Court Opinions

Format: 03/30/2017
Format: 03/30/2017
Rodney Watkins v. State of Tennessee
W2016-00075-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The petitioner, Rodney Watkins, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his 2009 Shelby County Criminal Court jury conviction of second degree murder, for which he received a sentence of 25 years. In this appeal, the petitioner contends only that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/02/17
Lee Phan v. Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance
M2016-00612-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chancellor Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell T. Perkins

After a contested case hearing, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), acting on behalf of the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology, revoked a cosmetologist’s license based upon evidence that he had assisted in the procurement of reciprocity licenses in exchange for cash.  The ALJ also assessed civil penalties against the cosmetologist in the amount of $20,000.  The cosmetologist filed a request for judicial review, and the chancery court affirmed the decision of the ALJ.  We have concluded that the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial and material evidence and that none of the grounds raised by the cosmetologist justify reversal under the deferential standard of review described in Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322(h).

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/02/17
Grenda Harmer v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al.
M2016-01156-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

This appeal involves review of prison disciplinary proceedings. The prisoner pled guilty to the possession of contraband and waived his right to a formal disciplinary hearing. He later attempted to appeal his conviction and have it set aside. The chancery court affirmed the conviction by the prison disciplinary board. We affirm.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 03/02/17
Kenneth L. Langley v. State of Tennessee
E2016-01726-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson

The Petitioner, Kenneth Leroy Langley, appeals the summary dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus. The habeas corpus court found that it was without jurisdiction to hear the petition because the Petitioner filed the writ in the incorrect county. Although we hold that the habeas corpus court had jurisdiction, we nevertheless affirm the dismissal of the petition.

Cumberland County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/02/17
State of Tennessee v. Allan Wayne Bradberry
M2016-00501-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Suzanne Lockert-Mash

The defendant, Allan Wayne Bradberry, was convicted of twenty-five counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1005, three counts of statutory rape by an authority figure, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-532, one count of sexual exploitation of a minor, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-1003,one count of rape,Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-503,and three counts of incest, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-15-302.  On appeal, the defendant argues the trial court failed to require the State to elect the offenses upon which it sought to convict the defendant.  The defendant also argues the trial court’s imposition of partial consecutive sentencing resulted in an excessive, eighty-four-year sentence.  Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Humphreys County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/02/17
Khaleefa Lambert v. State of Tennessee
M2016-01059-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

Khaleefa Lambert (“the Petitioner”) was found guilty of first degree murder and especially aggravated kidnapping by a Montgomery County jury, for which the Petitioner received a sentence of life plus eighteen years.  This court affirmed the Petitioner’s convictions and sentences, and our supreme court denied further review.  The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, which the post-conviction court denied.  On appeal, the Petitioner argues that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance based on trial counsel’s failure to: (1) investigate evidence and case law that would have contradicted the State’s argument of premeditation; (2) discuss jury selection with the Petitioner; and (3) discuss the decision to testify with the Petitioner.  After a thorough review of the record and applicable case law, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/02/17
Laura Lee Demastus v. University Health System, Inc.
E2016-00375-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

Plaintiff Laura Lee Demastus brought this action against her former employer, University Health System, Inc., doing business as the University of Tennessee Medical Center (Employer). After Plaintiff had worked roughly three years as a nurse at the UT Medical Center, Employer suspected that she was illegally diverting medications. When Plaintiff’s supervisors confronted her with evidence of several suspicious transactions recorded by the medication monitoring systems, Plaintiff denied doing anything wrong or improper. She, however, could not explain the suspicious transactions. She was terminated shortly thereafter. Plaintiff brought this action under the Tennessee Disabilities Act (TDA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-50-103 et seq. (2016), alleging that she was fired solely because Employer perceived her to have the disability of drug addiction. Employer argued that it did not fire her because she was considered a drug addict, but because it thought she was stealing medications. Following discovery, the trial court granted summary judgment, holding that under the undisputed material facts, Plaintiff could not establish that Employer’s proffered non-discriminatory reason was a pretext for illegal discrimination. We affirm

Knox County Court of Appeals 03/02/17
Deangelo Moody v. State of Tennessee
M2015-02424-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

The State appeals the trial court’s granting the petitioner, Deangelo Moody, post-conviction relief from his conviction for first degree felony murder after finding that the petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel.  After review, we reverse the post-conviction court’s grant of relief and reinstate the judgment against the petitioner.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/02/17
Willie C. Cole v. State of Tennessee
M2016-00625-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

Petitioner, Willie C. Cole, filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, challenging various aspects of trial counsel’s representation as ineffective, among other things.  After appointment of counsel and a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief and dismissed the petition.  We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/01/17
Kevin Lee Johnson v. State of Tennessee
M2015-02273-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

The Petitioner, Kevin Lee Johnson, entered a guilty plea on April 17, 2013, for failure to appear, a Class E felony. The Petitioner filed a post-conviction petition challenging his conviction for failure to appear and also challenging a 2012 conviction for operating a vehicle after having been declared a motor vehicle habitual offender (“MVHO”). The post-conviction court dismissed both claims. On appeal, this court affirmed the dismissal of the part of the petition related to the 2012 conviction but reversed and remanded for a hearing on the part of the petition related to the conviction for failure to appear. See Kevin Lee Johnson v. State (Kevin Lee Johnson I), No. M2014-01166-CCA-R3-PC, 2015 WL 2445817, at *3 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 22, 2015) no perm. app. filed. The post-conviction court held an evidentiary hearing on the allegation that the Petitioner received the ineffective assistance of counsel during his guilty plea to the charge of failure to appear, and the post-conviction court denied the petition, finding neither deficiency nor prejudice. Discerning no error, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Marshall County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/01/17
Maryam Ghorashi-Bajestani v Masoud Bajestani
E2016-00063-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeffrey M. Atherton

This is the third appeal in a post-divorce case. It arises from Husband’s petition to modify the requirement that he pay private school tuition for his children’s elementary and secondary education, and Wife’s petition to calculate Husband’s income tax rate in order to determine the net amount to be paid to Wife out of Husband’s deferred compensation for 2011, 2012, and 2013. Husband contends the trial court erred by holding that his obligation to pay private school tuition was not modifiable because it was a contractual obligation. He also contends the trial court incorrectly calculated the tax rates and erred by refusing to allow him to introduce expert proof of the proper method for this calculation. We have determined the trial court erred in ruling that Husband’s obligation to pay private school tuition for elementary and secondary education was not modifiable. Therefore, we reverse and remand this issue with instructions for the trial court to determine whether a material change of circumstances has been established and, if so, whether to modify Husband’s obligation to pay private elementary and secondary school tuition for the children. With regard to the tax rates for 2011, 2012, and 2013, Husband failed to introduce evidence at the hearing that pertained to the proper method to be used to determine the tax rates. After the court rendered its ruling, Husband filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.02 motion seeking permission to present expert proof on the tax rate issue in order to alter or amend the ruling. We find no error with the decision to not consider Husband’s belated expert proof or the decision to deny the motion to alter or amend. We also affirm the trial court’s calculation of the tax rates and Wife’s share of Husband’s deferred compensation for the years in question. As for Wife’s challenge to the trial court’s decision to impute income to her for the purpose of calculating child support and refusing to consider work-related care expenses she might incur, we affirm these decisions.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 03/01/17
Gene E. Nevils a/k/a Gene E. Edwards v. State of Tennessee
M2016-00686-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

In 2014, the Petitioner, Gene E. Nevils a/k/a Gene E. Edwards, pleaded guilty to sale of 0.5 or more grams of cocaine and was sentenced to twelve years of incarceration.  In 2015, the Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that he had not entered his guilty plea knowingly and voluntarily and that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel.  The post-conviction court held a hearing on the petition and denied relief.  We affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/01/17
Henry Thomas Johnson v. State of Tennessee
M2016-00820-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jill Bartee Ayers

A Montgomery County jury convicted the Petitioner, Henry Thomas Johnson, of premeditated first degree murder and aggravated burglary.  On appeal, this Court affirmed the sufficiency of the convicting evidence.  State v. Henry T. Johnson, No. M2010-02452-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 1071809, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Nashville, Mar. 28, 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. May 16, 2012).  The Petitioner filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief in which he contended that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel at trial.  After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition.  On appeal, the Petitioner maintains his contention, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective because his trial counsel failed to effectively cross-examine multiple witnesses.  After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/01/17
SK Food Corporation, et. al., v. First Bank
M2016-01019-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

Three corporations approached a lender seeking to refinance an existing loan secured by a deed of trust on certain commercial properties. The parties entered an agreement specifying that the lender’s security interest would be a “first lien deed of trust” and requiring the borrowers to pay a nonrefundable “commitment fee.” The borrowers executed the agreement and paid the commitment fee, but the loan did not close due to the discovery of a prior lien on one of the properties. The borrowers filed suit against the lender for damages arising out of the lender’s refusal to lend or to refund the commitment fee. The trial court granted the lender’s motion for summary judgment but denied the lender’s request for attorneys’ fees. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Jeanette Arnold Buntyn v. Stevonski Elliott Buntyn
W2016-00398-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

This appeal stems from a divorce proceeding in which Wife was awarded alimony in futuro. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the trial court’s award of alimony and remand for further proceedings.

Madison County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Charles Van Morgan v. The Tennessee Civil Service Commission, et al
M2016-00034-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

Judicial review of a decision of the Tennessee Board of Appeals upholding the termination of a trooper with the Tennessee Highway Patrol for his conduct during a traffic pursuit. The trial court upheld the trooper’s termination. On appeal, the trooper asserts that the administrative judge who heard the case erred in disregarding expert testimony and, as a consequence, the Board’s decision is unsupported by substantial and material evidence. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Jonathan Harper v. Steve Harris, et al
M2016-00564-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joel Perry

This appeal involves a father’s petition to modify an order granting custody of his minor child to the maternal grandparents. The father alternatively requested an order granting him specific visitation. The juvenile court dismissed the petition on the grandparents’ motion. After our review of the petition, we conclude the juvenile court appropriately dismissed father’s request for a change of custody based solely upon the presumption of superior parental rights. But the court erred in dismissing the father’s request for visitation. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

Robertson County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Billy Richard Hicks v. State of Tennessee
E2016-01437-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

The Petitioner, Billy Richard Hicks, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief in which he challenged his convictions for driving under the influence (“DUI”), tenth offense; violation of the motor vehicle habitual offender (“MVHO”) statute; driving on a revoked license, second or subsequent conviction; and criminal impersonation. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to show the video of the Petitioner’s performance on the field sobriety tests to the Petitioner prior to trial. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/17
Hiam Alshinnawi v. Judy Denry
M2016-00177-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Mark Rogers


This case originated when the plaintiff filed an action against the defendant process server, alleging that the defendant failed to accomplish service within the specified time period. The plaintiff’s action was dismissed by the trial court due to the plaintiff’s failure to present sufficient evidence to prove her case at trial. The plaintiff timely appealed. Because the plaintiff has failed to comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27 and Tennessee Court of Appeals Rule 6, we dismiss this appeal.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
In Re B.B., et al
M2016-00953-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Phillip A. Maxey

The grandparents of three minor children brought this action to terminate the parental rights of the children’s mother. Following a trial, the court found clear and convincing evidence of grounds to terminate mother’s parental rights pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(8)(B)(i), (ii) and -(9)(A)(iv), (v) (2015). By the same quantum of proof, the trial court also found that termination is in the children’s best interest. Mother appeals. We hold that Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(9)(A) is not applicable to this case. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s holding with respect to that ground. As for the remaining grounds, we hold that the trial court’s final order failed to include the requisite findings of fact and conclusions of law required under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(k). As a result, we vacate the final order of termination and remand to the trial court with instructions.  

Cheatham County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Rachel L. Calhoun v. State of Tennessee
E2016-00858-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Jerry Beck

The Petitioner, Rachel L. Calhoun, appeals the denial of her petition for post-conviction relief in which she challenged her guilty pleas to two counts of first degree murder, one count of especially aggravated robbery, one count of identity theft, and one count of fraudulent use of a credit card and her effective life sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that she was denied her right to the effective assistance of counsel, arguing that trial counsel should have independently tested palm print evidence used against her. She also argues that her pleas were unknowing and involuntary. We affirm the post-conviction court’s denial of relief.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/17
Estate of Charles Allen Lane, et al v. Amanda Davenport Courteaux
M2016-00609-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Howard W. Wilson

Decedent had a life insurance policy in which she named her husband and sister as beneficiaries. Upon her death, Decedent’s husband filed suit to recover the proceeds Decedent left to her sister and place them in trust for the benefit of Decedent’s son, who was a minor at the time. The trial court concluded the son was entitled to the proceeds based on the theory of promissory estoppel. The sister appealed, and we reverse the trial court’s judgment. An insurance policy is a contract between the insured and the insurance company, and Decedent was entitled to designate whoever she desired as a beneficiary of her policy. Evidence of Decedent’s intent with respect to the proceeds does not deprive the named beneficiary of her right to the funds.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Donna Babb Frinks v. Patricia Eileen Horvath, et al.
E2016-00944-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Douglas T. Jenkins, Chancellor

This case involves alleged trespass via placement of a dock over lakefront real property that is beneath the lake’s fluctuating water line several months of the year. Prior to congressional approval of construction for Douglas Dam in 1942, the property at issue was part of a 488-acre farm owned by the plaintiff’s mother. In 1942, the Tennessee Valley Authority (“TVA”) acquired a flowage easement with the right to flood up to contour line 1007 adjacent to what is now Douglas Lake. TVA subsequently paid $35,628.50 to the plaintiff’s mother to condemn the respective easement rights. In 1944, a third party purchased approximately 245 acres above contour line 1002, creating a subdivision in the 1950s with tracts of land adjacent to the lake. In 2006, the plaintiff learned that she had inherited from her mother title to real property below contour line 1002, located between “lakefront” tracts of land and the lake itself. Upon receipt of a November 2006 letter sent by the plaintiff’s counsel to affected landowners, notifying them of the plaintiff’s claim to the land upon or above which their docks were located, many of the landowners purportedly purchased title to the affected land from the plaintiff. However, the defendant landowner did not respond to the letter. On October 3, 2012, the plaintiff filed a complaint, alleging that the defendant was trespassing by virtue of a dock placed on property to which the plaintiff held title. The defendant had placed her dock immediately following the purchase of her tract in November 1992. The trial court subsequently consolidated this action with two similar lawsuits filed by the plaintiff against other landowners. Following a bench trial, the trial court dismissed the complaint against this defendant upon finding that the defendant had established adverse possession of the property on which the defendant’s dock sits when water levels are down and that the defendant’s possession was continuous even when the dock was floating. The plaintiff timely appealed. Although we determine that the trial court erred in concluding that the defendant had established adverse possession for the twenty-year period required by common law, we further determine this error to be harmless because the defendant successfully established the seven-year period required for the statutory affirmative defense provided by Tennessee Code Annotated § 28-2-103. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
Carter Burgess v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, et al
M2016-01896-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph Woodruff

Appellant, an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction, appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his petition for a writ of certiorari. Inmate alleges that the Disciplinary Board violated several policies in finding him guilty of the charge of drug possession. The trial court granted the writ of certiorari and, upon review of the record, granted TDOC’s motion to dismiss. Inmate appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
State of Tennessee v. Jesse James Somerville, IV
W2016-01128-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

The defendant, Jesse James Somerville, IV, appeals the order of the trial court revoking his probation and imposing his original sentence of eight years in confinement. Upon review of the record, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the defendant violated the terms of his probation. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/17