A Tennessee chancery court has no jurisdiction of any matter not submitted to it in a pleading for adjudication; nor can the defendant be called on to respond to anything not alleged against him. Neither can it consider any evidence which does not directly, or indirectly, tend to prove or disprove the allegations contained in the pleadings. A decree can neither be based on allegations without corresponding proof, nor on proof without corresponding allegations. All decrees must be the concurring result of allegations justified by proof, and proof justified by allegations. A decree based on pleadings without proof, will be reversed on appeal, but will be good against collateral attack. A decree based on proof, without pleadings, will not only be reversed on appeal, but will also yield to a collateral attack because such a decree is coram non judice, and absolutely void. The jurisdiction of the court is circumscribed by the pleadings, and the pleadings are circumscribed by the Law.
A counseling service bought a home in the homeowner association's subdivision for use as a group home for mentally handicapped persons. The association petitioned against the service, seeking injunctive relief, alleging restrictive covenants prohibited such use. The trial court denied the association's injunction request, but placed requirements on the service that it appealed from. The court order required that the service include at least two of the subdivision's residents on the selection committee used to select residents for the group home and that they would be selected by the association. The counseling service appealed the trial court's order.
May a trial court rule on or offer remedies for claims not properly before it in the form of pleadings or allegations?
The appellate court found that the trial court erred by ordering the counseling service to include at least two residents of the subdivision on its selection committee when the issue was not submitted to the trial court in the association's pleadings. Nevertheless, the trial court did not err in limiting the scope of discovery as to the counseling services' financial status and records. The trial court ruled that the counseling services' proposed use of the home violated the subdivision's restrictive covenant and a zoning statute, but the proposed use fell under a zoning exemption statute. The trial court found the group home violated the restrictive covenant and zoning statute, but fell within a zoning exemption statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-24-103. The appeals court agreed, finding the zoning exemption statute overrode the restrictive covenant and the town's zoning ordinance, so it affirmed that part of the trial court's order.