Court Opinions

Format: 06/24/2019
Format: 06/24/2019
Scott Trent Et Al. v. Mountain Commerce Bank Et AL.
E2018-01874-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

In this action requesting declaratory relief, the appellants filed a petition seeking to reform a deed to add an additional grantor and requesting the Trial Court declare that the appellants hold all rights and interest to the property at issue. The Trial Court determined that no mutual mistake existed to support reformation of the original deed and denied the appellants’ petition. The Trial Court also declined to declare the appellants to be the only parties holding any interest in the property. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
In Re Estate of Billy Joe Kerby
W2018-00728-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal concerns the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of the petitioner’s claim against the estate of the decedent. We affirm.

McNairy County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
Shaleen Fowler Et Al. v. Morristown-Hamblen Hospital Association, Et Al.
E2018-00782-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

The plaintiffs, individually and as a proposed class action, alleged violations of Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-11-262.1 The defendants asserted as a defense that Tennessee Code Annotated section 1-3-119 precludes any private right of action under section 68-11-262. Pursuant to Rule 24.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, the plaintiffs submitted a notice of claim that the statute was unconstitutional and violated Article I, section 17 of the Tennessee Constitution. The State of Tennessee was allowed to intervene in a limited capacity to defend the constitutionality of that statute. In its consideration of the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the trial court held that the statute did not violate the “Open Courts” Clause of Article I, section 17. This holding necessitated a finding that Tennessee Code Annotated section 68-11-262 did not give a private right of action and, therefore, the plaintiffs did not have a cause of action. Accordingly, the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim was granted and the plaintiffs’ complaint was dismissed with prejudice in its entirety. The plaintiffs now appeal the finding that Tennessee Code Annotated section 1-3-119 does not violate Article I, section 17 of the Tennessee Constitution. The defendants challenge the trial court’s decision that Plaintiffs fell within the meaning of “uninsured patient” in Tennessee Code Annotated section 68- 11-262. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 06/24/19
State of Tennessee v. Matthew Howard Norris
M2018-01236-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson

The Defendant, Matthew Howard Norris, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft of property valued at more than $2,500 and one count of burglary in exchange for an effective eight-year sentence. At a subsequent sentencing hearing, the trial court ordered that the eight-year sentence be served in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the trial court erred when it denied his request for judicial diversion and for alternative sentencing. After review, we conclude that the trial court failed to consider the appropriate factors in determining the issue of judicial diversion; therefore, we reverse and remand for a new sentencing hearing.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Darryl Ray Wilson
E2018-01193-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

The Defendant, Darryl Ray Wilson, appeals as of right from the Anderson County Circuit Court’s revocation of his probation. The Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by relying on alleged violations that he was not provided notice of prior to the revocation hearing. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Anderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/21/19
Cathryn Helrigel Pierce v. Sherman Lane Pierce
E2018-01301-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Casey Mark Stokes

In this divorce action, the Domestic Relations Court of Meigs County (“trial court”) entered a “Final Judgment of Divorce” on June 21, 2018. In this judgment, the trial court awarded to the wife, inter alia, possession of a parcel of marital real property improved with a mobile home, along with its associated mortgage indebtedness, and fifty percent of the marital portion of the husband’s military retirement, or $481.11 per month. The trial court awarded to the husband, inter alia, a different parcel of marital real property improved with a mobile home and further ordered the husband to pay the wife’s automobile loan obligation in the total amount of $22,192.86. The trial court denied the wife’s request for alimony of any type. The wife timely appealed. Following our thorough review of the record, we reverse the portion of the trial court’s judgment denying an award of alimony and attorney’s fees to the wife. Based upon our review of the evidence and the applicable statutory factors, we conclude that the wife is entitled to an award of alimony in futuro in the amount of $1,600.00 per month. We further determine that the wife is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees incurred at the trial court level as alimony in solido. We remand the issue of the amount of reasonable attorney’s fees to be awarded to the wife to the trial court for entry of an appropriate award. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects. Regarding the wife’s request for an award of attorney’s fees incurred on appeal, we determine that such request has been waived.

Meigs County Court of Appeals 06/21/19
In Re Trey S. Et Al.
M2018-01979-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sharon Guffee

A trial court terminated a mother’s and father’s parental rights to three children on the grounds of wanton disregard for the children’s welfare, substantial noncompliance with a permanency plan, and persistence of conditions. Both parents appealed the termination. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 06/20/19
Washington County Education Association Et Al. v. Washington County Board of Education Et Al.
E2018-01037-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

Kimber Halliburton, the director of the Washington County Board of Education, notified Stacia Howard, a non-tenured teacher, that her employment contract would not be renewed. The Washington County board did not review the director’s decision because the board’s attorney believed that the board lacked the legal authority to do so. Ms. Howard and the Washington County Education Association (WCEA) filed a complaint against the board and the director. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment regarding the authority of the board to review and modify the director’s personnel decisions, including the director’s decision to non-renew Ms. Howard’s contract. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that plaintiffs lacked standing. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion. Plaintiffs appeal. We affirm.

Washington County Court of Appeals 06/20/19
Duwan Duignan v. Stowers Machinery Corp. et al.
E2018-01120-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela B. Johnson

The issue in this appeal is whether the evidence preponderates against the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims’ judgment that the employee is permanently and totally disabled due to his work-related injury. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, in a 2-1 decision, reversed and remanded for a determination of the amount of permanent partial disability. Mr. Duignan appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which referred the appeal to this Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 51, § 1. We hold the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s judgment. Therefore, the decision of the Appeals Board is reversed and the judgment of the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims is reinstated.

Workers Compensation Panel 06/19/19
Benjamin Shea Cotten, As Personal Representative For The Estate Of Christina Marie Cotten, Deceased, Et Al. v. Jerry Scott Wilson - Dissenting
M2016-02402-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley

The Estate of Christina Marie Cotten should have its day in court. Summary judgment for Dr. Jerry Wilson is not appropriate because the issue of whether Christina Marie Cotten’s suicide was a reasonably foreseeable result of Dr. Wilson’s negligent conduct involves disputed questions of material fact. The majority, in lengthy footnotes, attempts to defend its decision in favor of Dr. Wilson. The reasoning in this dissent is clearly stated. I decline the invitation to debate in a series of footnotes. See Borne v. Celadon Trucking Servs., Inc., 532 S.W.3d 274, 319 (Tenn. 2017) (Lee, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Williamson County Supreme Court 06/19/19
Benjamin Shea Cotten, As Personal Representative For The Estate Of Christina Marie Cotten, Deceased, Et Al. v. Jerry Scott Wilson
M2016-02402-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley

In this wrongful death action, the plaintiff estate seeks to hold the defendant liable for negligently facilitating the decedent’s suicide. While staying alone in the defendant’s home, the adult decedent committed suicide by shooting herself with a gun that was unsecured in the defendant’s home. The decedent’s estate sued the defendant, alleging that he should have known the decedent was potentially suicidal and that he negligently facilitated the suicide by failing to secure the gun while the decedent was in his home. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the evidence is insufficient for a trier of fact to find that the decedent’s suicide was a reasonably foreseeable probability; consequently, the decedent’s suicide constitutes a superseding intervening event that breaks the chain of proximate causation. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Williamson County Supreme Court 06/19/19
Tennessee Credit Union v. Wanda Powell, Et Al.
M2018-01384-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This is an appeal of an employer’s Petition for Judicial Review, which challenged a ruling by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development that the employer’s former employee was entitled to unemployment benefits. The employer contended the employee was ineligible for benefits because she was terminated for “misconduct,” as defined in the Tennessee Employment Security Act, for violating a policy known to the employee by using the employer’s property for a non-businessrelated purpose. The Department found that the employee’s frequent use of the employer’s internal instant message system to “chat” with co-workers was an error in judgment or discretion but did not rise to the level of “misconduct,” which Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-7-303(b)(3) defines as excluding “good faith errors in judgment or discretion.” The chancery court affirmed the agency’s decision. The employer appeals, contending the “good faith exception” never applies when an employee is discharged for violating an employer’s policy or rule. The Department counters, insisting the good faith exception applies regardless of the employer’s reason for termination. Construing the statute according to the natural, ordinary meaning of the language chosen by the legislature, we have determined that an employee’s violation of an employer’s policy that is due to good faith errors in judgment or discretion does not constitute “misconduct” as that term is defined in Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-7-303. Accordingly, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/19/19
Pamela Diane Stark v. Joe Edward Stark
W2019-00901-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

In this accelerated interlocutory appeal, Wife appeals the trial court’s denial of her motion to recuse the trial judge in her divorce case. Specifically, Wife argues that the trial court’s rulings demonstrate a bias against her because the trial court purportedly ruled in favor of Husband in excess of the relief requested. We affirm the trial court’s denial of Wife’s motion to recuse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/18/19
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Bishop, Devonte Bonds and Jason Sullivan
E2018-00283-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bob McGee

In this consolidated appeal, the Defendants, Thomas Bishop, Devonte Bonds, and Jason Sullivan, were convicted by a Knox County Criminal Court jury of attempted second degree murder, a Class B felony, aggravated assault, a Class C felony, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, a Class D felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-210 (2010) (subsequently amended) (second degree murder), 39-12-101 (2010) (subsequently amended) (criminal attempt), 39-13-102 (Supp. 2011) (subsequently amended) (aggravated assault), 39-17-1324 (2010) (subsequently amended) (firearm possession). The jury likewise determined that the Defendants committed a criminal gang offense, enhancing by one level the felony classifications of the attempted second degree murder and aggravated assault convictions. See id. § 40-35-121 (2010) (subsequently amended). The trial court sentenced Defendant Bishop to thirty-two years for attempted second degree murder, to fifteen years for aggravated assault, and to five years for the firearm violation and ordered consecutive service of the attempted second degree murder and firearm sentences as required by law, for an effective thirty-eight-year sentence. The court sentenced Defendant Bonds to twenty years, to ten years, and to three years, respectively, and ordered consecutive service of the attempted second degree murder and the firearm sentences as required by law, for an effective twenty-three-year sentence. The court sentenced Defendant Sullivan to thirty-five years, to eighteen-years, and to five years, respectively, and ordered consecutive service of the attempted second degree murder and firearm sentences as required by law, for an effective forty-year sentence. The Defendants appealed, in relevant part, challenging the constitutionality of the criminal gang enhancement statute, and this court determined that the statute violated due process of law and remanded the case to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing “based solely on the underlying offenses.” See State v. Bonds, 502 S.W.3d 118, 158, 167 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2016). Upon remand, the trial court sentenced Defendant Bishop to consecutive terms of sixteen years for attempted second degree murder,eight years for aggravated assault, and five years for the firearm violation, for an effective twenty-nine-year sentence. The court sentenced Defendant Bonds to consecutive terms often years, five years, and three years, respectively, for an effective eighteen-year sentence.The court sentenced Defendant Sullivan to consecutive terms of sixteen years, eight years,and five years, respectively, for an effective twenty-nine-year sentence. On appeal, the Defendants contend that the trial court erred by imposing consecutive service of the attempted second degree murder and aggravated assault sentences. We reverse the judgments of the trial court and remand for the entry of modified judgments reflecting concurrent service of the attempted second degree murder and aggravated assault sentences in each Defendant’s case. We likewise remand for the entry of a judgment relative to Defendant Sullivan’s firearm violation.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/17/19
State of Tennessee v. Wayne Leonard Yelton
E2018-01436-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin, Jr.

The Defendant, Wayne Leonard Yelton, appeals his convictions of rape of a child, three counts of aggravated sexual battery, incest, and attempted incest and his effective sentence of forty-one years. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions and that his sentence is excessive. Upon reviewing the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments. However, we remand to the trial court for entry of corrected judgments to reflect that the trial court imposed an eleven-year sentence for each aggravated sexual battery conviction in counts three and four and a three-year sentence for the attempted incest conviction in count five.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/14/19
Midland Funding, LLC v. Thuy Chau
M2018-01542-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

A creditor filed suit in general sessions court to collect an outstanding debt alleged to be due on a sworn account. The debtor’s counsel permitted the creditor to take a default judgment and appealed the judgment to the circuit court. In circuit court, the debtor filed a motion to strike three affidavits filed by the creditor. Later, the debtor filed another motion to strike the creditor’s affidavits and a motion to dismiss for improper service of process. The trial court denied the debtor’s motions to strike and to dismiss and entered judgment for the creditor in the amount of the claimed debt. On appeal, the debtor argues that the trial court erred in denying her motions and in admitting into evidence the documents by which the creditor proved the debt. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/14/19
Joshua L. Hutcherson v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01135-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle Atkins

Following the post-conviction court’s granting of a delayed appeal, the petitioner challenges the trial court’s application of enhancement factor (6) in determining the petitioner’s sentence. After reviewing the record and considering the applicable law, we conclude the post-conviction court did not follow the proper procedures in granting a delayed appeal and remand the case to the post-conviction court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Henderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/13/19
State of Tennessee v. Christian Blackwell
W2018-01233-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

The Defendant, Christian Blackwell, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of rape of a child, a Class A felony, and sentenced to twenty-five years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues the trial court erred in excluding unrelated allegations of sexual abuse made by the victim’s sister, in admitting the victim’s forensic interview into evidence, and that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/13/19
Steven H. Parker v. Brunswick Forest Homeowners Association, Inc.
W2018-01760-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

Following a bench trial, the trial court awarded the Defendant/Appellee $28,372.06 in attorney’s fees based upon an attorney’s fees provision in the parties’ written agreement. Plaintiff/Appellant appeals the award of attorney’s fees on the basis that the relevant provision is inapplicable under the circumstances. Because we conclude that the trial court did not err in awarding the Appellee its attorney’s fees, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/13/19
Deutsche Bank National Trust Company v. Stacy Lee, Et Al.
M2018-01479-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

This appeal arises from an action for default on a promissory note. Approximately eight and a half years after the debtors stopped making monthly payments under an installment note, the creditor filed suit for missed monthly payments going back six years from the date of the filing of the complaint, as well as for future installments and the final payment that were to become due under the terms of the note. The debtors asserted that the debt, or some portion thereof, was time-barred. As a result, the debtors raised the statute of limitations as a defense and filed a counterclaim, alleging that the creditor violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act by seeking a judgment on a time-barred debt. The creditor moved for summary judgment on all issues. The trial court granted the motion, concluding that the amounts that the creditor sought are not barred by the statute of limitations and that the undisputed material facts established the creditor’s claim against the debtor as a matter of law. This appeal followed. We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/13/19
Julie Marie Alexander v. Sean Stephen Alexander
M2017-01475-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

This post-divorce appeal concerns the court’s denial of the mother’s motion for relief from an order of the court calculating her child support arrearage. We reverse the court’s denial of relief and hold the challenged judgment void. We remand for further hearing.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 06/13/19
Michael McKenzie v. Brandywine Homeowners' Association, Inc.
W2018-01859-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

This appeal involves a non-judicial foreclosure by Brandywine Homeowners’ Association (the HOA) for non-payment of assessments due to the HOA by former property owner, plaintiff Michael McKenzie. It is undisputed that there was no irregularity in the recording, notice or foreclosure of the HOA’s lien on the property. Plaintiff argues that the foreclosure sale price, $4,445.90, is shockingly low in light of the trial court’s finding that the property was worth about $100,000. Plaintiff does not allege, nor did the trial court find, any “misconduct, fraud, or unfairness on the part of the [HOA] that caused or contributed to an inadequate price.” Holt v. Citizens Central Bank, 688 S.W.2d 414, 416 (Tenn. 1984). The trial court granted the HOA summary judgment, refusing plaintiff’s request to set aside the foreclosure on equitable grounds. Because the Supreme Court in Holt held that the “lone infirmity” of a “conscience shocking inadequate price . . . will no longer justify voiding a foreclosure sale,” id., we are compelled to affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/12/19
Leann Barnes v. David Ellett Barnes
M2018-01539-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma D. McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor J. B. Cox

This is the third appeal to address the issue of alimony between these parties. Pursuant to our decision in the first appeal, Husband was required to pay Wife $6,000 per month in alimony in futuro. In this proceeding, Husband sought termination or reduction of his alimony obligation due to a disability that rendered him unable to work. After Husband filed his petition, he unilaterally reduced the amount of alimony that he paid during the proceeding. Following a hearing, the trial court found that a substantial and material change in circumstances had occurred due to Husband’s disability, and the court concluded that a reduction of the alimony obligation was warranted. The trial court reduced the alimony in futuro award from $6,000 per month to $3,900 per month. However, the trial court found Husband in contempt for willfully failing to pay alimony in accordance with the existing order during this proceeding. The trial court awarded Wife a judgment for the arrearage but calculated it based on the reduced rate of $3,900 per month. Wife appeals, asserting that Husband maintains the ability to pay alimony at the previous level of $6,000 per month despite his disability. She also requests recalculation of the arrearage and seeks an award of attorney’s fees. For the following reasons, we reverse the decision of the trial court and reinstate the alimony award of $6,000 per month. The arrearage should also be recalculated based on the original award of $6,000 per month plus post-judgment interest. We further conclude that Wife is entitled to an award of attorney’s fees on appeal and remand for the trial court to determine an appropriate award. The trial court should reconsider Wife’s request for attorney’s fees incurred in the trial court.

Bedford County Court of Appeals 06/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Michael Jerome Lee
E2018-01596-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

The Defendant, Michael Jerome Lee, pleaded guilty to burglary of a vehicle and simple possession in exchange for an agreed concurrent sentence of five years, with the trial court to determine the manner of service of that sentence. After a hearing, the trial court ordered that the Defendant serve his sentence in confinement. On appeal the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied him an alternative sentence. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Demetrius Bailey
M2018-00018-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

A Davidson County grand jury indicted the defendant, Demetrius Bailey, with one count of aggravated burglary, one count of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, two counts of aggravated robbery, and one count of aggravated assault. Following trial, a jury found the defendant guilty of all counts, and the trial court imposed an effective sentence of eighteen years. On appeal, the defendant challenges the trial court’s evidentiary rulings allowing the admission of a Kal-Tec .380 pistol. After reviewing the record and considering the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/12/19