Court Opinions

Format: 12/16/2018
Format: 12/16/2018
Cyntoia Brown v. Carolyn Jordan
M2018-01415-SC-R23-CO
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Julia Smith Gibbons

We accepted certification of a question of law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that requires us to determine if a defendant convicted of first-degree murder committed on or after July 1, 1995, and sentenced to life in prison under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-202(c)(3) will become eligible for release, and if so, after how many years. We conclude that a defendant so convicted and sentenced to life in prison under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-202(c)(3) may be released, at the earliest, after fifty-one years of imprisonment.

Supreme Court 12/06/18
Jon Vazeen v. Martin Sir
M2018-00333-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

Jon Vazeen (plaintiff) filed this action for legal malpractice and fraud against his former attorney, Martin Sir (defendant). Plaintiff alleged that defendant was guilty of “repeated unprofessional behavior” and the “inept and total mishandling” of his divorce case. He also alleged defendant defrauded him by “infusing several thousand dollars of fake items in his invoice” for attorney’s fees. (Underlining in original). The trial court granted defendant summary judgment on the malpractice claim because the complaint was not filed within one year of the accrual of the claim, as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(c)(1)(2017). The court granted summary judgment on the fraud claim on the ground of res judicata. The court held that the fraud claim was barred by the earlier dismissal of plaintiff’s ethics complaint based upon the alleged fraud of the defendant with the Board of Professional Responsibility (the Board). We affirm the summary judgment of the trial court on the legal malpractice claim. We hold that the Board’s decision to dismiss an ethical complaint does not bar plaintiff from bringing a malpractice or fraud claim against an attorney on the ground of res judicata. Summary judgment on the fraud claim is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
Stephanie Solima v. David Solima
M2017-01924-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

This appeal involves a post-divorce custody dispute between David Solima (father) and Stephanie Solima (mother) with respect to their only child, A.J.S. Father filed a petition in the trial court seeking a modification of the then-existing permanent parenting plan. Finding that there had been a material change in circumstances, the court entered an order modifying the parenting plan. Father then filed a motion to alter or amend, which the trial court denied. Father now appeals the court’s order denying his motion. We hold that the order appealed from is not a final judgment because the trial court has not fully adjudicated the issue of child support. Accordingly, we dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remand for further proceedings.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
Teresa Kocher, et al. v. Laua Bearden, et al.
W2017-02519-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

This is the second appeal in this dispute involving a third party’s attempt to obtain access to a record that was sealed in the trial court pursuant to an agreed order. In the first appeal, this Court explained that judicial records are presumptively open, and the reason for sealing judicial records must be compelling. Because the trial court had not articulated any specific reasons for keeping the record sealed, we remanded for the trial court to reconsider its decision to deny the petitioner access to the record. We said, “If the trial court determines on remand that the record should remain sealed due to a compelling reason, that reason ‘is to be articulated along with findings specific enough that a reviewing court can determine whether the closure order was properly entered.’” Kocher v. Bearden, 546 S.W.3d 78, 87 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017) perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 6, 2017) (quoting In re NHC-Nashville Fire Litig., 293 S.W.3d 547, 560 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008)). Unfortunately, the trial court did not comply with these instructions on remand. After repeatedly expressing disagreement with this Court’s decision, the trial judge refused to modify the seal on the record, citing only “confidential information pertaining to the minor plaintiff.” Because both the trial court and the appellees have failed to articulate any compelling reason for maintaining the seal to the exclusion of the petitioner, we reverse the order of the trial court and remand for reassignment to a different trial judge and the entry of an order allowing the petitioner to access the sealed record.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
William Farmer v. State of Tennessee
W2017-00729-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

The Petitioner, William Farmer, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief in which he challenged his guilty plea to carjacking and his tenyear sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that his guilty plea was not knowingly entered. After a review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/05/18
State of Tennessee v. Ronald Jones
W2017-00754-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

The Defendant, Ronald Jones, was convicted of the second degree murder of the victim and sentenced to serve 25 years. On appeal, he argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/05/18
State of Tennessee v. Michael Wayne Parsons
W2018-00144-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

The Defendant, Michael Wayne Parsons, was convicted by a Tipton County jury of felony failure to appear, a Class E felony, and was sentenced by the trial court as a Range II, multiple offender to three years in the Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues: (1) that he is entitled to diplomatic immunity from prosecution because he is an ambassador of the “Tsilhqot’in Nation, Country of Chilcotin” and (2) that the indictment was insufficient to confer jurisdiction over his person because it lists his name in all capital letters, which denotes a corporation rather than a “live man.” Because the notice of appeal was untimely, we dismiss the appeal.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/05/18
In Re R. L. Et Al.
M2017-02404-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charled D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

In this dependency and neglect case, the juvenile court adjudicated father’s (E.L.) six children dependent and neglected and one of the female children (R.L.) a victim of severe abuse perpetrated by father. Father appealed to the circuit court. After a de novo hearing, the circuit court entered an order holding that clear and convincing evidence exists to demonstrate that R.L. was sexually abused by father and as such was a dependent and neglected and severely abused child. The court similarly found clear and convincing evidence that father’s additional children were also dependent and neglected. Father appeals. We affirm. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 12/04/18
Thomas F. Mabry v. Board of Professional Responsibility
E2018-00204-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

Respondent attorney filed a notice with this Court that he was unable to respond to or defend against a disciplinary complaint because he suffered from a disability by reason of a mental illness. Following a formal hearing, a hearing panel concluded that the respondent attorney was not incapacitated from responding to or defending against the complaint against him. Upon its review, the chancery court reached the same conclusion as the hearing panel. The respondent attorney has now filed a direct appeal to this Court. We agree with the hearing panel and chancery court that the attorney has not shown by a preponderance of the evidence that he lacked the capacity, by reason of mental illness, to respond to or defend against his disciplinary complaint.  

Knox County Supreme Court 12/04/18
John N. Moffitt v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01108-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of his petition for restoration of citizenship rights under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-29-105. Appellant contends that the trial court’s decision violates ex post facto protections by imposing a harsher sentence than that available at the time of his conviction. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 12/04/18
State of Tennessee v. John Matthew Cabe
M2017-02340-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

Defendant, John Matthew Cabe, was indicted for tampering with evidence after selling an item, which was the subject of a theft investigation, from his pawnshop. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of attempted tampering with evidence. On appeal, Defendant contends that he was improperly charged with tampering with evidence because the Pawnbrokers Act of 1988 is a specific statute which governs his conduct as a pawnbroker, and he argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for attempted tampering with evidence. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable statutes, we conclude that the Pawnbrokers Act of 1988 specifically governs the actions of a pawnbroker in his or her official capacity, thereby precluding prosecution for tampering with evidence. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed and vacated.

Marshall County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/03/18
City of Soddy Daisy, Tennessee v. Basil Marceaux
E2018-01046-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

The Notice of Appeal in this case was filed with the Appellate Court Clerk on June 7, 2018, more than thirty (30) days after the April 4, 2018 date of entry of the only order in the record from which the appellant could be appealing. Because the Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/03/18
City of Chattanooga, Tennessee v. Basil Marceaux
E2018-00821-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

The Notice of Appeal in this case was filed with the Appellate Court Clerk on May 7, 2018, more than thirty (30) days after the April 4, 2018 date of entry of the only order in the record from which the appellant could be appealing. Because the Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/03/18
State of Tennessee v. Darrell Grant Fisher
M2017-01966-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

The defendant, Darrell Grant Fisher, entered an open plea to four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure. The trial court sentenced the defendant to five years on two counts and four years on the remaining two counts with all sentences to be served consecutively for an effective sentence of eighteen years. On appeal, the defendant claims the trial court erred in imposing consecutive terms. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/03/18
Marvin Christopher Long v. State of Tennessee
M2017-01758-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte D. Watkins

The Petitioner, Marvin Christopher Long, filed for post-conviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel and his appellate counsel were ineffective. The post-conviction court dismissed the petition upon finding that the Petitioner previously filed for post-conviction relief and that he failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. On appeal, the Petitioner challenges the dismissal of the petition. Upon review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s dismissal of the Petitioner’s claim regarding the effectiveness of appellate counsel. However, we remand to the post-conviction court for entry of an order ruling on the Petitioner’s claims regarding the effectiveness of trial counsel.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/03/18
Hamilton County Et Al. v. Tax Year 2011 Delinquent Taxpayers Et Al.
E2017-02505-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela A. Fleenor

This case involves the right of redemption after a tax sale. REO Holdings, LLC (REO), purchased a parcel of real property at a delinquent tax sale. After the sale, the original property owners quitclaimed their remaining interest in the property to Basswood Revocable Land Trust (the Trust). The Trust filed a motion to redeem the property, which the trial court granted. REO appeals. We reverse.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/03/18
Brianna Danielle King v. Aaron Jefferson Daily
M2017-01743-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

This appeal arises from a divorce action involving two minor children. Mother filed a complaint for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and inappropriate marital conduct. Father filed an answer and counter complaint based on Mother’s inappropriate marital conduct and adultery. As to the minor children, Father wanted to have the children vaccinated, and Mother opposed vaccinations on religious grounds. The trial court awarded the divorce to Father based on Mother’s inappropriate marital conduct and adultery. The court also designated Father as the primary residential parent and gave him sole decision-making authority for non-emergency medical decisions, which included vaccinations. On appeal, Mother contends that the court interfered with her right to exercise a religious exemption from vaccines. Mother also takes issue with the court’s decision to award the divorce to Father based on Mother’s adultery. She argues that because she had sexual relationships with other men after the parties separated, her acts do not constitute adultery. Finding no error, we affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 11/30/18
In Re Alexis S. Et Al.
M2018-00296-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daryl Colson

This is a termination of parental rights case involving the parental rights of the mother, Lequita S. (“Mother”), to her minor children, Alexis S., Jaxon S., and Jasmine S. (collectively, “the Children”). The Children were born in 2011, 2014, and 2017, respectively, to Mother and Jerry S. (“Father”). In November 2016, the Overton County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) entered an order removing Alexis and Jaxon from the parents’ custody and placing the two children into the temporary legal custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). These children were immediately placed in foster care, where they remained at the time of trial. The trial court subsequently entered an order on February 15, 2017, wherein the trial court found that Alexis and Jaxon were dependent and neglected due to the parents’ drug abuse and unsuitable home. Jasmine was placed into the same foster home as her siblings following her birth in June 2017, and the trial court entered an order on October 4, 2017, finding Jasmine to be dependent and neglected. On October 19, 2017, DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Children. Following a bench trial, the trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights to the Children upon determining by clear and convincing evidence that (1) Mother had abandoned the Children by failing to provide a suitable home for them, (2) Mother had abandoned the Children by her willful failure to visit them, (3) Mother had demonstrated substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, (4) Mother had committed severe child abuse against Jasmine, (5) Mother had failed to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume custody of or financial responsibility for the Children, and (6) the conditions leading to removal still persisted and a return of custody would in all probability cause the Children to be subjected to further abuse and neglect. The trial court further found clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Children. Mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Overton County Court of Appeals 11/30/18
Caitlin J. Groves, Et Al. v. Tennessee Department of Safety And Homeland Security
M2016-01448-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

After his vehicle was seized, the owner filed a claim and request for hearing. After the passage of thirty days following the filing of his claim, the owner moved to dismiss the forfeiture, arguing that the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security had failed to timely set his claim for a hearing. The Administrative Law Judge took the motion to dismiss under advisement, but declined to set a hearing on the merits of the forfeiture. The owner sought interlocutory review of the decision not to set a hearing on the merits, which the Commissioner ultimately denied. Shortly before the Commissioner’s decision on the interlocutory appeal, the ALJ granted the owner’s motion to dismiss and ordered the vehicle returned. The ALJ also denied the owner’s request for attorney’s fees. The owner petitioned for judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision and later amended the petition to include a request for declaratory relief. The chancery court dismissed the owner’s petition for judicial review as moot. The court also dismissed the declaratory judgment action for improper joinder of an original action with an administrative appeal. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/30/18
Leroy Sexton v. State of Tennessee
M2017-00698-CCA-WR-CO
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

Dr. William Diebold seeks review of the post-conviction court’s denial of his motion to quash a judicial subpoena compelling him to testify at a hearing on behalf of the Petitioner, who is seeking post-conviction relief in an underlying criminal case. Dr. Diebold, a practicing physician, contends that he is exempt from subpoena to the hearing but subject to subpoena to a deposition pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 24-9-101. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we agree with Dr. Diebold that he is statutorily exempt from subpoena to the hearing but subject to subpoena to a deposition. Therefore, the post-conviction court erred by failing to grant Dr. Diebold’s motion to quash. Accordingly, the judgment of the post-conviction court is reversed, and the motion to quash is granted.

Fentress County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/30/18
Mary L. Miller v. Brenda S. Maples, Et Al.
E2016-00511-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey M. Atherton

Following settlor’s death, settlor’s daughters, the beneficiaries of the settlor’s trust, engaged in mediation, which resulted in a settlement agreement concerning the distribution of the trust’s assets. Before the settlement was approved by the trial court under the Tennessee Uniform Trust Act (“TUTA”), one of the daughters died, and her estate was substituted in the lawsuit. The surviving siblings then joined in an amended complaint seeking a determination concerning whether the terms of the settlement agreement violated a material purpose of the trust so as to be unenforceable under the TUTA. The deceased daughter’s estate argued for enforcement of the settlement agreement such that the estate would receive the deceased daughter’s share of the trust. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the estate, holding that the settlement was enforceable under the TUTA. The trial court awarded attorney’s fees and costs to the estate under the terms of the settlement. We affirm the trial court’s enforcement of the settlement but reverse its award of attorney’s fees and costs to the estate.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/30/18
Don Edward Carter v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00285-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

The Petitioner, Don Edward Carter, appeals from the McNairy County Circuit Court’s dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions of two counts of first degree murder, for which he is serving concurrent life sentences. On appeal, he contends that (1) the post-conviction court erred in dismissing his petition as untimely without a hearing to determine whether due process required tolling of the statute of limitations, (2) he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, and (3) prosecutorial misconduct in the conviction proceedings deprived him of his rights to due process and a fair trial. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

McNairy County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/30/18
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth S. Gourley
W2017-00919-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore

The Appellant, Kenneth S. Gourley, appeals the trial court’s order revoking his probationary sentence and ordering him to serve the remainder of his sentence in confinement. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/30/18
State of Tennessee v. Tracy Arnold
W2018-00307-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The Defendant, Tracy Arnold, appeals the Henderson County Circuit Court’s revocation of her probation related to her convictions for attempted aggravated child abuse and neglect. After a review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Henderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/30/18
Albert Jackson v. State of Tennessee
W2017-01589-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

A Shelby County jury convicted the Petitioner, Albert Jackson, of attempted voluntary manslaughter, employing a firearm during the commission of a felony, reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, and being a felon in possession of a handgun, and the trial court sentenced the Petitioner to an effective sentence of twenty-four years of incarceration. State v. Albert Jackson, No. W2014-00050-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 7432000, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Dec. 30, 2014), no Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed. This court affirmed the convictions on appeal. Id. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief challenging the jury instructions and claiming that his trial counsel was ineffective. Appointed counsel added a request for a delayed Rule 11 application. The post-conviction court denied the petition and a delayed appeal. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the
post-conviction court erred when it denied his request for a delayed Rule 11 appeal and when it denied his petition for post-conviction relief. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/29/18