In the case titled Stamps v. Stamps, Jr., No. M2012-02512-COA-R3-CV Slip Copy, 2013 WL 6795411 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2013) Tennessee divorce attorneys learn whether the application of Local Rule of Practice 6.02 for the Twenty-First Judicial District gives a trial court discretion to deny a Motion to Alter or Amend and/or for a New Trial in relation to a mediated agreement where facts may have been distorted by a party without a hearing on the matter, without discussing the evidence filed to support said motion in its denial, and without discussing its basis for the denial of said motion.Facts
Husband and Wife were married for 26 years and had two minor children at the time of filing for Divorce. Wife filed a Complaint for Divorce and the parties attended mediation which resulted in the parties entering into a Marital Dissolution Agreement ("MDA").
The parties amassed several pieces of commercial and residential properties during the marriage, one of which was the subject of this appeal. This was a rental property that was awarded to Wife in the MDA.
After the MDA and Final Decree were entered with the court, Wife filed a Motion to Alter or Amend and/or for a New Trial. In her motion Wife averred that Husband had misrepresented the condition and status of the rental property in question. She alleged that Husband did not disclose that the property was in "significant disrepair" and "not rentable or inhabitable." Further, she stated that Husband represented in his deposition that the property was worth $215,000.00 which was supported by an appraisal, and was bringing in $1,600.00 per month in rent. She stated that the tenant had vacated the property due to its poor condition. She supported her motion with her own affidavit, an affidavit of the former tenant, Husband's deposition, letters between counsel, the property appraisal, the MDA and Final Decree. The record did not show that an Answer was filed by Husband.
The trial court did not set the matter for hearing. Instead it denied Wife's motion citing Rule 6.02 of the Local Rules of Practice for the Twenty-First Judicial District and entered an order denying Wife's motion. Rule 6.02 states as follows:
Motions for new trial, motions for judgment n.o.v. and motions to alter or amend will not be set for hearing exception upon direction of the Judge. Such motions should be accompanied by any citation of authorities and written argument which the moving party wishes the Judge to consider. No such motion will be sustained by he Judge without affording the adverse parties an opportunity either to file responsive briefs and written argument or to be heard in oral argument.
Wife appealed the court's decision averring the court erred in denying her motion without a hearing, in not giving the court's basis for the denial, and in not applying contract principles in its consideration of her motion.
Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59.04 allows a motion to alter or amend a judgment in order for a trial court to fix errors as to the law or facts that it failed to consider in certain matters. Chadwell v. Knox Cnty., 980 S.W.2d 378, 383 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998). According to Vaccarella v. Vaccarella, 49 S.W.3d 307, 312 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001), these motions "may be granted (1) when the controlling law changes before a judgment becomes final, (2) when previously unavailable evidence becomes available, or (3) when, for sui generis reasons, a judgment should be amended to correct a clear error of law or to prevent injustice." Decisions based on Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59.04 are reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. Ferguson v. Brown, 291 S.W.3d 381, 386 (quoting McCracken v. Brentwood United Methodist Church, 958 S.W.2d 792, 795 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997)). A trial court is deemed to have abused its discretion when it "causes an injustice by applying an incorrect legal standard, reaching an illogical decision, or by resolving the case 'on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.'" Lee Med., Inc. v. Beecher, 312 S.W.3d 515, 524 (Tenn. 2010). When reviewing these cases the appellate court "should begin with the presumption that the decision is correct and should review the evidence in the light most favorable to the decision." Henderson v. SAIA, Inc., 318 S.W.3d 328, 335 (Tenn. 2010) (quoting Overstreet v. Shoney's, Inc., 4 S.W.3d 694, 709 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999)). The appellate court may not substitute its own judgment for the trial court's under the standard. Henry v. Goins, 104 S.W.3d 475, 479 (Tenn. 2003).
Until approved by a court, a mediated agreement is contractual in nature. Ledbetter v. Ledbetter, 163 S.W.3d 681, 685 (Tenn. 2005). Whether a mediated agreement is enforceable is a question of law. Id. At 683. Proof of misrepresentation of facts that were used for the basis of entering into a mediated agreement can be grounds for vacating or amending the agreement. Coleman v. Coleman, E2011-00974-COA-R30CV, 2012 WL 1622240. at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 8, 2012).
In the appellate court's review of the trial court's record it found the trial court to cite its basis for denying Wife's motion as follows:
"The Court now having carefully considered the Plaintiff's motion, respectfully denies the motion pursuant to Rule 6.02 of the Local Rules of Civil court for the 21st Judicial District. IT IS SO ORDERED."
It also reviewed the documents that Wife filed in support of her Motion and found that if the facts asserted by Wife were true, that a misrepresentation of the rental property may have occurred. It further averred that this could justify a new trial or amendment to the MDA and/or Final Decree.
According to Eldrige v. Eldrige, 42 S.W.3d 82,88 (Tenn. 2001) "[a]n abuse of discretion can be found only when the trial court's ruling falls outside the spectrum of rulings that might reasonably result from an application of the correct legal standards to the evidence found in the record." In the case at bar, the trial court did not discuss the grounds for Wife's motion or the evidence she provided to support it in its denial. Therefore, the appellate court could not review the trial court's discretion in denying the motion.
For these reasons, the appellate court vacated the order that denied Wife's Motion to Alter or Amend and/or New Trial and remanded the case back to the trial court to enter an order that discussed the evidence that Wife filed in support thereof and ordered the trial court to discuss its basis for its denial.