Assigned on Briefs October 23, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Bradley County No. 2015-CV-6
Jerri Bryant, Chancellor
defendant in a divorce case, seeks accelerated review of the
denial of his motion for recusal. He claims a lack of
impartiality on the part of the chancellor presiding over the
divorce case due to her knowledge of unrelated litigation in
which the movant was a party. He contends that the chancellor
revealed her lack of impartiality in making adverse
credibility determinations against movant, determining movant
violated a statutory injunction, and ignoring prior orders
and agreements of the parties in making factual findings.
Movant also complains of the manner in which the chancellor
conducted an emergency hearing, alleging that the chancellor
"lacked patience and cooperation with the litigants on
th[at] day." After a de novo review, we affirm the
denial of the motion for recusal.
Sup. Ct. R. 10B Interlocutory Appeal as of Right; Judgment of
the Chancery Court Affirmed
Sellers, Cleveland, Tennessee, for the appellant, Robert
Bruce Renner, Sr.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., and J. Steven Stafford,
P.J., W.S., joined.
NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE
first days of 2015, in the Chancery Court for Bradley County,
Anne Frost Montgomery Renner filed for divorce from Robert
Bruce Renner, Sr. Mr. Renner was no stranger to the Bradley
County Chancery Court. The preceding year he had been sued
twice in the same court, apparently related to homes he was
involved in constructing and selling.
long after the divorce filing, Mr. Renner settled the earlier
filed cases. Under the settlements, Mr. Renner agreed to
repurchase the homes and make monetary payments to the
plaintiffs. Because the earlier cases both involved minors,
the parties sought and obtained the chancery court's
approval of the settlements. According to Mr. Renner, he had
to borrow funds in order to fulfill his obligations under the
settlements, which required him to mortgage the homes he
in the divorce case, the Renners stipulated to a divorce and
agreed to a division of personal property and that certain
real property would be sold. See Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 36-4-129 (2017). But several issues remained
unresolved. Among those were the classification and division
of marital property. The parties "had a gross estate of
over $6, 800, 000" and the "many assets which [Mr.
Renner] has held, individually and jointly with [Ms. Renner]
and others, creat[ed] a convoluted list of properties and
titles and percentages of ownership."
for resolving those issues came on August 1, 2018. Mr. Renner
appeared for the hearing with his counsel, but Ms. Renner,
despite "advis[ing] the Court . . . that she would be
present and ready to move forward . . ., with or without
counsel," did not. The hearing proceeded with only Mr.
Renner offering proof.
the hearing, the court's order, entered on February 21,
2019,  reflected concern over perceived conflicts
between Mr. Renner's testimony and documents that were
either admitted into evidence at the hearing or that had been
previously submitted in the case. Mr. Renner testified to the
value of his interest in an entity known as Hole Foods
Holding Group, and the court found the testimony
"contrary to the documentation provided." The court
concluded that the "inconsistency impacts his
credibility." He valued his one-half ownership interest
in another business, RMG/Bradley Motors, as being
"zero." But the court did not find the valuation
credible in light of Mr. Renner running "over a million
dollars of inventory through th[e] entity" and his
payment of "$70, 000 in mortgages on the property during
the marriage." Later, Mr. Renner testified that $7, 500
from the sale of realty went into a trust account, although
the documentation showed $10, 000 went into the account. The
court found this to be "another inconsistent statement
that impact[ed] [Mr. Renner's] credibility."
court also found Mr. Renner gave inconsistent testimony
during the course of the hearing. At one point, Mr. Renner
apparently testified that he was "not a partner" in
two business entities but later testified that his wife could
have the entities if she would assume the debt associated
with them. The court was puzzled over how Mr. Renner could
owe debt on the business when he did not own them. The order
states that "[t]his type of testimony, the lack ...