Court Opinions

Format: 10/17/2017
Format: 10/17/2017
Kristina Abolins, Et Al. v. Frank Santas, Et Al.
M2017-00357-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Young

This appeal concerns an order to set aside a default judgment. Kristina Abolins and Christopher Heath Hawkins (“Plaintiffs”) sued Frank Santas (“Santas”), doing business as Gunner Inc., and Alta Horizon, Inc. (“Defendants,” collectively), asserting a number of causes of action arising out of Defendants’ work on a renovation project at Plaintiffs’ home. After several months with no responsive filing from Defendants, Plaintiffs moved for default judgment. The Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) granted Plaintiffs’ motion for default judgment. Defendants filed a motion to set aside default judgment, raising certain defenses and taking issue with service of process. The Trial Court entered an order granting the motion to set aside on the condition that Defendants pay Plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees and expenses. Defendants did not pay, and instead appealed to this Court. We find no abuse of discretion by the Trial Court. We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/03/17
State of Tennessee v. Brian Robert Lawson
M2017-00238-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda McClendon

The State of Tennessee appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s order dismissing the indictment, which charged the Defendant with domestic assault by causing bodily injury. On appeal, the State contends that the trial court erred by dismissing the indictment. We conclude that the trial court erred by dismissing the indictment. The order of the trial court is reversed, the domestic assault charge is reinstated, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/03/17
State of Tennessee v. Gabriel Toban
M2016-00952-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Jones

The Defendant, Gabriel Toban, was convicted by a Maury County Circuit Court jury of third offense driving under the influence (DUI), a Class A misdemeanor. See T.C.A. §55-10-401 (2012). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to eleven months, twenty-nine days in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his DUI conviction, (2) the trial court erred by rejecting a negotiated plea agreement, (3) the indictment was invalid, and (4) the trial court erred by denying a motion to dismiss. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Maury County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/03/17
State of Tennessee v. Brijesh Mukesh Desai
M2016-02301-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

Brijesh Mukesh Desai, the Defendant, entered a negotiated guilty plea to Class C felony issuing or passing a worthless check in the amount of $10,000 or more but less than $60,000. The plea agreement provided that the Defendant would be sentenced as a Range I standard offender; the sentence would be between three and six years; there would be a possibility of diversion; restitution would be $18,871.34; and the manner of service was to be determined by the trial court at a later hearing. Following the sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced the Defendant to six years’ probation following the service of forty-five days in jail. The Defendant now appeals, claiming that the trial court erred in accepting his plea of guilty. However, the Defendant did not reserve the right to appeal a certified question of law or seek review of his sentence, nor do any other grounds for direct appeal under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(b) exist. Because the Defendant has no right to a direct appeal from his guilty plea, the appeal is dismissed.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/03/17
Joe Mitchell v. State of Tennessee
M2016-02044-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner, TN Claims Commission

Joe Mitchell (“Mitchell”) appeals the July 22, 2016 order of the Claims Commission for the Middle Division (“the Claims Commission”) granting summary judgment to the State of Tennessee (“the State”) on Mitchell’s claim for negligence. We find and hold that the State made a properly supported motion for summary judgment negating an essential element of Mitchell’s claim, i.e., injury or loss, and that Mitchell failed to produce evidence showing a genuine disputed issue of material fact. We, therefore, affirm the grant of summary judgment.

Court of Appeals 09/29/17
Patrick R. Miller v. Vanderbilt University - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
M2015-02223-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

I concur in so much of the majority opinion that affirms the trial court’s exclusion of testimony regarding Mr. Miller’s health insurance status and grant of a directed verdict on the claim for punitive damages. I dissent from the grant of a directed verdict on the remaining claims, however, because I believe the proof introduced was sufficient to establish a prima facie case of liability.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/29/17
Patrick R. Miller v. Vanderbilt University
M2015-02223-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

In this health care liability action, after the plaintiff presented his case-in-chief, the trial court granted a directed verdict for the defendant hospital first on the claim for punitive damages and second on all remaining issues. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that the trial court erred: (1) in ruling that he had failed to produce material evidence that a specific agent of the defendant hospital had deviated from the standard of care and that deviation had caused an injury that would not otherwise have occurred; (2) in denying his motion to reopen the proof; and (3) in excluding evidence that he was uninsured. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/29/17
In Re Douglas H.
M2016-02400-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

The legal custodians of Mother’s two children filed this petition to terminate her parental rights to the children on grounds of abandonment and severe child abuse. We affirm the termination of Mother’s parental rights to both children on at least one ground, but reverse as to some of the grounds found by the circuit court. We agree with the circuit court’s decision that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the best interest of the children.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 09/29/17
State of Tennessee v. Calandra Clark
W2017-00135-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

A Madison County jury convicted the Defendant, Calandra Clark, of identity theft, forgery, driving on a revoked license, and violation of the seat belt law. The Defendant pled guilty to an additional count of driving on a revoked license as a prior offender, and the trial court imposed an effective sentence of four years. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain her convictions for identity theft and forgery and that her sentence is improper. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/17
Mark Stephen Foster v. Jonathan Lebo, Warden
W2017-00924-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

Pro se petitioner, Mark Foster, appeals from the Lauderdale County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus relief. Relying on Anthony D. Byers v. State, the petitioner argues in this appeal that his convictions for possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony are illegal and in direct contravention of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(c). No. W2011-00473-CCA-R3-PC, 2012 WL 938976, at *8 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 15, 2012) perm. app. denied (Aug. 15, 2012). Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/17
In Re Gabriella D., Et Al.
E2016-00139-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) removed three children from the custody of their parents and placed them with foster parents in March 2012 because one of the children, an infant, was severely malnourished. By July 2012, the children’s mother was cooperating with DCS and complying with a permanency plan that set the goal for the children as reunification with their mother or another relative. The mother continued to comply with the permanency plan for the next sixteen months that the children were in foster care. On the day the children were scheduled to begin a trial home visit with the mother, July 31, 2013, the foster parents filed a petition in circuit court seeking to terminate the mother’s parental rights and to adopt the children. After the foster parents filed their petition in circuit court, the juvenile court, which had maintained jurisdiction over the dependency and neglect proceeding, ordered DCS to place the children with the mother for the trial home visit. The circuit court trial on the foster parents’ petition did not occur until September 2015. By that time, the children had resided with the mother on a trial basis for two years without incident. The mother, DCS, and the guardian ad litem appointed by the juvenile court in the dependency and neglect proceeding opposed the foster parents’ petition. The foster parents and a guardian ad litem appointed by the circuit court sought termination of the mother’s parental rights. After the multi-day trial, the trial court dismissed the petition, finding that the foster parents had proven a ground for termination by clear and convincing proof but had failed to establish by clear and convincing proof that termination is in the children’s best interests. The foster parents appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We granted the mother’s application for permission to appeal and now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s judgment dismissing the foster parents’ petition. We conclude that the trial court correctly determined that the proof does not amount to clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights is in the children’s best interests.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 09/29/17
State of Tennessee v. Jonathan David Patterson - Concurring
M2016-01716-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson
I concur in the majority opinion in this case. I write separately to express a policy reason for affirming the trial court’s original sentence.
 
Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/17
State of Tennessee v. Jonathan David Patterson
M2016-01716-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson
This is a matter that involves cross appeals. Defendant, Jonathan David Patterson, entered an open guilty plea to multiple offenses in four separate cases. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced Defendant to an effective sentence of thirty-one years. Defendant filed a notice of appeal. Subsequently, Defendant also filed a motion for reduction of his sentence under Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 35. The trial court granted the motion, reducing Defendant’s effective sentence to eighteen years. The State appealed the reduction of Defendant’s sentence. The appeals were consolidated by this Court. After a review, we determine that the trial court abused its discretion in granting relief under Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 35 because Defendant did not present post-sentencing information or developments that warranted an alteration in the interest of justice. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court as to the Rule 35 motion are reversed and remanded. Additionally, we determine that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its original sentencing decision imposing an effective thirty-one-year sentence and that Defendant failed to show he was entitled to plain error relief as a result of an alleged breach of the plea agreement by the State. On remand, the trial court should reinstate the original judgments and sentences. The trial court shall also enter a judgment form for Count Thirty-seven of case number 2015-CR-731.
 
Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/17
Terrence McDonald v. State of Tennessee
E2016-02565-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

The Petitioner, Terrence McDonald, was convicted of four counts of aggravated rape and one count of reckless endangerment. He appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of relief and argues that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/17
Michael Lee Givens v. Tristine Ann Givens
E2016-00865-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

Michael Lee Givens (“Husband”) sued Tristine Ann Givens (“Wife”) for divorce. The case was tried, and the Circuit Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”) entered its order on January 12, 2016, inter alia, granting a divorce and distributing the marital property. Wife appeals raising issues regarding the classification and distribution of the marital property. We find and hold that the Trial Court erred in categorizing the real property located on Taggart Drive (“Taggart”) as Husband’s separate property. We, therefore, modify the categorization of Taggart to reflect that Taggart is marital property and remand this case for an equitable distribution of the marital estate taking Taggart into account as a marital asset. We affirm the remainder of the Trial Court’s judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 09/29/17
State of Tennessee v. Arthur Jay Hirsch
M2016-00321-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove
The defendant, Arthur Jay Hirsch, appeals his Lawrence County Circuit Court jury convictions of driving on a suspended license, unlawfully carrying a weapon with the intent to go armed, and violating both the vehicle registration and financial responsibility laws, claiming that the statute proscribing the unlawful carrying of a weapon is unconstitutional, that the rulings of the trial court evinced a bias against him and resulted in a violation of due process principles, and that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Discerning no error, we affirm.
 
Lawrence County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/17
State of Tennessee v. Douglas Arthur Vincent
M2016-02530-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Graham
The defendant, Douglas Arthur Vincent, appeals his Sequatchie County Circuit Court guilty-pleaded conviction of rape, claiming only that the trial court erred by imposing the maximum available sentence. Discerning no error, we affirm.
 
Sequatchie County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/17
State of Tennessee v. Daniel T. Maupin
M2016-01483-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge David D. Wolfe
The Defendant, Daniel T. Maupin, was convicted by a Dickson County Circuit Court jury of criminally negligent homicide, a Class E felony, and driving under the influence (“DUI”), a Class A misdemeanor. He was sentenced to consecutive terms of two years for the criminally negligent homicide conviction and eleven months and twenty-nine days, suspended after service of six months, for the DUI. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court erred: (1) by not declaring a mistrial after a prospective juror made a statement about drug impairment; (2) by not having the jurors put their questions in writing during the deliberations and not reducing supplemental jury instructions to writing; and (3) by denying judicial diversion. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court. However, we notice that the judgment in Count 2 and the transcript from the sentencing hearing indicate that restitution was reserved. Therefore, we remand for a restitution hearing or entry of a corrected judgment in Count 2 indicating the agreed-upon restitution.
 
Dickson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/17
State of Tennessee v. Clarence Eric Norris
M2016-02111-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl Blackburn
The Defendant, Clarence Eric Norris, appeals the trial court’s ordering him to serve the remainder of his eight-year sentence in confinement after finding that he violated the terms of his community corrections sentence. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 
Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/17
Nancy Youngblood Ex Rel. Estate of Daniel Vaughn v. River Park Hospital, LLC
M2016-02311-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley

On July 11, 2015, Daniel Vaughn, an 86-year-old patient, was recovering from surgery in the intensive care unit of the defendant River Park Hospital. A nurse brought Mr. Vaughn some coffee, after which she left the room. He spilled the coffee on himself, suffering burns to his body. Nancy Youngblood, the executor of Mr. Vaughn’s estate, brought this action alleging that, given his condition, he “should not have been left alone to manage an extremely hot beverage.” River Park, arguing that her claim is a health care liability action subject to the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (THCLA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101 et seq. (2012 & Supp. 2017), moved to dismiss based on plaintiff’s failure to provide pre-suit notice and a certificate of good faith as required by the THCLA. Plaintiff argued that her claim does not fall within the definition of a “health care liability action.” The trial court disagreed and dismissed her action. We hold that the trial court correctly held her claim to be a health care liability complaint. Accordingly, we affirm. 

Warren County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
Annie Davis, et al. v. Grange Mutual Casualty Group, et al.
M2016-02239-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This case involves the interplay between the statute of limitations, Rule 3 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, and Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-1206(d), allowing direct actions against uninsured motorist insurance carriers. The trial court granted the defendant uninsured motorist insurance carrier’s motion to dismiss. Discerning no error, we affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
Heather Kailoni Lawson (Stewart) v. Michael Sherman Stewart
M2016-02213-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This is a post-divorce proceeding commenced by Mother to modify an existing permanent parenting plan. The trial court entered a default judgment, and then, without conducting an evidentiary hearing, adopted the parenting plan attached to Mother’s petition, decreased Father’s visitation time, and increased his monthly child support obligation. Father filed a motion to set aside the default judgment, which the trial court treated as a motion to alter or amend the judgment, and denied the motion. Father timely appealed. Because the trial court’s order does not contain sufficient findings regarding the modification, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. 

White County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
In Re Hailey C., et al.
M2016-00818-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

This is an appeal of the termination of a father’s parental rights to his two minor daughters. The father is currently serving a thirty-four year prison sentence for criminal acts committed against his daughters. The children’s mother filed a petition to terminate the father’s rights to the children. Following a bench trial, the court below held that statutory grounds existed to terminate the father’s parental rights and that it was in the children’s best interest to do so. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
In Re Estate of Ruby C. Roggli, et al.
M2016-02562-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Justin C. Angel

Decedent’s nephews by marriage filed a petition seeking to recognize and establish a copy of a lost will as Decedent’s last will and testament. The trial court determined that the will was still in existence at the time Decedent lost testamentary capacity, and that Decedent did not have exclusive access and control of her will. Appellants appeal the trial court’s order establishing the lost will. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Franklin County Court of Appeals 09/28/17
Fredrick Sledge v. Tennessee Department of Correction, et al.
M2016-01664-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

Appellant, an inmate in the custody of Appellee Tennessee Department of Correction, appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his petition for declaratory judgment. Specifically, Appellant challenges the Tennessee Department of Correction’s calculation of his jail credit on his criminal sentence. We conclude that the calculation of Appellant’s jail credit comports with the judgment of the criminal court. Affirmed and remanded.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/28/17