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State ex rel. Claiborne County v. Alvarez

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

July 22, 2019


          Session May 22, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Claiborne County No. DT-6018666 Elizabeth C. Asbury, Chancellor

         This appeal arises from the redemption of a parcel of real property purchased at a delinquent taxpayer sale. The appellants were lienholders on a parcel of real property sold to a third party purchaser at a delinquent tax sale. Within days after the tax sale, the lienholders filed a petition for redemption of the property. In response, the purchaser filed a motion to protest the validity of the lien or, alternatively, a claim to recover the expenses that had been incurred to preserve the value of the property by clearing debris and personalty from the property. The lienholders then filed a cross-claim alleging conversion and trespass to chattels. After the purchaser withdrew his objection to the validity of the lien, a bench trial was conducted, and the trial court granted the lienholders' petition for redemption upon the following conditions relevant to this appeal: that they reimburse the purchaser in the amounts of $8, 579.60 for expenses incurred in cleaning up the property and an additional $600.00 for the storage of personalty. The lienholders' conversion and trespass to chattels claims were subsequently dismissed. Having determined that the expenses were incurred to prevent permissive waste on the property-and concluding that such expenses are recoverable despite having been incurred prior to the entry of the order confirming the sale-we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

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

          Lewis S. Howard, Jr. and Erin J. Wallen, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellants, E. G. Meek, Sr., and Shirley T. Meek.

          David H. Stanifer, Tazewell, Tennessee, for the appellees, Shane Evans, and Nathan Earl Gilliam.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which. D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and John W. McClarty, J., joined.



         Background and Procedural History

         This cause of action originated in the Claiborne County Chancery Court (the "trial court") as an action for delinquent property taxes filed by the State of Tennessee ex rel. Claiborne County, Tennessee. E.G. Meek and Shirley Meek (together, "Appellants") are the beneficiaries of a deed of trust dated August 20, 2011 by Alberto Alvarez, pursuant to which a parcel of real property located at 2248 Old Highway 63, Speedwell, Tennessee (the "Property") was pledged to secure an indebtedness owed by Mr. Alvarez to Appellants. On April 1, 2017, Nathan Gilliam purchased the Property at a delinquent tax sale for the benefit of his friend, Shane Evans (together, "Appellees"). On April 11, 2017, Mr. Meek, as the lienholder under the deed of trust, filed a motion to redeem the Property pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-5-2701. On April 26, 2017, twenty-five days after Mr. Gilliam purchased the Property at the tax sale, the trial court entered the order confirming the sale. Mr. Gilliam filed a motion to protest the redemption on May 9, 2017, asserting that Appellants did not have a proper lien on the Property. Alternatively, Mr. Gilliam filed a verified motion for lawful charges, seeking $8, 579.60 in expenses he and Mr. Evans incurred in cleaning up the Property and for storage of chattels. Appellants filed a cross-claim against Appellees on June 22, 2017, asserting conversion and trespass to chattels claims with respect to a number of items, including, but not limited to, tools and a steel shed (the "Personalty"). Appellees filed an answer to the cross-claim on July 14, 2017, denying the claims.

         The trial court conducted a bench trial on the competing claims and, on July 28, 2017, entered an order finding that Appellants' authority to redeem the Property was conditioned upon-as is relevant to the appeal before us-two factors: (1) reimbursement for the clean-up expenses incurred by Appellees in the amount of $8, 579.60 and (2) reimbursement of a storage fee to Mr. Gilliam in the amount of $600.00. Appellants appealed the trial court's judgment, and, on July 24, 2018, this Court dismissed the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, having determined that the trial court had "made no express findings regarding [Appellants'] claims of conversion and trespass to chattels." State ex rel. Claiborne Cty. v. Alvarez, No. E2017-01683-COA-R3-CV, 2018 WL 3546783, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 24, 2018). On August 22, 2018, the trial court entered a second order, reiterating the holdings set forth in the original order, but also dismissing Appellants' conversion and trespass to chattel claims and providing that Appellants would be permitted to obtain from Appellees the property that was being held in storage upon payment of the requisite sums. Appellants timely filed their second notice of appeal on September 20, 2018.

         Issues Presented

         Appellants raise two issues for review, which we restate as follows:

1. Whether the trial court erred in finding that Appellees are entitled to reimbursement for the expenses and storage fees incurred by ...

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