Supreme Court Holds Personal Signature Of Party Appealing In Parental Termination Case Not Required

Wednesday, November 22, 2017
The Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that a father’s notice of appeal, signed by his attorney, but not the father personally, satisfies the statutory signature requirement for appeals in parental termination cases.  The Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the father’s appeal on the merits. 
 
In this parental termination case, the trial court terminated the father’s parental rights of his minor child.  The father filed a timely notice of appeal, which was signed by his attorney but not by the father personally.
  The Court of Appeals ordered the father to show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because of his failure to personally sign the notice of appeal based on Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-124(d): “Any notice of appeal filed in a termination of parental rights action shall be signed by the appellant.”

The father filed a response to the show cause order, which included a challenge to the constitutionality of the statute at issue.  The Tennessee Attorney General filed a notice of intent to defend the statute’s constitutionality.
 
The Tennessee Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over the case upon its own motion, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d)(3), which allows the Court to assume jurisdiction over undecided cases pending before an intermediate state appellate court due to a compelling public interest.  In assuming jurisdiction, the Court ordered the parties and the Tennessee Attorney General to address whether a party’s failure to sign the notice of appeal results in a jurisdictional defect and whether the statute at issue is unconstitutional on the grounds of separation of powers, due process, and/or equal protection.  
 
In a unanimous opinion, the Court carefully reviewed the specific language of the statutory provision at issue in this case and compared that language to existing language in other current relevant statutes and court rules.  Based on this analysis, the Court determined that Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-124(d) does not require the party appealing the trial court’s decision to personally sign a notice of appeal.  In this case, the timely notice of appeal signed by the father’s attorney satisfied this statutory signature requirement.  As a result, the Court held that the father’s case was not subject to dismissal and remanded it to the Court of Appeals for consideration on the merits.  The Court’s holding as to the interpretation of the statutory signature requirement rendered the constitutional issues moot.
 
To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in In re Bentley D., authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov



Couple Launches Hat Company; Gives Part Of Proceeds To Public Schools

Olivia Connor was a resident in the local Project Inspire teacher residency program when she realized the need for more funding for Chattanooga's public schools so that students have every possible opportunity to learn inside and outside the classroom. She and her husband Ty came up with a creative, innovative way to add more funding to the Hamilton County Department of ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Police Department Sponsors Crime Prevention Training For Business Owners And Managers

The Chattanooga Police Department is sponsoring free crime prevention training primarily designed for business owners and managers who are interested in making their facility and employees as safe as possible. A nationally-accredited Crime Prevention specialist from the University of Tennessee’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center will cover the following topics during the four-hour ... (click for more)

Signal Facing Decisions On Expanding Commercial Area Past Albert Road, Mountain Community Center And Water Service

The design review committee (DRC) of the town of Signal Mountain is in the process of establishing standards for commercial buildings. In the meantime, developer Bob Elliott would like to buy property at the corner of Taft Highway and Albert Road. Albert Road has traditionally been where the commercial property ends. A number of residents in the neighborhood around that area are ... (click for more)

Initiative Launches In Support Of Signal Mountain’s Water System; Tennessee-American Says It Has Long Provided Clean Water To Signal

A citizen committee is urging Signal Mountain "to be vocal and choose local" in the imminent water department sale. The local group formed “Be Vocal. Choose Local.” after the town of Signal Mountain voted last May to initiate a Request for Proposals for the acquisition of its water department.  The committee urges the town to sell its water system to Walden’s Ridge Utility ... (click for more)

Legislators: Protect Our Students And Teachers

When students step into their classrooms, they are there to learn and prepare for their future. Our teachers serve to advance each student’s education and guide them towards success.  Educators have an additional responsibility: maintaining the trust and respect of their students by conducting themselves professionally and responsibly. The vast majority of our ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Saturday Funnies

Every day, without exception, I find a number of “treats” in my daily dose of email. These funnies, and other pertinent information, are sent to me by a myriad of “Internet Buddies” who I repay by sending out some of the funniest that I collect. Think of it as sort of a “co-op” for my readers to enjoy. When The Saturday Funnies began last summer, it was what I still think is ... (click for more)