BRENDA BENZ-ELLIOTT v. BARRETT ENTERPRISES, LP ET AL. - Articles

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Posted by: Tanja Trezise on Jan 23, 2015

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

G. Sumner R. Bouldin, Jr., Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the appellant, Brenda Benz-Elliott.

Attorneys 2:

Peter V. Hall, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for the appellees, Barrett Enterprises, LP and Ronnie Barrett.

Judge(s): CLARK

We granted permission to appeal to clarify the analysis that should be used to determine the applicable statute of limitations when a complaint alleges more than one claim. We hold that a court must identify the gravamen of each claim alleged to determine the applicable statute of limitations. Identifying the gravamen of a claim requires a court to consider both the legal basis of the claim and the injury for which damages are sought. Here, the plaintiff contracted to sell the defendants real property in Rutherford County. The contract provided that the plaintiff would retain ownership of a sixty-foot wide strip of property along Interstate 24 to provide access to her remaining property. The contract also provided that its covenants would survive the closing. The warranty deed failed to include the sixty-foot reservation required by the contract. The plaintiff sued the defendants, alleging claims of breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation, and negligent misrepresentation. The defendants raised several defenses, including the statute of limitations. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s intentional and negligent misrepresentation claims but ruled for the plaintiff on the breach of contract claim and awarded her $650,000 in damages for the diminution in value of her remaining property due to the lack of the contractually guaranteed access route. The defendants appealed, raising six issues, including an assertion that the plaintiff’s claim is barred by the statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals, focusing almost exclusively on the type of damages awarded, concluded that the gravamen of the plaintiff’s prevailing claim is injury to real property, and as a result, held that the claim is barred by the three-year statute of limitations applicable to “[a]ctions for injuries to personal or real property.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-105(1) (2000 & Supp. 2014). We disagree with the Court of Appeals’ conclusions and hold that the gravamen of the plaintiff’s prevailing claim is breach of contract, to which the six-year statute of limitations for “[a]ctions on contracts not otherwise expressly provided for” applies. Id. § 28-3-109(a)(3) (2000). Because the plaintiff’s claim is not barred by the statute of limitations, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this matter to the intermediate appellate court for resolution of the other issues the defendants raised on appeal.

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