Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., et al. v. Epperson, et al.Annotate this Case
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., and Cracker Barrel Associates, LLC, (collectively “Plaintiffs”) owned certain real property on Sidco Drive in Davidson County. Richard Epperson and Timothy Causey (collectively “Defendants”) owned adjoining property. Both parcels were subject to a Declaration of Reciprocal Rights and Easements and Restrictive Covenants (“Declaration”), created by the original developer of these two parcels and several others in the same development. In April 2005, Defendants submitted to the Nashville/Davidson County Metropolitan Council a proposal to expand the building on their property. Upon learning of the plan, Plaintiffs notified Defendants that they believed the new construction would violate covenants 1(a), 2, and 3 of the Declaration, granting mutual vehicular easements to the adjoining owners and prohibiting obstruction to traffic flow. Defendants disagreed and persisted in seeking approval for their plan. In August, Plaintiffs filed suit to try and stop Defendants' building plans. The trial court ultimately granted Plaintiffs’ motion for temporary injunctive relief. On October 21, 2005, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Costs and Expenses, seeking almost $62,000 in attorney fees to that point. The ultimately resolved the substantive issues of the lawsuit and on January 30, 2006, the trial court entered an Agreed Judgment and Permanent Injunction, which permanently enjoined Defendants from expanding the building on their property. With regard to fees, the parties agreed that they would submit the fee matter to non-binding mediation. After the parties failed to reach an agreement, Plaintiffs renewed their motion for costs and expenses, requesting $3,913.75 in costs and expenses and a total of $117,334.50 in attorney fees. In their response to Plaintiffs’ motion, Defendants again asserted that Plaintiffs were not entitled to recover attorney fees because the Declaration did not expressly provide for their recovery. The trial court ultimately denied Plaintiffs’ request for attorney fees, explaining that no authority presented supported a finding that the contractual language of Paragraph 9 of the Declaration created a right to recover attorney fees. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of attorney fees. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Plaintiffs’ application for review to clarify the application of the American rule regarding attorney fees to the language in the Declaration, and affirmed the Court of Appeals.
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. Mccoy
We accepted Cracker Barrel s application for permission to appeal to determine whether the
contractual language [a]ll costs and expenses of any suit or proceeding shall be assessed against the defaulting party creates a contractual right to attorney fees for the successful party in a lawsuit. We determine that neither this contractual language nor the doctrine of judicial estoppel creates a right to recover such fees. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals judgment denying an award for attorney fees is affirmed. Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Appeals Affirmed