Court Opinions

Format: 07/02/2015
Format: 07/02/2015
Stephen Michael West et al. v. Derrick D. Schofield et al.
M2014-02478-SC-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

We granted this extraordinary appeal to determine whether, in this declaratory judgment action, the death-sentenced inmates' claims challenging the constitutionality of a 2014 statute that designated electrocution as an alternative method of execution and the constitutionality of electrocution as a means of execution should be dismissed as unripe. Because the death-sentenced inmates are not currently subject to execution by electrocution and will not ever become subject to execution by electrocution unless one of two statutory contingencies occurs in the future, their claims challenging the constitutionality of the 2014 statute and electrocution as a means of execution are not ripe. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's decision denying the defendants' motion to dismiss, dismiss the death-sentenced inmates' electrocution claims as unripe, and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 07/02/15
Phillippe Rogers v. State of Tennessee
M2014-01445-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Seth W. Norman

The petitioner, Phillippe Rogers, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his 2008 Davidson County Criminal Court jury convictions of both conspiracy to sell and possession with intent to sell 300 grams or more of cocaine, claiming that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel.  Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/02/15
State of Tennessee v. David Louis Way
E2014-01246-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Richard R. Vance
The Defendant, David L. Way, pleaded guilty to burglary and misdemeanor theft. The trial court ordered concurrent probationary sentences of four years for the burglary conviction, and eleven months and twenty-nine days for the theft conviction. Thereafter, the Defendant was arrested for burglary and possession of burglary tools. The trial court issued a probation violation warrant and, after a hearing, revoked the Defendant’s probationary sentence. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court improperly ordered him to serve the remainder of his sentence in confinement for violating the terms of his probation, and that the trial court improperly admitted a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation firearms and tool mark examiner as an expert witness. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.
 
Sevier County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/01/15
Anne Payne v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
E2012-02392-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dale C.Workman and Judge Harold Wimberly, Jr.

A railroad employee who was diagnosed with lung cancer filed suit against the railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, alleging that the railroad had negligently exposed him to asbestos, diesel exhaust fumes, and radioactive materials, all of which were contributing causes to his illness. The employee also alleged that the railroad was negligent per se by violating pertinent safety statutes or regulations. When the employee died prior to trial, his wife was substituted as plaintiff. By special verdict, the jury awarded the plaintiff $8.6 million, finding that the employee’s cancer and subsequent death were caused not only by the railroad’s negligence but also by its negligence per se. The jury also found that the employee was sixty-two percent at fault due to his history of cigarette smoking. After the return of the verdict, the trial court instructed the jury that because of its finding that the railroad had violated safety regulations, the Federal Employers’ Liability Act did not allow for a reduction of the amount of damages based upon the employee’s contributory fault, meaning that the plaintiff would receive the entire $8.6 million. The jury then deliberated for an additional eight minutes and returned with an amended verdict awarding the plaintiff $3.2 million “at 100%.” The trial court entered judgment on the amended verdict but later granted a new trial and entered an order of recusal. A substitute judge granted the railroad’s motion for summary judgment after excluding the plaintiff’s expert proof on the issue of causation. On appeal by the plaintiff, the Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment and remanded with directions for the original trial judge to review the evidence and enter judgment on either the original $8.6 million verdict or the amended $3.2 million verdict. We hold that the plaintiff’s expert proof was properly admitted at trial, but that the original judge erred by granting the railroad’s motion for a new trial based on evidentiary and instructional issues, and committed prejudicial error in assessing the amount of damages to be awarded. Under these circumstances, the appropriate remedy is to remand for a new trial as to damages only.

Knox County Supreme Court 07/01/15
State of Tennessee v. Wayne Sanders
W2014-01455-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

The Defendant, Wayne Sanders, was charged with aggravated robbery. After a jury trial, he was convicted of the lesser-included offense of aggravated assault. On appeal, the Defendant argues that he was denied his right to a speedy trial and that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. Upon review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/01/15
State of Tennessee v. Calvin Coe
W2014-01854-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph H. Walker, III

Appellant stands convicted of driving under the influence of an intoxicant, fourth offense, and driving on a cancelled, suspended, or revoked license, second offense. The trial court sentenced appellant to an effective eighteen-month sentence, suspended to supervised probation after serving 150 days in confinement. On appeal, appellant argues that the trial court violated the Tennessee Rules of Evidence and appellant's Equal Protection rights by limiting appellant's cross-examination of Officer Norris regarding any racial bias or any disciplinary action the police department levied against Officer Norris due to racially-biased language. Following our review of the parties' briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/01/15
Action Chiropractic Clinic, LLC v. Prentice Delon Hyler, et al
M2013-01468-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

Action Chiropractic Clinic, LLC brought suit against Prentice Delon Hyler and Erie Insurance Exchange to recover $5,010.00 as payment for chiropractic services. The trial court granted Erie Insurance Exchange’s motion for summary judgment. We granted review to determine whether the “Assignment of Rights” to Action Chiropractic Clinic as a health care provider executed by Mr. Hyler was a proper assignment. Upon a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we conclude that the document in this case was not an effective assignment. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Davidson County Supreme Court 07/01/15
State of Tennessee v. Fred Calvin Lee
M2014-01655-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley

The Defendant, Fred Calvin Lee, pleaded guilty to two counts of delivery of 0.5 gram or more of cocaine, Class B felonies. See T.C.A. § 39-17-417 (Supp. 2013) (amended 2014). The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range I, standard offender to serve concurrent terms of ten years for each conviction. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court failed to consider all of the relevant sentencing factors and erred by denying alternative sentencing. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/01/15
Clark Derrick Frazier v. State of Tennessee
M2014-02374-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

The Petitioner, Clark Derrick Frazier, challenges the denial of his petition for writ of error coram nobis.  On appeal, the Petitioner argues that, had he known about the results from the DNA analysis performed on items found at the scene, he would have elected not to plead guilty.  After a review of the record and applicable law, we conclude that the Petitioner failed to prove that the results from the DNA analysis were newly discovered evidence or that he was without fault in failing to present the evidence at the proper time.  Additionally, we conclude that, even if the evidence was newly discovered, the Petitioner failed to establish that it may have resulted in a different judgment.  Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the coram nobis court.

Robertson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/01/15
Daniel J. Velez v. Christy M. Velez
M2014-01115-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael R. Jones

This is the second appeal arising from the parties’ divorce and post-divorce filings. In the first appeal, we affirmed the division of marital property and the parenting schedule but reversed the award of child support and remanded with instructions to impute Mother’s income based on the minimum wage. We reversed the award of alimony in solido and remanded with instructions to award Mother rehabilitative alimony in an amount and for a duration to be determined by the trial court. We also found that Mother was entitled to recover attorney’s fees incurred in the first appeal in an amount to be determined by the trial court. Prior to conducting hearings on remand, both parties filed petitions and motions with the trial court seeking additional relief in a variety of forms, including petitions to modify the parenting plan. Upon conclusion of the hearings on remand, the trial court set child support, awarded Mother rehabilitative alimony for 39 months at $800 a month, denied both parents’ petitions to modify the parenting plan, and awarded Mother $2,600 for attorney’s fees incurred in the first appeal. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the trial court in all respects.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 06/30/15
Tonya D. Thornley v. U. S. Bank, N.A., et al.
M2014-00813-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa A. Jackson

Plaintiff appeals the dismissal of her complaint on a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The complaint stemmed from a foreclosure on plaintiff‘s home. Plaintiff claimed that the foreclosing lender had no right to enforce the deed of trust because the underlying promissory note had been "sold into a securitized trust contemporaneously with the origination of the loan." She also alleged certain irregularities in connection with the foreclosure sale. For the reasons explained below, we affirm the dismissal of the complaint.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 06/30/15
Linda J. Russell, administrator of the Estate of Milford R. Russell, Jr. v. Illinois Central Railroad Company
W2013-02453-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

Linda Russell brought a Federal Employers Liability Act action against Illinois Central Railroad Company to recover for the death of her husband from throat cancer; she alleged the cancer was caused by Mr. Russell‘s exposure to carcinogens while he worked in the Illinois Central maintenance shops in Memphis, Tennessee. A jury found in her favor and awarded damages of $4,255,000.00; on Defendant‘s motion to offset the judgment in the amount of medical expenses paid on behalf of Mr. Russell, the trial court reduced the judgment to $3,335,685.00. On appeal, Illinois Central asserts the trial court erred in admitting the causation opinions of three of Plaintiff‘s medical experts; in approving the jury‘s finding of causation; in making certain evidentiary rulings prior to and during trial; and in denying Defendant‘s post-trial motions based on the statute of limitations and Plaintiff‘s counsel‘s alleged violations of pretrial rulings. In her cross appeal, Mrs. Russell appeals the reduction of the verdict. Finding no reversible error, we affirm the trial court

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/30/15
State of Tennessee v. Rodney Bates
E2014-02381-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rebecca J. Stern

The Petitioner, Rodney Bates, appeals the Hamilton County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. On appeal, the Petitioner argues that the trial court erred by summarily dismissing his motion. The State concedes that this case should be reversed and remanded to the trial court. Upon review, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/30/15
Jamar Siler v. State of Tennessee
E2014-01433-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz
The Petitioner, Jamar Siler, appeals the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his conviction for second degree murder, for which he is serving a thirty-year sentence. He contends that his guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary because it was induced by the ineffective assistance of his counsel in the conviction proceedings. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.
 
Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/30/15
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth Duane Hall
E2014-02078-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz
The Defendant, Kenneth Duane Hall, was found guilty by a Knox County Criminal Court jury of rape, a Class B felony. See T.C.A. § 39-13-503 (2014). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to twelve years’ confinement at 100% service as a violent offender. On appeal, he contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction and (2) the trial court erred by admitting evidence related to domestic violence. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 
Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/30/15
State of Tennessee v. William Brian Brown
E2014-02361-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

The Defendant, William Brian Brown, pleaded guilty to one count of theft of property valued more than $10,000, and one count of vandalism valued over $1,000. In accordance with the plea agreement, the trial court placed the Defendant on judicial diversion for six years, to be served on supervised probation. The Defendant agreed to pay restitution to the victims at a minimum of $250 per month. Almost a year later, the State filed a motion to set aside and terminate the order of judicial diversion, which the trial court granted. The trial court revoked the Defendant's judicial diversion, held a sentencing hearing, and sentenced the Defendant to serve an effective sentence of five years of probation and to pay $100 per month in restitution. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court did not follow proper procedure when it revoked his judicial diversion and that the trial court erred when it revoked his judicial diversion. After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/30/15
State of Tennessee v. Jerry Richard Masingo
E2014-01074-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton
The Defendant, Jerry Richard Masingo, was convicted by a Union County Criminal Court jury of voluntary manslaughter, a Class C felony. See T.C.A. § 39-13-211 (2014). The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range I, standard offender to six years’ confinement. On appeal, he contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction and (2) the trial court abused its discretion by imposing a six-year sentence. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 
Union County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/30/15
Clayton Arden v. Kenya I. Kozawa, M. D. et al
E2013-01598-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

The primary issue presented is whether a health care liability case must be dismissed because the plaintiff sent the health care defendants pre-suit notice of the claim via a commercial carrier, FedEx, instead of using certified mail, return receipt requested, through the United States Postal Service. The defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting that the plaintiff failed to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-121(a)(3)(B) and (a)(4) (2012). The defendants did not allege they failed to receive notice or were prejudiced by the plaintiff’s method of service. The trial court dismissed the complaint, holding that strict compliance with the manner and proof of service requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-121(a)(3)(B) and (a)(4) was required. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that substantial compliance was sufficient to satisfy the statutory content requirements of the notice, but that the plaintiff’s failure to send the notice by certified mail constituted deficient service. We hold that the manner and proof of service prescribed by Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-121(a)(3)(B) and (a)(4) may be achieved through substantial compliance. The defendants received notice and were not prejudiced by the manner of service. Therefore, the use of FedEx to deliver the notice and the filing of proof of service with the complaint constituted substantial compliance with the manner and proof of service requirements of the pre-suit notice statute. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Monroe County Supreme Court 06/30/15
Joe Mosley v. State of Tennessee
W2014-01307-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Nancy Miller-Herron

Plaintiff, a former inmate with the Tennessee Department of Correction, filed suit in the Tennessee Claims Commission against the State of Tennessee for monetary damages. Plaintiff alleged that the State held him in custody longer than the term of his sentence and improperly applied certain sentence-reducing credits. He titled his cause of action as one for “negligent care, custody, and control” of which he asserted the Claims Commission had jurisdiction pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated Section 9-8-307. The State filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that plaintiff's claim was one for the “negligent deprivation of statutory rights,” and that the relevant statutes did not provide a private right of action. The Claims Commission granted the State's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 06/30/15
Michelle Benson Smith v. Christopher D. Smith
W2013-02095-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daniel L. Smith

This appeal arises from a divorce proceeding. The trial court designated the mother as primary residential parent of the parties' young son in its temporary and permanent parenting plans. After a subsequent hearing, the trial court found the mother in criminal contempt of the permanent parenting plan for failing to engage in joint decision-making with Father on certain issues. The trial court fined the mother fifty dollars and ordered both parties to pay their own attorney's fees. The father appeals, raising various issues regarding the parenting plans and the contempt proceedings. We affirm.

Hardin County Court of Appeals 06/30/15
P. Michael Huddleston v. Kenneth L. Harper et al.
E2014-01174-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David R. Duggan

P. Michael Huddleston (Plaintiff) brought this action against his former business partner, Kenneth L. Harper, and also against Jerry L. Hurst, the person to whom Plaintiff sold his one-half interest in the partnership. Plaintiff alleged that the primary asset of the partnership is a large building in Maryville, and that Defendants fraudulently concealed the fact that partnership had filed an insurance claim for damage to the buildings roof. The insurance claim was an asset that turned out to be worth over one million dollars. The insurance company paid this amount to the partnership shortly after Plaintiff sold his interest. Plaintiff claimed that Defendants fraudulently represented that the value of the building was about a million dollars less than its actual value because of the damage to the roof. As a consequence, Plaintiff alleged that he was fraudulently induced to sell his one-half interest for substantially less than its actual value. Plaintiff also alleged that partner Harper fraudulently endorsed Plaintiff's name to a check from the insurance company without his permission, and that the Defendants committed promissory fraud by inducing Plaintiff to endorse a second insurance check with the promise “to make things right with” him.

Blount County Court of Appeals 06/30/15
State of Tennessee v. Tarojee M. Reid
M2014-01681-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry J. Wallace

Appellant, Tarojee M. Reid, pleaded guilty to theft of property valued at $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, and as part of the plea, the parties agreed to submit the issue of restitution to the trial court.  Following the hearing, the trial court ordered that appellant pay $6,895 in restitution to the victim.  Appellant now challenges that order on the following grounds:  (1) the trial court failed to order a presentence report prior to the restitution hearing; (2) the trial court failed to make specific findings with regard to appellant’s ability to pay restitution; and (3) the trial court improperly included the value of property that was not listed in the indictment when some items of property were specifically listed.  Following our review, we reverse the award of restitution and remand for another restitution hearing consistent with this opinion.

Stewart County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/30/15
Stuart H. Kaplow, et al. v. City of Gatlinburg Board of Adjustments and Appeals, et al.
E2014-00347-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex Henry Ogle

Housing units belonging to the property owners were cited by a city official for condemnation. The property owners appealed to the city’s Board of Adjustments and Appeals. After the board agreed with the city official and condemned the property, the property owners filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari seeking judicial review of the board’s decision. The trial court determined that the decision of the board was supported by material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The property owners appeal. We affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 06/30/15
State of Tennessee v. Frederick Anderson - concurring
E2014-00661-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

The Defendant, Frederick Anderson, was convicted of two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping; three counts of aggravated robbery; one count of aggravated burglary; two counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony; and one count of possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of a dangerous felony. He received an effective sentence of sixty years’ incarceration. The Defendant raises the following issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial judge should have recused himself from the Defendant’s sentencing; (2) whether the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the charge of especially aggravated kidnapping as mandated by State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559 (Tenn. 2012); (3) whether the trial court erred by not merging the Defendant’s convictions for aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous offense; (4) whether the trial court erred in permitting the State to introduce excerpts of the jailhouse phone calls between the Defendant and his wife; (5) whether the trial court erred in sentencing the Defendant to an effective sixty years’ incarceration; and (6) whether the cumulative effect of the errors deprived the Defendant of a fair trial. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/29/15
State of Tennessee v. Frederick Anderson
E2014-00661-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

The Defendant, Frederick Anderson, was convicted of two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping; three counts of aggravated robbery; one count of aggravated burglary; two counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony; and one count of possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of a dangerous felony. He received an effective sentence of sixty years’ incarceration. The Defendant raises the following issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial judge should have recused himself from the Defendant’s sentencing; (2) whether the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the charge of especially aggravated kidnapping as mandated by State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559 (Tenn. 2012); (3) whether the trial court erred by not merging the Defendant’s convictions for aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous offense; (4) whether the trial court erred in permitting the State to introduce excerpts of the jailhouse phone calls between the Defendant and his wife; (5) whether the trial court erred in sentencing the Defendant to an effective sixty years’ incarceration; and (6) whether the cumulative effect of the errors deprived the Defendant of a fair trial. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/29/15