Court Opinions

Format: 01/19/2017
Format: 01/19/2017
State of Tennessee v. William Henry Smith, Jr.
M2016-01475-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest Durard

A Bedford County jury convicted the Defendant, William Henry Smith, Jr., of conspiracy to sell and deliver a Schedule II drug, and the trial court sentenced him to fifteen years of confinement.  On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the evidence against him is insufficient to support his conviction.  After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.    

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/13/17
Hobbs Purnell Oil Company, Inc., et al v. Thomas Butler, et al
M2016-00289-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge David L. Allen

This contract action was initiated by the plaintiff oil company, Hobbs Purnell Oil Company, Inc. (“Hobbs Purnell”), alleging that the defendants, Gedith Butler and Thomas Butler, individually and d/b/a GG’s Market (collectively, “the Butlers”), breached their contract with Hobbs Purnell by failing to pay three invoices for fuel, which had been provided to the Butlers on a consignment basis. The Butlers filed a counterclaim against Hobbs Purnell and a third-party complaint against the president of the oil company, Tommy Porter. Prior to trial, the trial court granted Hobbs Purnell’s motion in limine and excluded all invoices that were not listed in the Butlers’ discovery response. At trial, the Butlers chose to proceed in the action pro se following the trial court’s grant of their previous counsel’s motion for withdrawal. During a bench trial, the trial court excluded the testimony of the Butlers’ expert witness upon finding that they had failed to qualify him as an expert. Ultimately, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Hobbs Purnell and against the Butlers in the amount of $46,135.93, which included $27,059.10 for the three unpaid invoices plus prejudgment interest in the amount of $19,076.83. The trial court dismissed the Butlers’ counterclaim and third-party complaint. The Butlers thereafter filed two pleadings that were treated collectively by the trial court as a motion for new trial, alleging that the trial judge had violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The trial court denied the motion for new trial. The Butlers have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Lawrence County Court of Appeals 01/12/17
State of Tennessee v. Adolphus L. Hollingsworth
E2015-01463-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rebecca J. Stern

The Defendant, Adolphus L. Hollingsworth, was convicted by a Hamilton County jury of second degree murder and was sentenced to twenty-two years' incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant argues: (1) the trial court erred in allowing the State to amend the indictment; (2) the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss based on the State's failure to preserve evidence; (3) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence discovered during the search of his property; (4) the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to exclude evidence from forensic testing; (5) the trial court erred in admitting Rule 404(b) testimony; (6) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction; (7) the trial court erred in failing to provide a female bailiff to supervise the sequestered jury; and (8) the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, motion for new trial. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. Gary Allen Taylor
E2016-00977-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin
The Defendant, Gary Allen Taylor, entered a guilty plea to aggravated assault, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and failure to appear in court, with sentencing to be determined by the trial court. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court found that the Defendant was a Range I standard offender and imposed a three-year prison sentence. The Defendant appeals the trial court’s denial of alternative sentencing. We conclude that the trial court did not err in sentencing the Defendant to a term of imprisonment. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.
 
Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
Josephine Phelps, et al v. Vern Benke, Jr.
M2015-02212-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

The appellants Josephine Phelps and Roy Smith (the “Appellants”) filed suit to assert rights to a tract of real property by adverse possession. On appeal, they claim that the trial court erred in concluding that they have no possessory rights to the land at issue. In part, they argue that the appellee’s counterclaim for ejectment was untimely because it was not filed within seven years of the beginning of their adverse possession. We disagree and conclude that the trial court was correct in ordering the Appellants to vacate the disputed property. The Appellants’ petition for adverse possession was filed before they had adversely possessed the property for a total of seven years. Moreover, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-114, the appellee’s counterclaim for ejectment related back to the filing of the Appellants’ original petition. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. William Rolandus Keel - Concurring
M2016-00354-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt, Jr.

Although I concur with lead opinion’s conclusion that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing the Defendant, I write separately to express my opinion that the imposition of consecutive, 30-year sentences to be served at 100% pushes the limit of the presumption of reasonableness under State v. Pollard, 432 S.W.3d 851 (Tenn. 2013) and State v. Bise, 380 S.W.3d 682 (Tenn. 2012).  Without intending to diminish the reprehensibility of the offense of rape of a child, I would note that the effective 60-year sentence in this case is the same length as a life sentence for first degree murder, but with a life sentence, a defendant may be awarded up to 15% sentence reduction credits and be released after serving 51 years, whereas the Defendant’s 60-year sentence is to be served pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-523 “undiminished by any sentence reduction credits.”

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. William Rolandus Keel
M2016-00354-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt, Jr.

The defendant, Williams Rolandus Keel, appeals his Davidson County Criminal Court jury convictions of rape of a child, claiming that the trial court erred by denying his motion to compel production of certain documents, that the trial court erred by excluding the testimony of his expert witness, and that the sentence imposed was excessive.  Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
In re A.B. et al.
E2016-00504-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry M. Warner

This is a termination of parental rights case. On December 17, 2014, the Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of M.L.F. (Mother) and H.W.B. (Father) with respect to their two children, A.M.B. (Child 1) and O.R.F. (Child 2) (collectively the Children). As to Mother, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence of three grounds supporting termination – abandonment by failure to establish a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, and persistence of conditions. By the same quantum of proof, the trial court found that termination of Mother’s rights is in the best interest of the Children. As to Father, the trial court held that DCS had failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the alleged grounds of abandonment by wanton disregard, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, and grounds applicable to a putative father. Consequently, the court declined to terminate Father’s parental rights. Mother and DCS appeal. We reverse the trial court’s holding as to Father and affirm the court’s termination of Mother’s rights.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. James E. Ferrell
M2016-01157-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

The Defendant, James E. Ferrell, was issued a citation for operating a vehicle while unrestrained by a safety belt, a Class C misdemeanor.  He was found guilty and assessed a fine for the violation in General Sessions Court, and he appealed to the Circuit Court, which imposed a judgment of conviction and a fine.  The Defendant alleges in this appeal that the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction over the offense because there was no warrant issued in the case.  We conclude that the Circuit Court had jurisdiction based upon the issued citation and affirm the conviction.

Warren County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. Jimmy Heard
M2016-00622-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

The Appellant, Jimmy Heard, is appealing the trial court’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence filed pursuant to Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 36.1  The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20.  Said motion is hereby granted.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
Bettina Luise Lippert Engh v. Daniel James Engh
M2016-00595-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

Father appeals the trial court’s designation of Mother as the primary residential parent for their daughter. Applying the factors in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106(a) to the testimony, the trial court determined, inter alia, that Mother acted as the primary caregiver, formed a stronger emotional bond with the child, and showed a greater willingness to foster a relationship between the child and Father. Following a thorough review of the record, we have determined that the trial court correctly identified and properly applied the relevant legal principles and that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings of fact. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision to make Mother the primary residential parent. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/10/17
Joseph Brennan, et al v. Board of Parole For The State of Tennessee
M2014-01591-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

The Tennessee Board of Parole denied parole to a prisoner who was serving a twenty year sentence for convictions of attempted rape of a child. The Board determined that the prisoner’s release from custody would depreciate the seriousness of the crime for which he was convicted or promote disrespect for the law. The prisoner filed a petition of certiorari challenging the Board’s decision. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision, and the prisoner appealed. The Court of Appeals did not review the issues raised on appeal. Instead, it calculated the date the prisoner should have been considered for parole and concluded that the Board acted arbitrarily by conducting a parole hearing prematurely. The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded with instructions for the Board to give the prisoner an immediate parole hearing. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to calculate the date the prisoner could be considered for parole and did so incorrectly. The Tennessee Department of Correction has the statutory authority to determine the date a prisoner may be considered for parole by the Board. On review, we affirm the trial court’s decision. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Robert G. Thornton, Jr. - Dissenting
M2015-01555-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that the police had probable cause to search the Defendant’s vehicle.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Robert G. Thornton, Jr.
M2015-01555-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

The Defendant entered a plea of nolo contendere to eleven counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a Class D felony, with an agreed-upon sentence of two years for each count, all to be served concurrently. The Defendant reserved a certified question of law challenging the search of his vehicle and its contents, including a laptop computer which was the source of the images which serve as the basis of the convictions.  After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that there was probable cause to search the Defendant’s vehicle, and we accordingly affirm the convictions.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/17
Randall Coleman v. State of Tennessee
M2015-01174-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl Blackburn

The Petitioner, Randall Coleman, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions of one count of rape of a child and five counts of aggravated sexual battery and resulting effective sentence of fifty-five years. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Heather Young
E2016-02240-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Eugene Eblen
The Defendant, Heather Young, was convicted by a Morgan County Criminal Court jury of first degree premeditated murder. See T.C.A. § 39-13-202(a)(1) (2014). The Defendant received a life sentence. On appeal, she contends that the evidence is insufficient to support her conviction. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 
Morgan County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/09/17
Crystal Blackwell, As Next Friend To Jacob Blackwell, A Minor v. Sky High Sports Nashville Operations, LLC.
M2016-00447-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant trampoline park argues that the trial court erred by refusing to enforce a forum selection clause, a choice of law provision, and a waiver of liability and indemnity clause against the minor plaintiff. Additionally, the minor plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to alter or amend his complaint to allow him to claim pre-majority medical expenses. We reverse the trial court’s denial of the minor plaintiff’s motion to amend only to the extent that the minor plaintiff may be permitted to assert pre-majority medical expenses that were paid by him or that he is legally obligated to pay. We affirm the trial court in all other respects. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/09/17
Holly L. Grissom v. United Parcel Service, Inc., et al.
M2016-00127-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies, Sr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

In October 2011, Holly Grissom (“Employee’) entered into a settlement agreement with United Parcel Service (“Employer”), resolving her workers’ compensation claim for an April 2007 injury.  In April 2013, Employer declined to authorize a procedure ordered by the authorized physician.  Employee filed a motion to compel Employer to authorize the procedure.  The trial court ordered Employer to pay $187.00 to Employee and to provide future medical care to her.  A second motion was filed, and the parties entered into an agreed order which again required Employer to pay $187.00 and reimburse Employee for mileage to and from medical treatment.  Employee petitioned for an award of attorney’s fees.  The court awarded fees and expenses in the amount of $27,353.63.  Employer has appealed from that order.  The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51.  We affirm the judgment.

White County Workers Compensation Panel 01/09/17
Matthew Wheeler Mabie, MD v. Carla Jennings Mabie
W2015-01699-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This case arises out of a divorce action. After fourteen years of marriage, the husband filed a complaint for divorce. Following a brief and unsuccessful attempt at reconciliation, the wife filed a counter-claim for divorce. Throughout the marriage, the husband worked as a medical doctor and was a partner in a highly successful medical practice. The wife's primary role in the family was as a stay-at-home mother. The trial court declared the parties divorced and awarded the wife, among other things, rehabilitative alimony, alimony in futuro, and attorney's fees. The husband appeals the trial court's awards of alimony, the valuation of his interest in his medical practice, the award of attorney's fees to the wife, and the court's decision to not punish the wife for civil contempt of court. The wife seeks attorney's fees for defending this appeal. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. We deny the wife's request for attorney's fees on appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/09/17
State of Tennessee v. Jeffrey Stanley Mitchell
E2016-00601-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Scott Green
The defendant, Jeffrey Stanley Mitchell, appeals his Knox County Criminal Court jury
convictions of one count of facilitation of the possession with intent to sell more than 26
grams of cocaine within a drug-free school zone, one count of third offense simple
possession of marijuana, two counts of the facilitation of the sale of .5 grams or more of
cocaine within a drug-free school zone, and two counts of the sale of .5 grams or more
of cocaine within a drug free school zone, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to
support his convictions. Because our supreme court has determined that the provisions
of the Drug-Free School Zone Act do not apply to convictions of facilitation, the
sentences imposed for the defendant’s convictions of facilitation must be reversed and
the case remanded for resentencing on those counts. The judgments of the trial court
are affirmed in all other respects.
 
Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/09/17
In re Yariel S., et al.
E2016-00937-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This appeal involves the termination of a mother's parental rights to her four minor children. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of her rights to all four children on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to provide a suitable home, the persistence of conditions which led to removal, and substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plan. The court also found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination of her rights to the youngest child on the statutory ground of severe child abuse. The court further found that termination was in the best interest of the children. The mother appeals. We reverse the trial court on its finding of abandonment for failure to provide a suitable home. On all other findings, we affirm the trial court's rulings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/06/17
Rivera L. Peoples v. State of Tennessee
M2014-02139-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

The Petitioner, Rivera L. Peoples, filed in the Davidson County Criminal Court a petition for post-conviction relief from his conviction of first degree murder, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective.  The Petitioner also filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis, alleging that newly discovered evidence in the form of recanted testimony entitled him to relief.  The trial court denied both petitions.  On appeal, the Petitioner challenges the rulings of the trial court.  Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/06/17
Robert Emilio Cisneros v. Lindsey Dianna Cisneros
M2016-02426-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Franklin L. Russell

This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right from the denial of a motion for recusal. Because the petition for recusal appeal fails to comply with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, we dismiss the appeal.

Lincoln County Court of Appeals 01/06/17
State of Tennessee v. Jennifer Murray Jewell
M2015-02141-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

The Defendant, Jennifer Murray Jewell, entered a “best interest” guilty plea to one count of theft of property valued at over $60,000 in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-103, a Class B felony.  Pursuant to the plea agreement, the Defendant was sentenced to ten years of supervised probation, and the parties agreed that restitution would be set by the trial court at a subsequent hearing.  After considering the proof presented at the hearing, the trial court ordered the Defendant to pay more than $800 per month as restitution.  On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court failed to follow correct procedure or consider her ability to pay in calculating the amount of monthly restitution she would owe.  She also argues that the restitution award should be overturned because the State failed to prove the amount of the loss.  Because we conclude that the State introduced inadequate proof regarding the valuation of the loss, we reverse and remand for a new hearing on the issue of restitution.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/06/17
State of Tennessee v. Elizabeth Griswold
E2015-02259-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge David R. Duggan

Defendant, Elizabeth Griswold, appeals the trial court’s revocation of her community corrections sentence and the imposition of a sentence of confinement. Following our review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/05/17