Nashville at law: Eddy Arnold paternity claim raised again

Also: Raided food warehouse settles with feds, 'Rocky Top' wrangle ending, and more [From our print edition featured in Monday's City Paper]

Aided by new lawyers and a new strategy, the California man who claims to be love child of the late country crooner Eddy Arnold is once again asking a Nashville court for a share of Arnold's estate.

Christopher Tanner says Arnold fathered him while in a relationship with his mother in 1960, when she was working as a secretary at a record company. After Arnold passed away in May 2008, Tanner sued to have his body disinterred for DNA testing. Davidson County Probate Judge Randy Kennedy denied that request in January 2009.

Tanner's new petition, filed last month in Probate Court and available at this link, names Arnold's grandson and estate executor, Shannon Pollard, as well as daughter Jo Ann Arnold Pollard and son Richard E. Arnold Jr.

When he sought the exhumation of Arnold's body, Tanner told the court the determination of his parentage could "only be carried out through genetic testing of the remains" of Arnold. Now, however, he argues that DNA testing of Arnold's son and daughter can prove his paternity claim.

The petition seeks to have Arnold's will and associated trust documents declared invalid. It claims that at the time Arnold signed them, in 2006 at the age of 88, his "physical and mental condition had deteriorated" to the point that "he did not know who his children were." It also asserts that the will is "the product of undue influence" by Arnold's Nashville family members.

If the will is voided and Tanner is able to establish paternity, he would be entitled to a share of the estate under Tennessee law.

While Tanner's prior case was underway, Kennedy granted a request from the family to seal all pleadings and exhibits filed with the court, on the grounds that Arnold deserved "to have his name untainted” by Tanner's assertion if it turned out to be untrue.

At the time the file was sealed, attorneys for Arnold's family were trying to compel Tanner to provide copies of his birth certificate and military service records, requests they said he was resisting. The family asserted that these documents would show whether Arnold or someone else had been listed as Tanner's father in official records.

Tanner's mother, Arlene Tanner-Glynn, has said publicly since the early 1990s that Arnold was the father of her child. She says he never denied being the father and that she unsuccessfully asked him to submit to paternity testing. Arnold's heirs say he told family members the parentage claim was not accurate.

Bringing Tanner's claim to court are Weldon Patterson of the Knoxville office of Spicer Rudstrom, with co-counsel Zachary Gottesman and Joshua Goode of Cincinnati. Murfreesboro attorneys J.D. Kious and Brock East represented him in his earlier effort.

"The family vehemently denies each and every allegation" of the new petition, said Marlene Eskind Moses of Nashville's Moses & Townsend firm, representing the Arnold estate. "The prior lawsuit was unsuccessful," she said, "and this current one is totally without merit as well."

Other legal news of late:

United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals

Tawana Wilson v. Boyce Wilkins. Opinion filed Jan. 19. A three-judge appellate panel upholds a lower-court finding that former Metro Police Officer Wilkins is not automatically immune from being sued over his conduct toward a woman who leapt out of the front seat of his squad car, fearing he would rape her.

The incident took place on December 28, 2006. Police came to the Old Matthews Road home of Wilson and her husband while they were having a domestic dispute, and Wilkins offered Wilson a ride to the Criminal Justice Center so she could swear out a warrant. The officer drove past two cross-streets that would have led downtown and then turned onto Brick Church Pike, headed due north, away from downtown. During the drive, the opinion states, he "rubbed and caressed Wilson's hand three times, looked at her seductively, told her she was beautiful, and said he wanted to date her."

When the car slowed, Wilson jumped out and ran toward the EconoLodge motel on Brick Church, screaming at the top of her lungs. She says she damaged her vocal chords in the process and claims the touching by Wilkins constituted assault.

Wilkins, who had been on the force since 1997, was "decommissioned" after the incident and ultimately resigned while "not in good standing with disciplinary action pending," according to Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron.

The litigation now returns to District Court for further proceedings. Plaintiff's attorney: August Carl Winter of Brentwood. Defendant's attorney: John M. L. Brown of Nashville.

United States District Court

United States of America v. 600 44-pound poly mesh bags of rice et al., in re Won Feng Trading Inc. Consent decree entered Jan. 26. A Nashville Asian-foods restaurant supplier agrees to strict monitoring by the Food and Drug Administration after federal agents raided its Eugenia Ave. warehouse on Jan. 6 and impounded a large amount of vermin-infested goods.

Inspectors had found what they termed "an active and widespread rodent infestation in the building, including live and dead rodents, rodent hair, rodent nesting material, evidence of rodent-gnawed food, and rodent urine," as well as other forms of contamination.

The order requires Won Feng to put up a $426,000 bond to guarantee it will carry out the destruction or reconditioning of food and cooking equipment at the warehouse. If it fails to bring the facility into compliance within 60 days, it could be forced to forfeit the cash. The company also must pay back the government for the man-hours investigators put into monitoring its compliance, at rates ranging from $88 to $105 an hour.

"We'd like to be able to have something positive come out of this," said Mark Reagan of Robinson, Reagan & Young in Nashville, counsel to Won Feng. "We have been working very closely with the U.S. Attorney's office to address the situation. Won Feng has made both internal and external policy changes, including replacing some of its third-party vendors."

House of Bryant Publications LLC v. A&E Television Networks. Dismissal order filed Jan. 21. The end is near in a dispute over A&E's unauthorized usage of University of Tennessee sports anthem "Rocky Top" in a true-crime documentary. Judge Aleta Trauger's order says the parties have reached a settlement and must file papers to close the case within 20 days. Neither side responded to queries last week seeking details.

In October, Trauger turned aside A&E's argument that the case should be dismissed because its incorporation of a 12-second snippet from the song constituted "fair use," as defined in copyright law. The parties later entered mediation.

Plaintiff's attorney: Richard S. Busch, King & Ballow, Nashville. Defendant's attorney: Robb S. Harvey of Waller, Lansden, Dortch & Davis in Nashville.