Turner v. Turner, W2013-01833-SC-R11-CV

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Decision Date21 October 2015
Docket NumberNo. W2013-01833-SC-R11-CV,W2013-01833-SC-R11-CV


No. W2013-01833-SC-R11-CV


June 2, 2015 Session Heard at Nashville
October 21, 2015

Appeal by Permission from the Court of Appeals, Western Section Chancery Court for Fayette County
No. 12354
Martha Brasfield, Chancellor

We granted this appeal to determine whether the courts below erred in concluding that the mother must be afforded relief from a void default judgment terminating her parental rights even though she did not seek relief from the void judgment under Rule 60.02(3) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure until more than eight years after it was entered. We agree with the courts below that the default judgment is void for lack of personal jurisdiction and also conclude that the reasonable time filing requirement of Rule 60.02 does not apply to petitions seeking relief from void judgments under Rule 60.02(3). Nevertheless, we hold that relief from a void judgment should be denied if the following exceptional circumstances exist: "(1) [t]he party seeking relief, after having had actual notice of the judgment, manifested an intention to treat the judgment as valid; and (2) [g]ranting the relief would impair another person's substantial interest of reliance on the judgment." Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 66 (1982). We hold that the record has not been sufficiently developed to determine whether exceptional circumstances exist. Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Appeals and remand for the trial court to determine, after a hearing, whether exceptional circumstances justify denying relief in this case.

Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Appeals Affirmed in Part and Reversed in Part; Case Remanded

CORNELIA A. CLARK, delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SHARON G. LEE, C.J., and GARY R. WADE, JEFFREY S. BIVINS, and HOLLY KIRBY, JJ., joined.

Harriet S. Thompson (at trial), Bolivar, Tennessee, and Thomas F. Bloom (on appeal), Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Kevin Turner.

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Charles W. McGhee and Leah Lloyd Hillis, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Stephanie D. Turner.


I. Factual and Procedural History
A. Divorce Proceedings

Kevin Turner ("Father") and Stephanie Tullous Turner ("Mother") were married in Tennessee on July 3, 1996. Two children were born of the marriage—the first on September 13, 1996, and the second on January 4, 1998. On June 7, 1999, Father filed a complaint for divorce in the Chancery Court for Fayette County alleging inappropriate marital conduct and irreconcilable differences.1 In particular, Father alleged that Mother was addicted to drugs and had been violent toward him. Father sought custody of the children and requested that Mother pay child support and receive visitation in accordance with a plan approved by the Department of Children's Services ("DCS"). Father alleged that Mother was already subject to a DCS order giving him custody of the children and prohibiting her from being alone with them. Father also sought a restraining order to prevent Mother from "molesting or harassing him in any fashion" and "from telephoning or otherwise contacting him in any manner whatsoever, unless it pertain[ed] to the children."

On September 2, 1999, Mother, by and through counsel, filed an answer and a counter-complaint for divorce. Mother denied inappropriate marital conduct, but she agreed a divorce should be granted based on irreconcilable differences. Mother asked for custody of the children and for Father to pay child support. She requested temporary visitation and opposed having her visitation subject to a plan approved by DCS. Mother also asked the trial court to order psychological evaluations to assist it in determining which parent should be awarded custody of the children.

Following a hearing, the trial court on September 17, 1999, granted Mother's request for court-ordered psychological evaluations and directed "the parties, their spouses or significant other[s], and their minor children" to "undergo psychological evaluation, testing and counseling" within thirty days to determine "parental fitness of the parties concerning the care, custody and/or visitation of the minor children." The trial court also directed Father and Mother to "submit to weekly drug screens and provide the

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results to the other attorney." Ten days later, the trial court entered an order "upon the stipulation of consent of the parties," which provided a temporary custody and visitation arrangement. Under this arrangement, Father received temporary custody of the children and Mother received visitation on alternate weeks from Thursday afternoon until Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. The trial court directed Mother not to leave the children with others during her visitation and directed both parties not to expose the children to drug or alcohol use. Additionally, the trial court entered a restraining order "against both parties" precluding them from "harassing or attempting to harass [each] other."

On November 9, 1999, Mother filed a motion, again by and through counsel, requesting holiday visitation. After a hearing on December 10, 1999, the trial court granted Mother holiday visitation, which ended on January 3, 2000.2

On May 3, 2000, four months after the last day of her holiday visitation, Mother's attorney filed a motion to withdraw as counsel.3 As grounds for the motion, Mother's attorney alleged that he had been "unable to secure response and cooperation" and had "lost contact" with Mother.

On May 19, 2000, Father filed: (1) a motion to terminate Mother's parental rights; (2) a motion to suspend her visitation; and (3) a motion to hold her in contempt. As grounds for termination, Father alleged that Mother had failed to exercise visitation with the children since returning them home from holiday visitation on January 3, 2000, and had "made no attempts or requests for visitation" since that time. As grounds for suspending her visitation, Father alleged that Mother was "again using illegal drugs" and thus was "unstable and unsuitable to be around the minor children without supervision." As grounds for contempt, Father alleged that Mother had not submitted to the court-ordered weekly drug screens since November 5, 1999.

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On August 10, 2000, the trial court granted Father's motion to suspend Mother's "unsupervised visitation with the minor children . . . pending a clear drug screen" but also ordered that Mother would be allowed "to visit the minor children at the Daycare Center." The trial court did not rule on Father's motions to terminate her parental rights and to hold her in contempt.

On October 19, 2000, after a hearing, the trial court entered a final divorce decree, which: (1) granted Father "absolute and exclusive custody and control" of the minor children; (2) stated that Mother "had not visited or had any other contact with the parties['] minor children since January 3, 2000"; (3) declared that Mother would not be awarded visitation "until such time as she demonstrate[d] by clear and convincing evidence that she is no longer addicted to drugs"; (4) reserved the issue of child support; (5) divested Mother of all "right, title and interest" to the marital home, located at 65 Oak Court Cove; and (6) permanently enjoined Mother "from coming about [Father] or his residence or from harassing him in any form or manner whatsoever and from interfering with his custody of the parties['] minor children, except during such periods of visitation as may be awarded [Mother]."4 On the same day the divorce decree was entered, the trial court also entered a separate order granting the motion to withdraw Mother's attorney had filed on May 3, 2000.5 The trial court again did not rule on Father's May 19, 2000 motions to terminate Mother's parental rights and to hold her in contempt.

B. Termination of Parental Rights

On July 16, 2001, approximately nine months after the final divorce decree was entered, Father filed another petition to terminate Mother's parental rights. Father alleged that Mother had willfully abandoned her children by failing to have any contact with them since January 3, 2000, and by failing to provide them with any financial support. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102(1)(A)(i) (2001). Terminating Mother's parental rights was in the children's best interests, Father alleged, because Mother's drug abuse had rendered her consistently incapable either of caring for them in a safe, stable, and healthy environment or of establishing a meaningful relationship with them. Father also alleged that he had remarried on January 12, 2001, and that his new wife, the children's stepmother, was fulfilling all parental responsibilities and intended to adopt the children. In his prayer for relief, Father asked that Mother "be personally served with a

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copy" of the petition to terminate her parental rights, "in conformity with the law." In the alternative, Father asked that Mother "be served by publication." Father listed Mother's last known address as the marital home—65 Oak Court Cove. Father did not list the address to which Mother's counsel had sent the May 3, 2000 notice of hearing on his motion to withdraw, even though that address appeared in the record.

On the same day that Father...

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