Court Opinions

Format: 01/24/2020
Format: 01/24/2020
Amanda Bliss Gricunas (Harmon) v. Andrew James Gricunas
E2018-02284-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

In this post-divorce proceeding, the mother filed a petition to modify time sharing arrangements between the mother and the father with regard to the minor children of the parties. The parties have been divorced since 2010. The mother also requested a modification of the father’s child support obligation and asked that the father pay for onehalf of the children’s past and future medical expenses.

Greene County Court of Appeals 01/09/20
In Re O.W., Jr., et al.
W2019-01127-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Harold W. Horne

Father appeals the termination of his parental rights, arguing that one ground for termination was not proven and that the trial court’s ruling as to that ground did not reflect its independent judgment and did not include sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm five grounds for termination and vacate the ground of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to parent the children. We also affirm the trial court’s finding that termination is in the child’s best interest. As such, we affirm the termination of Father’s parental rights.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/09/20
In Re: A.W.
M2019-00358-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Darrell Scarlett

In this parental termination case, the petitioners sought termination of the parental rights of mother and the unknown father based upon four statutory grounds, pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2018). Following a hearing on the petition, the trial court entered an amended order holding that there was clear and convincing evidence sufficient to terminate the parents’ rights for abandonment based upon their failure to support and failure to visit the minor child. By the same quantum of proof, the court found that termination is in the child’s best interest. The trial court, however, failed to address all of the grounds for termination raised in the petition. The trial court’s judgment was not final. Accordingly, this appeal is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 01/08/20
WARREN BROTHERS SASH & DOOR COMPANY v. SANTORO CUSTOM BUILDERS, INC., ET AL.
M2019-00374-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

Plaintiff filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 69.04 motion to extend a 2008 default judgment entered against Defendant’s company and Defendant in his personal capacity.  Defendant filed a Rule 60.02(3) motion to set aside the default judgment with respect to himself in his individual capacity, asserting the judgment was void for lack of service. The trial court determined 1) Defendant had been served in the underlying matter, 2) that the judgment in the underlying case was not void, and 3) alternatively, if the judgment was invalid, “exceptional circumstances” justified the court’s refusal to set it aside.  We find that the 2008 default judgment was not void for lack of service and affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 01/08/20
In Re Estate of Gladys Yarboro Lloyd
E2017-02563-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

In this probate proceeding, the trial court applied the no contest provision of the will to prevent the beneficiary from inheriting under the will, holding that certain actions and issues raised by the beneficiary triggered the provision. The court also imposed sanctions pursuant to Rule 11.03 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure against the disinherited beneficiary and her attorney for filing an improper lien on real property of the decedent and in refusing to remove the lien, thereby requiring the estate to seek judicial relief. The beneficiary and her attorney appeal the application of the no contest clause and the imposition of sanctions. Upon our review, we discern no error warranting reversal and accordingly, affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/08/20
Arnold Stevens v. State of Tennessee
M2018-00530-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell Parkes

Petitioner, Arnold Stevens, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. On appeal, Petitioner argues that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary due to the ineffective assistance of counsel. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Wayne County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/08/20
Martha L. Butler v. James L. Burrow, Et Al.
M2018-02283-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joe Thompson

This appeal arises from an action for trespass, injunctive relief, and to quiet title pursuant to a theory of common law adverse possession. The multiple parties are adjoining neighbors and/or affiliated businesses. The centerpiece of this litigation concerns the ownership of a strip of railroad property that is 66 feet wide and comprises 2.9 acres. The railroad removed the track and abandoned the property in 1977, after which all that remained was a berm on which the former track lay. After the track was removed, one of the neighboring owners erected a fence along the center of the entire length of the railroad property. Since that time, the neighboring property owners considered the fence to be the new property line and used the 33 feet of the property on their side of the fence as their respective property. However, the neighboring property owners never paid taxes on the abandoned railroad property. In 2015, one of the three defendants acquired the abandoned property by quitclaim deed from the railroad and removed the fence and leveled the berm in order to install a road to serve a residential development planned for an adjacent 42-acre tract. Thereafter, the owners of two separate adjoining properties filed suit against the three affiliated defendants seeking an injunction and to recover damages caused by flood water that had been diverted onto the plaintiffs’ property due to the removal of the berm. The plaintiffs also asserted claims for trespass and to quiet title to the 33 feet of the former railroad property that adjoined their property. The defendants filed counterclaims alleging that the temporary injunction halted development of the road and caused them to suffer damages. Following a bench trial, the court ruled that the plaintiffs acquired half of the abandoned railroad property through adverse possession. The court also awarded damages against the defendants for removing the fence the plaintiffs used to contain their cattle and for flood damage that resulted from the removal of the berm. The court also ordered the defendants to replace the berm. The defendants appealed. We have determined that Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-110(a) bars the plaintiffs’ claim of adverse possession because it is undisputed that they did not pay taxes assessed on the railroad property for more than 20 years. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs own half of the railroad property and hold that the defendant who acquired the property from the railroad by quitclaim deed in 2015 is the rightful owner of the entire 2.9-acre tract. We also reverse the award of damages to the plaintiffs for replacement of the fence and restoration of the entire berm; however, we affirm the trial court’s determination that the defendants are jointly and severally liable for diverting water onto the plaintiffs’ property by removing the railroad berm, and remand this claim for the trial court to award damages and/or determine the appropriate measures the defendants should take to remedy the flooding caused by the removal of the berm. Further, the defendants claim for damages resulting from the temporary injunction is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/07/20
In Re: Draven K.
E2019-00768-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the trial court’s termination of her parental rights to the minor child on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by willful failure to visit and abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1), §§ 36-1-102(1)(A)(i) (ii); (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3); (3) failure to substantially comply with the reasonable requirements of the permanency plan, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2); and (4) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility for the child, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1- 113(g)(14). Mother also appeals the trial court’s determination that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because the record does not contain an adjudicatory order of dependency and neglect, we reverse the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on the ground of persistence of conditions. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on all other grounds and on its finding that termination of Mother’s rights is in the child’s best interest.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/07/20
Joshua Iceman v. State of Tennessee
M2018-02202-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson

The petitioner, Joshua Iceman, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received the effective assistance of counsel at trial. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

White County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/06/20
State of Tennessee v. Deddrick Clay
W2018-01716-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

Defendant, Deddrick Clay, was indicted by the Shelby County Grand Jury for especially aggravated robbery and for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Following a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of especially aggravated robbery and found not guilty of the firearm possession charge. Following a sentencing hearing, Defendant was sentenced to serve 22 years incarcerated. Defendant’s sole issue on appeal is whether the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction. Having reviewed the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/06/20
State of Tennessee v. Septian Jamarquis Valentine
W2018-01400-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

The Defendant, Septian Jamarquis Valentine, was charged with two counts of rape. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-503. Following a jury trial, the Defendant was found not guilty on count one and guilty on count two and sentenced to fourteen years incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant contends that error exists because (1) the trial court did not allow Lisa Garrett to testify about the Defendant’s negative chlamydia test performed one year after the incident; (2) the evidence was insufficient to convict the Defendant; and (3) a juror, who was “not truthful” during voir dire, “bullied” others into convicting the Defendant. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Lake County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/03/20
Timothy A. Baxter v. State of Tennessee
W2019-00590-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

In 2010, Timothy A. Baxter, Defendant, was charged with aggravated assault and was arraigned on May 9, 2011. Defendant was subsequently charged with failure to appear for his June 13, 2011 court date on the aggravated assault charge. A jury found Defendant guilty of failure to appear, and the trial court sentenced him to six years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. This court affirmed Defendant’s judgment of conviction on direct appeal in January 2014. Defendant filed a pro se “Motion to Correct Record and Amend Judgment” on March 21, 2018. The trial court dismissed this motion on April 17, 2018, and Defendant filed a pro se “Motion to Alter or Amend” under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) on April 30, 2018. The trial court denied Defendant’s Motion to Alter or Amend on March 8, 2019, and Defendant timely appeals. Because Defendant has failed to provide an adequate record for review, and because this court does not have jurisdiction, the appeal is dismissed.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/03/20
State of Tennessee v. Dustin Todd King
M2019-00241-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

Dustin Todd King, Defendant, pled guilty to four counts of aggravated statutory rape and one count of violation of a no-contact order with the trial court to determine the length and manner of service of the sentences after a sentencing hearing. The trial court sentenced Defendant to an effective sentence of four years, eleven months and twenty-nine days, ordering partial consecutive sentencing. As a collateral consequence, the Defendant was placed on the sex offender registry. On appeal, Defendant challenges his sentence as excessive. After a review, we determine that the trial court sentenced Defendant to a sentence within the range for each conviction and followed the proper sentencing procedure. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

Marshall County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/30/19
Randy Jackson v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01644-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

Petitioner, Randy Jackson, was convicted of aggravated robbery and attempt to commit aggravated robbery and received an effective twenty-two-year sentence. He appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that Petitioner has failed to show that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel, and we accordingly affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/30/19
State of Tennessee v. Grady Alton Vest
W2018-01694-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

Defendant, Grady Alton Vest, was indicted by the Henderson County Grand Jury for four counts of rape of a child and four counts of incest. Defendant was convicted as charged following a jury trial. The trial court sentenced Defendant to 33 years for each rape of a child conviction and five years for each incest conviction, with two of his 33-year sentences to run consecutively, for a total effective sentence of 66 years’ incarceration. In this appeal as of right, Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, and his effective sentence is excessive. Following our review of the entire record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Henderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/30/19
Jafarris Miller v. State of Tennessee
W2018-02111-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jennifer Johnson Mitchell

Petitioner, Jafarris Miller, appeals from the dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus relief. On appeal and in his pro se petition, Petitioner argues that his convictions for intentionally evading arrest in a vehicle, a Class E felony, and theft of property less than $500.00 in value, a Class A misdemeanor, are void because the arrest warrant was invalid. After review of the record and the briefs, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/30/19
State of Tennessee v. Gailor Paige
W2018-02214-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

The Defendant, Gailor Paige, entered a negotiated guilty plea to possession with intent to sell heroin and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon with a prior crime of violence. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to consecutive six-year sentences as a Range I offender for each count. The Defendant filed a “petition to suspend the remainder of sentence after 120 day[s],” based upon his completion of four “intense” programs while incarcerated. The trial court summarily denied the request based upon a condition in the negotiated plea agreement that required the Defendant to “waive[ ] his right to later request a petition for suspension of remainder of his sentence.” The Defendant appeals, asserting that the trial court erred by denying his request for suspension of the remainder of his sentence. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/30/19
Marchello Gossett v. State of Tennessee
W2019-00364-CCA-R-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

A Tipton County jury convicted the Petitioner, Marchello Gossett, of one count of possession with intent to deliver .5 grams or more of cocaine and two counts of felony possession of a handgun. On appeal, this court affirmed the convictions. State v. Marchello Karlando Gossett, No. W2015-02414-CCA-R3-CD, 2017 WL 1163683, *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, March 28, 2017) perm. app. denied (Tenn. Aug. 18, 2017). The Petitioner filed a post-conviction petition, claiming that he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, the Petitioner maintains that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/30/19
Mario Cruz Estrada v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00085-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

The Petitioner, Mario Cruz Estrada, appeals the Lawrence County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2015 conviction for attempted second degree murder and his twelve-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Because the notice of appeal was untimely, we dismiss the appeal.

Lawrence County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/30/19
State of Tennessee v. Chriteris Allen
W2019-01038-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

The Madison County Grand Jury indicted Defendant, Chriteris Allen, in two separate indictments, each containing four counts. In Case Number 18-1445, Defendant was indicted for aggravated robbery in count one, aggravated sexual battery in count two, aggravated burglary in count three, and especially aggravated kidnapping in count four. In Case Number 18-1446, Defendant was indicted for aggravated burglary in count one, especially aggravated kidnapping in count two, aggravated robbery in count three, and aggravated rape in count four. Defendant submitted an open guilty plea on all counts. The trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of forty-four years at one hundred percent. On appeal, Defendant argues that his sentence is excessive. After a thorough review of the record and applicable case law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/27/19
Courtney B. Mathews v. State of Tennessee
M2017-01802-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

The Petitioner, Courtney B. Mathews, appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, wherein he challenged his jury convictions for four counts of first-degree felony murder and one count of especially aggravated robbery. On appeal, the Petitioner’s issues center around (1) an ex parte communication between the trial judge and trial counsel that took place at the trial judge’s residence; (2) trial counsels’ inadvertent disclosure of the unredacted timeline to the co-defendant’s defense team that contained attorney-client privileged information; (3) the lack of any jury instructions on lesser-included offenses for the felony murder counts; (4) the Petitioner’s alleged absence during the issuance of the supplemental jury instruction on criminal responsibility and when the trial judge answered jury questions; and (5) cumulative error. After a thorough review of the record, we reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court. We conclude that due to trial counsels’ various deficiencies, there has been a complete breakdown in the adversarial process during the Petitioner’s motion for new trial proceedings. While the Petitioner’s convictions remain intact, the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Denton Jones
E2018-01981-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

The State of Tennessee appeals the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of its motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. The State sought to correct the six-year sentence the trial court previously imposed for the Defendant’s two merged convictions for theft of property valued at $1,000 or more but less than $10,000. See T.C.A. §§ 39-14-103 (2014) (theft); 39-14-105 (2014) (subsequently amended) (grading of theft). On appeal, the State contends that the six-year sentence is illegal because the trial court improperly sentenced the Defendant pursuant to the amended version of the grading of theft statute, which became effective after the commission of the offense. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/27/19
Jeff Robinson v. Cody Haynes Et Al.
E2019-00477-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

This is an appeal from a case involving a contract for the sale of real property. The Trial Court disposed of some of the claims by granting summary judgment. Other claims were dismissed or voluntarily non-suited, and the Trial Court attempted to render its judgment final by citing to Rule 54 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The Trial Court, however, reserved disposition of a petition for attorney’s fees and an amended petition for attorney’s fees. As a result of the reservation of the disposition of the petitions for attorney’s fees there is no final judgment, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
Anne Frost Montgomery Renner v. Robert Bruce Renner, Sr.
E2019-01879-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri Bryant

Movant, defendant in a divorce case, seeks accelerated review of the denial of his motion for recusal. He claims a lack of impartiality on the part of the chancellor presiding over the divorce case due to her knowledge of unrelated litigation in which the movant was a party. He contends that the chancellor revealed her lack of impartiality in making adverse credibility determinations against movant, determining movant violated a statutory injunction, and ignoring prior orders and agreements of the parties in making factual findings. Movant also complains of the manner in which the chancellor conducted an emergency hearing, alleging that the chancellor “lacked patience and cooperation with the litigants on th[at] day.” After a de novo review, we affirm the denial of the motion for recusal.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 12/27/19
William Acree Ex Rel. John D. Acree v. Metropolitan Government Of Nashville And Davidson County
M2019-00056-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal arises from an action in tort against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County Tennessee (“the Metropolitan Government”) as the sole defendant. The action is brought by the brother on behalf of the decedent who died after being shot by police officers employed by the Metropolitan Government. The plaintiff asserts that the Metropolitan Government owed a special duty of care to the decedent because the police officers were reckless by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation concerning the decedent’s mental health before attempting to serve a felony warrant.  Moreover, the plaintiff asserts that police officers failed to abide by internal police department guidelines pursuant to which, the complaint alleges, the officers should have withdrawn from the area before the decedent exited the rear door of his house pointing a handgun at police officers. The undisputed material facts are that when the officers attempted to serve the decedent at his residence, the decedent refused to respond to the officers at the front door of his residence and, instead, abruptly exited through the rear door armed with a loaded handgun where the decedent and one of the police officers exchanged gunfire, resulting in the death of the decedent. The trial court summarily dismissed the complaint under the Governmental Tort Liability Act finding, inter alia, that the police officers owed a general duty to the public at large when serving the felony capias; the internal policies and procedures of the Metropolitan Police Department did not establish a duty enforceable in tort; there were no genuine issues of material fact to show the police officers acted recklessly, thus the special duty exception to the public duty doctrine did not apply; and because the special duty doctrine did not apply, the police officers and the Metropolitan Government were immune from liability. The trial court also found the claim was barred by the doctrine of comparative fault based on the undisputed fact that the decedent was at least 50% at fault for his injuries and death because he aimed a loaded weapon at the police officer before the officer opened fire. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/27/19