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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Nov 16, 2012

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Andrea D. Sipes, Matthew E. Wright, and Bradley J. Owens, Jackson, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jeanette Rea Jackson.

Attorneys 2:

Curtis F. Hopper, Savannah, Tennessee, for the appellee, Bradley Smith.

Judge(s): KOCH

This appeal involves the efforts of a grandmother to obtain court-ordered visitation with her granddaughter in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-306 (2010). Shortly after the death of her daughter, the grandmother filed a petition in the Chancery Court for McNairy County seeking visitation with her granddaughter. Following a two-day hearing, the trial court denied the grandmother’s request for visitation because she had failed to prove the statutory grounds necessary to permit a court to order grandparental visitation over a parent’s objection. The grandmother did not appeal this decision. After the decision became final, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the burden of persuasion in the grandparental visitation statute by creating a new rebuttable presumption that a child whose parent dies will be substantially harmed by the cessation of an existing relationship with a grandparent who is the parent of the deceased parent. Without alleging new facts and relying solely on the change in the statutory burden of persuasion, the grandmother filed a second petition in the trial court seeking visitation with her granddaughter. The trial court granted the child’s father’s motion to dismiss on the ground of res judicata. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order. Jackson v. Smith, No. W2011-00194-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 3963589 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 9, 2011). We granted the grandmother’s application for permission to appeal to determine whether the intervening change in the burden of persuasion in the grandparental visitation statute provided an exception to the operation of the res judicata doctrine. We have determined that it does not and that, without some material change in the facts, the doctrine of res judicata bars relitigation of the grandmother’s petition for grandparental visitation.