Court Opinions

Format: 10/01/2014
Format: 10/01/2014
Jay Jernigan, et al v. Charles K. Hunter, et al
M2013-01860-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Jduge Hamilton Gayden, Jr.

The parents of the decedent brought this wrongful death action against the individual who pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter of the decedent in a separate criminal proceeding. Following a bench trial, the trial court found the defendant directly and intentionally contributed to the wrongful death of the decedent, and entered judgment against the defendant in the amount of $250,000. The defendant raises numerous issues on appeal. Finding no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
In Re: Grace Y.
M2013-02734-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy Brock

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights to his five-year-old daughter. In 2010, the daughter was adjudicated dependent and neglected due to her parents’ substance abuse, and she was placed in the custody of her paternal grandmother and stepgrandfather. In 2013, these same grandparents filed a petition, as prospective adoptive parents, seeking to terminate the father’s parental rights on the statutory ground of persistent conditions. The trial court found that the ground of persistent conditions had been proven by clear and convincing evidence, and it also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. The father appeals. We affirm.
 

Coffee County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
The Tennessean, et al. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville And Davidson County, et al. - Dissent
M2014-00524-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

The Court’s decision in this case excepts materials that are “relevant to a pending or contemplated criminal action” from disclosure under the Public Records Act based upon Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(2). I find such a conclusion inconsistent with a fair reading of Rule 16(a)(2) and, therefore, respectfully dissent. However, because the trial court should have considered the victim’s rights, the criminal defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution,and the State’s interests in a fair trial before determining what materials were subject to public inspection, I would vacate the trial court’s ruling and remand for further proceedings.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
The Tennessean, et al. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville And Davidson County, et al.
M2014-00524-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Various media outlets made request under the Tennessee Public Records Act for access to records accumulated and maintained by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department in the course of its investigation and prosecution of an alleged rape in a campus dormitory. When the request was refused, the outlets a filed petition in Chancery Court in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated § 10-7-505; the State of Tennessee, District Attorney General and alleged victim were permitted to intervene. The court held the required show cause hearing and, following an in camera inspection, granted petitioners access to four categories of records and documents. Petitioners, as well as the Metropolitan Government and Intervenors appeal, raising numerous and various statutory and constitutional issues. We have determined that the records sought are currently exempt from disclosure due to the continuing police investigation and pending prosecution; accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Chancery Court and dismiss the petition.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
In Re Jayden G.
W2014-00881-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daniel L. Smith

In this termination of parental rights case, Mother appeals not only the trial court’s findings of severe child abuse and persistent conditions as the grounds for termination, but also the trial court’s conclusion that termination was in the child’s best interest. We affirm the trial court’s finding of severe abuse, but reverse the trial court’s finding that clear and convincing evidence exists to prove the persistence of conditions. We also affirm the trial court’s finding that termination is in the child’s best interest, and therefore, affirm the termination of the Mother’s parental rights.

Hardin County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr. v. Shelby County Election Commission - Concurring/Dissenting
W2013-02076-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenny W, Armstrong

I fully concur with the result reached in this matter and, specifically, the determination that the election was not invalid, that a new election is not required, and that Mr. Woods is the winner in the 2012 District 4 election to the Shelby County School Board.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr. v. Shelby County Election Commission
W2013-02076-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenny W. Armstrong

This is an election contest case between the declared winner of a school board race in Shelby County and an unsuccessful candidate. The trial court invalidated the election on the ground that there was “clear uncertainty about the election outcome.” On appeal, the declared winner of the race argues: (1) the unsuccessful candidate has no standing to prosecute his election contest; (2) the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the case pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 5-1-111(a); and (3) the trial court erred in invalidating the election pursuant to Emery v. Robertson County Election Commission, 586 S.W.2d 103 (Tenn. 1979). We hold that the unsuccessful candidate maintains standing to prosecute this appeal, and that his claim is not moot. Additionally, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the declared winner of the race’s motion to dismiss, but reverse as to the trial court’s judgment declaring the election invalid and ordering a new election. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
State of Tennessee v. Jessie Dotson - CONCUR
W2011-00815-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr. and Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

We concur fully with all of the Court’s opinion except for Section II(E)(4) containing
the proportionality analysis. After conducting our own independent proportionality analysis,
we concur with the majority’s conclusion that Mr. Dotson’s death sentences are not
disproportionate to the sentences imposed on other similar offenders who have committed
similar crimes.

Shelby County Supreme Court 09/30/14
State of Tennessee v. Jessie Dotson - APPENDIX
W2011-00815-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

Appendix
(Excerpts from the Decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals)

Shelby County Supreme Court 09/30/14
State of Tennessee v. Jessie Dotson
W2011-00815-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

A jury convicted the defendant, Jessie Dotson, of six counts of premeditated first degree murder for killing his brother, three other adults, and two of his brother’s minor sons at their Memphis, Tennessee home. The jury also convicted the defendant of three counts of attempted first degree murder for attacking with kitchen knives and wooden boards three more of his brother’s minor children who were also present in the home. At the  conclusion of the penalty phase of the trial, the jury imposed death sentences for the six first degree murder convictions, finding that the multiple aggravating circumstances applicable to each conviction outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. At a separate sentencing hearing on the attempted first degree murder convictions, the trial court classified the defendant as a Range II multiple offender, imposed a forty-year sentence for each conviction, and ordered these sentences served consecutively to each other and to the death sentences. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences. After the case was docketed in this Court, we entered an order identifying five issues for oral argument, in addition to the mandatory 1 review Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1) (2014) requires this Court to perform. We now hold that: (1) admission of the defendant’s custodial statements does not constitute plain error; (2) admission of testimony regarding the defendant’s invocation of his right to counsel did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial or violate his right to due process; (3) admission of testimony about a surviving victim’s statements to third parties did not violate the defendant’s state and federal constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him; (4) admission of testimony regarding the defendant’s history of imprisonment did not violate his right to a fair trial; and (5) admission of the pathologist’s testimony about autopsies another pathologist performed did not violate the defendant’s federal and state constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him. We also hold, in accordance with section 39-13-206(c)(1), that: (1) the sentences of death were not imposed in any arbitrary fashion; (2) the evidence supports the jury’s findings that the aggravating circumstances were proven beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the evidence supports the jury’s findings that as to each first degree murder conviction the aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt; and (4) the sentences of death are neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the nature of the crimes and the defendant. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the defendant’s convictions of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder and sentences of death and forty years are affirmed. With respect to issues not specifically addressed herein, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and include relevant portions thereof in an appendix to this opinion.

Shelby County Supreme Court 09/30/14
Willie Douglas Johnson v. State of Tennessee
E2013-02826-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz

The Petitioner, Willie Douglas Johnson, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of post-conviction relief from his convictions for attempted second degree murder and unlawful possession of a weapon. On appeal, the Petitioner argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/30/14
State of Tennessee v. Victor James
W2013-02643-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

A Madison County jury convicted the Defendant, Victor James, of one count of driving on a revoked license. The Defendant also pleaded guilty to an additional count of driving on a revoked license, prior offender, and the trial court sentenced him to eleven months and twenty-nine days in jail. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence presented is insufficient to support his conviction. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable authorities, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/30/14
State of Tennessee v. Pamela Taylor
W2012-02535-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Otis Higgs Jr.

The Defendant, Pamela Taylor, was indicted for the first degree premeditated murder of her husband, Michael Taylor. Following a jury trial, she was convicted of second degree murder. The trial court sentenced her as a Range I, violent offender to twenty-one years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant argues: (1) the trial court erred in declining to suppress her statement to police; (2) the trial court erred in abbreviating voir dire and jury selection, which prevented her from properly questioning prospective jurors and kept her from invoking her last two peremptory challenges; (3) the ex parte communication between two senior attorneys with the district attorney’s office and the trial judge created an appearance of impropriety; (4) the successor judge erred in finding that the presiding judge had satisfied her duty as the thirteenth juror; (5) the trial court erred in admitting opinion testimony requiring specialized and/or expert knowledge; (6) the trial court erred in admitting evidence of her character and her prior bad acts; (7) the State committed pervasive prosecutorial misconduct; (8) the trial court erred in excluding evidence of the victim’s violence, anger, and aggression, which were offered as corroborative evidence that the victim was the first aggressor; (9) the evidence was insufficient to sustain her conviction for second degree murder; and (10) the trial court erred in imposing an excessive sentence. Upon review, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/30/14
In Re K.N.B., et al
E2014-00191-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark Toohey

R.H.R. (“Father”) appeals the trial court’s judgment terminating his parental rights to his daughter, K.N.B., and to another child, S.M.J. (collectively “the Children”). Father is the putative biological father of S.M.J. The Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) removed the Children and two half-siblings from their mother’s home and placed them in protective custody after police discovered them living in deplorable conditions. They were placed in foster care and subsequently adjudicated dependent and neglected. A year and a half later, DCS filed a petition to terminate parental rights. After a bench 1 trial, the court terminated Father’s parental rights to K.N.B. based on the court’s finding that abandonment grounds were proven by clear and convincing evidence. As to S.M.J., the court terminated Father’s rights based upon his failure to establish paternity. The trial court further found, also by clear and convincing evidence, that termination is in the best interest of the Children. Father appeals.2 He argues, with respect to S.M.J., that the evidence is insufficient. With respect to K.N.B., he asserts that he was incarcerated during a portion of the four-month period immediately preceding the filing of the petition to terminate and, consequently, DCS and the trial court erred in relying upon that four-month period in assessing the grounds of willful failure to visit and willful failure to support. He does not contest the trial court’s best-interest determination. We affirm as to the child S.M.J. and reverse as to K.N.B.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
MSK Construction, Inc. v. Mayse Construction Company
E2014-00139-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This is a breach of an oral contract action in which MSK filed suit against Mayse for failure to pay for the use of equipment and fuel used to fulfill a construction contract between Mayse and the City of Athens. Mayse denied liability. Following a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of MSK and awarded damages in the amount of $44,386.37 and prejudgment interest in the amount of $1231.39. Mayse appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 09/30/14
Timothy Richard Plotner v. Metal Prep
W2012-02595-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Donald P. Harris
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter L. Evans

An employee contracted a lung condition while working as a forklift operator for his employer. After the employee’s treating physician informed him that the condition was caused by exposure to grain dust produced by a grain facility adjacent to the employer’s workplace, the employee filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The employer denied his claim, contending that it was not liable for the conditions that led to the injury. The trial court concluded that the employee’s condition rendered him permanently and totally disabled, and the employer appealed. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 09/29/14
Darlene Poindexter v. Roadway Express d/b/a YRC, Inc., et al.
W2013-01968-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Donald P. Harris
Trial Court Judge: Judge William C. Cole

An employee asserted that she sustained a compensable injury while working as a truck driver for her employer. The employer denied the claim, contending that the employee did not sustain a compensable injury but only aggravated a pre-existing condition. The trial court entered a judgment in the employer’s favor, and the employee appealed. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Tipton County Workers Compensation Panel 09/29/14
State of Tennessee v. Curtis Keller
W2012-01457-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

The defendant, Curtis Keller, was convicted of three counts of aggravated robbery, three counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, four counts of attempted aggravated robbery, four counts of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated burglary, and one count of intentionally evading arrest in a motor vehicle. For these convictions, he was given an effective sentence of three hundred years. The defendant filed a direct appeal with this court raising multiple issues. This court concluded that the defendant’s claims lacked merit and affirmed the judgments of the trial court, including the convictions for especially aggravated kidnapping. Thereafter, the defendant filed an application for permission to appeal with the Tennessee Supreme Court. The application was granted in part, and the case was remanded to this court to be reconsidered in light of State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559 (Tenn. 2012) and State v. Cecil, 409 S.W.3d 599 (Tenn. 2013). Upon remand, we conclude that, contrary to the asserted argument, the White jury instruction was given to the jury. Thus, we are limited to a simple sufficiency of the evidence review, the same review we conducted during the direct appeal. Having already concluded that the evidence was sufficient, we again affirm the judgments of conviction.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/14
Stephen Michael West, et al. v. Derrick D. Schofield, et al.
M2014-00320-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

This case asks us to interpret an exception to the Tennessee Public Records Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-504(h), to determine whether it creates a privilege protecting the identities of persons involved in carrying out a sentence of death from pretrial discovery. This question arises from litigation in which Appellees, who are death row inmates, challenge the constitutionality of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s Execution Procedures for Lethal Injection on various grounds. In prosecuting their case, Appellees requested the identities of certain John Doe Defendants involved in the execution process, but the State refused to produce this information. On a motion to compel, the trial court ordered the disclosure of the John Doe Defendants’ identities subject to an agreed protective order. We find the information sought by Appellees is relevant and is not privileged under Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-504(h). The decision of the trial court is affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/29/14
Amber L. Bilbrey v. Melissa Lynn Parks
E2013-02808-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This negligence case arises out of a car accident. Plaintiff Amber L. Bilbrey, while driving from Mayland to Monterey with her boyfriend and her aunt, ran out of gas. They turned around and tried to get the car back to Mayland by a combination of “running on fumes” and pushing the car. When they could push no longer, Bilbrey parked the car on the side of the road. Because there was a parallel ditch on the shoulder of the road, a part of the parked car extended into the roadway. Bilbrey stayed with the car while the others went for gas. The defendant, Melissa Lynn Parks, was driving toward Mayland and ran into the back of Bilbrey’s car, causing injury to both of them. After a five-day trial, the jury returned a verdict finding both Bilbrey and Parks to be 50% at fault. The trial court entered a judgment in accordance with the jury verdict. The issues raised on appeal are whether the trial court erred in admitting (1) the deposition testimony of Bilbrey’s boyfriend after the court found him “unavailable” because he was allegedly more than 100 miles from the courthouse, and (2) the testimony of a state trooper regarding the content of a voice message sent by Bilbrey to her boyfriend shortly before the accident. Finding no prejudicial error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 09/29/14
Leroy Stocklin, Jr. v. Karen R. Lord Et Al.
E2013-02320-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

Plaintiff Leroy Stocklin, Jr., served a non-wage garnishment on Carol Dean, in her capacity as executrix of her mother’s estate, in an attempt to reach the interest of an estate beneficiary, Karen R. Lord. Lord, who is Dean’s sister, is a $10,348 judgment debtor of Stocklin by virtue of a general sessions court judgment. Dean’s attorney acknowledged proper service of the garnishment and represented that it would be satisfied from Lord’s portion of the
estate. Dean failed to timely answer the garnishment as required by statute. She later filed an answer denying that she, as executrix, had in her possession or control any property, debts or effects belonging to Lord. Between (a) the date of service of the garnishment and (b) Dean’s answer, Dean distributed monies to Lord, as a portion of her inheritance, well in excess of the garnishment amount. The trial court entered judgment against Dean under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-7-112 (2012), which provides for a judgment against a garnishee “[i]f it appears that the garnishee . . . has property and effects of the defendant [debtor] subject to the attachment.” Dean appeals. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 09/29/14
State of Tennessee v. James William Tawater
M2013-02126-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael R. Jones

Defendant, James William Tawater, was indicted for one count of Class D felony theft of property of $1,000.00 or more in value.  A jury found him guilty as charged.  The trial court imposed a sentence of six years as a Range II multiple offender.  The manner of service of the sentence was ordered to be an alternative sentence of probation, served by split confinement pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-306, with one year to be served in the county jail followed by five years of probation under the supervision of Community Corrections.  Defendant presents three issues in his appeal: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction; (2) the trial court abused its discretion by imposing the sentence ordered; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion when it determined the amount of restitution owed by Defendant and by failing to ascertain Defendant’s ability to pay restitution.  We affirm the conviction and the length and manner of service of the sentence.  However, we reverse the restitution portion of the sentence and remand for a new hearing regarding restitution.

Robertson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/14
Dennis Michael Christie v. Shannon Denise Christie
M2014-01647-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

In this post-divorce proceeding, Wife has filed an interlocutory appeal as of right pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B from the trial court’s denial of a motion for recusal. After reviewing Wife’s petition for recusal appeal de novo as required under Rule 10B, we summarily affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/26/14
Bringle Farms Partnership v. State of Tennessee
M2013-02278-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commisioner, Tenn. Claims Commission

This is a breach of contract case arising from a crop lease entered into between a farming entity and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (“the TWRA”). The five-year lease required the lessee to pay rent for the right to farm the land; however, the lessee would receive a credit provided he timely planted and harvested an agreed upon amount and type of waterfowl food crop to feed wildlife. The lessee would also receive a credit for providing agreed upon “in-kind services.” After the second year, the TWRA terminated the lease for, inter alia, non-payment of rent, failure to timely plant crops, and failure to remove trash. The lessee filed this claim alleging the TWRA wrongfully terminated the five-year lease with three years remaining for which it sought damages for lost profits. The TWRA counterclaimed for unpaid rent and damage to the property. The claims commission found the TWRA did not terminate the lease for cause; therefore, the lessee was entitled to seek damages for lost profits; however, the commission found the lessee failed to prove its damages. As for the TWRA’s counterclaims, the commission found the lease ambiguous regarding the payment of rent, and after considering parol evidence, it determined the parties intended the performance of in-kind services would reduce the rent to zero. Therefore, the commission denied the TWRA’s counterclaim for unpaid rent. As for damage to the property, the commission found the lessee damaged the property for which it awarded the TWRA $1,743.30. Both parties appealed. We have concluded the TWRA terminated the lease for cause due to material breaches by the lessee; therefore, the lessee is not entitled to damages.We have also concluded that the lease provision regarding rentand in-kind services is unambiguous and that the lessee failed to provide in-kind services sufficient to offset all of the rent that was owing; therefore, the TWRA is entitled to recover the balance owed on the rent. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Court of Appeals 09/26/14
Noranda Aluminum, Inc. v. Golden Aluminum Extrusiion, LLC, Et Al.
M2013-02274-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

The issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly held that companies A and B could not be held liable for the allegedly fraudulent sale of equipment by company C because the equipment at issue was fully encumbered by a lien at the time of the sale and, therefore, did not qualify as an asset under the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act. We affirm the trial court’s decision.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/26/14