In re Estate of Trigg, No. M2009–02107–SC–R11–CV.

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtWILLIAM C. KOCH
Citation368 S.W.3d 483
Docket NumberNo. M2009–02107–SC–R11–CV.
Decision Date30 May 2012
PartiesIn re ESTATE OF Ardell Hamilton TRIGG.

368 S.W.3d 483

In re ESTATE OF Ardell Hamilton TRIGG.

No. M2009–02107–SC–R11–CV.

Supreme Court of Tennessee,
at Nashville.

Oct. 6, 2011 Session.
May 30, 2012.


[368 S.W.3d 487]


Henry D. Fincher, Cookeville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Estate of Ardell Hamilton Trigg.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; and L. Vincent Williams, Deputy Attorney General, for the appellee, Tennessee Bureau of TennCare.


OPINION
WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which CORNELIA A. CLARK, C.J., JANICE M. HOLDER, GARY R. WADE, and SHARON G. LEE, JJ., joined.

WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., J.

In this case, we address the following two matters: (1) the proper procedure for obtaining appellate review of a judgment of a probate court created by private act upholding a claim filed by the Bureau of TennCare against the estate of a TennCare recipient and (2) the right of TennCare to obtain reimbursement for properly paid TennCare benefits from real property owned by the recipient at the time of her death. After the decedent's will was admitted to probate in the Putnam County Probate Court, TennCare filed a claim against her estate seeking reimbursement for services provided through the TennCare program. The decedent's personal representative filed an exception to this claim. After the probate court upheld TennCare's claim, the estate appealed to the Circuit Court for Putnam County. The circuit court determined that the decedent's real property was not subject to TennCare's claim, and TennCare appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals held that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal from the probate court and that the appeal should have been filed with the Court of Appeals. Accordingly, it vacated the circuit court's judgment and affirmed the judgment of the probate court. In re Estate of Trigg, No. M2009–02107–COA–R3–CV, 2011 WL 497459, at *3 (Tenn.Ct.App. Feb. 9, 2011). We granted the estate's application for permission to appeal to determine whether the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over the estate's appeal from the probate court's order upholding TennCare's claim and whether real property owned by the recipient at the time of her death is subject to TennCare's claims. We have determined that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over the estate's appeal from the probate court's judgment regarding TennCare's disputed claim and that the real property owned by the decedent at the time of her death is subject to TennCare's claims for reimbursement.

I.

Ardell Hamilton Trigg passed away on August 5, 2006. She left behind a small estate consisting of some personal property and a house. Her will, leaving her real property to Susan and Mark Shaw, was filed for probate in the Putnam County Probate Court on October 26, 2006. The probate court named Ms. Shaw as the personal representative of Ms. Trigg's estate.

Ms. Shaw placed a notice to creditors of the estate in the Cookeville Herald–Citizen on November 10, 2006. On May 23, 2007, the Bureau of TennCare (“TennCare”) filed a claim against the estate seeking to recover $22,319.09 for nursing home and long-term care services provided to Ms. Trigg between 2002 and 2006. Ms. Shaw filed exceptions to TennCare's claim. Following a June 18, 2008 hearing, the probate court filed an order on June 22, 2008, overruling the estate's exception to the claim. Ms. Shaw, on behalf of Ms. Trigg's estate, appealed the probate

[368 S.W.3d 488]

court's decision to the Circuit Court for Putnam County.

As far as this record shows, the only portions of the probate court's record that were filed in the circuit court were TennCare's claim, the estate's exception to the claim, and the probate court's order. Neither party preserved a record of the proceedings before the probate court. Following a hearing on August 21, 2009, the circuit court filed an order on August 31, 2009, upholding the estate's exception to TennCare's claim against the real property that Ms. Trigg owned when she died. The circuit court reasoned that the real property was not part of Ms. Trigg's estate because it passed under her will to her beneficiaries at the time of her death. Accordingly, the circuit court remanded the case to the probate court to determine whether the estate contained any other assets that could be used to satisfy TennCare's claim.

TennCare appealed the circuit court's decision to the Court of Appeals.1 TennCare asserted in its brief, for the first time, that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over the appeal from the probate court. 2 TennCare also asserted that the circuit court had made factual determinations even though neither party had submitted evidence and that Tennessee law permits using a decedent's real property to satisfy claims against an estate. Ms. Trigg's estate responded that the circuit court had jurisdiction to hear its appeal from the probate court and that federal law did not permit the sale of assets that were not part of the “probate estate” to satisfy TennCare's claims because Tennessee had not adopted the “broader definition” of “estate,” as permitted by federal law.

In an opinion handed down on February 9, 2011, the Court of Appeals concluded that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over the estate's appeal from the probate court. In re Estate of Trigg, No. M2009–02107–COA–R3–CV, 2011 WL 497459, at *3 (Tenn.Ct.App. Feb. 9, 2011). Accordingly, the Court of Appeals, without reaching the merits, vacated the circuit court's judgment, affirmed the probate court's judgment, and remanded the case to the probate court for further proceedings. In re Estate of Trigg, 2011 WL 497459, at *3.

Ms. Trigg's estate filed a Tenn. R.App. P. 11 application for permission to appeal. We granted this application to address the proper procedure to obtain appellate review of a decision of a probate court created by private act and to determine whether current Tennessee law permits TennCare to satisfy its claims for reimbursement of properly paid benefits from real property passing outside of a TennCare recipient's probate estate.

[368 S.W.3d 489]

II.

We turn first to the circuit court's subject matter jurisdiction over the estate's appeal from the probate court's judgment. The estate asserts that Tenn.Code Ann. § 30–2–609(c) (2007 & Supp.2011) confers jurisdiction on the Circuit Court for Putnam County to hear appeals from the Putnam County Probate Court. TennCare responds that the Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over appeals from the decisions of the Putnam County Probate Court because, in probate matters, the probate court has concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit court and because Tenn.Code Ann. § 30–2–315(b) (2007) confers appellate jurisdiction on the Court of Appeals with regard to appeals from a probate court's decision regarding claims against an estate that are tried without a jury. We have determined that TennCare has the better argument.

A.

Subject matter jurisdiction relates to a court's authority to adjudicate a particular type of case or controversy brought before it. Osborn v. Marr, 127 S.W.3d 737, 739 (Tenn.2004); Northland Ins. Co. v. State, 33 S.W.3d 727, 729 (Tenn.2000). A court derives subject matter jurisdiction, either explicitly or by necessary implication, from the Constitution of Tennessee or from a statute enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly or Congress. Osborn v. Marr, 127 S.W.3d at 739;Meighan v. U.S. Sprint Commc'ns Co., 924 S.W.2d 632, 639 (Tenn.1996); Walker v. White, 89 S.W.3d 573, 577 (Tenn.Ct.App.2002). The parties cannot confer subject matter jurisdiction on a trial or appellate court by appearance, plea, consent, silence, or waiver. Caton v. Pic–Walsh Freight Co., 211 Tenn. 334, 338, 364 S.W.2d 931, 933 (1963); Brown v. Brown, 198 Tenn. 600, 619, 281 S.W.2d 492, 501 (1955).

Because the orders and judgments entered by courts without jurisdiction over the subject matter of a dispute are void, Brown v. Brown, 198 Tenn. at 610, 281 S.W.2d at 497, issues regarding a court's subject matter jurisdiction should be considered as a threshold inquiry, Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Memphis, 363 S.W.3d 436, 445 (Tenn.2012), and should be resolved at the earliest possible opportunity. When a court's subject matter jurisdiction over a particular claim is challenged, the claimant must demonstrate that the court has the jurisdiction to adjudicate its claim. Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Memphis, 363 S.W.3d at 445.

Determining whether subject matter jurisdiction exists in a particular case requires the courts to examine (1) the nature or gravamen of the cause of action, (2) the nature of the relief being sought, and (3) the constitutional or statutory provisions relied upon by the plaintiff. See Northland Ins. Co. v. State, 33 S.W.3d at 729;Landers v. Jones, 872 S.W.2d 674, 675 (Tenn.1994). All these matters involve questions of law. Therefore, determinations regarding a court's subject matter jurisdiction are questions of law which will be reviewed de novo without a presumption of correctness. Northland Ins. Co. v. State, 33 S.W.3d at 729;Benson v. Herbst, 240 S.W.3d 235, 239 (Tenn.Ct.App.2007).

The jurisdictional dispute in this case arises from the parties' respective reliance on seemingly conflicting statutes that appear to vest subject matter jurisdiction over appeals from probate court judgments in different courts. Accordingly, we are required to construe these statutes to determine where jurisdiction for an appeal from a decision of the Putnam County Probate Court relating to a disputed claim against an estate lies. The construction of

[368 S.W.3d 490]

statutes and the application of statutes to the facts of a particular case are also questions of law which are reviewed de novo without a presumption of correctness. Brundage v. Cumberland Cnty., 357 S.W.3d 361, 364 (Tenn.2011); Gautreaux v. Internal Med. Educ. Found., Inc., ...

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  • State v. Williamson, No. W2011–00049–SC–R11–CD.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • May 31, 2012
    ...McCurrie with any such information. Even though a face-to-face encounter with an informant is generally more reliable than an anonymous [368 S.W.3d 483]phone call, and could, in some instances, corroborate a previously-received tip, the information provided by the bystander at the Baxter Mo......
  • Backpage.com, LLC v. Cooper, No. 3:12–cv–00654.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • January 3, 2013
    ...entire statute, and (3) presume that the General Assembly intended to give each of these words its full effect.” In re Estate of Trigg, 368 S.W.3d 483, 490 (Tenn.2012). “Every word in a statute is presumed to have meaning and purpose.” Garrison, S.W.3d at 663 (citing Nye v. Bayer Cropscienc......
  • Lindenberg v. Jackson Nat'l Life Ins. Co., Nos. 17-6034/6079
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • December 21, 2018
    ...was originally part of North Carolina, and Tennessee’s Constitution draws heavily from North Carolina’s. See In re Estate of Trigg , 368 S.W.3d 483, 491 (Tenn. 2012).8 Tennessee’s cap on punitive damages applies by its plain terms to all "civil action[s] in which punitive damages are s......
  • Tennessee v. U.S. Dep't of State, No. 1:17–cv–01040–STA–egb
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Western District of Tennessee
    • March 19, 2018
    ...v. Va. Hosp. Ass'n , 496 U.S. 498, 502, 110 S.Ct. 2510, 110 L.Ed.2d 455 (1990) (citation omitted). See also In re Estate of Trigg , 368 S.W.3d 483, 499 (Tenn. 2012) ("The program is jointly funded by the federal government and the states, and each state operates its own program in acco......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
100 cases
  • State v. Williamson, No. W2011–00049–SC–R11–CD.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • May 31, 2012
    ...McCurrie with any such information. Even though a face-to-face encounter with an informant is generally more reliable than an anonymous [368 S.W.3d 483]phone call, and could, in some instances, corroborate a previously-received tip, the information provided by the bystander at the Baxter Mo......
  • Backpage.com, LLC v. Cooper, No. 3:12–cv–00654.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
    • January 3, 2013
    ...entire statute, and (3) presume that the General Assembly intended to give each of these words its full effect.” In re Estate of Trigg, 368 S.W.3d 483, 490 (Tenn.2012). “Every word in a statute is presumed to have meaning and purpose.” Garrison, S.W.3d at 663 (citing Nye v. Bayer Cropscienc......
  • Lindenberg v. Jackson Nat'l Life Ins. Co., Nos. 17-6034/6079
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • December 21, 2018
    ...was originally part of North Carolina, and Tennessee’s Constitution draws heavily from North Carolina’s. See In re Estate of Trigg , 368 S.W.3d 483, 491 (Tenn. 2012).8 Tennessee’s cap on punitive damages applies by its plain terms to all "civil action[s] in which punitive damages are s......
  • Tennessee v. U.S. Dep't of State, No. 1:17–cv–01040–STA–egb
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Western District of Tennessee
    • March 19, 2018
    ...v. Va. Hosp. Ass'n , 496 U.S. 498, 502, 110 S.Ct. 2510, 110 L.Ed.2d 455 (1990) (citation omitted). See also In re Estate of Trigg , 368 S.W.3d 483, 499 (Tenn. 2012) ("The program is jointly funded by the federal government and the states, and each state operates its own program in acco......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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