Court Opinions

Format: 06/01/2020
Format: 06/01/2020
IN RE KYLER C. ET AL.
M2019-00041-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge William Riley Anderson III

Mother and Father appeal the termination of their parental rights. Based on a prior finding that they had committed severe child abuse against one of their children, the juvenile court concluded that there was a statutory ground to terminate Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the abused child, his siblings, and a half-sibling. The court also concluded that termination of parental rights was in the best interest of all the children. Although we agree that there was clear and convincing evidence of a ground to terminate parental rights, we are unable to review the court’s best interest determination due to a lack of factual findings. So we vacate the judgment terminating Mother’s and Father’s parental rights.

Grundy County Juvenile & Family Courts 04/23/20
In Re Jeremiah S.
W2019-00610-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dan H. Michael

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the statutory grounds of: (1) severe child abuse, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4); (2) abandonment by willful failure to support, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113 (g)(14); (3) abandonment by wanton disregard, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102(1)(A)(iv); and (4) persistence of conditions, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3)(A). The court also found that termination was in the best interest of the children. We affirm the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/23/20
STATE OF TENNESSEE v. NEMON OMAR WINTON
M2018-01447-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Craig Johnson

Defendant, Nemon Omar Winton, was convicted of two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, one count of aggravated kidnapping, and one count of aggravated robbery. The trial court imposed a sentence of thirty years for each count of especially aggravated kidnapping, fifteen years for aggravated kidnapping, and fifteen years for aggravated robbery. The trial court ordered the sentences for especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated kidnapping to be served concurrently with each other and consecutively to the sentence for aggravated robbery for an effective forty-five-year sentence to be served in confinement. On appeal, Defendant argues: (1) that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and aggravated kidnapping; (2) that the trial court erred in denying his request for a special jury instruction; and (3) that his sentence was excessive. Upon reviewing the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of conviction for especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery. We conclude the evidence is legally insufficient to support the conviction of aggravated kidnapping, reverse that conviction and dismiss with prejudice the charge of aggravated kidnapping contained in Count Nine of the indictment. That count is remanded for consideration of appropriate lesser-included offenses, if any, of aggravated kidnapping.

Coffee County Circuit, Criminal & Chancery Courts 04/23/20
IN RE ELLIE K.
M2019-01269-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge, Middle Section, Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas C. Faris

The grandparents of a minor child filed a petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of the child’s biological father. Following a hearing on the petition, the trial court terminated the father’s parental rights, determining that clear and convincing evidence existed to establish five statutory grounds for termination: abandonment by failure to visit, abandonment by failure to support, persistence of the conditions leading to the child’s removal, abandonment by conduct prior to incarceration demonstrating wanton disregard for the child’s welfare, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of or financial responsibility for the child. The trial court also determined by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the child’s best interest. The father has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects, including the termination of the father’s parental rights.

Franklin County Juvenile & Family Courts 04/23/20
Joseph Nathaniel Nance v. State of Tennessee
E2019-00566-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

In 2009, a Campbell County jury convicted the Petitioner, Joseph Nathaniel Nance, of six counts of rape of a child and one count of aggravated sexual battery, and the trial court sentenced him to sixty-four years of incarceration. The Petitioner appealed his convictions to this court, and we affirmed the judgments. State v. Nance, 393 S.W.3d 212 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2012). Subsequently, the Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, which the
post-conviction court denied after a hearing. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/22/20
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Massey
M2019-00700-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge David M. Bragg

The Appellant, Thomas Massey, filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, and the Rutherford County Circuit Court summarily denied the motion. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the effective ten-year sentence he received pursuant to his guilty pleas to aggravated assault and evading arrest is illegal because he is being held beyond the period of incarceration authorized by the judgments of conviction. Based upon our review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/22/20
Ricky Harris v. Kevin Hampton, Warden
E2019-00571-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas
Trial Court Judge: Judge Justin C. Angel

The pro se Petitioner, Ricky Harris, appeals as of right from the Bledsoe County Circuit Court’s order summarily denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The State has filed a motion to dismiss this appeal as untimely or 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 as to the filing of a memorandum opinion and affirm the order of the habeas corpus court.

Bledsoe County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/22/20
Sandra K. Fisher v. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
M2018-02040-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

A police department seized a car after citing its owner for driving on a revoked license.  Following the issuance of a forfeiture warrant and a contested case hearing, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security forfeited the owner’s interest in the car.  The car owner petitioned for judicial review, contending that the forfeiture violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The chancery court denied the petition after determining that there were no constitutional violations.  We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/21/20
State of Tennessee v. Rodney Darnell Robinson
M2019-00303-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

Rodney Darnell Robinson ("Defendant") was convicted in Davidson County Criminal Court of two counts of child abuse, five counts of aggravated sexual battery, four counts of rape of a child, two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, two counts of rape, and one count of attempted rape of a child, for which he received an effective sentence of sixty years' incarceration. On appeal, Defendant contends that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions; (2) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel; (3) the trial court erred by allowing trial counsel to proceed while "clearly ill"; (4) the trial court failed to remedy statements made during voir dire by a potential juror, thereby depriving Defendant of a fair trial; (5) the trial court erred in allowing cumulative testimony in the cross-examination of Defendant; (6) the trial court erred in allowing improper leading questions to a witness; (7) the trial court erred in the admission of certain evidence; (8) the trial court erred in the exclusion of certain evidence; (9) there was an appearance of bias from the trial judge that violated Defendant's due process rights; and (10) cumulative error requires a new trial. Following a thorough review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Circuit, Criminal & Chancery Courts 04/21/20
State of Tennessee v. Joseph Emanuel Graham
M2019-00388-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

The Defendant, Joseph E. Graham, was convicted by a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury of two alternate theory counts of felony murder; one count of especially aggravated burglary, a Class B felony; seven counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, Class A felonies; and five counts of attempted aggravated robbery, Class C felonies. The trial court merged the felony murder convictions and sentenced the Defendant to an effective term of life plus twenty years. On appeal, the Defendant argues that: (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions, and there was insufficient evidence corroborating co-defendant Cheeks’ accomplice testimony; (2) the trial court erred in limiting his cross-examination of co-defendant Cheeks and excluding relevant evidence; and (3) he is entitled to a new trial based on the newly discovered evidence of codefendant Cheeks’ testimony at co-defendant Shelton’s trial. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Montgomery County Circuit, Criminal & Chancery Courts 04/21/20
State of Tennessee v. Marilda Evon Green
E2018-01287-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

The Defendant, Marilda Evon Green, appeals from the Jefferson and Grainger County Circuit Courts’ orders revoking her probation based upon her guilty plea to a separate charge of aggravated statutory rape and reinstating her effective six-year sentence. The Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by requiring her to serve the balance of her sentence in custody and subsequently denying her motions to reduce the sentence and petitions for early release. Following our review, we affirm.

Grainger County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/21/20
State of Tennessee v. Kendall Allison Clark
E2019-00515-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex Pearson

The Defendant, Kendall Allison Clark, pleaded guilty in the Criminal Court for Hamblen County to driving under the influence (DUI), a Class A misdemeanor. See T.C.A. § 55- 10-401 (2018). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to eleven months, twenty-nine days suspended to probation after forty-eight hours in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant presents a certified question of law regarding the legality of the traffic stop. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamblen County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/21/20
Vickie S. Young, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Randall Josh Young, Deceased v. Frist Cardiology, PLLC ET AL.
M2019-00316-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

We granted review to determine whether a doctor is qualified to testify in a health care liability case as an expert witness under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26- 115(b) when the doctor was not licensed to practice medicine in Tennessee or a contiguous state within one year of the alleged injury or wrongful conduct, but was practicing under a licensure exemption. Section 29-26-115(b) provides that a doctor is competent to testify as an expert witness only if the doctor is licensed to practice medicine in Tennessee or a contiguous state and the doctor was practicing medicine in Tennessee or a contiguous state during the year before the date of the alleged injury or wrongful conduct. We hold that under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-115(b), a doctor, who was permitted to practice medicine in Tennessee under a statutory licensure exemption but was not licensed to practice medicine in Tennessee or a contiguous state during the year before the date of the alleged injury or wrongful conduct, does not meet the requirements of section 29-26-115(b) to testify as an expert witness in a health care liability action. We reverse and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/20/20
Hertz Knoxville One, LLC v. EdisonLearning, Inc.
E2019-00267-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

This is a breach of contract action involving a commercial lease. The plaintiff filed suit for non-payment of rent. The defendant claimed that it was not liable because it provided notice of early termination pursuant to the terms of the contract. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment, claiming that notice was not provided within the time set forth in the contract. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/20/20
Brandon Blount v. State of Tennessee
W2019-00832-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula L. Skahan

Brandon Blount, Petitioner, was convicted of one count of aggravated burglary acting in concert with two or more other persons and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony after a jury trial. He was sentenced to an effective sentence of eleven years. Petitioner’s convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal. See State v. Brandon Blount, No. W2015-00747-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 3131355 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 26, 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 26, 2016). Petitioner subsequently sought post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. Petitioner appeals, arguing that the post-conviction court improperly denied post-conviction relief. Because we determine that Petitioner has failed to establish that trial counsel was ineffective, we affirm the judgment of the criminal court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/17/20
Ercil K. Gate-Rayford v. Hilton Hall, Jr., Warden
W2019-01987-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

The Petitioner, Ercil K. Gates-Rayford, appeals the denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus. The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20. Said motion is hereby granted.

Hardeman County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/17/20
Patrick Lewis Laforce v. State of Tennessee
E2019-603-CCA-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gary McKenzie

The Petitioner, Patrick Lewis LaForce, appeals as of right from the Cumberland County Criminal Court’s order summarily denying his petition for post-conviction relief as untimely. The State has filed a motion to affirm by memorandum opinion the judgment of the trial court. Following our review, we conclude that an opinion in this case would have no precedential value and affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

Cumberland County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/17/20
CRAIG DEWAYNE MASSEY v. HEIDI WADE MASSEY
M2019-00294-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry R. Tidwell

A father appeals the modification of a parenting plan, contending that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to the modify the plan because the mother’s petition raised allegations that the children were abused and neglected, which the juvenile court had exclusive jurisdiction to hear. Concluding that the circuit court retained subject matter jurisdiction over the post-divorce petition, we affirm the judgment.

Rutherford County Circuit, Criminal & Chancery Courts 04/17/20
State of Tennessee v. Todd Alan Schmeling
M2019-00474-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

The pro se Defendant, Todd Alan Schmeling, was convicted by a Warren County Circuit Court jury of facilitation of possession of .5 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, a Class C felony; facilitation of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, a Class E felony; simple possession of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor; and possession of drug paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor, and was sentenced to an effective term of eight years as a Range II offender in the Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant argues that: (1) his due process rights were violated by his lack of access to updated law books in preparation for trial and appeal; (2) he was improperly prosecuted on the possession of a firearm charge; (3) Lieutenant Mara committed “official misconduct” and “official oppression” by a statement he made during the traffic stop; (4) the trial court erred in denying his motion for production of Lieutenant Mara’s statements; (5) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction for facilitation of possession of .5 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to deliver; (6) his rights to due process and exculpatory evidence were violated vis-à-vis the testing of the drugs by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”); (7) the State made an improper closing argument; (8) the trial court committed plain error in its jury instruction on possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony; (9) the notices of enhanced punishment filed by the State were deficient; and (10) the trial court erred in sentencing him. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Warren County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/17/20
Robert F. Clark v. Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company
E2019-00746-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge David R. Duggan

This appeal arises from an action filed by Robert F. Clark (“Plaintiff”), seeking a declaratory judgment and damages against Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company (“Tennessee Farmers”). Plaintiff applied for a homeowner’s insurance policy with Tennessee Farmers upon his purchase of improved real property. The effective date of the policy was to begin on May 29, 2013, the original date of the closing for the sale of the property. The closing of the real property was rescheduled to an earlier date. A leak occurred after the actual closing on the property but before the date of the original closing and the stated effective date of the homeowner’s insurance policy. Determining that Tennessee Farmers had not been notified of the change and that Plaintiff had signed an authorization for work on the property, the Trial Court granted Tennessee Farmers’ motion for summary judgment. We affirm the Trial Court’s finding that the leak occurred prior to the effective date of the policy. However, we reverse the Trial Court’s grant of summary judgment upon our determination that genuine issues of material fact exist to preclude summary judgment on other issues.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 04/17/20
Ken Smith Auto Parts v. Michael F. Thomas
E2018-00928-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ward Jeffrey Hollingsworth

We granted permission to appeal in order to clarify the procedure circuit courts must follow when an original defendant in general sessions court appeals an adverse general sessions judgment to circuit court but then fails to appear for the de novo circuit court trial to prosecute his appeal.  In this case, when the defendant/appellant failed to appear in circuit court to prosecute his appeal, the circuit court dismissed the appeal and remanded the case to the general sessions court for execution of the general sessions judgment.  We hold this was error.  Under Tennessee Code Annotated sections 27-5-106 and -107, the circuit court should have instead entered its own default judgment against the defendant/appellant in the amount of the general sessions judgment, subject to execution in the circuit court, and assessed costs against the defendant/appellant and his sureties.  We also hold that, after the circuit court dismissed the appeal and remanded to general sessions court, the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction under Rules 59 and 60 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure to grant the defendant/appellant’s timely motion to set aside its prior order.  The decision to grant or deny the defendant/appellant’s post-judgment motion was within the circuit court’s discretion.  Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.  

Hamilton County Supreme Court 04/17/20
State of Tennessee v. Floyd Pete Lynch
E2019-00195-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

The Defendant, Floyd Pete Lynch, was convicted by a Hancock County Criminal Court jury of violating the sexual offender registry, a Class E felony.  See T.C.A. § 40-39-208 (2018).  He received a sentence of four years’ confinement.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.  We affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Hancock County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/17/20
State of Tennessee v. Edward Dean
W2018-01363-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula L. Skahan

The Defendant, Edward Dean, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of attempted second degree murder, a Class B felony; employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, a Class C felony, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a Class C felony. He was sentenced by the trial court as a Range I offender to twelve years at 30% for the attempted second degree murder conviction, ten years at 100% for the employment of a firearm conviction, and six years at 30% for the unlawful possession of a firearm conviction. The trial court ordered that the sentences be served consecutively, for an effective sentence of twenty-eight years in the Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in support of his attempted second degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm convictions and argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statement to police, in limiting the testimony of a defense witness physician, in failing to give the jury an instruction on diminished capacity, and in failing to give sufficient weight to mitigating factors in sentencing. Following our review, we affirm the judgments in Counts 1 and 2 but reverse the judgement in Count 3.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/17/20
State of Tennessee v. Kevin E. Trent
E2018-02239-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

The Defendant, Kevin E. Trent, was convicted in 2015 upon his guilty plea of vehicular homicide by intoxication, a Class B felony.  See T.C.A. § 39-13-213 (2010).  The Defendant pleaded guilty as a Range I, standard offender and agreed to an eight-year sentence.  The manner of service of his sentence was reserved for the trial court’s determination.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred by imposing incarceration rather than an alternative sentence.  We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for the entry of an amended judgment reflecting the sentence of split confinement of time served and the remainder on probation.  Upon remand, the trial court is to determine the appropriate conditions of probation. 

Claiborne County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/17/20
In Re Daisy A.
E2019-00561-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brad Lewis Davidson

A mother whose parental rights to her daughter were terminated appeals the court’s best interest determination. Upon our review of the evidence, we affirm the trial court’s holdings that clear and convincing evidence existed to sustain three grounds for termination and that termination is in the child’s best interest.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 04/17/20