Court Opinions

Format: 03/30/2017
Format: 03/30/2017
Gala Johnson-Murray, et al. v. Rodney Burns, et al.
M2016-00431-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

Nieces of the decedent contest the validity of a quitclaim deed and the decedent's will on the ground they were the result of undue influence exerted upon the decedent by her stepson and his wife. The quitclaim deed conveyed the decedent's real property to herself, her stepson, and his wife as joint tenants with right of survivorship. The will bequeathed the decedent's entire estate to her stepson. Following a jury trial, the jury found that the deed and will were both valid. The nieces appeal, contending there is no material evidence to support the jury's verdict. They also contend the trial court erred by instructing the jury that the stepson, who was the decedent's attorney-in-fact, had the authority to sign the will and deed on behalf of the decedent. We have determined that the record contains material evidence to support the jury's verdict. As for the jury instructions, the trial court erred by instructing the jury that the stepson had the authority to sign the will on behalf of the decedent as her attorney-in-fact because it would not comply with mandatory requirements of the Tennessee Execution of Wills Act. With regard to whether the stepson could sign the deed on behalf of the decedent, the answer and jury instruction were incomplete to such an extent as to constitute an erroneous instruction. Nevertheless, having considered the jury instruction in its entirety, we are unable to conclude that these errors more probably than not affected the outcome of the verdict. Therefore, we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 03/14/17
Southwind Residential Properties Association, Inc. v. Kelvin Ford
W2016-01169-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

The association obtained a favorable judgment for unpaid assessments against property owner of 1.6 lots as well as attorney’s fees in the trial court. Property owner appeals. We vacate the trial court’s attorney’s fee award in favor of the association and remand for consideration of the reasonableness factors as outlined in the Tennessee Rules of Professional Responsibility. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects. Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/14/17
Denise Elliott v. State of Tennessee
M2016-00392-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Robert N. Hibbett

This appeal arises from a claim against the State by the driver of a motor vehicle who seeks damages resulting from a single-car accident. Claimant contends the accident was the proximate result of the State’s negligence in the design, construction, and maintenance of the roadway where the accident occurred for which the State is liable pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(I). Following a trial, the Claims Commissioner found that Claimant failed to prove the State was negligent in the design, construction, or maintenance of the roadway; therefore, Claimant failed to prove a claim for negligence under Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(a)(1)(I). Finding the evidence does not preponderate against the Claims Commission’s findings, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 03/13/17
State of Tennessee v. Tommy Tyrell Johnson
M2016-01243-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Bragg

The Defendant, Tommy Tyrell Johnson, appeals the Rutherford County Circuit Court’s order revoking his probation for his theft conviction and ordering him to serve his four-year sentence in confinement.  The Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by revoking his probation.  We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/13/17
James William Taylor v. Tennessee Department of Correction, et al.
M2016-01350-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

An inmate in the custody of the Department of Correction appeals the dismissal of his petition for declaratory judgment. He claims his sentence is calculated incorrectly, and he is entitled to custodial parole and safety valve hearings. Upon motion of the Respondents, the trial court granted summary judgment dismissing the petition. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/13/17
Elizabeth A. Popick v. Vanderbilt University
M2015-01271-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

The plaintiff filed this health care liability action against the defendant hospital after the death of her husband, alleging that his death was the result of negligent medical treatment. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the trial court committed reversible error in: (1) excluding certain email messages as hearsay; (2) overruling her objections to defense counsel‟s cross-examination of a witness; (3) failing to instruct the jury to ignore statements made by defense counsel in closing argument; (4) refusing a request for a special jury instruction; and (5) declining to change the special verdict form. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/13/17
State of Tennessee v. Shanerick Abraham
W2016-01497-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Glenn Ivy Wright

A Shelby County Criminal Court jury convicted the defendant, Shanerick Abraham, of aggravated robbery. On appeal, the defendant argues the evidence was insufficient to support his aggravated robbery conviction because the victim voluntarily gave the defendant money, and the alleged taking was temporally remote to the subsequent act of violence. The defendant additionally alleges ineffective assistance of counsel. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/13/17
State of Tennessee v. Louis Grieco
E2015-01110-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin

Defendant, Louis Grieco, was arrested on August 24, 2013, without a warrant for driving under the influence (DUI). On the date of the arrest, the arresting officer summarized the facts underlying the offense in an affidavit of complaint, which he signed under oath before a notary public. Two days later, a general sessions judge found probable cause that the offense was committed based on the officer's affidavit of complaint. Over one year later, on October 6, 2014, Defendant waived his right to a preliminary hearing in General Sessions Court and agreed to have the case bound over to the Sullivan County Grand Jury. The grand jury indicted Defendant for DUI on January 21, 2015. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment as time barred, arguing that the affidavit of complaint was void because the officer did not make it on oath in the presence of an authorized official capable of making a probable cause determination. The trial court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. The State appeals. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Janice Darlene Helbert
E2015-02017-CCA-R9-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin

Defendant, Janice Darlene Helbert, was issued a Uniform Citation of Complaint for the offenses of driving under the influence and following too closely. The citation included the officer's narrative of the facts underlying the offenses. The officer also prepared an affidavit of complaint, which he signed under oath before a notary public. Three days later, the affidavit of complaint was signed by a deputy clerk. Over one year later, Defendant waived her right to a preliminary hearing and agreed to have her case bound over to the grand jury. The grand jury subsequently returned a presentment against Defendant for the misdemeanor offenses above, as well as one count of felony reckless endangerment. Subsequent to the presentment, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the two misdemeanor counts as time barred, arguing that the affidavit of complaint was void because the officer did not make the oath in the presence of an authorized official capable of making a probable cause determination. The trial court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss the misdemeanor charges. The State sought and was granted an interlocutory appeal of the trial court's decision. On appeal, the State contends that the fact that the affidavit of complaint was sworn before a notary public rather than a qualified judicial officer was a “technical defect” that should not render it void. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/10/17
In Re Ethan R.
W2015-01208-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

A mother, who was designated the primary residential parent of the parties’ son when she and the father divorced, filed a dependent and neglect petition in juvenile court in Tennessee when the child was hospitalized in Arkansas after ingesting some of the father’s methadone tablets. In the course of the juvenile court proceeding Father filed a petition opposing Mother’s relocation to Kentucky and seeking a change in custody. The juvenile court dismissed both petitions, and Father appealed. The circuit court held a trial de novo and denied Father’s petition. Mother appeals, contending that because she did not appeal the juvenile court’s dismissal of the dependent and neglect proceeding, the circuit court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider the matter further and, alternatively, that the case should have been transferred to Kentucky. Finding no error in the disposition of the case, we affirm the judgment in all respects.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/10/17
In Re Conservatorship of Sophia Elaine Taylor
M2016-01288-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

This appeal arises from the removal of a conservator.  The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (“the Department”) filed a petition in the Probate Court for Davidson County (“the Probate Court”) seeking removal of Cheryl R. Russell (“Russell”) as conservator for Sophia Elaine Taylor (“Taylor”).  Russell, Taylor’s mother, was alleged to have interfered repeatedly with Taylor’s medical treatment.  After a hearing, the Probate Court removed Russell as Taylor’s conservator and named ComCare, Inc. (“ComCare”) as temporary conservator.  Russell appeals to this Court.  Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the Probate Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/10/17
State of Tennessee v. John Smith
W2016-00720-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

The Defendant, John Smith, appeals his conviction of official oppression and his two year sentence in the county workhouse. He argues that his acquittal of a charge of rape and conviction of official oppression represent inconsistent verdicts and that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction of official oppression. Following review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/10/17
Robert Lindiment v. State of Tennessee
W2015-01927-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

The petitioner, Robert Lindiment, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that the court erred in finding that he received effective assistance of counsel. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/10/17
Jamie Treadwell v. Gary Thomas Lamb
M2015-01391-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Graham

This appeal involves the financial aspects of a divorce, which ended a twelve-year marriage.  The trial court granted both parties a divorce, divided the marital estate, and awarded Wife rehabilitative alimony for twenty-four months, provided she actively pursued a teaching degree at Middle Tennessee State University.  Wife filed a motion to alter or amend the award of alimony to remove the education and vocation requirements.  The trial court denied the motion.  Wife filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 seeking relief from the trial court’s order dividing the marital estate due to Husband’s alleged fraudulent withdrawals from the parties’ marital stock account.  The trial court denied the motion.  On appeal, Wife takes issue with the educational and vocational requirements the trial court placed on the spousal support award and with the trial court’s division of the marital estate.  She also appeals the trial court’s denial of her Rule 60.02 motion.  We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Franklin County Court of Appeals 03/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Bobby Jay Fuqua
M2016-00426-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement, Defendant, Bobby Jay Fuqua, pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of an intoxicant (DUI), fourth offense. He properly reserved a certified question of law regarding whether the police officer had reasonable suspicion to seize the Defendant. Upon reviewing the record and the applicable law, we conclude that the evidence supports the trial court’s finding that the police officer had reasonable suspicion to seize Defendant. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Robertson County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/10/17
Herbert S. Moncier v. Nina Harris, et al.
E2016-00209-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

This appeal involves a request for access to examine records under Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-505 in which the plaintiff sought the release of civil forfeiture documents from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The trial court held that the plaintiff did not show sufficient cause for release of the sought after documents in a non-redacted format. We find that the issue has become moot owing to the legislative enactment of 2016 Tenn. Pub. Acts, Chapter 722, § 5. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and dismiss this case.

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Yusuf Rahman
W2016-00906-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Wheeler Campbell

A jury convicted the Defendant, Yusuf Rahman, of one count of attempted second degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of domestic assault. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to thirty years for attempted second degree murder, fifteen years for each aggravated assault conviction, and eleven months and twenty-nine days for domestic assault. The trial court ran the sentences concurrently and merged the aggravated assault convictions. The Defendant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support the attempted second degree murder conviction and that the trial court should have instructed the jury on self-defense. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/09/17
State of Tennessee v. Sarita Alston
W2016-00355-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The defendant, Sarita Alston, was sentenced to an effective sentence of twenty-five years in confinement by the trial court for the merged convictions of reckless endangerment, aggravated child neglect, and aggravated child endangerment. On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court improperly enhanced her aggravated child neglect sentence to the maximum within-range sentence of twenty-five years in violation of the purposes and principles of the Tennessee Criminal Sentencing Reform Act. Following our review of the briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we affirm the twenty-five year sentence.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/09/17
State of Tennessee v. Anthony Thompson
W2016-00077-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

The defendant, Anthony Thompson, was convicted of the first degree premeditated murder of Barris Jones and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, he argues that the trial court erred in allowing testimony regarding a hearsay statement of the victim as a dying declaration, in limiting the cross-examination of a co-defendant, and in allowing autopsy and crime scene photographs into evidence. Additionally, he argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the verdict. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/09/17
Timothy Allen Johnson v. State of Tennessee
M2016-01462-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

The petitioner, Timothy Allen Johnson, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his 2013 Davidson County Criminal Court jury conviction of tampering with evidence, for which he received a sentence of 12 years. In this appeal, the petitioner contends only that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/09/17
Henry Lee Burrell v. State of Tennessee
M2015-02115-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

Henry Lee Burrell (“the Petitioner”) pled guilty to six counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to four concurrent and two consecutive life sentences under the terms of a plea agreement. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which the post-conviction court denied after a hearing. The Petitioner now appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, contending: (1) that the post-conviction court erred in denying his request for a psychological examination at the post-conviction hearing; (2) that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary; and (3) that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel. After a thorough review of the record and applicable case law, we affirm the post-conviction court’s denial of relief.

Lincoln County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/09/17
J.W. Smith, et al. v. TimberPro, Inc., et al.
W2016-00757-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish

J.W. Smith d/b/a J.W. Smith Logging (“Smith”) appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Don Bush d/b/a Bush Forestry Equipment (“Bush”) and Woodland Equipment, Inc. (“Woodland”). Smith filed this lawsuit against Bush and Woodland seeking damages for breach of contract and breach of express and implied warranties. His claims arose from his purchase of an allegedly defective harvester from Woodland. The trial court granted summary judgment to Bush based on the absence of contractual privity between Smith and Bush. The trial court granted summary judgment to Woodland based on the absence of evidence that it breached any express warranties to Smith and based on a disclaimer of implied warranties included in its contract with Smith. On appeal, Smith argues that the record contains issues of disputed fact as to (1) whether Bush was a joint-seller of the harvester with Woodland, (2) whether Woodland and Bush breached express warranties to Smith, and (3) whether the disclaimer of implied warranties was part of Smith’s contract for purchase of the harvester. We agree with the trial court that the record does not contain any evidence of contractual privity between Smith and Bush and therefore affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Bush on all of Smith’s claims. We also agree that the record does not contain evidence that Woodland breached express warranties to Smith and therefore affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Woodland on Smith’s claim for breach of express warranties. We do not agree, however, that the disclaimer of implied warranties was included in Smith’s contract with Woodland for purchase of the harvester. We therefore reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Woodland on Smith’s claim for breach of implied warranties. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and this case is remanded for further proceedings.

Carroll County Court of Appeals 03/09/17
State of Tennessee v. Jabari Reynolds
E2015-00499-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven W. Sword

The Appellant, Jabari Reynolds, was convicted by a Knox County Criminal Court Jury of first degree premeditated murder, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred (1) by allowing a police officer to testify regarding recordings of telephone calls the Appellant made while in jail instead of requiring a telephone company employee to authenticate the calls, (2) by refusing to instruct the jury on voluntary intoxication, (3) by refusing to give a special instruction that the lesser-included offense of second degree murder was “homicide in the 'heat of passion' without adequate provocation,” and (4) by accepting the jury's verdict as thirteenth juror. The Appellant also contends that he is entitled to relief due to cumulative error. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/09/17
John Mervin et al. v. Ken Davis et al.
E2016-00508-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael S. Pemberton

This appeal arises from a dispute between neighbors regarding the construction of a sign that precipitated the exchange of threats followed by the filing of a civil warrant and criminal charges, a global settlement agreement, the alleged breach of the settlement agreement, and the commencement of this action. After Ken and Martha Davis sued John and Sharon Merwin in general sessions court on a variety of tort claims and filed criminal charges against Mr. Merwin, the parties entered into a settlement agreement pursuant to which Mr. Merwin agreed to remove the sign he erected and the Davises agreed to dismiss the civil warrant and the criminal charges. The Davises promptly dismissed the civil warrant but when the criminal case came on for hearing, the district attorney declined to dismiss the criminal charges against Mr. Merwin and the case was continued so Mr. Merwin could retain counsel. At the subsequent hearing, the criminal charges were dismissed and, in the interim, Mr. Merwin removed the sign. Thereafter, the Merwins commenced this action asserting a variety of tort claims, including a claim for malicious prosecution, and a claim for breach of contract based on the Davises’ failure to dismiss the criminal charges at the initial hearing. Upon the motion of the Davises, the trial court summarily dismissed the tort claims on the grounds of res judicata because they had been asserted in the civil warrant that was dismissed with prejudice. At the conclusion of the trial on the remaining claims, the trial court granted the Davises’ motion for a directed verdict on the breach of contract claim upon the ground it was legally impossible for the Davises to dismiss the criminal complaint and because the Merwins could not establish that the Davises breached the settlement agreement. The Merwins appeal. We affirm.

Roane County Court of Appeals 03/09/17
State of Tennessee v. Dondre Johnson
W2015-02401-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

The Defendant, Dondre Johnson, was convicted by a Shelby County Jury of first degree murder committed during the perpetration of an attempted robbery and received a sentence of life imprisonment. In his sole issue on appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/08/17