Tennessee's "Law of the Case Doctrine" Prevents Issues From Being Appealed More Than Once

September 16, 2013
By The McKellar Law Firm, PLLC on September 16, 2013 8:51 AM |

In the case of Leeper v. Leeper, No. E2012-02544-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 13, 2013), Knoxville divorce attorneys learn that 1) appellate issues may not be re-raised in subsequent appeals and 2) failure of a parent to obtain an agreement does not relieve the other parent from having to pay a child's medical expenses.

The parties divorced in 2005, at time when the children of the marriage were minors. The trial court allowed Mother to relocate the children to Texas. Father subsequently filed several contempt petitions allegation parental alienation. In 2006, all parties were ordered to have psychological evaluations done, a cost of $14,400, with each party ordered to pay half. The trial court also stated that unless it "clearly appears" that one party was the "sole precipitating factor of the current state of events" the cost would be split equally as previously ordered. After completion of the evaluations, Father was named primary residential parent "PRP" and although the trial court described the psychologist's report as "not one sided," the court ordered Mother to pay the balance of the bill. Mother appealed. In 2008, the Court of Appeals vacated the trial court's designation of Father as PRP because Father had not requested to be PRP in the proceedings. On remand, special master was appointed to address the parties' financial issues. The special master determined that Father owed $13,000 in child support and unpaid medical expenses, even though Father objected to many of these expenses. The trial court partially modified the special master's finding regarding one bill (allocating it to Mother instead of Father) but otherwise accepted the special master's findings which resulted in judgment against Father of $11,000, $9,000 of child support and $2,000 of medical bills. Father appeals.

Analysis and Conclusion
Father argues that Mother should pay the whole fee for the psychological evaluation due to her interference with his co-parenting, which caused the evaluation to be necessary. Here, the final order directing how the fee would be paid was in a 2007 order, which was subject to a previous appeal to this court and which has not been raised in this second appeal. This second appeal only addresses a November 2012 order that only touches upon child support and medical bills. This November 2012 order never references the evaluation fee. Under the "law of the case doctrine," the Appeals Court may not reconsider an issue that has been decided in a prior appeal of the same case. This doctrine also "applies to issues that were actually before the appellate court in the first appeal and to issues that were necessarily decided by implication." Here, the issue of the evaluation fee was first decided by the trial court by order entered in 2007; then that order was subject to an appeal and appellate decision handed down in 2008. Father's failure to raise the issue of allocation of the evaluation fee in the 2007/08 appeal bars him from doing so now.

Regarding the medical expenses, Father argues Mother failed to obtain his agreement prior to incurring the expenses and therefore he is not liable for them. After review of the record, the Appeals Court found that even if Mother failed to consult with Father before incurring the expenses, that action would not serve to relieve his responsibility to pay them, and that issue is without merit.