Court Opinions

Format: 09/22/2017
Format: 09/22/2017
State of Tennessee v. David Hopkins
E2016-02192-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: E2016-02192-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant-Appellant, David Hopkins, appeals his conviction for first degree felony murder, arguing that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction and that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering consecutive sentencing. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/22/17
Church Of God In Christ, Inc., Et Al. v. L. M. Haley Ministries, Inc., Et Al. - Concurring
W2015-00509-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

I am pleased to concur in the well-written majority opinion but write separately on the question of whether the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine is a bar to subject matter jurisdiction or an affirmative defense.

Fayette County Supreme Court 09/21/17
Church Of God In Christ, Inc., Et Al. v. L. M. Haley Ministries, Inc., Et Al.
W2015-00509-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

We granted this appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly affirmed the trial court’s decision dismissing this lawsuit involving a dispute over the right to use and control church property for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. This doctrine derives from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and prohibits civil courts from resolving church disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice. We conclude that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not apply in this lawsuit. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s dismissal is reversed. Furthermore, we conclude that the undisputed facts establish that the plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment, and we remand this matter to the trial court for any other further proceedings and orders that may be necessary to afford the plaintiffs possession and control of the disputed church real property and to address the plaintiffs’ requests for an accounting and control of the disputed church personal property.

Fayette County Supreme Court 09/21/17
Ferryl Theresita McClain v. Richard Perry McClain
E2016-01843-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

This is a post-divorce child custody action involving two children, who were sixteen and seventeen years of age at the time of the most recent trial. The parties were divorced by order of the Sullivan County Law Court (“divorce court”) in July 2001. Concomitant with the divorce decree, the divorce court entered a permanent parenting plan designating the father as the primary residential parent. Although the permanent parenting plan was modified in 2003 and 2007, the divorce court had most recently modified the permanent parenting plan in February 2009 (“2009 PPP”) upon the parties’ stipulation that a material change in circumstance had occurred. The divorce court maintained the father’s designation as the primary residential parent and awarded to the father 268 days of annual residential co-parenting time as compared to Mother’s 97 days. At some point following entry of the 2009 PPP, the mother relocated to Texas, and the father and the children relocated to Washington County, Tennessee. Upon the mother’s request, the case was transferred to the Washington County Circuit Court (“trial court”) in April 2014. On March 20, 2015, the mother filed a motion in the trial court to modify custody and child support, as well as a motion for civil and criminal contempt against the father, alleging various violations of the 2009 PPP. Following a hearing regarding the contempt allegations, the trial court entered an order on June 30, 2015, finding the father in “technical contempt” and directing him to pay an expert witness fee as a sanction. Following participation in mediation, the parties announced an agreement, which the trial court ratified in a permanent parenting plan order entered on June 30, 2015 (“2015 PPP”). The 2015 PPP maintained the father’s designation as the primary residential parent and provided the mother with 85 days of residential co-parenting time, a great part of which was to be exercised at her residence in Texas. On October 2, 2015, the mother filed an “emergency motion” for modification of the 2015 PPP, as well as for criminal and civil contempt against the father, averring violations of the 2015 PPP. The parties subsequently filed competing “emergency” motions concerning physical custody of the younger child, who under one temporary order entered by the trial court in October 2015, was to reside primarily with the mother. Following a two-day bench trial in October 2015, the trial court maintained the prior designation of Father as the primary residentialparent for both children pending further order, but the court took the custody matter under advisement pending receipt of a court-ordered assessment of the parties and the children by a forensic psychologist. Upon receipt of the psychologist’s report, the trial court conducted a second two-day bench trial in June 2016, ultimately finding that this was a case of severe parental alienation in which the father had actively supported the children’s alienation from the mother without reasonable cause. The court awarded exclusive custody of the children to the mother and directed that the children participate with the mother in a workshop in California that had been recommended by the forensic psychologist as a therapeutic methodology for parental alienation at an estimated cost of approximately $28,000.00. The court directed that the workshop costs, including a mandatory post-workshop vacation for the mother and the children, would be substantially paid by the father. The court further found, inter alia, that the father was in contempt of court for failing to follow certain provisions of the 2015 PPP and sentenced the father to eight days in jail, with the sentence suspended provided no further violations occurred. Also finding that the mother was entitled to attorney’s fees, the court reduced the $38,594.99 fee amount requested by the mother to an award of $20,000.00 to offset the amount paid by the father toward the workshop. The father has appealed. Having determined that the father was not provided with sufficient notice of criminal contempt charges pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 42(b), we vacate the trial court’s order finding the father in contempt. We remand for a determination of whether the amount of attorney’s fees awarded to the mother was appropriate given our vacation of the contempt finding against the father. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects. The mother’s request for attorney’s fees on appeal is denied.

Washington County Court of Appeals 09/21/17
State of Tennessee v. David Black
W2016-02478-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula Skahan

The defendant, David Black, appeals his Shelby County Criminal Court jury convictions of attempted rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery, claiming that the trial court erred by improperly admitting certain evidence and that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/21/17
Eric S. Stone v. Tennessee Board of Parole
M2016-01730-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

Petition for writ of certiorari; inmate appeals the trial court’s order affirming the Tennessee Board of Parole’s decision to rescind its earlier grant of parole and deny parole. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.   

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/20/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al. - dissenting
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

The majority’s decision misapplies Tennessee statutory and case law and creates practical problems for candidates for public office. For these reasons, I join in Justice Clark’s dissent and write separately to express my concerns. 

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al. - dissenting
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

I cannot join the majority’s decision affirming the dismissal of William Thomas McFarland’s election contest lawsuit. No statute expressly authorizes a county election commission to convene a quasi judicial hearing and resolve a pre-election challenge to a circuit judge candidate’s satisfaction of constitutional residency requirements. Furthermore, the majority’s conclusion that county election commissions implicitly have such authority ignores the fact that, where the General Assembly intends for a county election commission to exercise such authority, it has enacted statutes expressly providing such authority. The majority compounds this error by applying its holding recognizing implicit authority in a manner that negates a statute explicitly granting Mr. McFarland the right to file this election contest lawsuit challenging Michael S. Pemberton’s satisfaction of constitutional residency requirements. Because the majority’s decision is inconsistent with relevant statutes, with longstanding decisions of this Court, and with commonsense, practical considerations, I dissent.

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al.
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

This appeal addresses the authority of a county election commission to make a factual determination on the qualifications of a candidate seeking to be placed on a ballot. In this case, the defendant filed a petition to run for circuit court judge. A registered voter filed a complaint with the county election commission arguing that the defendant did not reside in the judicial district and, consequently, should not be placed on the ballot. The election commission held a hearing on the complaint and voted unanimously to place the defendant on the ballot. The defendant won the election. The plaintiff, the defendant’s defeated opponent in the election, filed this election contest based solely on the defendant’s alleged failure to meet the residency requirement. The trial court and the Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint. Both held that the substance of the plaintiff’s complaint was a challenge of the election commission’s administrative decision on the defendant’s residency, governed by the 60-day statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-102 for a petition for a writ of certiorari. Because the complaint was not filed within sixty days of the county election commission’s final decision, it was dismissed as untimely. On appeal to this Court, we hold that, by necessary implication, the county election commission had the authority under Tennessee’s election statutes to hold a quasi-judicial hearing to make a factual determination to resolve the voter’s complaint challenging the defendant’s residency. We also hold that the county election commission’s decision to certify the defendant as a qualified candidate on the ballot was a final administrative decision subject to judicial review by common-law writ of certiorari. The plaintiff, who had actual notice of the county election commission’s actions, was “aggrieved” by the election commission’s final administrative decision within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-101 and, thus, had standing to file a petition for a writ of certiorari. Though the plaintiff’s complaint was styled as an election contest, the gravamen of the complaint is a request for judicial review of the county election commission’s decision, reviewable through a petition for a writ of certiorari and subject to the 60-day statute of limitations for such a petition. Because the plaintiff filed his complaint well after expiration of the 60-day period, we affirm the lower courts’ dismissal of the complaint as untimely.  

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
State of Tennessee v. John David Altenhoff
M2017-00052-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith

John David Altenhoff, the Defendant, pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and agreed to an eight-year sentence with the manner of service to be determined by the trial court.  After finding that the Defendant had an extensive history of criminal behavior, that society needed to be protected from the Defendant, and that measures less than incarceration had unsuccessfully been applied to the Defendant, the trial court ordered the Defendant to serve his sentence in the Department of Correction.  On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying an alternative sentence.  After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm.

Sequatchie County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/20/17
In Re Halley M.
M2016-01596-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Thompson

Jerome V. and Teresa V. (“Petitioners”) appeal the May 26, 2015 order of the Circuit Court for Sumner County (“the Trial Court”) dismissing their Petition for Adoption and Termination of Parental Rights (“the Petition”) based upon Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-119. We find and hold that Petitioners have shown good cause why the Petition should not be dismissed, and we vacate the Trial Court’s May 26, 2015 order, reinstate the Petition, and remand this case for further proceedings.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 09/19/17
Jerry Alan Thigpen v. Trousdale County Highway Department, et al.
M2016-02556-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

Jerry Thigpen sued the Trousdale County Highway Department and two individuals, alleging damage to his home caused by roadway resurfacing. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that the claims were barred by the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”). We affirm.

Trousdale County Court of Appeals 09/19/17
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc. - Dissenting
E2016-02178-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

I maintain that the Court of Appeals properly concluded that recusal was necessary in this case. While I adhere to the position expressed by both the appellate court’s majority and concurring opinions that “[n]othing in the record on appeal leads this Court to believe that the trial judge holds a prejudice or bias against any party or that the trial judge cannot remain impartial despite this communication,” Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc., No. E2016-02178-COA-T10B-CV, 2016 WL 7364901, at *8 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2016), perm. app. granted (Tenn. Feb. 17, 2017), I nonetheless perceive an appearance of impropriety that is expressly disfavored by the Canons of Judicial Conduct, see Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, Canon 1.2 (“A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”). Therefore, I respectfully disagree with the decision of the majority of this Court that recusal is unnecessary.

Carter County Supreme Court 09/19/17
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc.
E2016-02178-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

This case is on appeal from a trial court judge’s decision not to recuse herself based on a telephone call to a university department director concerning a potential expert witness’ qualifications. Upon the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for recusal of the trial court judge, the defendant filed an accelerated interlocutory appeal in the Court of Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, section 2. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that recusal of the trial judge was necessary. We granted the plaintiff’s accelerated application for permission to appeal to this Court. Having thoroughly reviewed the filings of both parties and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial court’s denial of the motion to recuse was appropriate in this case. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Carter County Supreme Court 09/19/17
Gabriel C. Torres v. State of Tennessee
M2016-02361-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R.Goodman III

The State appeals after the post-conviction court granted Petitioner, Gabriel C. Torres, post-conviction relief in the form of a new trial.  Because the proper remedy was the grant of a delayed appeal, we reverse and remand the judgment of the post-conviction court.  

Robertson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/19/17
State of Tennessee v. Savannah Humphrey
M2016-02183-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R.Goodman III

Defendant, Savannah Humphrey, was convicted of one count of aggravated child abuse and one count of aggravated child neglect for injuries sustained by the three-month-old victim while in Defendant’s care.  On appeal, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for judgment of acquittal.  Based upon our review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/19/17
Kevin J. Mamon v. Geico Indemnity Insurance Company, et al.
M2016-01145-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.
Plaintiff appeals the dismissal of his claims against all three defendants and the award of $400 to defendant Master Muffler on its counterclaim following a bench trial. We affirm the trial court in all respects.
 
Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/19/17
Martin E. Hughes v. Tennessee Department of Corrections, et al.
M2016-02212-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

The plaintiff, an inmate proceeding self-represented, filed a “Petition for Declaratory Judgment” (“Petition”) on June 24, 2016, alleging that the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (“HCCF”) staff had failed to follow numerous policies established by the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”).  In conjunction with the Petition, the plaintiff filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.  The plaintiff subsequently filed a document entitled, “Complaint.”  On September 12, 2016, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, asserting, inter alia, that the plaintiff’s action was statutorily barred.  The trial court entered two orders on October 7, 2016, respectively denying the plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss.  The plaintiff filed a notice of appeal.  Determining that the trial court did not err in dismissing the plaintiff’s claims, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/18/17
State of Tennessee v. Mario Patterson
W2016-02080-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

A Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Mario Patterson, of first degree felony murder, and the trial court imposed a mandatory life sentence. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the State failed to prove that he intended to commit a robbery and, therefore, he was improperly convicted of first degree felony murder. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/18/17
John Moffitt v. State of Tennessee
W2017-02487-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

A jury convicted the Petitioner, John Moffitt, of reckless aggravated assault, and the trial court sentenced him to four years of incarceration. The Petitioner appealed, and this court affirmed his conviction and sentence. State v. John Moffitt, No. W2014-02388-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 369379, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Jan. 29, 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. June 24, 2016). The Petitioner filed a petition for postconviction relief, alleging that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition. On appeal, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Henderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/18/17
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones
W2015-02210-CCA-R3-DD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

Defendant, Henry Lee Jones, was convicted of two counts of premeditated first degree murder and two counts of felony murder for his role in the 2003 murders of two Shelby County citizens. The jury sentenced Defendant to death for each murder. Defendant now appeals from these convictions and sentences. Defendant argues that the trial court erred by allowing Defendant to represent himself and committed other errors with regard to the provision of elbow counsel; the trial court erred by declaring a witness unavailable and allowing testimony from that witness regarding a prior bad act; the trial court erred by admitting photographs of the victims’ bodies and wounds; the State utilized improper closing argument; the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions; the trial court erred in denying Defendant a mitigation expert or investigator in preparation for sentencing; and the death sentence is arbitrary and disproportionate. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm Defendant’s convictions and sentences of death.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/18/17
Shay Simpson, et al. v. National Fitness Center, Inc., et al.
E2017-00018-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

This appeal arises from a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs Shay and Brian Simpson (“the Simpsons,” collectively, or “Ms.” or “Mr. Simpson,” respectively) against defendants National Fitness Center, Inc. and National Fitness Center, LLC (“National Fitness,” collectively). Ms. Simpson and National Fitness orally contracted to allow the Simpsons “a couple of weeks” additional time to consider whether to cancel their club membership. After more than two weeks elapsed, the Simpsons elected to cancel but National Fitness refused to accept the cancellation. This case was tried before the Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”). The Trial Court found that National Fitness breached the contract and committed a deceptive act under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The Trial Court ordered “a return of all monies paid [by the Simpsons] to [National Fitness] . . .” and awarded attorney’s fees to the Simpsons. National Fitness appealed to this Court. We affirm the Trial Court in its determination that the Simpsons effectively exercised their right to cancel and that they were entitled to a refund of any monies paid. However, we reverse the Trial Court in its determination that National Fitness violated the TCPA. We, therefore, reverse the award of attorney’s fees. We affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the judgment of the Trial Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 09/18/17
Brittany Nicole Vandyke v. Brooke E. Foulk, M.D., et al.
E2016-00584-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

This is a medical malpractice action1 in which the plaintiff filed suit against the hospital and her physicians following the death of her newborn son hours after his delivery. The case proceeded to a jury trial. The jury found in favor of the defendants. Following the denial of post-trial motions, the plaintiff appeals, claiming the trial court erred in excluding testimony and when it gave a jury instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

Washington County Court of Appeals 09/18/17
Shayla Leanne Guy Brantley v. Cordary Quincy Vernard Brantley
M2016-01999-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Louis W. Oliver, III

In this divorce action, Father contends the trial court erred by adding substantive restrictions to the parties’ agreed upon Permanent Parenting Plan that, inter alia, imposed “paramour” and “lifestyle” restrictions on Father that were not imposed on Mother. We have determined that the trial court unilaterally imposed substantive and material restrictions on Father’s activities during his parenting time without affording him an evidentiary hearing. We have also determined that some of the restrictions placed on Father are too vague to be enforceable and that the Statement of the Evidence does not provide a factual basis for the restrictions placed on Father. For these reasons we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 09/15/17
Jimmy Newell v. Richard Montgomery, et al.
M2016-01787-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle
The petitioner sought a writ of certiorari seeking redress for the respondents’ failure to schedule an initial parole hearing prior to his release eligibility date. The trial court dismissed the petition as moot, finding that a parole hearing was conducted following the filing of the petition and that any challenge relating to the parole hearing was untimely. The petitioner appeals. We affirm.
 
Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/15/17