Court Opinions

Format: 11/22/2017
Format: 11/22/2017
State of Tennessee v. D'Maris LaQuann Fuller
M2016-00412-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

A Davidson County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Appellant, D’Maris Laquann Fuller, of aggravated robbery. The trial court sentenced the Appellant as a Range I, standard offender to ten years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred by refusing to allow him to play a recording of a 911 call, that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction, and that the trial court erred when determining the length of his sentence. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/01/17
State of Tennessee v. Tommy Lee Houser, Jr.
E2017-00987-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven W. Sword

A Knox County jury convicted the Defendant, Tommy Lee Houser, Jr., of felony theft. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court classified the Defendant as a career offender and imposed a mandatory twelve year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the evidence supporting his conviction is insufficient and that the trial court erred in applying the Class D felony offense classification rather than the “new” Class E felony offense classification. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/01/17
Matthew B. Foley v. State of Tennessee
M2016-02456-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David M. Bragg

Matthew B. Foley, the Petitioner, filed a petition for post-conviction relief thirteen years after he entered a guilty plea; he argued that the statute of limitations should be tolled on due process grounds and that the State had breached a material element of his plea agreement. The post-conviction court summarily dismissed the petition on the ground that the statute of limitations should not be tolled. On appeal, this court held that the statute of limitations should be tolled based on due process grounds and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing on the merits. Matthew B. Foley v. State, No. M2015-00311-CCA-R3-PC, 2016 WL 245857, at *8 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 20, 2016), no perm. app. filed. On remand, the post-conviction court again denied relief on the ground that the statute of limitations should not be tolled based on due process. We again reverse and remand this case for an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the post-conviction relief petition.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/01/17
Sheila Holbert v. JBM Incoporated et al.
E2017-00324-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Don R. Ash
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

Sheila Holbert filed this action seeking workers’ compensation benefits for the death of her husband, Dennis Holbert (“Decedent”).  Ms. Holbert alleged Decedent died as a result of an inhalational exposure to dust in the course of his job for JBM, Incorporated (“Employer”).  After hearing the evidence, the trial court ruled Ms. Holbert had sustained her burden of proof as to causation.  It awarded death benefits and ordered Employer to pay Decedent’s medical expenses into the registry of the court.  It further ruled medical expenses were governed by the Tennessee workers’ compensation schedule.  Employer appeals, claiming the trial court erred in finding work-related causation and in ordering medical expenses to be paid into the treasury of the court.  Ms. Holbert challenges application of the Tennessee medical payment schedule.  The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51.  We affirm the judgment in part, reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand the case to the trial court.

Knox County Workers Compensation Panel 11/01/17
State of Tennessee v. Courtney Fifer
W2016-00713-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Wheeler Campbell

Following a jury trial, Defendant, Courtney Fifer, was convicted of first degree murder, attempted robbery, and being a felon in possession of a handgun. He was sentenced to life for first degree murder, two years for attempted robbery, and one year for being a felon in possession of a handgun. On appeal, Defendant argues that his right to a fair trial was violated because the trial court improperly restricted his closing argument, and the prosecutor misstated evidence during closing argument. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/31/17
In Re Briley R.
M2016-01968-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ray Grimes

This appeal arises from the adoption of a permanent parenting plan and the determination of a father’s child support obligation. The father argues that the juvenile court erred in both its fashioning of the parenting plan and its calculation of his child support obligation. Because the court made insufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law, we vacate and remand. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 10/31/17
Kimberly Van Floyd Et Al. v. Lisa A. Shirley Akins Et Al.
E2015-01737-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerri Bryant

This case concerns a dispute involving Lisa Akins, Kimberly Floyd, and Donna Helms, the three daughters of Eldon Shirley (the deceased). The initial dispute regards a deed from the deceased to Akins, reserving a life estate. Prior to the execution of the deed, the deceased executed a power of attorney appointing Akins as his attorney-in-fact. Thereafter, Floyd filed this action to set aside the deed on the ground of undue influence. She also alleged that Akins converted other assets of the deceased. Helms later filed an intervening complaint adopting the allegations in Floyd’s complaint. Helms prayed that the real property deeded to Akins be declared a resulting and/or constructive trust. Akins filed a counterclaim alleging that Helms was indebted to her. Akins asked the court to compel Helms to file an accounting of the funds in dispute. The trial court bifurcated the trial. It first heard the undue influence claim. The court held that the deed was procured by the undue influence of Akins. The second stage of the trial involved the status of other assets and accounts. The court determined that specific payments to Helms were loans. The court found that other payments to and charges made by Helms involved no promise to repay and were gifts or payments for the care of the deceased. Akins appeals. We affirm.

Monroe County Court of Appeals 10/31/17
State of Tennessee v. Joey Tyrone Simpson
M2016-01962-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Russell Parkes

The Defendant, Joey Tyrone Simpson, entered an open guilty plea to aggravated assault, a Class C felony, and was sentenced as a Range I, standard offender to three years in the Department of Correction. Additionally, he was ordered to pay $2880 in restitution for the victim’s medical expenses. On appeal, he argues that he should have been granted alternative sentencing. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court but remand for entry of a corrected judgment to reflect the amount of restitution as $2880, rather than $2280.

Lawrence County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/31/17
Thomas Lee v. Federal Express Corporation
W2016-02126-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge James F. Russell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jim Umsted

Thomas Lee (“Employee”) worked for Federal Express Corporation (“Employer”). He worked in the Audio-Visual department, located in Collierville, Tennessee. He filed this claim, alleging that he sustained a compensable injury to his left shoulder on July 24, 2014. Employer denied the claim, based on conflicting descriptions of the incident to various medical personnel. A Compensation Hearing was held on August 15, 2016. The trial court found Employee had failed to sustain his burden of proof and dismissed the claim. Employee appealed to the Supreme Court pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-239(c)(7). The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment.

Workers Compensation Panel 10/30/17
Jonathan Engler v. Able Moving Company, ET AL.
W2016-02125-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jim Umsted

Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, this workers’ compensation appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 51. Employee injured his back at work and subsequently developed a serious infection that required hospitalization and treatment. He filed a petition seeking to recover temporary total disability benefits and his medical expenses. The Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims determined Employee “failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he sustained a compensable injury primarily arising out of and in the course and scope of his employment.” After reviewing the record and applicable authority, we affirm the judgment.

Workers Compensation Panel 10/30/17
In Re Brantley B.
M2016-02547-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her son resulting from a petition for termination and adoption filed by her son’s Father and Stepmother. The trial court terminated Mother’s rights on the grounds of abandonment by failure to support and persistence of conditions, and on a finding that termination was in the child’s best interest. Upon a thorough review of the record, we reverse the termination of Mother’s rights on the ground of persistence of conditions; we affirm the termination of her rights on the ground of abandonment by failure to support and the holding that termination is in the child’s best interest.

DeKalb County Court of Appeals 10/30/17
State of Tennessee v. Marvis Deshun Pollard
W2016-01788-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

A Tipton County jury convicted the Defendant, Marvis Deshun Pollard, of possession of 0.5 grams or more of methamphetamine with the intent to deliver; delivery of 0.5 grams or more of methamphetamine; simple possession of oxycodone; tampering with evidence; felony evading arrest posing a risk of danger to others; and driving on a canceled, suspended, or revoked driver’s license. The trial court imposed an effective sentence of sixteen years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his methamphetamine convictions. Upon reviewing the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court. We remand the case to the trial court for entry of corrected judgments reflecting merger of the methamphetamine convictions.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/30/17
State of Tennessee v. Steven Dare Steelman, Jr.
E2017-00016-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven W. Sword

The Defendant, Steven Dare Steelman, Jr., was convicted by a Knox County Criminal Court jury of aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular homicide by intoxication, vehicular homicide by reckless conduct, vehicular assault, reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, third offense driving under the influence (DUI) per se, third offense DUI, driving on a revoked license after two prior DUI convictions, and failure to provide proof of financial responsibility. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-218 (2014) (aggravated vehicular homicide), 39-13-213 (2014) (amended 2015) (vehicular homicide by intoxication or vehicular homicide by reckless conduct), 39-13-106 (2014) (amended 2015) (vehicular assault), 39-13-103 (Supp. 2014) (amended 2015) (reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon), 55-10-401 (2012) (amended 2013, 2015) (third offense DUI per se), 55-10-401 (2012) (amended 2013, 2015) (third offense DUI), 55-50-504 (2012) (amended 2016) (driving on a revoked license after two prior DUI convictions), 55-12-139 (Supp. 2014) (amended 2015) (failure to provide proof of financial responsibility). The trial court merged the vehicular homicide by intoxication and vehicular homicide by reckless conduct convictions with the aggravated vehicular homicide conviction. The court merged the third offense DUI conviction with the third offense DUI per se conviction. The court sentenced the Defendant to an effective thirty-two years’ confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions for aggravated vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, (2) the trial court should have merged the reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon and vehicular assault convictions, and (3) the trial court erred during sentencing. Although we affirm the Defendant’s convictions, we remand the case to the trial court for the entry of corrected judgments reflecting the merger of the third offense DUI per se conviction with the vehicular assault conviction.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/30/17
Cindy Phillips, Et Al. v. Rural Metro Of Tennessee, L.P., Et Al.
E2016-02440-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael S. Pemberton

We granted an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 9 in this case to consider whether the allegations set forth in the Complaint make this a ‘health care liability action’ as defined by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-101 et seq. (“the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act”) such that the pre-suit notice and certification requirements set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-26-121 and – 122 are applicable. We find and hold that the allegations set forth in the Complaint filed in this case do not make this suit a health care liability action as defined by the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act. We affirm that portion of the judgment of the Circuit Court for Loudon County (“the Trial Court”) finding and holding that the allegations set forth in the Complaint filed in this case do not make this suit a health care liability action as defined by the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act.1

Loudon County Court of Appeals 10/30/17
Voya Retirement Insurance And Annuity Company v. Mary Beth Johnson, Et Al.
M2016-00435-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

A plan administrator filed an interpleader action asking the court to determine the proper beneficiary of death benefits in a retirement plan. After the plan participant died, both his former wife and his estate demanded payment from the plan administrator. Although the former wife was listed as the designated beneficiary in the plan, the estate claimed that the beneficiary designation had been revoked in the couple’s marital dissolution agreement. The former wife filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and a counterclaim alleging breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in the administration of the plan. The trial court denied the former wife’s motion, awarded the disputed proceeds to the estate, and dismissed the counterclaim. The former wife appealed. Upon review, we conclude that the marital dissolution agreement did not revoke the previous beneficiary designation. We also conclude that the trial court erred in dismissing the counterclaim. Thus, we reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/27/17
Joanna Marie Vlach v. Gregory Alan Vlach
M2015-01569-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ross H. Hicks

The primary issue in this appeal is whether the former spouse of a military retiree is entitled to a share of his military retirement.  The military retiree submits that, because of his service-connected disability rating of 100%, his former spouse is not entitled to a share of his military retirement.  Based on its interpretation of the parties’ marital dissolution agreement, the trial court ruled in favor of the former spouse and awarded her a percentage of the retiree’s “total military retired pay,” including disability benefits.  Upon our de novo review, we conclude that the trial court erred in awarding the former spouse a percentage of the retiree’s disability benefits.  But the trial court correctly determined that the military retiree’s disability rating did not deprive his former spouse of an interest in his military retirement.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 10/27/17
State of Tennessee v. Sterling Lamar Cooper
E2017-00232-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffery H. Wicks

The Petitioner, Sterling Lamar Cooper, appeals the Roane County Criminal Court’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. He argues that his effective twenty-four-year sentence, which included service of a nine-year community corrections sentence that was never revoked, is illegal. We affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion but remand the case for correction of clerical errors in the judgments of conviction.

Roane County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/27/17
In Re: Estate of Joe Marce Abbott
W2017-02086-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor George R. Ellis

This is a Rule 10B appeal of the denial of a petition for recusal. The trial court denied Appellant’s motion to recuse, and Appellant filed this accelerated interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 10B of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court. We affirm in part, modifying the trial court’s order to deny the motion to recuse and vacate its order regarding the validity of the will. We remand for further hearing regarding the validity of the will at issue.

Gibson County Court of Appeals 10/27/17
Troy S. Alexander v. NGMCO, LLC A/K/A General Motors, LLC
M2016-01480-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell Parkes

The employee worked for the predecessor to the defendant employer for many years and developed carpal tunnel syndrome. The previous employer underwent bankruptcy, and the defendant became the employee’s new employer. After the employee developed more severe symptoms, he filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The employer initially paid employee temporary total disability benefits but denied employee’s later claim for additional benefits, taking the position that the employee’s symptoms were caused by pre-existing medical conditions. At trial, both sides presented expert medical testimony. The trial court held in favor of the employee and awarded benefits. The employer now appeals, and the appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm.

Maury County Workers Compensation Panel 10/26/17
Robert Weidlich v. Lisa Rung
M2017-00045-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Justin C. Angel

This appeal concerns a defamation claim. Lisa Rung (“Rung”) put up a Facebook post featuring a photograph of the back of Robert Weidlich (“Weidlich”)’s vehicle. Weidlich’s vehicle had a number of bumper stickers on it, some of which incorporated
the Confederate Battle Flag. Along with the photograph, Rung asserted in her Facebook post that the Weidlichs were “white supremacist[s].” Weidlich sued Rung for defamation in a case eventually tried before the Circuit Court for Franklin County (“the Trial Court”). After trial, the Trial Court entered judgment in favor of Weidlich and awarded him damages. Rung appeals. We hold that Rung’s Facebook post, viewed in its entire context, constitutes non-actionable commentary upon disclosed facts. We reverse the judgment of the Trial Court.

Franklin County Court of Appeals 10/26/17
Antoine Cardet Smith v. State of Tennessee
M2017-00060-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R.Goodman III

The Petitioner, Antoine Cardet Smith, appeals from the denial of post-conviction relief by the Montgomery County Circuit Court.  In this appeal, he argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.  Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the
post-conviction court.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/26/17
Regina Edwards v. Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, LLC
W2016-02553-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

This appeal involves an arbitration agreement executed in connection with a nursing home admission. The trial court found no evidence that the individual who signed the arbitration agreement on behalf of the resident had authority to do so, and that, in any event, the form itself was not properly completed. Accordingly, the trial court denied the nursing home’s motion to compel arbitration. The nursing home appeals and argues that the trial court erred in deciding these issues because they should have been resolved by an arbitrator. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/26/17
Ana Tania Gomez, Et Al. v. Sable-Imagination On Sand, Et Al.
E2017-00107-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Telford E. Forgerty, Jr.

This is an appeal from a bench trial. Due to the deficiencies in the appellants’ brief on appeal, we find that they waived consideration of any issues on appeal and hereby dismiss the appeal.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 10/26/17
State of Tennessee v. Benjamin Gunn
W2016-00338-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

Defendant, Benjamin Gunn, was convicted of unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to sell, unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, and third offense unlawful possession of marijuana. The trial court merged the two cocaine convictions and imposed a sentence of twelve years. Defendant was sentenced to two years for possession of marijuana to be served consecutively to the possession of cocaine conviction for an effective fourteen-year sentence. On appeal, Defendant raises the following issues: (1) whether the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions for unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to sell and unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to deliver; (2) whether the trial court erred by allowing testimony concerning prior search warrants; (3) whether Defendant was properly sentenced for third offense possession of marijuana; (4) whether the trial court erred by allowing the State’s expert witness to testify concerning the characteristics of a drug dealer; (5) whether the State committed prosecutorial misconduct; (6) whether the trial court improperly commented on the legality of the search warrant; and (7) cumulative error. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/26/17
Christen Nicole Pankratz v. Dion Pankratz
M2017-00098-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry J. Wallace

This case involves a post-divorce modification of a parenting plan. The trial court found that there had been a material change in circumstances since the entry of the parties’ existing parenting plan. Mother appeals the trial court’s modification of the parenting plan insofar as the trial court did not adopt, in toto, her proposed plan. Father appeals the trial court’s finding that a material change in circumstances occurred since entry of the parties’ existing parenting plan but argues, in the alternative, that the trial court should be affirmed. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Cheatham County Court of Appeals 10/25/17