes of offsetting the costs of care for Mr. Sullivan and the upkeep of the home. Ms. Kreiling responded that she had never paid rent and had no intentions of paying rent in the future. Shortly thereafter, when the Conservator went to the Ashwood Drive property to inspect the property as part of his duties under the conservatorship, Ms. Kreiling prevented the Conservator from entering the home.

         Because Ms. Kreiling refused to pay rent, the Conservator sent a Notice of Eviction to her in September 2017, giving Ms. Kreiling thirty days to vacate the home. After more than thirty days passed and Ms. Kreiling refused to pay rent or vacate the home, the Conservator filed an unlawful detainer action in Maury County General Sessions Court seeking to remove Ms. Kreiling from the home. In the Detainer Summons, the Conservator noted that Ms. Kreiling's initial possession was based on "[c]o-habitation with boyfriend." The Detainer Summons further alleged that the Conservator's right to possession was based on the "conservatorship . . . established for John W. Sullivan and [Ms. Kreiling] is not agreeable to paying rent." Following a trial, the Conservator was awarded possession of the home.

         Ms. Kreiling appealed the decision of the general sessions court to the Maury County Circuit Court by filing a Petition for Writ of Certiorari and Supersedeas, which was granted by the circuit court. The Conservator then filed a motion to dismiss which the circuit court denied. Thereafter, Ms. Kreiling filed a motion for summary judgment. In her motion, Ms. Kreiling asserted that the action must be dismissed because there was no landlord-tenant relationship between her and Mr. Sullivan, and her right to live on the property was not based on a lease or contractual agreement between the parties. Therefore, Ms. Kreiling alleged that the remedy of unlawful detainer was not the appropriate cause of action to eject her from the residence. She also alleged that the Conservator exceeded the scope of the conservatorship in filing the unlawful detainer action against Mr. Sullivan's expressed desire for Ms. Kreiling to remain in the house.

         Following a hearing on February 23, 2018, the circuit court took the motion for summary judgment under advisement. On February 26, 2018, the court issued a letter to the parties with its ruling on the motion, finding that as a matter of law, unlawful detainer was an appropriate remedy for the Conservator to regain possession of the residence. The judge further found that the remaining issue as to whether the Conservator had exceeded the scope of his authority was a genuine issue of material fact reserved for consideration at trial. On April 9, 2018, the court entered an order denying summary judgment nunc pro tunc to February 23, 2018.

         A bench trial was held April 9, 2018. The court heard testimony from Mr. Sullivan, the Conservator, the Conservator's property manager, and Ms. Kreiling. Mr. Sullivan testified that most of his personal belongings remained in his home on Ashford Drive. He said that he leaves the assisted living facility to return home and stay with Ms. Kreiling "on the weekends, every chance [he] get[s]." Mr. Sullivan also testified that he did not want Ms. Kreiling evicted from the residence. The Conservator admitted that his father told him he wanted Ms. Kreiling to be allowed to continue living in the home without paying rent; nevertheless, the Conservator stated it was his affirmative duty to utilize the home as an income-producing asset regardless of his father's wishes.

         As for the scope of the Conservator's authority, the chancery court's Order Appointing Conservator, which was introduced into evidence at trial in the circuit court, reads in pertinent part:

This cause came to be heard before the Honorable J. Russell Parkes, Judge, on July 26, 2017, upon the sworn Petition of Joshua R. Sullivan for the appointment of a conservator of the person and property of the Respondent, John Wesley Sullivan and the Intervening Petition of Dana Michelle Jones. Based upon the sworn medical examination report filed by Dr. Bamigboye, the Respondent's physician, who is licensed to practice medicine in the State of Tennessee; the testimony of the Petitioner, Intervening Petitioner, statements in open court of counsel for both parties, the Guardian Ad Litem; ...

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