Tennessee Supreme Court Clears Way For Appeals Despite Trial Courts Reserving Ruling On Attorney's Fees

Author:Ms Hannah Kay Hunt
Profession:Butler Snow LLP

In unanimously holding that a bank was not shielded from liability after removing a joint tenant with right of survivorship from accounts without his consent, the Tennessee Supreme Court dropped a lengthy footnote resolving years of confusion as to whether an order was final for the purposes of appeal under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 54.02 when the trial court reserves ruling on attorney's fees after granting a motion to dismiss.

Estate of Ella Mae Haire v. Webster focused primarily on two questions: (1) whether the appellant complied with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 10.03 by attaching disputed bank signature cards to his complaint and (2) whether the appellant, who was listed as a joint tenant with right of survivorship on bank accounts, sufficiently alleged claims against the bank by asserting that it removed his name from the accounts without his consent and breached its duty to him as a co-owner of the account by accepting forged signature cards. No. E2017-00066-SC-R11-CV, 2019 WL 1273780 (Tenn. Mar. 20, 2019). Reversing the Court of Appeals's holding in favor of the bank, the Tennessee Supreme Court found that the complaint survived the bank's motion to dismiss because the creation of the joint tenancy with right of survivorship created a contract between the depositors and bank that could only be modified with the consent of all parties. Id. at 7.

However, in discussing the case's procedural history, the Tennessee Supreme Court cleared up a point of ongoing confusion about an order's "finality" for purposes of appeal when the trial court reserves ruling on attorney's fees. Id. at *4 n.10. There, in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-12-119(c)(3), "the trial court granted the bank's request for attorney's fees" but reserved ruling on their reasonableness and necessity until the conclusion of the appeal. Id. Section 20-12-119(c)(3) provides that awarding attorney's fees after granting a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim "shall be made only after all appeals of the issue of the granting of the motion to dismiss have...

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