Court Opinions

Format: 07/23/2019
Format: 07/23/2019
State of Tennessee v. Dominic Rodriguez
M2018-01811-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

The trial court convicted Defendant, Dominic Rodriguez, of one count of sexual battery following a bench trial. On appeal, Defendant argues that this court should reweigh the evidence because the State presented insufficient evidence for a rational juror to have found Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/01/19
State of Tennessee v. Cordarious Franklin
W2017-00680-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

Defendant, Cordarious Franklin, was convicted of rape of a child, aggravated sexual battery, and child abuse. The trial court imposed consecutive sentences of forty years for rape of a child, twelve years for aggravated sexual battery, and eleven months, twentynine days for child abuse. On appeal, Defendant raises the following issues: (I) whether the trial court erred by admitting the victim’s forensic interview; (II) whether the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s convictions; (III) whether the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s request to review the victim’s medical records; (IV) whether the trial court erred by failing to give the jury a Ferguson instruction; (V) whether a juror’s questions amounted to extraneous prejudicial information; (VI) whether Defendant’s sentence was improper; and (VII) whether there was plain error due to an ex parte conversation between the State and the trial court and by the trial court’s exclusion of Defendant’s family from the courtroom during the victim’s testimony. After review, we conclude there is structural constitutional error by the trial court excluding the public from the courtroom and therefore reverse the judgments and remand for a new trial.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/28/19
Tomeka Douglas v. Covington Crosssing, Inc., et al.
W2018-01513-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

This appeal arises from the trial court’s entry of a default judgment against defendants and its denial of defendants’ motion to set aside the judgment. The trial court’s entry of default, however, was not a final judgment because it did not address the plaintiff’s claim for damages. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
Stainmaster Carpet & Restoration, LLC, Et Al. v. Music City Messenger Service, Inc., Et Al.
M2018-01368-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Young

This appeal arises from an action for declaratory judgment as to the ownership of a business, defamation, and tortious interference with business relations. The plaintiff carpet cleaner alleged that the defendant entrepreneur and his wife loaned money to the plaintiff to expand his carpet cleaning business with the condition that the defendants handle the business’s finances and bookkeeping. The defendants asserted that they started a new carpet cleaning business and the plaintiff was merely an employee. Following a jury verdict for the plaintiff, the trial court denied the defendants’ motion for a new trial and remittitur. On appeal, the defendants contend that the trial judge failed to fulfill his duty as the thirteenth juror and there was no material evidence to support the jury’s verdict or award of damages. After reviewing the record, we find the trial judge fulfilled his role as the thirteenth juror and that there was material evidence to support the jury’s verdict and award of damages. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment against the defendants.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
Jeffrey Heatley, et al. v. David G. Gaither, et al.
M2018-01792-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This is an appeal from the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ second lawsuit against adjacent property owners arising from the discovery of a leaking septic tank on the plaintiffs’ property. In their first lawsuit, the plaintiffs sued their neighbors in chancery court for negligence and trespass after discovering that the leaking septic tank was connected to a mental health facility on their neighbors’ property. While the first action was still pending, the plaintiffs filed this action against their neighbors for continuing nuisance and trespass arising from the leaking septic tank. The defendants moved for summary judgment based on the doctrine of prior suit pending. The plaintiffs opposed the motion and requested additional time to conduct discovery. After the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, the plaintiffs appealed. We conclude that the requested discovery was unnecessary to respond to the defendants’ motion and that all the elements of the defense of prior suit pending were present. So we affirm.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
Vinings Bank v. Homeland Community Bank, Et Al.
M2016-02403-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

The key issue on appeal is the scope of a dragnet clause under Georgia law. Mortgagors refinanced debt secured by their real property with a new lender. Although the new lender sent the original mortgagee the requested payoff amount, the original mortgagee refused to release its deed of trust. The original mortgagee claimed that the real property was also security for other debts by virtue of an unrecorded instrument signed by one of the mortgagors that contained a dragnet clause. The mortgagee sought a declaratory judgment that its unrecorded instrument had priority over the deed of trust recorded by the new lender. The new lender counterclaimed, seeking the statutory penalty for the mortgagee’s failure to release its deed of trust and recovery of attorney’s fees and expenses. The trial court concluded that the unrecorded instrument was unenforceable and not effective as to the new lender due to a lack of actual notice. The court also ordered the original mortgagee to release its deed of trust and awarded the new lender the statutory penalty and attorney’s fees. On appeal by the original mortgagee, we conclude that the unrecorded instrument was enforceable, but under Georgia law, the dragnet clause was limited to the debts of the mortgagor who signed the instrument. Because of the lack of actual notice, the unrecorded instrument was not effective as to the new lender. Despite the new lender being a defendant in the declaratory judgment action, the new lender’s counterclaim for the statutory penalty entitled it to an award of attorney’s fees. We affirm the decision of the trial court as modified.

White County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
Check Printers, Inc. v. David Gerregano, Et Al.
M2018-01030-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This case involves the Commissioner of Revenue for the State of Tennessee’s audit and subsequent adjustment of sales tax due from Appellant, Check Printers, under the Tennessee Retailers Sales Tax Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-6-101, et seq. The trial court granted the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment finding that, although Appellant manufactured the disputed products in Tennessee and ultimately exported the products outside the state, under Appellant’s standard contract language, title passed to the customer in Tennessee at the time the product was tendered for shipping. Based on this intervening taxable event, i.e., the “sale,” as that term is defined in Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-6-102(80)(A), the trial court concluded that the products were not excluded from taxation under either the manufactured-for-export exemption, Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-6-313(a), or the sale-for-resale exemption, Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-6-102(75)(a). Because there is a dispute of material fact concerning whether Appellant’s sale of blow-in cards to its customer, AMI, was consummated in Tennessee, we vacate the trial court’s grant of summary judgment only as to the AMI blow-in cards; the trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
State of Tennessee v. Michael Green
E2018-00350-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven W. Sword

The Defendant, Michael Green was convicted by a Knox County Criminal Court jury of two counts of aggravated kidnapping, a Class B felony, and two counts of attempted aggravated kidnapping, a Class C felony. T.C.A. §§ 39-12-101(a)(1)-(3) (2018) (criminal attempt); 39-13-304(a) (2018) (aggravated kidnapping). The trial court merged the convictions into a single aggravated kidnapping judgment and sentenced the Defendant, a Range II offender, to fifteen years to be served at 100%. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support a conviction of aggravated kidnapping or attempted aggravated kidnapping, (2) the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the case due to the lack of a preliminary hearing or for a delayed preliminary hearing, (3) the court erred in denying his motion to suppress his pretrial statement, and (4) the court erred in denying his request for a jury instruction pursuant to State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559, 578 (Tenn. 2012). Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/28/19
Carol Lee v. Hamilton County, Tennessee
E2018-01531-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

The plaintiff in this action is a retired employee of the defendant county. She filed a complaint in October 2009, asserting claims of negligence, breach of contract, intentional or negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty related to a county employee’s alleged faulty advice and lack of disclosure to her concerning the interplay of her disability benefits policy and her retirement plan. Upon the county’s motion, the trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the county in July 2016, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims of misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty. The trial court subsequently denied the county’s motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the remaining issues. Following a bench trial in July 2018, the trial court entered a judgment awarding to the plaintiff the amount of $13,985.52. The county timely appealed. Having determined that the trial court’s final order does not sufficiently explain the legal basis upon which the money judgment was awarded, we vacate the judgment and remand to the trial court for entry of findings of fact and conclusions of law explaining the basis of the judgment or, in the alternative, reconsideration of the judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
Roy Edward Bane, Executor of the Estate of Martha Harrison Bane v. John Bane Et Al.
E2018-00790-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

The trial court granted a default judgment to the plaintiff in March 2009, which judgment invalidated a deed for real property transferred from the plaintiff to her son and daughterin- law. The trial court subsequently set aside the default judgment without making sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning the basis for the ruling. Following a consequent bench trial, the trial court upheld the deed from the plaintiff to her son, although the plaintiff sought to have the deed set aside based on undue influence and fraud. The plaintiff has appealed. Based upon our determination that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law in its order that set aside the default judgment, we vacate both the trial court’s final order and the order setting aside the default judgment. We remand this matter to the trial court for entry of sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the legal basis of the trial court’s decision to set aside the default judgment, or, in the alternative, reconsideration of that judgment.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 06/28/19
State of Tennessee v. Anthony Martin, Alias
E2018-01066-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

The Defendant, Anthony Martin, alias, appeals his jury conviction for rape of a child. In this direct appeal, the Defendant alleges that the trial court erred when it allowed the State to question him about facts underlying a statutory rape by an authority figure conviction as a prior inconsistent statement. Following our review of the record and the applicable authorities, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/28/19
In Re Charlie-Lynn P., Et Al.
M2018-02285-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

This appeal concerns the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her children. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Montgomery County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Matia P. (“Mother”) to her minor children Charlie-Lynn P. and Pharaoh P. (“the Children”). After a trial, the Juvenile Court entered an order terminating Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of failure to establish a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, and persistent conditions. The Juvenile Court also found that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. Mother appeals, arguing only that termination of her parental rights is not in the Children’s best interest because she has taken certain steps to address her mental health and domestic violence issues. We find and hold that the Juvenile Court did not err in finding that clear and convincing evidence was shown as to all three grounds. We find and hold further that, notwithstanding Mother’s purported improvements, the Juvenile Court did not err in finding by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 06/27/19
Simmons Bank v. Vastland Development Partnership
M2018-00347-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This appeal arises from a commercial lease dispute. The trial court summarily ruled that Simmons Bank, which acquired the tenant originally named in the lease in a merger, had the right to exercise a renewal option. The appellant landlord contends this was error because “(1) the plain language of the lease expressly indicated the option could only be exercised by the tenant originally named in the lease and (2) two events of default occurred [as a result of the merger] which precluded the exercise of the option under the plain terms of the lease.” The alleged events of default were that (1) the original tenant failed to “maintain its legal existence,” and (2) the original tenant transferred its interest to Simmons Bank by operation of law. We have determined that regardless of whether the lease was transferred to Simmons Bank by merger pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 48-21-108(a)(2) “without reversion or impairment,” the parties agreed to restrict any transfer of the right to renew the lease to one entity, First State Bank, “the Tenant originally named” in the lease. Accordingly, and relying on the legal principle that a statute shall not be applied to construe a contract when the parties to the contract express a contrary intention, the agreed-upon renewal restriction in the lease controls. As a consequence, Simmons Bank does not have the right to exercise the renewal option. Therefore, we reverse the grant of summary judgment to Simmons Bank and remand this case to the trial court with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of the landlord.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/27/19
Steven Douglas Fish v. State of Tennessee
E2018-01545-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Reed Duggan

Petitioner, Steven Douglas Fish, appeals the habeas corpus court’s dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus relief. We conclude that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas corpus relief because Petitioner’s judgment is not void and that Petitioner is not entitled to post-conviction relief because his petition was filed outside of the statute of limitations period. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Mario Walls
W2018-00527-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

A Shelby County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Mario Walls, of attempted second degree murder, and the trial court imposed a sentence of thirty years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence sustaining his conviction, contending that the proof did not show he was aware his conduct was reasonably certain to result in the victim’s death. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/27/19
Sharon Kay Middendorf v. Byron Scott Middendorf
M2018-00409-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

In this appeal, the parties were declared divorced in February 2013 when the trial court approved their marital dissolution agreement and entered a final decree of divorce; at the same time, the parties entered into a separate agreement which was to govern the transfer of the wife’s marital interest in four businesses operated by the husband. In July 2014, the husband filed a motion pursuant to Rule 60.02(5) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure to have the decree set aside. The court granted the motion and vacated the decree, reinstating the marital relationship; the court also rescinded the agreement transferring the wife’s interest in the businesses on the ground of mutual mistake. Following a trial, the court entered a final decree of divorce in 2017. Both parties appeal. Wife asserts that the trial court erred in vacating the 2013 decree, in rescinding the parties’ agreement, and in failing to award her all of the attorney’s fees she incurred at the trial court level. Husband appeals the division of the marital estate in the 2017 decree, and contends that the trial court erred when it failed to order the return of payments he made to wife pursuant to the agreement that was rescinded and alimony payments he made pursuant to the 2013 decree that was vacated. Both parties seek their attorney’s fees on appeal. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in all respects and decline to award fees on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Damarcus C. Nelson
W2018-00951-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee Moore

The Defendant, Damarcus C. Nelson, appeals as of right from the Dyer County Circuit Court’s revocation of his probation and reinstatement of the remainder of his four-year sentence for solicitation of aggravated assault. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the trial court abused its discretion because the State failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he violated the law or participated in gang-related activity, and he maintains that the remaining “technical” violations did not warrant incarceration. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/26/19
State of Tennessee v. Derrick Williamson
W2018-01441-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The defendant, Derrick Williamson, appeals the Madison County Circuit Court’s denial of alternative sentencing for his jury conviction of child abuse. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/26/19
David G. Andrews v. Jonathan Lebo, Warden
W2018-01965-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

The Petitioner, David G. Andrews, appeals the Lauderdale County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus relief from his 2017 conviction for robbery and his ten-year sentence. He contends that the judgment is void. We affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/26/19
Fiona Eischeid Flodin v. Tan Scott Flodin
E2018-01499-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

This appeal arises from a divorce. Fiona Eischeid Flodin (“Wife”) filed for divorce from Tan Scott Flodin (“Husband”) in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County (“the Trial Court”). Husband, in the latter years of the marriage, was unemployed by his choice. Husband asserted that he contributed by helping Wife with her real estate business. Wife asserted that Husband’s contributions were minimal and that he refused to work despite her urging him to get a job. After a trial, the Trial Court entered an order finding, inter alia, that Husband lived a life of leisure while Wife did the vast majority of the work both for pay and at home. The Trial Court found all the witnesses credible except Husband. The Trial Court proceeded to award Husband around 38% of the marital estate as well as six months of transitional alimony at the rate of $2,000 per month. Husband appealed. Husband argues on appeal that the Trial Court erred in its valuation of certain marital assets, in its division of the marital estate, and in not awarding him more alimony than it did. We find that the evidence does not preponderate against the Trial Court’s factual findings. The values adopted by the Trial Court as to marital assets were within the range of evidence presented. In addition, the Trial Court appropriately considered the relevant factors in its decisions regarding alimony and the marital estate. We discern no abuse of discretion or other error by the Trial Court. We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/26/19
State of Tennessee v. Katelyn Bateman
M2018-01933-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry J. Wallace

The Defendant, Katelyn Bateman, appeals as of right from the Cheatham County Circuit Court’s order revoking her community corrections sentence and ordering the Defendant to serve the remainder of her sentence in confinement. The Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering the sentence served in confinement rather than permitting a furlough to the drug court program. Following our review, we affirm the order of the trial court.

Cheatham County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/26/19
In Re Aliyah C.
E2019-00038-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma D. McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This appeal involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her daughter. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that grounds for termination were proven and that it was in the best interest of the child to terminate parental rights. Mother appeals but only challenges whether the judgment is valid if the guardian ad litem was not present for the termination hearing. After careful review, we conclude that the presence of the guardian ad litem could not be waived by the other parties at the trial on the merits. Therefore, we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 06/26/19
State of Tennessee v. Daversea A. Fitts
M2018-00750-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

A Sumner County jury convicted the Defendant, Daversea A. Fitts, of first degree premeditated murder, and the trial court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, asserting that the State failed to sufficiently corroborate accomplice testimony presented at trial. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Sumner County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/26/19
G.G. Ex Rel Jackie Johnson Et Al. v. Boyd-Buchanan School Et Al. - Dissenting
E2018-01912-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

John W. McClarty, J., dissenting. The majority holds that the trial court abused its discretion by entering an order that would allow the plaintiffs to discover information that is irrelevant to their breach of contract claim.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/26/19
G.G. Ex Rel. Jackie Johnson Et Al. v. Boyd-Buchanan School Et Al.
E2018-01912-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

This interlocutory appeal involves a discovery dispute. G.G., an eighth-grade student, was expelled from Boyd-Buchanan School after he sent sexually explicit messages to a female student on a social media platform. G.G. and his mother, Jackie Johnson, filed a complaint against Boyd-Buchanan School and other school officials. The trial court dismissed most of plaintiffs’ claims. The only remaining claim is plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim against the school. During discovery, plaintiffs requested the employment files of various school administrators and extensive information relating to the disciplinary records of non-party students. The school filed a motion for a protective order. The court granted the school’s motion in part and denied it in part. The school then requested permission to file an interlocutory appeal. The trial court granted permission to appeal, as did this Court. In this opinion, we clarify the appropriate legal standard for analyzing discovery disputes. We also hold that the trial court abused its discretion by entering an order that would allow plaintiffs to discover information that is irrelevant to their breach of contract claim. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for the entry of an order granting Boyd-Buchanan School’s motion for a protective order in its entirety.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 06/26/19