Court Opinions

Format: 10/16/2019
Format: 10/16/2019
In Re Brendan G.
M2019-00081-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Larry B. Stanley

This action involves the termination of a father’s parental rights to his minor child. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the statutory grounds of (1) failure to establish or exercise paternity; (2) severe child abuse; and (3) sentence of imprisonment for severe child abuse. The trial court also found that termination was in the best interest of the child. We affirm the trial court.

Warren County Court of Appeals 10/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Yodelkis Contreras
M2017-02210-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge F. Lee Russell

The defendant, Yodelkis Contreras, appeals from the revocation of the probationary sentence imposed for his 2005 Circuit Court guilty-pleaded conviction of aggravated robbery, claiming that, because the original sentence of probation was illegal, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to revoke his probation and that the delay between the issuance of the original probation violation warrant and the probation revocation hearing violated his constitutional right to a speedy disposition of the violation. We conclude that although the originally-imposed sentence of 10 years’ probation was illegal, see T.C.A. § 40-35-303(a), the defendant’s current sentence of 10 years’ confinement is not. Thus, regardless OF whether the trial court possessed jurisdiction to revoke the defendant’s probation due to the sentencing illegality, the trial court retained jurisdiction to correct the illegal sentence and impose a sentence of 10 years’ confinement. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/09/19
Denita McMahan v. City of Cleveland, Tennessee
E2018-01719-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

In this action brought under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, the plaintiff sought damages from the City of Cleveland for injuries received when she fell after tripping on a raised, cracked and uneven section of a public sidewalk. In pertinent part, the plaintiff alleged that the city’s immunity under the Act should be removed based on constructive notice because the city created the dangerous condition by planting trees along the sidewalk in the 1990s and roots from those trees caused the unsafe condition. Alternatively, the plaintiff asserted that immunity should be removed under the common occurrence theory of constructive notice because the tree roots caused numerous and similar defects in other sections of the city’s sidewalks. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that the city did not have actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect in the sidewalk and held that the city was immune from liability under Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-20-203(b). This appeal followed. Because the evidence does not preponderate against the trial judge’s finding that the plaintiff failed to prove that the city had actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect in the sidewalk where she tripped and fell, we hold that immunity under the GTLA was not removed and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 10/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Curtis Logan Lawson - concurring in part, dissenting in part
E2018-01566-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge:

For the reasons stated in State v. Welch, No. E2018-00240-CCA-R3-CD, 2019 WL 323826, at *5 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 23, 2019)(J. McMullen, dissenting), appeal granted (May 17, 2019), I dissent from Part I of the majority conclusion in this case. In all other respects, I concur.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Curtis Logan Lawson
E2018-01566-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

Defendant, Curtis Logan Lawson, appeals from his Knox County convictions for burglary, theft of merchandise, and criminal trespass. Defendant argues that his burglary conviction should be dismissed because the burglary statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-402(a)(3), does not apply to buildings that are open to the public. Defendant also argues that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on principles of statutory construction and on the defense of ignorance or mistake of fact, that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction for burglary, and that the trial court erred in denying his request for a community corrections sentence. Based upon our review of the record, briefs of the parties, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/08/19
Antonio L. Fuller v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00340-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton

The petitioner, Antonio L. Fuller, appeals the dismissal of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in dismissing the petition as time-barred. Following our review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s dismissal of the petition.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/08/19
Yolanda Carter v. Maurice Butler
W2019-00175-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

This appeal involves a dispute related to the interpretation of a lease purchase agreement. However, because the trial court did not make sufficient findings of facts and conclusions of law, we are unable to conduct a meaningful appellate review. Accordingly, we vacate the order and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/08/19
Kayla Nicole (White) Blakney v. Justin Taylor White
W2018-00640-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daniel L. Smith

This is a consolidated appeal concerning a post-divorce action that involves the father’s petition to modify the parties’ existing permanent parenting plan. The trial court named the father as primary residential parent of the parties’ child, increased the father’s
co-parenting time to 271 days per year, reduced the mother’s co-parenting time to 94 days annually, and required that the mother’s co-parenting time be supervised. The court further granted the father sole decision-making authority with respect to the child’s education, non-emergency health care, religious upbringing, and extra-curricular activities. The mother has appealed. Having determined that the trial court failed to settle the differences between the parties’ competing statements of the evidence, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand this matter for the trial court to make the necessary findings required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24(e) and transmit a proper supplemental record to this Court.

Hardin County Court of Appeals 10/08/19
Gerald Brown v. Waddell Wright, Et Al.
M2018-01743-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal arises from a dispute over an unorthodox, two-page contract pursuant to which the plaintiff sold his home to the defendant and continued to reside in the home, in accordance with a lease-back provision, for “up to five years” with rent “not to exceed $950 a month.” The contract also included provisions for “equity participation,” including the option for the plaintiff to buy the property back “at prevailing market value.” The plaintiff filed a complaint asserting, inter alia, claims for violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, quiet title, and breach of contract. The defendant answered and asserted counterclaims, inter alia, for breach of contract and to remove the plaintiff from the property. Following a trial, the trial court dismissed the complaint upon the principal findings that the plaintiff lacked credibility and was the first to materially breach the contract. The trial court also ruled that the defendant owned the property and was entitled to immediate possession but denied the defendant’s claim to recover his attorney’s fees. Both parties appeal. We affirm the dismissal of all of the plaintiff’s claims and the trial court’s determination that the defendant owned the property and was entitled to immediate possession. As for the attorney’s fees, we hold that the defendant was entitled to recover his reasonable attorney’s fees based on Section 6 of the contract which provides that in the event suit is filed to enforce the contract, “the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover all cost of such enforcement including reasonable attorney’s fees as approved by the Court.”

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Howard Melton
E2018-01281-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby McGee

Defendant, Howard Melton, was convicted of assault by offensive touching and sexual battery by an authority figure. As a result of the convictions, the trial court sentenced Defendant to serve four years in incarceration, consecutively to the sentence Defendant received in a separate case. After the denial of a motion for new trial, Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly admitted a videotape into evidence. Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Dennis Rasheed Gaye
E2018-02236-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby McGee

Defendant, Dennis Rasheed Gaye, appeals from the dismissal of a motion to reduce his sentence, a motion to correct an illegal sentence, and a motion to correct a clerical error. For the following reasons, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/07/19
Teresa M. Daffron, As Daughter, Next of Kin To And As The Administrator Of The Estate Of Wiley E. Daffron v. Memorial Health Care System, Inc.
E2018-02199-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ward Jeffrey Hollingsworth

This appeal arises from a wrongful death action based on health care liability. Wiley E. Daffron (“Decedent”) received medical treatment from Memorial Health Care System, Inc. (“Memorial”) in 2013. During his stay at Memorial, Decedent developed a pressure ulcer. Decedent died a few months after he was discharged from Memorial. Teresa M. Daffron (“Ms. Daffron”), Decedent’s adult daughter, obtained Decedent’s medical records from Memorial. Some 13 months later, Ms. Daffron sent pre-suit notice of her intent to sue Memorial. A few months after that, Ms. Daffron filed suit against Memorial in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”). Memorial filed a motion for summary judgment asserting the statute of limitations, which the Trial Court granted. The Trial Court held that Ms. Daffron knew or should have known of Decedent’s injury and its possible cause more than one year before the pre-suit notice was sent and, therefore, her complaint was filed outside the statute of limitations. On appeal, Ms. Daffron argues that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until an expert informed her that Decedent’s injury was caused by Memorial. We hold that, pursuant to the discovery rule, and, as evidenced by, among other things, her seeking through counsel Decedent’s medical records, Ms. Daffron had constructive knowledge of Decedent’s claim more than one year before she sent pre-suit notice and, therefore, the complaint was not timely filed. Ms. Daffron’s claim brought on behalf of her father is barred by the statute of limitations. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/07/19
Karen Abrams Malkin v. Reed Lynn Malkin
W2018-01197-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter L. Evans

This appeal involves a former husband’s fourth petition to reduce or terminate his alimony in futuro obligation since the parties were divorced. When considering the appeal of husband’s third attempt, in Malkin v. Malkin, 475 S.W.3d 252 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015), this Court reversed the trial court’s reduction of the award and reinstated the prior alimony obligation. We found that the husband’s retirement was objectively reasonable and constituted a substantial and material change in circumstances, but we concluded that the husband failed to prove that the change in circumstances significantly diminished his financial ability to pay alimony or his former wife’s need for it. Just months after the Tennessee Supreme Court denied the husband’s application for permission to appeal, he filed his fourth petition to reduce or terminate his obligation. The wife filed a counter-petition to increase the award. The trial court granted the husband’s petition, again, and reduced the award to less than half of its previous amount. The wife appeals. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/07/19
Santeriaus D. Lavender v. State of Tennessee
M2018-02204-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

Petitioner, Santeriaus D. Lavender, pled guilty to second degree murder in exchange for a sentence of thirty years to be served at 100 percent. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel and that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary. The post-conviction court denied relief, and upon our review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/04/19
State of Tennessee v. Brandon E. Banks - Concur in Part / Dissent in Part
M2018-00264-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

I join the majority in affirming the defendant’s convictions of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery. But I write separately to dissent from the majority’s conclusions that Detective Gish was qualified to describe and give his opinion regarding what the videos and images appeared to show and that the defendant waived his claim regarding Detective Mayo’s “editorial commentary.”

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/04/19
State of Tennessee v. Brandon E. Banks
M2018-00264-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

A Davidson County grand jury indicted the defendant, Brandon E. Banks, for five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. After trial, a jury convicted the defendant of one count of each offense. On appeal, the defendant challenges the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained from a warrantless search of his cell phone, the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for aggravated rape, and several of the trial court’s evidentiary rulings. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/04/19
Li Huang Sullivan v. Eric Jason Sullivan
M2018-01776-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This appeal is from a final decree of divorce. The Husband challenges several of the trial court’s rulings regarding the parenting plan, division of the marital estate, calculation of child support, and denial of his motion to amend to file a counterclaim for alimony. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/04/19
Thomas J. Elsten, Jr. v. Jeffrey Coker, Et Al.
M2019-00034-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Thompson

This appeal arises from a defamation action filed by one mayoral candidate against another for statements made during the City of Hendersonville, Tennessee mayoral race. Accordingly, the issues are to be judged based on the more stringent standards that apply in a defamation action brought by a public figure. After engaging in discovery, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, contending the plaintiff lacked evidence showing the defendant published the statements with actual malice. To withstand the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff had the burden to demonstrate he would be able to prove clearly and convincingly that the defendant acted with actual malice, which required proof the defendant had knowledge that the facts he published about the plaintiff were false or that he acted with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity. The trial court found that the plaintiff “did not produce clear and convincing evidence of actual malice at the summary judgment stage” and summarily dismissed the action. We affirm.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 10/04/19
State of Tennessee v. Ronnie Thomas Baker
M2018-02221-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton

Defendant, Ronnie T. Baker, was convicted by a jury of aggravated assault, domestic assault, and interference with a 911 call. The trial court sentenced Defendant to a total effective sentence of ten years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days. On appeal, Defendant argues that (1) the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction of aggravated assault; (2) the trial court erred in admitting the victim’s prior consistent statements; (3) the trial court erred in admitting testimony and photos concerning the interior of the victim’s residence that showed destruction of the property by the Defendant; (4) the trial court erred by failing to merge the convictions for aggravated assault and domestic assault; and (5) the trial court erred in imposing the maximum sentence and by imposing partial consecutive sentencing. After conducting a full review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/04/19
Latonya Denise Hall v. Sammie Lee Williams, III
M2018-1738-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ted A. Crozier

This post-divorce appeal concerns the trial court’s modification of a permanent parenting plan. We affirm the parenting plan determination and all other rulings by the trial court.  

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 10/04/19
In Re Caroline U.
E2018-01951-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This is a modification of residential schedule case. The father requested an increase in parenting time based on a material change in circumstances. The court ruled that the father failed to demonstrate a material change in circumstances. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/04/19
David Mark Sloane v. Tennessee Department of State, Business Services Division
M2019-00126-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

On September 30, 2016, Appellee Tennessee Secretary of State, Business Services Division assessed $25,000.00 in civil penalties against Appellant David M. Sloane for his violations of the Athlete Agent Reform Act of 2011. Mr. Sloane requested a hearing to dispute the penalties, and the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) reduced the penalties to $5,000.00 for each violation and $740.00 in investigatory costs. Mr. Sloane then filed a petition for judicial review with the trial court; the trial court affirmed the ALJ’s order. Mr. Sloane appeals. We affirm.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/03/19
State of Tennessee v. Jenny Frye
E2018-01825-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin, Jr.

The defendant, Jenny Frye, appeals the order of the trial court revoking her community corrections sentence and ordering her to serve an increased sentence of eight years in confinement. Upon review of the record, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding the defendant violated the terms of her community corrections sentence. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part. However, because the trial court failed to conduct a sentencing hearing prior to increasing the defendant’s sentence, we remand the matter for a new sentencing hearing.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/03/19
Troy Love v. State of Tennessee
E2019-00111-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

The petitioner, Troy Love, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received the effective assistance of counsel at trial. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/03/19
State of Tennessee v. Diontae Smartt
E2018-02013-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don W. Poole

A Hamilton County jury found Defendant, Diontae Smartt, guilty of aggravated sexual battery, for which he received a sentence of eight years’ incarceration. On appeal, Defendant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to admit the video recording of his statement to police in its entirety, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 106, after the State questioned Defendant about inconsistencies between the statement and Defendant’s trial testimony. Defendant further contends that the trial court erred by denying his request to instruct the jury on self-defense as the defense was fairly raised by the proof at trial. Following a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/03/19