Court Opinions

Format: 09/15/2019
Format: 09/15/2019
Angela M. Gunter v. Estate of Jaime B. Armstrong Et Al.
E2018-01473-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Beth Boniface

This appeal presents the issue of whether an employer can be held liable for the tortious harm its employee inflicted on a third party during an automobile accident when that accident occurred after the employee departed her workplace but prior to the end of her work shift. The trial court entered an order granting summary judgment in favor of the employer. The third-party plaintiff has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 08/12/19
Antonio D. Idellfonso-Diaz v. Russell Washburn, Warden
M2018-02233-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

The Petitioner, Antonio D. Idellfonso-Diaz, appeals the denial of his petition for habeas corpus relief. Following our review, we affirm the habeas corpus court pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Trousdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/12/19
Dana Darnell v. Mark Darnell
E2018-02007-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This appeal arose from the parties’ divorce proceedings. After approximately five years of marriage, Dana Darnell (“Wife”) filed a complaint in September 2017 with the Bradley County Chancery Court (“Trial Court”), seeking a divorce from Mark Darnell (“Husband”). Following trial, the Trial Court granted the parties a divorce, classified the parties’ property, and divided the marital property and debts. Determining that Wife’s savings account should have been classified as marital property due to commingling, we reverse the trial court’s classification that such account was Wife’s separate property and award Husband one-half of the funds in Wife’s savings account. We affirm the Trial Court’s distribution of the remaining marital assets.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 08/12/19
Tarence Nelson v. State of Tennessee
W2017-02063-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

The petitioner, Tarence Nelson, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal. The petitioner argues trial counsel was ineffective for failing to turn over certain firearms to law enforcement for testing, failing to request funds to hire a ballistics expert, and failing to request oral argument on direct appeal. Separately, the petitioner alleges numerous, additional errors of trial counsel amounted to ineffective assistance under the cumulative error doctrine. The petitioner also contends postconviction counsel was ineffective. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/12/19
Marlon Cooper v. City of Memphis Civil Service Commission
W2018-01112-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

A lieutenant with the Memphis Fire Department was terminated after a positive drug test. Although this termination was upheld by the Civil Service Commission, the Shelby County Chancery Court later reversed the termination and ordered that the lieutenant be reinstated to his previous employment. For the reasons stated herein, we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/12/19
Lawrence Wooden v. Club Epic, et al.
W2018-00952-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

This appeal arises from the trial court’s denial of relief from an order of dismissal for lack of prosecution. The trial court entered its final order on June 21, 2016. On June 1, 2017, plaintiff electronically filed a motion for relief pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 due to mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect, but it was rejected and not filed because it did not comply with the e-filing rules of the Circuit Court for the Thirtieth Judicial District. Plaintiff filed a second motion for relief on December 28, 2017. Having determined that plaintiff’s second motion was not timely filed, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Thorne Peters
W2018-01328-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

The Defendant, Thorne Peters, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony drug offense, a Class D felony; possession of marijuana with intent to sell, a Class E felony; and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, a Class E felony. The trial court merged the drug convictions and imposed an effective sentence of four years. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence convicting him of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony drug offense. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Dustin Michael Cathey
W2018-00615-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

The Defendant, Dustin Michael Cathey, was convicted by a Crockett County Circuit Court jury of first degree felony murder and second degree murder. The second degree murder conviction merged into the conviction for felony murder, and the trial court imposed a life sentence. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court erred in including language regarding criminal responsibility for the conduct of another in its jury charge, and he also argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Crockett County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Kendrick Rivers
W2018-00861-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

Defendant, Kendrick Rivers, was found guilty of aggravated assault in concert with two or more other persons after an incident at Northwest Correctional Complex (“Northwest”) in Tiptonville, Tennessee, during which a correctional officer was attacked by several inmates. As a result of the conviction, Defendant was sentenced to fifteen years in incarceration. On appeal, Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction, that the trial court erred in refusing to allow Defendant to introduce another inmate’s conviction for the same offense, and that the trial court erred in sentencing Defendant. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Lake County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/09/19
Regina Smith v. Benihana National Corp.
W2018-00992-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

In 2010, Decedent became ill while dining at the Benihana restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee; despite being transported to the hospital, Decedent quickly died. Surviving relatives of Decedent thereafter filed suit against the restaurant alleging, inter alia, that the restaurant negligently served Decedent seafood or shellfish in spite of a known allergy. After several years of pretrial disputes, the case eventually proceeded to a jury trial. The jury determined that the restaurant was not liable for the death of Decedent and awarded the plaintiffs no damages. The plaintiffs filed no post-trial motions, but filed a timely notice of appeal to this Court. Discerning no error in the jury’s verdict and concluding that several of the issues raised on appeal are waived, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Gregory Tyrone Dotson
M2018-00657-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

The Defendant-Appellant, Gregory Tyrone Dotson, appeals from his conviction of voluntary manslaughter by a Davidson County jury. In this appeal as of right, the sole issues presented for our review are whether the evidence is sufficient to support his conviction and whether the trial court properly imposed his sentence. Upon our review, we affirm the conviction of the trial court. However, we reverse and vacate the Defendant’s sentence and remand for a new sentencing hearing.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Martha Ann McClancy
E2018-00295-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Andrew M. Freiberg

The defendant, Martha Ann McClancy, appeals her Monroe County Criminal Court jury convictions of attempted first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder, arguing that the trial court erred by denying her motion to suppress photographs of the scene taken by her co-conspirator Charles Kaczmarczyk, her motion in limine to exclude evidence of acts committed following the death of the victim, and her motion for a mistrial; that the trial court erred by admitting photographs of the victim taken during the autopsy; that the trial court’s making negative comments to and about her in front of the jury deprived her of the right to a fair trial; that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions; and that the trial court erred by imposing consecutive sentences. The State concedes, and we agree, that the trial court erred by imposing consecutive sentences in this case. Instead, because Code section 39-12-106 prohibits the imposition of dual convictions for two inchoate offenses designed to achieve the same objective, the trial court should have merged the defendant’s convictions. Thus, we affirm the jury verdicts, reverse the imposition of consecutive sentences, and remand the case for the entry of corrected judgment forms reflecting that the convictions are merged.

Monroe County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/09/19
Simeon T. Trendafilov v. William E. Bitterman
E2018-01289-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement Jr., P.J., M.S.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

This appeal follows a jury trial in which the plaintiff was awarded $6,500 for damage to his automobile. The plaintiff raises several issues for our consideration. Two of the issues pertain to pretrial evidentiary rulings made by the trial court; however, the plaintiff failed to raise these issues in his motion for new trial. Because the plaintiff failed to raise these issues in his motion for new trial, they are waived under Rule 3 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The remaining issues concern whether the trial court properly admitted the defendant’s valuation evidence at trial and whether the evidence at trial was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict. Although the plaintiff raised these issues in his motion for new trial, he failed to provide this court with a transcript of the evidence or a statement of the evidence. Without a fair and accurate record of what transpired at trial, we are unable conduct a review of these issues. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the trial court in all respects.

Knox County Court of Appeals 08/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Brian Williams
M2018-01901-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

The Defendant, Brian Williams, was indicted for aggravated burglary, a Class C felony; and theft of property valued at $1000 or less, a Class A misdemeanor. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-14-103, -105, -403. The Defendant pled guilty to the theft charge and was convicted by a jury of the aggravated burglary charge. The trial court later imposed a total effective sentence of four years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for aggravated burglary. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Brandon Robert Vandenburg
M2017-01882-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

A Davidson County jury convicted Brandon Robert Vandenburg, Defendant, of five counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of unlawful photography. On appeal, Defendant argues the following: (1) the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the superseding indictment violated his right to due process and protection from double jeopardy and violated Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 8; (2) prosecution on the superseding indictment created a realistic likelihood of vindictive prosecution; (3) the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of Dr. J. Sidney Alexander; (4) the trial court erred by denying Defendant’s request to question potential jurors about recent rape cases in national news and by failing to timely admonish prospective jurors; (5) the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress the June 27, 2013 interrogation and evidence obtained based on that interrogation; (6) the trial court erred in excluding Defendant’s voicemail on Joseph Quinzio’s cell phone; (7) the trial court erred by instructing the jury on the requisite culpability for criminal responsibility and on “presence and companionship” as it relates to criminal responsibility; (8) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments; (9) the evidence was insufficient for a rational juror to have found Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (10) Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-605 is void for vagueness; (11) the trial court erred in ordering Defendant to serve an excessive sentence; (12) the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to recuse; (13) the trial court erred by excluding evidence of the co-defendants’ prior bad acts; (14) the trial court erred by denying Defendant’s Tennessee Rule of Evidence 412 motion; and (15) the cumulative errors in Defendant’s trial warrant a new trial. After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments in counts one through four and six through eight. Although not raised by either party, we determine that Defendant’s conviction of aggravated rape in count five must be vacated. We modify the conviction in count five to attempted aggravated rape and remand to the trial court for sentencing in count five.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/08/19
Phillip Isaacs, Jr., Et Al. v. Brennon Fitzpatrick, Et Al.
M2018-01863-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

This appeal involves a dispute between neighboring landowners over the use of a driveway that crosses the land of a third neighbor. Two of these landowners were previously involved in a separate lawsuit that resulted in an agreed declaratory judgment establishing an easement for one landowner at the location of the driveway. In the case at bar, the trial court found that the prior declaratory judgment is not binding on the neighboring landowners who were not parties to that earlier proceeding. After a two-day bench trial and on-site view of the premises, the trial court found that these neighbors had established an easement implied from prior use, and alternatively, an easement implied by necessity, enabling them to use the driveway as well. The other landowner, who was granted an easement by the earlier agreed order, has appealed, insisting that he has the exclusive right to use the driveway. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the chancery court.

Perry County Court of Appeals 08/08/19
William L. Boone v. Town of Collierville
W2018-02005-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter L. Evans

After the dismissal of his federal action, plaintiff filed a state court action alleging a violation of the Public Employee Political Freedom Act. The defendant city thereafter filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that because plaintiff’s action was against a state entity, plaintiff could not rely on the saving statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-115. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss but granted an interlocutory appeal. We granted the application for interlocutory appeal and now reverse the decision of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/08/19
Travis Capshaw v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01371-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

Petitioner, Travis Capshaw, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition. Petitioner argues that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel (1) failed to adequately utilize mental health issues as a mitigating factor in Petitioner’s first degree murder charge and (2) such failure caused trial counsel to erroneously advise Petitioner to plead guilty. Following a review of the briefs of the parties and the record, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Hassan Falah Al Mutory - Concurring in part and Dissenting in part
M2017-00346-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Seth W. Norman

I agree that this Court should do away with the doctrine of abatement ab initio. It is an outdated concept. That said, I cannot go along with the Court’s decision to dismiss Mr. Mutory’s appeal. The Court should adopt a procedure for appellate review of a deceased defendant’s conviction and then remand the case so the parties can present evidence based on the new procedure. We have a duty to change the law when it no longer serves the interests of justice—but in doing so, we should not do an injustice to a party. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Hassan Falah Al Mutory
M2017-00346-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Seth W. Norman

We granted this appeal to determine whether, after the death of a defendant during an appeal as of right from a conviction, the Court of Criminal Appeals should follow our holding in Carver v. State, 398 S.W.2d 719 (Tenn. 1966). We conclude that, due to changes in Tennessee’s public policy in the arena of victims’ rights, the doctrine of abatement ab initio must be abandoned. Because there is no evidence before the Court that any interest would benefit from allowing the deceased defendant’s appeal to continue, we hold that, in this case, the deceased defendant’s appeal as of right from his conviction should be dismissed.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Demarcus Lamont Gonner
M2018-01969-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

Pro se Petitioner, Demarcus L. Gonner, appeals from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s summary denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Rule 36.1 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/07/19
Joshua Terron Johnson v. State of Tennessee
E2018-01785-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven W. Sword

The Petitioner, Joshua Terron Johnson, appeals the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2014 convictions for facilitation of attempted first degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, unlawful possession of a weapon, and aggravated assault and his effective sentence of twenty-six years. The Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/06/19
Darrell Dean Hochhalter v. State of Tennessee
M2018-00243-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

The petitioner, Darrell Dean Hochhalter, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel at trial. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/06/19
James Russell Vaughn, Jr. v. Sandra Pierce Vaughn
E2018-00794-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William K. Rogers

Husband and wife were divorced in 2004. The parties’ marital dissolution agreement obligated husband to pay wife $950 a month in alimony. Husband failed to make payments for over ten years. In 2015, wife filed a motion for contempt and order for body attachment seeking to recover the alimony arrearages. At trial, husband argued that the equitable doctrines of laches, waiver, and unclean hands barred wife’s claim. The trial court disagreed and awarded wife $114,000 in past due alimony and $1,000 in attorney’s fees. Husband appeals. We affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 08/06/19
State of Tennessee v. Leroy Myers, Jr.
M2015-01855-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

The defendant, Leroy Myers, Jr., was indicted for the aggravated assault of Sandra Custode, an inspector with the Department of Codes and Public Safety (“Metro Codes Department”), by intentionally or knowingly causing her to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury by use or display of a deadly weapon.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-102(a)(1)(A)(iii).  Following a bench trial, he was convicted of felony reckless endangerment, which is not a lesser-included offense of aggravated assault as indicted in this case.  Both the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the defendant, through the actions of counsel, caused an effective amendment of the indictment.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal pursuant to Rule 11 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure to consider whether and under what circumstances the actions of counsel can rise to the level of causing an effective amendment to an indictment absent the clear consent of the defendant.  Upon our review, we hold:  (1) Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 7(b)(1) sets forth the procedure for amending an indictment with a defendant’s consent, and these mandates were not followed in this case; and (2) the actions of counsel amounted, at most, to mere acquiescence rather than an affirmative request for the trial court to consider felony reckless endangerment as a lesser offense.  We reverse the judgment of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, vacate the judgment of conviction, and dismiss the case.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/05/19