Court Opinions

Format: 11/18/2017
Format: 11/18/2017
Wade Harvey, Ex Rel. Alexis Breanna Gladden v. Cumberland Trust And Investment Company, Et Al.
E2015-00941-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

In this interlocutory appeal, the trustee of a trust executed an investment/brokerage account agreement that included a provision requiring the arbitration of disputes. The trust beneficiary filed a lawsuit asserting claims against the investment broker, and the defendant broker sought to compel arbitration under the arbitration provision in the account agreement. The trial court granted the motion to compel arbitration and granted permission for this interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals reversed. On appeal, we are asked to determine whether the signature of the trustee on the account agreement binds the beneficiary of the trust to the predispute arbitration provision. We hold that the Tennessee Uniform Trust Code is intended to give trustees broad authority to fulfill their duties as trustee. We also hold that the Tennessee Uniform Trust Code gives trustees the power to enter into predispute arbitration agreements, so long as doing so is not prohibited under the operative trust instrument. We hold that the trust instrument in this case gives the named trustee broad authority and does not prohibit the trustee from entering into a predispute arbitration agreement. As a result, we interpret the trust instrument as authorizing the trustee to execute the account agreement with the defendant broker, including the predispute arbitration provision therein. Thus, under both the Tennessee Uniform Trust Code and the operative trust instrument, the trustee had authority to enter into the arbitration agreement contained within the account agreement. The question of whether the trust beneficiary in this case is bound by the arbitration provision is governed by the principle that a third party who seeks the benefit of a contract must also bear its burdens. Applying this principle, the trust beneficiary in this case may be bound to arbitrate claims against the investment broker that seek to enforce the account agreement. We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and vacate the trial court order compelling arbitration of all claims. We remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings, including a determination as to which if any of the claims asserted by the trust beneficiary seek to enforce the account agreement.

Hamblen County Supreme Court 10/20/17
In Re Estate of Veronica Stewart
M2016-02355-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Larry B. Stanley

This appeal arises from a will contest. The contestant insists the purported Last Will and Testament of the decedent, dated June 19, 2015, is invalid because the attesting witnesses, who duly executed the attestation affidavit, failed to affix their signatures to the will as required by the Tennessee Execution of Wills Act at the time the will was executed. The proponent insists the will was validly executed based on a 2016 amendment to Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104, which applies to wills executed prior to July 1, 2016, and states “to the extent necessary for the Will to be validly executed, witness signatures affixed to an affidavit meeting the requirements of § 32-2-110 shall be considered signatures to the Will.” The trial court ruled that the 2016 amendment did not apply because the testator died before it went into effect. Consequently, the 2015 will was invalid because it was not executed in accordance with the law then in effect. We have determined that the 2016 amendment to Tenn. Code Ann. § 32-1-104 applies retrospectively to wills executed prior to July 1, 2016, because that is the clear and unambiguous intent of the legislation. We have also determined that the retrospective application of the law does not impair any vested legal right of the contestant. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Warren County Court of Appeals 10/20/17
Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
W2013-01949-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert S. Weiss

I concur in the majority’s decision regarding the pretrial agreement. I dissent from the majority’s analysis regarding superseding cause. The trial court did not err in declining to give an instruction on superseding cause; the majority’s analysis confuses causation in fact with superseding cause. Further, I dissent from the majority’s analysis of the remittitur issue and its remand to the trial court. The majority, in five lengthy footnotes, attempts to defend its decision. The reasoning in this separate opinion is clearly stated; I will not debate with the majority in a series of footnotes.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/20/17
Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc.
W2013-01949-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert S. Weiss

This appeal arises out of sequential rear-end collisions involving three tractor trailer vehicles. The plaintiff’s tractor trailer was rear-ended by a tractor trailer owned by the defendant, which was in turn rear-ended by a third tractor trailer. The plaintiff sued the owners and drivers of both of the other tractor trailers, seeking compensation for personal injuries. Before trial, the plaintiff entered into an agreement with the owner of the third tractor trailer that neither would take any action adverse to the other and that the owner of the third tractor trailer would only owe the plaintiff half of any judgment entered against it. The owner of the third tractor trailer was later dismissed on a directed verdict. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff against the defendant. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for new trial and, with little explanation, also suggested a remittitur of the jury’s verdict in all four categories of damages awarded. After the defendant appealed, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings regarding the pretrial agreement between the plaintiff and the owner of the third tractor trailer. Regarding the trial court’s remittitur, the Court of Appeals reinstated the jury’s award for lost earning capacity, suggested a further remittitur to the award for loss of enjoyment of life, and affirmed the remitted award in the remaining two categories of damages. On appeal, we affirm the trial court’s rulings regarding the pretrial agreement. We find no error in the trial court’s decision not to give the jury a special instruction on superseding cause. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to suggest a further remittitur absent a finding that the jury’s award—as remitted by the trial court—exceeds the uppermost boundary of the range of reasonableness under the evidence at trial, and so we reverse the Court of Appeals’ remittitur of the award for loss of enjoyment of life. As to the trial court’s remittitur, in view of the sharply conflicting evidence on the plaintiff’s damages, the trial court’s failure to indicate the reasons for its suggested remittitur leaves us unable to determine whether the evidence preponderates against the remittitur and, consequently, unable to conduct a proper appellate review of the trial court’s remittitur decision. Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial court for explanation of its reasons for suggesting remittitur of the jury’s award. For the same reason, the Court of Appeals was without sufficient information to perform a meaningful review of the trial court’s suggested remittitur, so we vacate the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the trial court’s remittitur of the award on lost earning capacity. The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/20/17
Richard Lloyd Odom v. State of Tennessee
W2015-01742-CCA-R3-PD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

The Petitioner, Richard Lloyd Odom, appeals the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his conviction of first degree felony murder and resulting sentence of death. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, raises various issues related to his post-conviction evidentiary hearing, and challenges the imposition of the death penalty. Having discerned no error, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/20/17
State of Tennessee v. Robert J. Bynum
M2016-01580-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith
The defendant, Robert J. Bynum, appeals his Franklin County Circuit Court jury conviction of facilitation of the possession with intent to sell or deliver .5 grams or more of cocaine, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence as well as the propriety of the total effective sentence imposed for all the convictions in this case. Discerning no error, we affirm.
 
Franklin County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/20/17
Joe David Erwin, et al. v. Great River Road Supercross, LLC, et al.
W2017-00150-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Tony Childress

At oral argument, the parties agreed that the trial court made a finding concerning the reliance element of Appellants’ fraud claim that was not supported by the record. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s order and remand the case for further proceedings.

Dyer County Court of Appeals 10/19/17
In Re Elizabeth Beck Hoisington Living Trust
W2016-02527-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen D. Webster

Appellant appeals the trial court’s determination that settlor’s holographic notations on her trust agreement did not operate to modify the original trust. Specifically, the trial court held that settlor neither satisfied the requirements for modification of the trust as set out in the trust agreement, nor manifested a clear intent to amend the trust under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 35-15-602(c)(2)(B). Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/19/17
Mark T. Thomas v. Richard J. Myers, et al.
W2016-02581-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

This is a legal malpractice case. Appellees, who are licensed attorneys, represented Appellant in a trademark infringement and consumer protection lawsuit in federal court that resulted in a judgment against Appellant. On October 21, 2015, more than a year after the federal court judgment, Appellant filed a complaint for misrepresentation and negligence against Appellees. The trial court interpreted Appellant’s claims against Appellees as a legal malpractice action and granted Appellees’ motion for summary judgment on the ground that the one-year statute of limitations had expired prior to commencement of the action. Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(c)(1). We affirm the trial court’s judgment and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/19/17
Corey M. Searcy, et al. v. Walter Axley, et al.
W2017-00374-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles C. McGinley

Parents filed suit against dog owners following their son’s injury from a dog bite that occurred at the owners’ home. The trial court granted the dog owners’ motion for summary judgment, concluding that parents failed to show that owners knew or should have known of their dog’s dangerous propensities as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 44-8-413. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Benton County Court of Appeals 10/19/17
Tray Simmons v. John Cheadle, Et Al.
M2017-00494-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mitchell Keith Siskin

This appeal involves a dispute between a judgment debtor and the attorneys for the judgment creditor. In an effort to collect on a final judgment, attorneys for the judgment creditor served the judgment debtor with a notice of deposition. After some discussion, it became clear that the debtor failed to bring the requested documents with him to the deposition, and the attorneys for the creditor refused to go forward with the deposition that day. The debtor then filed this separate lawsuit, pro se, against the creditor’s attorneys alleging that they had taken an “unlawful deposition” of him. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the attorneys for the judgment creditor. We affirm.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/19/17
State of Tennessee v. Eric Milon
W2016-01707-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula Skahan

A Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Eric Milon, of being a felon in possession of a firearm and of being a felon in possession of a handgun. The trial court merged the two convictions and sentenced the Defendant to five years of incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence seized during a stop and search of the Defendant and when it admitted inadmissible hearsay. After a thorough review of the record and relevant authorities, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/19/17
Dianne Elizabeth Lutzak, Trustee Of The Dianne Elizabeth Lutzak Family Revocable Trust v. Phoenix American Development Partners, L. P. Et Al.
M2015-02117-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James G. Martin, III

The owner of undeveloped property sought a declaratory judgment that restrictive covenants governing an adjacent subdivision did not apply to its property. The developer of the subdivision and the homeowners’ association of the subdivision filed counterclaims seeking a declaratory judgment that the restrictive covenants applied to the undeveloped property and attorney’s fees and costs. On cross-motions for summary declaratory judgment, the trial court granted summary declaratory judgment to the owner of the undeveloped property. On appeal, the defendants argue that the trial court erred in finding no express restrictive covenants applicable to the undeveloped property and in refusing to enforce negative reciprocal easements by implication from an alleged common development plan. We conclude that the restrictive covenants, by their express terms, do not apply to the undeveloped property. We further conclude that the trial court properly declined to impose negative reciprocal easements on the undeveloped property. Thus, we affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/18/17
State of Tennessee v. James William Mabe
M2016-02096-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley
The Defendant, James William Mabe, was found guilty by a Warren County Circuit Court jury of three counts of attempted rape of a child, a Class B felony, and three counts of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-522 (2014) (child rape); 39-12-101 (2014) (attempt); 39-13-504 (2014) (aggravated sexual battery). The trial court merged the attempted child rape convictions with the aggravated sexual battery convictions and imposed eleven-year sentences for each conviction. The court ordered partial consecutive sentences, for an effective twenty-two-year sentence at 100% service. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions, (2) the trial court erred by failing to require the State to make an election of the offenses, (3) the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offenses of child rape; and (4) his sentence is excessive. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.
 
Warren County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/18/17
State of Tennessee v. Lamantez Desha Robinson
M2016-02335-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt, Jr.
Lamantez Desha Robinson (“the Defendant”) was convicted by a Davidson County jury of attempted second degree murder and sentenced to twelve years’ incarceration. In this direct appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred in admitting into evidence a Facebook photograph of the Defendant posing with two handguns and that the evidence submitted at trial was insufficient to support his conviction. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 
Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/18/17
George Metz, Et Al. v. Metropolitan Government Of Nashville And Davidson County, TN, Et Al.
M2016-02031-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

This appeal concerns a determination by the Planning Commission (“the Commission”) of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) that the Forest View Park planned unit development was “active.” Certain Forest View neighbors (“Petitioners”) filed a petition for writ of certiorari against respondents Metro and The Ridge at Antioch, Limited Partnership (“Respondents,” collectively) in the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) challenging the Commission’s decision. Metro filed a motion to dismiss. After a hearing, the Trial Court entered an order dismissing the petition for writ of certiorari for lack of jurisdiction. The Trial Court found fatal defects in the petition for writ of certiorari, including that it was not supported by oath as required. Petitioners appeal to this Court. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/17/17
James Davis d/b/a Davis Auto Repair v. Tennessee Board of Water Quality, Oil, & Gas
W2016-00870-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

After Appellant failed to comply with the terms of a storm water permit issued to him, he was fined $5,000.00 by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The fine was upheld by an administrative law judge and, upon judicial review, by the Shelby County Chancery Court. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/16/17
Carroll Crews v. State of Tennessee
W2017-00578-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

The Petitioner, Carroll Crews, appeals from the denial of post-conviction relief by the Dyer County Circuit Court. In this appeal, she argues that she received ineffective assistance of counsel. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/17
State of Tennessee v. Alan Terry Stein
M2016-01345-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda Jane McClendon

A Davidson County Criminal Court jury convicted the Defendant, Alan Terry Stein, of driving under the influence (DUI) and driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more (DUI per se), and he received a sentence of  eleven months and twenty-nine days, suspended to supervised probation.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury and improperly denied his motions for special jury instructions.  Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.  However, we remand the case for entry of a judgment form as to count one reflecting that the Defendant’s DUI conviction was merged with count two.   

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/17
Regions Bank v. Thomas D. Thomas, Et Al.
W2015-00798-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

We granted this appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals correctly applied the statutory “rebuttable presumption rule” under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code, as codified at Tennessee Code Annotated section 47-9-626, in reversing the trial court and concluding that the Plaintiff, Regions Bank, was not entitled to recover a deficiency from the Defendants, Thomas D. Thomas, Helen L. Thomas, and The Thomas Family Living Trust. We conclude that both the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in their respective applications of the “rebuttable presumption rule.” Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, the judgment of the trial court is vacated, and this matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings as set forth herein.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/16/17
State of Tennessee v. Billy Joe Nelson
M2016-00010-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paul G. Summers

Following a trial, a Coffee County jury found the Defendant, Billy Joe Nelson, guilty of aggravated rape, carjacking, robbery, and two counts of aggravated kidnapping.  The trial court sentenced the Defendant to a total effective sentence of thirty years in the Department of Correction.  On appeal, the Defendant challenges whether the State sufficiently proved his identity as the perpetrator of the offenses.  Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.  

Coffee County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/17
Belinda Butler Pandey v. Aneel Madhukar Pandey
M2016-01919-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

This action presents issues regarding the interpretation and application of a postnuptial agreement previously executed by parties who later filed for divorce. The trial court determined that the parties’ agreement was valid and enforced its terms, including a provision allowing for an award of attorney’s fees to a prevailing party who was attempting to defend the agreement. The trial court granted the wife an award of attorney’s fees pursuant to this provision. In addition, the husband filed two motions seeking the trial judge’s recusal, which the trial court denied. The husband timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment. We further determine that the wife is not entitled to an award of attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/16/17
State of Tennessee v. Vincent D. Clark
M2016-02101-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R.Goodman III

In this appeal as of right, the State challenges the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s dismissal of a probation revocation warrant as untimely.  Because the probationary period of the defendant, Vincent D. Clark, had not expired at the time of the filing of the revocation warrant, the trial court erred in its dismissal.  Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for a new hearing.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/17
State of Tennessee v. Stephen Alexander Lyczkowski
M2016-02273-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge David L. Allen

The Defendant, Stephen Alexander Lyczkowski, entered a guilty plea in the Maury County Circuit Court to domestic aggravated assault with the length of the sentence to be determined by the trial court.  Following a hearing, the trial court imposed a sentence of ten years.  On appeal, the sole issue presented for our review is whether the trial court imposed an excessive sentence.  The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Maury County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/17
State of Tennessee v. Dennis Miller
M2016-02302-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson
The Defendant, Dennis Gregory Miller, entered a guilty plea to reckless aggravated assault, a Class D felony, with the punishment to be determined by the trial court. The Defendant requested judicial diversion and a sentence to be served on probation. After a hearing, the trial court denied diversion and imposed a two-year sentence, with sixty days to be served incarcerated and the remainder on probation. The Defendant appeals, asserting that the trial court abused its discretion. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 
White County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/13/17