NOAH RYAN ET AL.
Session April 15, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Hamilton County No. 17-0447
Pamela A. Fleenor, Chancellor
appeal arises from a dispute concerning the defendant's
conduct, which impeded the plaintiffs' use of a state
right of way for ingress to and egress from the
plaintiffs' commercial property. The trial court entered
a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs following its
determination that the defendant had created a nuisance and
had intentionally interfered with the plaintiffs'
business relationships. The defendant has appealed.
Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed; Case Remanded
Patrick B. Hawley, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant,
P. Konvalinka, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellees,
Noah Ryan d/b/a Ryan Heat and Air and B.M. Crane d/b/a Crane
R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Charles D. Susano, Jr., and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ.,
R. FRIERSON, II, JUDGE.
Factual and Procedural Background
20, 2017, the plaintiffs, Noah Ryan d/b/a Ryan Heat and Air
and B.M. Crane d/b/a Crane Development Company (collectively,
"Plaintiffs"), filed a complaint in the Hamilton
County Chancery Court ("trial court") against the
defendant, Laverna Soucie. In their complaint, Plaintiffs
alleged that Mr. Ryan operated his business on commercial
property owned by Ms. Crane, who is his
mother-in-law. Plaintiffs additionally averred that Ms.
Soucie owned a nearby tract of residential property improved
with a home. According to Plaintiffs, Ms. Soucie had recently
engaged in conduct that impeded Plaintiffs' necessary
route of ingress to and egress from their property to a
public road known as Parker Lane.
further alleged that the City of Chattanooga ("the
City"), via ordinance, had rezoned a portion of Ms.
Crane's real property to reflect a commercial designation
in 1995, "for the purpose of allowing commercial
business on Crane's Property having a street address of
3222 Parker Lane with 'access to site' (from Parker
Lane to Crane's Property) as described on the map
attached to, and a part of, such approved and enacted
ordinance." Plaintiffs asserted that they had
continuously used and exclusively maintained the gravel road
providing such access since that time. According to
Plaintiffs' allegations in the complaint, the United
States Postal Service had instructed Mr. Ryan to place a
mailbox for his business at the point where the gravel road
abutted Parker Lane.
averred, at some point following her purchase of nearby
property in 2014, Ms. Soucie began impeding Plaintiffs'
use of the gravel road by, inter alia, planting
trees and placing a trailer in front of the gate to
Plaintiffs' property, even though Ms. Soucie does not own
the real property across which the gravel road exists.
Plaintiffs' specific claims included that Ms.
Soucie's actions (1) substantially interfered with their
use of the gravel road and their own property, (2)
constituted a nuisance, and (3) interfered with and harmed
Mr. Ryan's business and business relationships.
Consequently, Plaintiffs sought damages and injunctive
relief. The trial court subsequently granted Plaintiffs a
temporary restraining order and set the matter for hearing.
response, Ms. Soucie filed an answer, contending that title
to the property traversed by the gravel road at issue had
been conveyed to the State of Tennessee in 1982 and 1984
without any encumbrances reflected in the deeds. Ms. Soucie
averred that the City lacked authority to encumber property
owned by the State with an easement and asserted that
Plaintiffs' use of the gravel road was unnecessary
because their property had access to Center Street. Ms.
Soucie also raised various affirmative defenses, including
failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted
and failure to join an indispensable party.
the parties subsequently attempted mediation, no settlement
was achieved. Ms. Soucie thereafter filed a motion to
dismiss, which the trial court denied in an order dated
December 7, 2017. On December 14, 2017, the eve of trial, Ms.
Soucie filed a motion to recuse, alleging that she had
recently learned that the chancellor had previously been in
partnership with counsel for Plaintiffs. Ms. Soucie alleged
that neither the chancellor nor Plaintiffs' counsel had
disclosed their previous business relationship to her. She
therefore insisted that the chancellor's impartiality in
the matter could be reasonably questioned, such that recusal
was proper. In accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule
10B, Ms. Soucie filed a supplement to her motion, asserting
that the motion was not presented for an improper purpose.
trial court entered an order on December 18, 2017, denying
the recusal motion. The court found that the motion was
untimely because the complaint had been filed on June 20,
2017, and numerous orders had been entered and continuances
granted since that time. The court noted that "waiting
five months to file a motion to recuse and  filing that
motion one day prior to trial, is not timely." With
regard to the affidavit required by Tennessee Supreme Court
Rule 10B that must be based on personal knowledge, the court
found the instrument filed by Ms. Soucie's counsel to be
inadequate. The court determined that "counsel's
lack of personal knowledge of the matter set forth in the
memorandum is both pronounced and conspicuous as the
memorandum attempts to speak to many matters that occurred in
the case prior to counsel's appearance
in the case and are incorrect as pointed out below." The
court thus determined that the motion was not supported by a
regard to the merits of the recusal motion, the trial court
determined that there was no basis for recusal in the case at
bar. The chancellor noted that she had "entertained
hearings and trials from all of her prior employers . . . and
has never announced that she was formerly employed by that
firm." The trial court further determined that
"there is no appearance of impropriety where opposing
counsel was a former partner 23 years ago with the
Chancellor." Finally, the court found that there was no
bias or prejudice that would prevent a proper adjudication in
trial court subsequently conducted a bench trial on March 9,
2018, and May 1, 2018. On May 21, 2018, the trial court
entered a final judgment, wherein the court made detailed
findings of fact, including that Plaintiffs possessed the
right to use the gravel road in question, or the
"Driveway" as it was referred to by the court. The
court ultimately determined that Ms. Soucie
"intentionally, unreasonably and substantially
inconvenienced and interfered with Plaintiff[s'] use of
the Driveway," thereby constituting a nuisance. The
court awarded damages to Plaintiffs in the amount of $14,
850, which represented the cost of hauling refuse from
Plaintiffs' property after Ms. Soucie rendered the gravel
road impassable for the waste disposal truck. Although the
court further found that Ms. Soucie had intentionally
interfered with Plaintiffs' business relationships, no
additional damages were awarded for this claim. Ms. Soucie
Soucie presents the following issues for our review, which we
have restated slightly:
1. Whether the trial court erred by denying Ms. Soucie's
motion to dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil
2. Whether the trial court erred by determining that the
weight of the evidence preponderated in favor of the award of
monetary damages to Plaintiffs.
3. Whether the trial court erred by holding Ms. Soucie liable
for nuisance and intentional interference with business
4. Whether the trial court erred by denying Ms. Soucie's
motion for directed verdict.
5. Whether the trial court erred by denying Ms. Soucie's
motion to recuse.
addition to rephrasing the issues raised by Ms. Soucie,
Plaintiffs raise the following additional issue, which we
have similarly restated as follows:
6. Whether this Court should consider Ms. Soucie's
contentions regarding her motion to dismiss when such
contentions were not raised in the trial court.
Standard of Review
review a trial court's findings of fact de novo
with a presumption of correctness unless the preponderance of
the evidence is otherwise. See Tenn. R. App. P.
13(d); Nashville Ford Tractor, Inc. v. Great Am. Ins.
Co., 194 S.W.3d 415, 424 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005).
"[F]or the evidence to preponderate against a trial
court's finding of fact, it must support another finding
of fact with greater convincing effect." Rawlings v.
John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 78 S.W.3d 291, 296
(Tenn. Ct. App. 2001). We review questions of law de
novo. See Wells v. Tenn. Bd. of Regents, 231
S.W.3d 912, 916 (Tenn. 2007). "We defer to the trial
court's determinations of witness credibility because the
trial judge could observe the witnesses' demeanor and
hear in-court testimony." Coleman v. Olson, 551
S.W.3d 686, 694 (Tenn. 2018).
review a trial court's ruling concerning a motion to
dismiss de novo with no presumption of correctness.
See Woodruff by & through Cockrell v. Walker,542 S.W.3d 486, 494 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017), perm. app.
denied (Tenn. Oct. 6, 2017). Concerning motions for
recusal made pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we
likewise review the denial of such a motion de novo