Court Opinions

Format: 10/22/2020
Format: 10/22/2020
Carolyn Richardson v. H & J Properties, LLC, et al.
W2019-02082-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

A residential tenant was injured after slipping on water that accumulated from a leak in the ceiling of her home. Prior to the accident, the tenant notified the owner of the residence and the property manager of the leak. The tenant brought suit for her injuries, alleging a common law negligence claim and a claim for the defendants’ alleged failure to comply with requirements in the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on both claims, finding that the tenant had co-extensive knowledge of the dangerous condition, so the defendants were not liable for her injuries. The tenant appeals, primarily arguing that the common law rule on landlord non-liability is displaced by the Act. We affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/21/20
Liberty Construction Company, LLC v. Peter H. Curry, Et Al.
M2019-00951-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This is an action by a construction company to recover on a written stipulated sum contract and an oral cost-plus contract for the construction of a commercial building. The construction company sought to recover for additional work performed that was not included in the scope of the stipulated sum contract and the remaining balance of the cost-plus contract. The building owners contended that the construction company was not entitled to additional payment under the written agreement and counterclaimed for payments the owners made directly to suppliers for work included in the scope of the stipulated sum contract, and for reimbursement of funds expended to correct a defect caused by the construction company. The trial court held that neither the construction company nor the owners were entitled to recover under the stipulated sum contract; that the owners were not entitled to reimbursement because they failed to establish that the construction company caused the defect or, in the alternative, failed to provide a reasonable opportunity to cure; and that the construction company was entitled to judgment for work performed in connection with the cost-plus agreement. We reverse the court’s determination that the owners were not entitled to a credit for certain payments made directly to suppliers, that prejudgment interest commenced on November 10, 2014, when the notice of completion was filed, and that the owners did not provide the construction company with notice and an opportunity to cure. We affirm the trial court’s holding in all other respects.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/21/20
Kabir Afzali Et Al. v. Shirzad Etemadi
M2019-01769-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This appeal concerns a trial court’s dismissal under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) based on the affirmative defenses of res judicata and waiver. This is the second action between the parties involving the same real property. In the first action, the plaintiffs sought to enforce an option to purchase property they were leasing from the defendant. While the action was pending, the defendant recorded a document with the Davidson County Register of Deeds that purported to create an ingress-egress easement across the property to an adjoining tract he owned. During the pendency of the first action, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, pursuant to which the defendant agreed to sell the property to the plaintiffs, and the parties released all claims against each other. After the first action was dismissed, the plaintiffs discovered the purported easement, which prompted them to file a motion to set aside the dismissal. Meanwhile, the parties set a deadline for closing, and the defendant prepared a warranty deed that reserved the same easement he previously attempted to create. The plaintiffs insisted that the deed be rewritten without the easement. When the defendant refused, they proceeded with the closing. Shortly after the closing, the trial court denied the motion to set aside the dismissal of the first action. The plaintiffs recorded a Notice of Acceptance of Deed under Protest the day after the deed was recorded and commenced this action three weeks later. The complaint asserted that the defendant clouded the property’s title by filing a defective easement and breached the settlement by delivering a deed that did not describe the property as bargained for. On the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the trial court found the matter had been adjudicated in the first action and that the plaintiffs waived their claims by closing on the property. We have determined that neither the doctrine of res judicata nor the doctrine of waiver applies. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/21/20
Candace Renea Cavness Howard (Beasley) v. Breck Markham Beasley
W2019-01972-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal concerns a post-divorce motion to terminate transitional alimony. In the parties’ MDA, they agreed the ex-wife would receive transitional alimony for eleven years. In 2013, the ex-husband filed the motion to terminate, alleging that the ex-wife had remarried and was cohabitating with her new spouse and that the new spouse was providing financial support. Several years later, the trial court heard the motion and terminated transitional alimony as of December 31, 2018. In rendering its decision, the trial court failed to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01. Therefore, we vacate the trial court’s decision and remand with instructions to make the necessary findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 10/20/20
City of Athens v. William Straser
E2019-02298-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

In a direct appeal from the Athens City Court (“municipal court”), the McMinn County Circuit Court (“trial court”) determined that the defendant, William Straser, was not entitled to a trial by jury in defense of a citation issued by the plaintiff city. Following a bench trial conducted on November 22, 2019, the trial court further determined that Mr. Straser had erected a carport on his property in violation of a municipal ordinance requiring a thirty-foot minimum setback. Mr. Straser has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 10/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Edward Rudolph Wyse, Jr.
E2019-01454-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James L. Gass

The defendant, Edward Rudolph Wyse, Jr., appeals his 2019 Cocke County Circuit Court jury convictions of rape and incest, challenging the denial of the motion to suppress his statement to the police, the sufficiency of the convicting evidence, and the propriety of the sentence. The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the statement. Sufficient evidence supports the defendant’s conviction of incest, and that conviction is affirmed. Because the State failed to produce any evidence that the defendant used force or coercion to accomplish the sexual penetration of the victim, we reverse the conviction of rape and dismiss that charge. Because the trial court erroneously failed to consider probation as a sentencing alternative and because our dismissal of the rape charge impacts the defendant’s eligibility for other sentencing alternatives, we reverse the sentencing decision of the trial court and remand the case for a new sentencing hearing for the conviction of incest.

Cocke County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/20/20
STATE OF TENNESSEE v. CHRISTOPHER MCLAWHORN
M2018-02152-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery.Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

The Defendant, Christopher McLawhorn, was convicted by a Davidson County Criminal Court jury of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder; especially aggravated burglary, a Class B felony; and two counts of theft of property valued at $1000 or less, Class A misdemeanors. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-202 (first degree murder) (2014) (subsequently amended), 39-14-404 (2018) (especially aggravated burglary), 39-14-146 (2014) (subsequently amended) (theft). The trial court merged the first degree murder convictions and imposed a life sentence. Following a sentencing hearing, the court imposed a sentence of twelve years as a Range I offender for especially aggravated burglary, to be served consecutively to the life sentence. The court imposed sentences of eleven months and twenty-nine days for each of the two theft convictions and ordered them to be served consecutively to each other and concurrently to the life sentence. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions and that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress and admitting evidence obtained from a search of his cell phone. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/20/20
Alexandra Mattie Steadman v. Christopher John Sakacsi
E2020-00977-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge William K. Rogers

The notice of appeal filed by the appellant, Alexandra Mattie Steadman, stated that the appellant was appealing the judgment entered on July 10, 2020. As the July 10, 2020 order does not constitute a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 10/19/20
State of Tennessee v. Jeffery Siler
E2020-00468-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee

Jeffery Siler, Defendant, appeals the trial court’s summary dismissal of his Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 motion to correct a clerical error in the trial court’s order revoking Defendant’s probation. Defendant claims that the revocation order erroneously failed to award 622 days’ jail credit for the time Defendant served on a concurrent federal sentence while his state court sentence was suspended and Defendant was on unsupervised probation. Defendant’s probationary period ran from the date of his state court convictions until the date the probation revocation warrant was issued. This probationary period encompassed the 622 days Defendant was incarcerated on the concurrent federal sentence. Because Defendant’s probation was revoked before his probationary period expired, Defendant was not entitled to credit upon reinstatement of the original state court sentence. State v. Hunter, 1 S.W.3d 643, 644 (Tenn. 1999). Therefore, there is no clerical error in the revocation order. We affirm the trial court’s summary denial of the Rule 36 motion.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/19/20
Ezra Maize v. Friendship Community Church Inc, Et Al.
E2019-00183-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

Plaintiff, a former pastor at a church in Chattanooga, brought suit against the church, church elders, and another pastor at the church, alleging that various torts were committed against him. Following a series of motions by the defendants that sought the dismissal of plaintiff’s claims, the trial court ultimately dismissed all legal theories that were asserted in the case. Among other bases for the dismissal, the trial court held that a number of plaintiff’s claims were barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. Discerning no error in the trial court’s decision to dismiss plaintiff’s claims, we affirm its judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/19/20
In Re M.L.S.
E2019-01794-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This appeal involves a petition to enforce a visitation order after the entry of a final decree of adoption. The adoptive parents filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted in part and denied in part. The trial court ordered the parties to participate in depositions to address the issue of “acquiescence” and determine “if an enforceable right of visitation with the minor Child was acquired by the Petitioners being allowed to visit after the adoption of the minor Child was finalized.” The adoptive parents sought and were granted permission to file an interlocutory appeal, challenging the denial in part of their motion to dismiss. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 10/16/20
In Re Adoption of M.L.S.
E2019-01918-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This case involves a petition to set aside a final decree of adoption. The trial court granted the adoptive parents’ motion to dismiss the petition. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 10/16/20
Brandon Harris v. State of Tennessee
W2019-00996-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The Petitioner, Brandon Harris, appeals from the denial of post-conviction relief arguing that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and call witnesses, failing to present expert testimony of mental impairment, and failing to object to the State’s certification of a voice recognition expert. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
State of Tennessee v. Carl Allen
W2019-02162-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

Defendant, Carl Allen, is appealing the trial court’s denial of his motion to correct illegal sentence filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
Corey Mitchell v. State of Tennessee
W2019-02267-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge John W. Campbell

Following the reversal and remand of this case for a new evidentiary hearing, Corey Mitchell v. State, No. W2016-01818-CCA-R3-PC, 2018 WL 3005379, at *7 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 14, 2018), the post-conviction court again denied relief to the Petitioner, Corey Mitchell. In this appeal, the Petitioner argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary, and that his plea should be withdrawn to correct manifest injustice. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
State of Tennessee v. Ronald Davis
W2019-01315-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jennifer Johnson Mitchell

The Defendant, Ronald Davis, appeals the trial court’s revocation of his three-year probationary sentence for identity theft. The trial court determined that the Defendant’s failure to report to his probation officer violated the terms of his probation sentence and ordered the Defendant to serve his sentence. The Defendant asserts that the trial court’s revocation of his probation sentence was an abuse of discretion because he “was trying to connect with his probation officer.” The record supports the trial court’s finding that the Defendant failed to report to his probation officer during a six-month period. Based upon this evidence, we conclude that revocation of the probation sentence was not an abuse of discretion.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
State of Tennessee v. Robert Glen Gray
W2019-01806-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

A McNairy County jury convicted the Defendant, Robert Glen Gray, of two counts of delivery of methamphetamine weighing .5 grams or more. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to a total effective sentence of twenty-five years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

McNairy County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
In Re Meghan M.R.
E2020-00023-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda Sammons

A trial court terminated the parental rights of a mother based on the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit, abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, persistence of conditions, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody. The mother appealed, and we affirm the termination on all grounds.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 10/16/20
State of Tennessee v. Nelson P. Troglin
E2020-00129-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Graham

The Defendant, Nelson P. Troglin, appeals from the Bledsoe County Circuit Court’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence. See Tenn. R. Crim. P. 36.1. He contends that the trial court erred in denying relief on the basis that he was illegally convicted of the offense of attempted first degree felony murder. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bledsoe County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
Darrell A. Cooper v. State of Tennessee
E2019-02132-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

The Petitioner, Darrell A. Cooper, appeals from the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2016 convictions for two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, and one count of possession of a firearm while being a convicted felon, for which he is serving a twenty-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, rendering his guilty pleas involuntary. We remand the case to the post-conviction court for the entry of an order setting forth findings of facts and conclusions of law in compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-30-111(b) (2018).

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
James Kelly v. State of Tennessee
E2020-00759-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge. D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Andrew M. Freiberg

The pro se Petitioner, James Kelly, appeals as of right from the Bradley County Criminal Court’s order summarily denying his pro se pleading that the trial court treated as a petition for post-conviction relief. The State has filed a motion to affirm the trial court’s judgment pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Following our review, we conclude that the State’s motion is well-taken and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
Peter R. Culpepper v. Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C. Et Al.
E2019-01932-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

In this legal malpractice action, the trial court granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of the defendants, determining that the plaintiff had waived any conflict of interest in his signed engagement letter. The court also ruled that the plaintiff’s legal malpractice claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The plaintiff has appealed. Upon our review of the pleadings and acceptance as true of all well-pleaded facts contained in the plaintiff’s complaint and the reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom, we determine that the plaintiff has pled sufficient facts in support of his claim of legal malpractice. We therefore reverse the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings with regard to the plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/16/20
Rodney Stafford, et al. v. Christy M. Lucas, A.P.N., et al.
W2019-01438-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

The trial court dismissed this lawsuit for failure to timely serve the defendants after finding that it was “unaware of an exception to this rule or authority to expand the time for service.” Prior to the hearing, however, the plaintiffs filed a motion for enlargement of time under Rule 6.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The trial court did not specifically address this motion. As such, the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint is vacated, and this matter is remanded with instructions for the trial court to rule on plaintiffs’ motion for an enlargement of time.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/15/20
James Justice v. Paul Gaiter, Et Al.
M2019-01299-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

This appeal arises from a motor vehicle accident in a shopping center complex during the Christmas season. Plaintiff appeals the jury’s finding that he was sixty percent at fault for the accident and the trial court’s denial of his motion for a new trial. Finding that the jury’s apportionment of fault is supported by material evidence and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for a new trial, we affirm the trial court in all respects.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/15/20
Jeremy Archer, Et Al. v. The Home Team, Inc. Et Al.
M2019-01898-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. Mark Rogers

This appeal arises from an alleged misrepresentation of real estate acreage. The plaintiffs commenced an action against both the real estate agent and the seller claiming they misrepresented that the property was 1.9 acres when it was only 1.16 acres. They asserted claims against the real estate agent for misrepresentation and concealment and claims against the seller for, inter alia, misrepresentation, concealment, and breach of contract. Following discovery, the seller and real estate agent each filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court summarily dismissed all claims against the real estate agent. The court granted the seller partial summary judgment dismissing the claims based on misrepresentation, concealment, and breach of contract. We affirm the dismissal of the misrepresentation claims against both defendants because the undisputed facts establish that the plaintiffs did not rely on the alleged misrepresentations in deciding to purchase the property. We also affirm the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ concealment claims based on the plaintiffs’ constructive notice of the correct acreage by way of a publicly recorded plat. Additionally, we affirm the summary dismissal of the breach of contract claim given that the warranty deed identifies the property by reference to the recorded plat, which shows the correct acreage. 

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/15/20