Court Opinions

Format: 02/25/2020
Format: 02/25/2020
In Re Estate of James Ronald Hunter
M2019-00084-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Randall Kennedy

The issue on appeal is whether a codicil to the decedent’s will was effective to revoke or amend two revocable trusts. Just hours prior to his death, the decedent got married and executed a fifth codicil to his will that purportedly devised two residential properties to his new wife. However, the decedent previously conveyed the properties to revocable trusts by deeds that were properly recorded. Therefore, the decedent did not own either of the properties at the time of his death. The principal beneficiary of each trust was the decedent’s minor son from a previous marriage. After the will and five codicils were admitted to probate, the court-appointed guardian ad litem for the decedent’s minor child filed a motion in the probate court to determine the ownership of the two properties. Following briefing of the parties and a hearing, the probate court determined that the method for amendment or revocation of the trusts as specified in the trusts was the exclusive method, and the fifth codicil failed to substantially comply with the method required by the trusts. Therefore, acting pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 35-15-602(c), which does not allow a codicil or any other method to revoke or amend a revocable trust if the terms provide an exclusive method, the court ruled that the codicil was ineffective to amend or revoke either trust. Accordingly, the properties were owned by and remained subject to the terms of each trust. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/13/19
In Re Travis R.
E2019-01024-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dennis Roach II

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed this petition to terminate the parental rights of a father to his seven-year-old son. The father was incarcerated for most of the child’s life, and he was serving a three-year sentence in New Jersey at the time of the final hearing. The mother surrendered her parental rights after the child was found dependent and neglected and placed in foster care. Although the father was scheduled to be released from prison, he had not seen the child in over five years. The trial court found that the father had abandoned the child by failing to visit during the four months before his incarceration and exhibiting a wanton disregard for the child’s welfare by engaging in criminal behavior. The trial court also found that the father’s conduct during the child’s life failed to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody and that placing the child in the father’s custody would pose a risk of substantial harm to the child. Moreover, the court found that terminating the father’s rights would be in the child’s best interests because there was no substantial relationship, and the father had no plans for employment or housing after his release. The father contends that the trial court’s findings did not constitute clear and convincing evidence that termination of his rights was in the child’s best interests. We find the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings of fact and affirm its conclusion that DCS proved its case by clear and convincing evidence.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 11/13/19
Randy B. Dalton v. State of Tennessee
E2018-01827-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James L. Gass

In 2016, the Petitioner, Randy B. Dalton, pleaded guilty to offenses contained in three indictments: aggravated robbery, theft of a vehicle valued at more than $1,000, escape from a penal institution, harvesting ginseng out of season, and harvesting ginseng out of season with less than three prongs. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the trial court imposed partial consecutive sentencing with a total effective sentence of eighteen years of confinement. In 2017, the Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel. Following a hearing, the postconviction court denied the petition. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Grainger County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/13/19
Anthony C. Howell v. Noel Ruth Kail Howell
W2019-00061-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

In this divorce case, Husband/Appellant appeals the trial court’s award of $30,000 in alimony in solido to Wife and its award of $30,000 for Wife’s attorney’s fees as additional alimony in solido. Discerning no errors, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/13/19
Rodney Kilgore v State of Tennessee
E2018-01790-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: William A. Young, Commissioner

This appeal arose from a claim filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission against the State of Tennessee (“the State”), seeking an award of damages for defamation allegedly committed by two attorneys employed by the State during the course of a separate federal litigation involving the claimant. The State filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the claimant filed, inter alia, a response objecting to the motion. Following a hearing, the Claims Commission dismissed the claim upon finding that the litigation privilege applied to protect the statements at issue and that the statements were not defamatory. The claimant has appealed. Having determined that the litigation privilege applies, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 11/13/19
MSM Development, LLC v. William Steward et al.
E2019-00441-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Frank V. Williams, III

A commercial tenant transferred its interest in a lease to two individuals through a document called an assignment. The rental term set forth in the lease was fourteen months longer than the rental term set forth in the assignment. The transferees only paid rent for the term set forth in the assignment, and the landlord filed a complaint in an effort to collect the rent for the additional fourteen months. The trial court concluded that the document transferring the initial tenant’s interest was a sublease rather than an assignment because the term in the assignment was shorter than the term set forth in the lease. The transferor appealed, and we reverse the trial court’s judgment because the assignment specified that in the event of a conflict between the lease and the assignment, the lease controlled.

Roane County Court of Appeals 11/13/19
State of Tennessee v. Richard Earnest Williams
M2018-01361-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

Defendant, Richard Earnest Williams, entered open pleas of guilty to the charges in three separate indictments. He pled guilty to three counts of aggravated burglary, a Class C felony, four counts of theft over $10,000, a Class C felony, two counts of theft more than $2,500 but less than $10,000, a Class D felony, three counts of vandalism, a Class E felony, and one count of reckless aggravated assault, a Class D felony. In Case No. 17-CR-145, the trial court imposed a sentence of fifteen years as a persistent offender for aggravated burglary, fifteen years as a persistent offender for each count of theft over $10,000, and twelve years as a career offender for vandalism, and twelve years as a career offender for reckless aggravated assault. In Case No. 17-CR-146, the trial court imposed a sentence of fifteen years for aggravated burglary as a persistent offender, twelve years for each count of theft more than $2,500 but less than $10,000 as a career offender, and six years for vandalism as a career offender. In Case No. 17-CR-147, the trial court imposed a sentence of fifteen years as a persistent offender for aggravated burglary, twelve years as a career offender for each count of theft more than $2,500 but less than $10,000, and six years as a career offender for vandalism. The trial court merged the two theft convictions in each case into one count because they involved alternate theories of committing the offense. The trial court ordered the counts in each case to run concurrently with each other but consecutively to the other cases for an effective forty-five-year sentence to be served in confinement. On appeal, Defendant challenges the length of his sentences. Upon reviewing the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Lincoln County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/12/19
Johnathan Robert Leonard v. State of Tennessee
M2018-01737-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Franklin L. Russell

The Defendant, Johnathan Robert Leonard, was convicted of three counts of rape of a child, two counts of soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor, and one count of aggravated sexual battery and was sentenced to an effective term of ninety-six years. After this court affirmed the judgments on direct appeal, the Defendant sought post-conviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal. The post-conviction court granted the Defendant a delayed appeal to allow him to challenge his sentence. In this delayed appeal, the Defendant challenges the length of his sentence for each conviction and the trial court’s imposition of partial consecutive sentences. We conclude that counsel was not ineffective in failing to challenge the Defendant’s sentence in his direct appeal and that the post-conviction court, therefore, erred in granting the delayed appeal. Accordingly, we vacate the post-conviction court’s order and remand for further proceedings.

Marshall County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Walter Roy Chavez, Jr.
M2018-01491-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

A Lincoln County Circuit Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Walter Roy Chavez, Jr., of possession of one-half gram or more of methamphetamine with intent to resell, possession of one-half gram or more of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, simple possession of marijuana, and driving on a revoked license. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court merged the convictions of possession of methamphetamine and ordered that he serve an effective twelve years in confinement. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions of possession of methamphetamine and that the trial court erred by ordering an excessive sentence and by denying his request for alternative sentencing. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Lincoln County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/12/19
In Re B.A., et al.
W2019-00129-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha B. Brasfield

Father appeals the termination of his parental rights to two children, B.A. and K.A. The trial court considered six grounds for termination: (1) persistent conditions, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3)(A); (2) severe child abuse, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4); (3) sentencing to more than two years for conduct against a child, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(5); (4) sentencing to ten years or more and child under eight years of age, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(6); (5) non-compliance with a permanency plan, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2); and (6) abandonment, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1). The court did not find sufficient evidence to support termination of father’s parental rights for abandonment. The court found clear and convincing evidence on the other five grounds. By the same quantum of proof, the court also found that termination is in the children’s best interest. Father appeals. We affirm.

McNairy County Court of Appeals 11/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Michael L. Caudle
M2018-01471-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

In this delayed appeal, the Defendant, Michael L. Caudle, appeals his convictions for two counts of the sale of less than 0.5 grams of cocaine within a drug-free school zone, two counts of the delivery of less than 0.5 grams of cocaine within a drug-free school zone, and one count of possession of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine within a drug-free school zone with the intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver, for which he received an effective sixty-year sentence as a career offender. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions. We conclude that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to grant the delayed appeal. Therefore, we dismiss the delayed appeal.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/12/19
Christopher Jones v. State of Tennessee
W2019-00053-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

Petitioner, Christopher Stephen Jones, was convicted by a jury of first degree murder and abuse of a corpse, for which he received a life sentence. His convictions were affirmed on direct appeal by this Court. State v. Christopher Jones, No. W2015-01028-CCA-R3-CD, 2017 WL 192146, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 17, 2017), no perm. app. filed. Petitioner sought post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel. The post-conviction court denied relief after a hearing. Petitioner appealed. After a review, we dismiss the appeal.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Quinterrio Murrell
W2019-00315-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

Defendant, Quinterrio Murrell, appeals the trial court’s revocation of his probation, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering that he serve his four-year sentence in confinement. Upon our review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/08/19
Shaun Royal Hill v. State of Tennessee
W2019-00240-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

Petitioner, Shaun Royal Hill, was convicted by a Tipton County jury of rape. He was sentenced to fifteen years in confinement. Petitioner filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief and was appointed counsel. The post-conviction court entered an order dismissing the petition after a hearing. On appeal, Petitioner argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After conducting a full review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Brian Marquince Long
W2018-01558-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish

In this consolidated appeal, Defendant, Brian Marquince Long, challenges the trial court’s revocation of Community Corrections in three separate cases. After a review, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in revoking Defendant’s Community Corrections sentence and ordering him to serve his effective seventeen-year sentence in incarceration.

Henry County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Blake O. Swann
E2018-00354-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stacy L. Street

The Defendant, Blake O. Swann, appeals the Washington County Criminal Court’s order revoking his probation for his aggravated assault conviction and ordering him to begin anew his four-year sentence on community corrections. The Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by revoking his probation. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Washington County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/08/19
Carlos D'Juan Campbell, Jr. vs. State of Tennessee
E2018-01877-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

The Petitioner, Carlos D’Juan Campbell, Jr., appeals the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his two convictions for attempted first degree murder and one conviction for employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, arguing (1) he received ineffective assistance of counsel and (2) the post-conviction court erred in allowing the State to present proof and argument at the post-conviction hearing after the State failed to file a written response to his petition.  We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court. 

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Shaun Michael Vincent
M2018-01654-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

A jury convicted the Defendant, Shaun Michael Vincent, of aggravated robbery after he brandished a baseball bat and took property from the victim, who was attempting to pay the Defendant’s girlfriend for sexual contact. The Defendant was sentenced to serve eleven years in confinement. On appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and asserts that the trial court erred in limiting cross-examination of the victim, excluding evidence implicating the victim in prior sexual misconduct, and excluding a video of the victim’s interactions with police. The Defendant further argues that the court erred in denying him jury instructions regarding defense of a third person and special instructions on aggravated robbery and that he is entitled to relief pursuant to cumulative error. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Derek Wyche
M2018-01586-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

The Defendant-Appellant, Derek Wyche, was convicted by a Davidson County jury of felony murder and especially aggravated robbery, for which he received a mandatory life sentence plus twenty years’ imprisonment. In this appeal as of right, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in support of his convictions and the trial court’s imposition of consecutive sentencing. Upon our review, the convictions of the trial court are affirmed. However, we remand this matter for a new sentencing hearing.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/07/19
Johnny Nesmith v. Samuel C. Clemmons, Et Al.
M2017-02521-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley

Defendants appeal the judgment entered in favor of Plaintiff in this breach of contract action arising out of a failure to pay a promissory note.  Defendants argue that the trial court erred in several pretrial rulings, in concluding that the contract was ambiguous and considering parol evidence, in holding that the attorney that drafted the agreement represented Defendants and construing the ambiguous term against them, and in denying their motion to supplement the appellate record.  Upon our review, we discern no reversible error and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/07/19
Carl Wayne Hixson Et Al. v. American Towers, LLC
E2019-00335-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

Wayne Hixson and Eric Hixson (the Hixsons) granted a perpetual, exclusive easement to American Towers, LLC (ATC)1 to operate a telecommunications system at the top of a hill on their property. For many years, the hill experienced progressive slope failures. A recent mudslide caused thousands of dollars in property damage to the Hixsons and All Things Fast Motorsports, LLC (All Things Fast), a metal fabrication business owned by Wayne Hixson’s grandson. ATC spent thousands of dollars to move a generator away from the slope failure. The parties fear that the cell tower could collapse. In the trial court, the Hixsons and All Things Fast filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the parties’ respective maintenance responsibilities under the easement agreement. They also sought damages arising from ATC’s alleged breach of the easement agreement and other tortious conduct. ATC filed a counterclaim alleging similar causes of action. After a bench trial, the court ruled that ATC has a duty to maintain the easement and that the Hixsons have a duty to maintain the surrounding hillside for the benefit of ATC. Because the court found that the Hixsons and ATC were equally at fault for failing to prevent the recent mudslide, the court rejected their claims of negligence and breach of the easement agreement. However, the court awarded $1,245.20 to All Things Fast on its negligence claim. The court also awarded $179.99 to the Hixsons on their trespass claim. Finally, the court ordered the Hixsons and ATC to pay half of the costs necessary to stabilize the hill in accordance with the remediation plan proposed by the Hixsons. ATC appeals. We modify the trial court’s declaratory judgment, vacate the award of damages to All Things Fast, and remand for further proceedings. The judgment is affirmed in all other respects.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Jamie Todd Birdwell
M2017-01620-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jill Bartee Ayers

On November 15, 2016, Defendant, Jamie Todd Birdwell, pled guilty to Class D felony theft of property valued at $1,000 or more but less than $10,000 in case number 74CC4-2015-CR-708 and to three counts of Class A misdemeanor theft of property in case number 74CC2-2016-CR-266. The plea agreement provided that Defendant would be sentenced to twelve years as a career offender with the manner of service to be determined following a sentencing hearing. Defendant failed to appear for his January 13, 2017 sentencing hearing, a capias was issued for his arrest, and he was subsequently indicted for felony failure to appear. Defendant’s initial counsel then withdrew. After three other attorneys were appointed and two were allowed to withdraw, trial counsel entered a notice of appearance and filed a motion to withdraw Defendant’s guilty pleas. Following a hearing on June 12, 2017, the trial court denied Defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty pleas and set a sentencing hearing. On appeal, Defendant asserts that the trial court erred in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty pleas because the trial court, defense counsel, and prosecutor were all under the mistaken impression at the guilty plea submission hearing that Defendant was facing a sentence of twelve years as a career offender for Class D Felony theft, rather than six years for a Class E felony theft, because the value of theft statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, became effective January 1, 2017, before the date of his original sentencing hearing. After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion to withdraw Defendant’s guilty pleas.

Robertson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/07/19
Kay Armstrong v. Kevin C. Morrison
E2018-01985-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

This appeal concerns a clerk and master’s petition for additional staff. Kay Solomon Armstrong, Clerk and Master of Greene County (“Petitioner”), filed a petition against the County Mayor (“Defendant”) in the Chancery Court for Greene County (“the Trial Court”) seeking additional staff for her office. After a trial, the Trial Court entered an order replacing one half-time position in the office with one full-time position. The Trial Court also awarded Petitioner attorney’s fees and expenses to be paid from the fees of the Clerk and Master’s Office. Defendant appeals to this Court, arguing that the evidence preponderates against the Trial Court’s decision to award additional funding for a new full-time assistant to replace a half-time assistant and that Petitioner was not entitled to recover any attorney’s fees. We hold that reasonable attorney’s fees were recoverable by Petitioner pursuant to statute. We hold further that the evidence does not preponderate against the Trial Court’s factual findings, including the Trial Court’s core finding that Petitioner’s workspace is so structurally inefficient that her office requires more staff. We modify the Trial Court’s order on fees and expenses to the extent it failed to award Petitioner expenses she paid out of pocket. On remand, the Trial Court is to determine and enter an award including reimbursing Petitioner for her reasonable out-of-pocket fees and expenses. We affirm, as modified, the judgment of the Trial Court, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Greene County Court of Appeals 11/07/19
Lytoniona Lee, et al.v. Quince Nursing and Rehabilitation, LLC
W2019-00093-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

Nearly three years after the court dismissed the plaintiff’s healthcare liability action against the defendant, Plaintiff filed this breach of contract action based on the same underlying facts and circumstances. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim as barred by the doctrine of res judicata. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/07/19
Trevor Millmeyer v. Bridget Whitten
W2019-00586-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Van McMahan

Appellant/Father appeals the trial court’s denial of his petition to change the surnames of his minor children. The trial court held that Appellant failed to meet his burden to show that changing the children’s names is in their best interests. Discerning no error, we affirm.

McNairy County Court of Appeals 11/07/19