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Doe v. Davis

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

September 6, 2019

JENNIFER DOE
v.
AUSTIN DAVIS

          Session June 5, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Davidson County No. 16C-505 Thomas W. Brothers, Judge

         The plaintiff, who is now an adult, filed this action against Austin Davis seeking compensatory and punitive damages for intentional invasion of privacy and defamation. The plaintiff also sought to enjoin Mr. Davis from further intrusion into her private life by posting to social media statements regarding her childhood sexual molestation as well as the private details of her life and childhood. After two years of Mr. Davis's refusal to submit to any discovery on any subject and refusal to obey an order compelling discovery, the parties appeared before a special master for a case management conference. During this meeting, Mr. Davis unequivocally informed the Special Master that he had no intention of providing responses to any of the plaintiff's discovery. Two weeks later, Mr. Davis responded to the plaintiff's renewed motion to compel discovery by reiterating his refusal to provide responses, stating: "[T]he Defendant does not wish to provide any Discovery information to anyone voluntarily or involuntarily involved in the [sexual abuse] cover up." Mr. Davis reaffirmed this declaration in open court during the hearing on the renewed motion for sanctions. Following the hearing, the trial court granted the motion for sanctions and awarded the plaintiff a default judgment on all issues concerning liability. After a trial on the issue of damages, the jury returned a verdict awarding the plaintiff $300, 000 in compensatory damages and $1, 800, 000 in punitive damages. The trial court adopted both awards in its final judgment, and this appeal followed. The brief filed by Mr. Davis in this appeal is profoundly deficient and fails to comply with Rule 27(a) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee. Specifically, his Statement of the Case and Statement of Facts are littered with a series of nonsensical, illogical statements unrelated to the merits of this appeal. Moreover, the Argument section of his brief fails to set forth any contentions with respect to the issues presented, and the reasons therefore, including the reasons why the contentions require appellate relief, with citations to the authorities and appropriate references to the record as required by Rule 27(a)(7)(A) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. In fact, the entire Argument, which is less than one page, merely contains a restatement of the issues and the statement that Mr. Davis relies on this "court's ability to exercise 'sua sponte' authority in the best interest of justice, and to protect children." Based on Mr. Davis's profound failure to comply with Rule 27(a) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 6 of the Rules of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Mr. Davis has waived his right to an appeal. Accordingly, this appeal is dismissed.

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

          Austin Davis, Nashville, Tennessee, pro se.

          Larry Lamont Crain, Brentwood, Tennessee, and Emily A. Castro, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jennifer Doe.

          Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in Richard H. Dinkins, J., joined. ANDY D. BENNETT, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

          OPINION

          FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., JUDGE

         On February 18, 2016, Jennifer Doe[1] commenced this action against Austin Davis seeking compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief based on his intentional invasion of her privacy. She alleged that Mr. Davis intruded into and unreasonably publicized her private life after he learned that she had been sexually abused during her childhood. According to Ms. Doe, Mr. Davis embarked on a widespread campaign to publicly disclose the details of her sexual abuse and what he claimed were efforts by various people to conceal information about her sexual abuse.[2] Ms. Doe filed an amended complaint adding a claim for defamation on the basis that Mr. Davis's statements about the concealment of the sexual abuse were false. She subsequently filed a second amended complaint adding a demand for a jury.

         Over the next year and a half, Ms. Doe attempted to obtain discovery from Mr. Davis but he repeatedly and consistently failed to respond to any discovery requests concerning any subject. On December 1, 2017, on the motion of Ms. Doe, the trial court ordered Mr. Davis to respond to discovery requests, but he refused to comply.

         On January 2, 2018, Ms. Doe filed a motion for sanctions and attorney's fees pursuant to Rule 37 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. Mr. Davis did not respond to the motion. Instead, on January 25, 2018, he filed a motion to recuse Judge Jones asserting that the judge should be disqualified because he had a child attending Montgomery Bell Academy ("MBA").[3] The following day, and apparently without knowledge that a motion for recusal had been filed, Judge Jones heard Ms. Doe's motion for sanctions.[4]

         On February 2, 2018, the trial court entered an order granting Ms. Doe's motion for sanctions and ordering Mr. Davis to pay her attorney's fees in the amount of $1, 000. On the same day, Mr. Davis filed another motion to recuse Judge Jones asserting the same basis for disqualification that he asserted in his second motion for recusal.[5] Five days later, on February 7, 2018, Judge Jones entered an order stating: "This Court hereby recuses itself from the above-styled matter." Judge Thomas Brothers was assigned to hear the case on February 28, 2018.[6]

         Notwithstanding the trial court's sanction, Mr. Davis continued in his refusal to respond to discovery requests and, on August 31, 2018, Ms. Doe filed a renewed motion to compel discovery and for sanctions pursuant to Rule 37 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. On September 24, 2018, Judge Brothers entered an order, making the following pertinent findings of fact:

2. The Defendant failed to abide by the Order entered by Judge Kelvin Jones, and on January 2, 2018, the Plaintiff filed a Motion for Sanctions in the Eighth Circuit Court. This motion was subsequently granted, and on February 2, 2018, Judge Kelvin Jones entered an Order imposing sanctions against the Defendant Austin Davis and ordering him to pay attorney's fees to the Plaintiff in the amount of $1, 000.00.
3. On August 13, 2018, the parties appeared before Special Master Marsh Nichols for a Case Management Conference. During this conference, Special Master Nichols asked the Defendant whether he intended to respond to the Plaintiff's outstanding written discovery requests that were served on July 1, 2017. The Defendant responded "No", and that he had no intention of providing responses to the requested discovery.
4. On August 31, 2018, the Plaintiff filed a Renewed Motion to Compel and for Sanctions pursuant to Rule 37 Tenn. R. Civ. P. requesting that this Court . . . enter a default judgment based on the Defendant's stated intention at the Case Management Conference not to respond to the Plaintiff's written discovery. In his response to the Plaintiff's motion, the Defendant reiterated his refusal to provide responses to Plaintiff's written discovery and stated: "[T]he Defendant does not wish to provide any Discovery information to anyone voluntarily or involuntarily involved in the [sexual abuse] cover up. . . ."
5. During the hearing before this Court on September 21, 2018, the Defendant announced in open court in response to a question from the Court, that he stood by his position as stated in his written response filed in opposition to the Plaintiff's Renewed Motion to Compel and for Sanctions.
6. The Court finds that there has been a clear record of delay and contumacious conduct on the part of the Defendant in failing to obey previous orders of the Circuit Court with regard to discovery, and that the Defendant has intentionally failed to cooperate in discovery after having been warned several times of the possible severe consequences for failing to so cooperate in discovery. In light of the Defendant's clear and unequivocal statements during the Case Management Conference and in his recent response to Plaintiff's renewed motion for sanctions affirming once again his refusal to provide responses to the Plaintiff's written discovery, the Court finds that the Court's previous award of attorney's fees has been an insufficient deterrent, and that the Defendant has continued steadfast in a course of contumacious conduct.

         Based on the above findings, the trial court granted the motion and awarded Ms. Doe a default judgment "as to all issues pertaining to liability." That same day, the trial court also entered a permanent injunction prohibiting Mr. Davis "from posting through any Internet-based form of communication, including any type of social media, electronic mail, text or written communication" any reference to Ms. Doe or her childhood sexual abuse.

         The trial court conducted a jury trial on the issue of damages on September 24, 2018. At the conclusion of the trial, the six-person jury rendered a verdict awarding Ms. Doe $300, 000 in compensatory damages and responded affirmatively to the jury interrogatory that she was entitled to punitive damages. Following a bifurcated hearing on September 26, 2018, the jury returned a verdict awarding Ms. Doe $1, 800, 000 in punitive damages. The trial court adopted these jury awards in its final judgment entered on October 3, 2018. This appeal followed.

         The issues as stated by Mr. Davis read as follows:

Is it legal to cover-up a federal crime in a Tennessee Court?
Did courts err in denying numerous recusal requests?
Did courts err in granting sanctions and a default judgment to the appellee?
Did the trial court err in allowing Rebecca Barber to be a Member of the
Six-person Jury where she served as jury foreperson?
Do Tennessee courts reward Fraud to protect "Private" child sex abuse and the federal violation of the White-Slave Traffic Act (Mann Act) which has no statute of limitations?

         For her part, Ms. Doe contends that Mr. Davis "has waived challenging any of the issues he is claiming, and as a result [his] appeal should be dismissed" because he failed to properly brief the issues. Specifically, she contends this appeal should be dismissed because Mr. Davis's brief failed to comply with Rule 27(a) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 6 of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee.

         Analysis

         I. Pro Se Litigants

         Although Mr. Davis has been represented by counsel in several appeals to this court in recent years, he now appears before this court as a pro se litigant and sets forth the following request in his brief:

Pro Se Appellant humbly acknowledges he is ignorant, unskilled, untrained in the law, and no match for a professional attorney like Larry Crain. Pro Se Appellant humbly relies upon the Middle Tennessee Appellant Court's ability to exercise "sua sponte" authority ...

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