Court Opinions

Format: 03/30/2017
Format: 03/30/2017
State of Tennessee v. Darnell Keith Roberts
W2016-01542-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham

The defendant, Darnell Keith Roberts, pled guilty to aggravated robbery. The trial court subsequently sentenced the defendant, a Range II, multiple offender, to fifteen years of imprisonment. On appeal, the defendant contends the trial court imposed an excessive sentence. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Weakley County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/17
State of Tennessee v. Rickie Reed
W2016-02119-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

The pro se appellant, Rickie Reed, appeals as of right from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s summary denial of his Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 motion to correct an illegal sentence. The defendant contends his motion stated a colorable claim for relief, so the trial court erred in summarily denying it. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/17
State of Tennessee v. Chrystal Tollison
M2016-00593-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Patterson

The defendant, Chrystal Tollison, appeals her White County Criminal Court guilty-pleaded conviction of child neglect, claiming that the trial court erred by denying her bid for judicial diversion.  Discerning no error, we affirm.

White County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/17
State of Tennessee v. Demarkus Montreal Taylor
M2016-00255-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

The Defendant, DeMarkus Montreal Taylor, appeals as of right from his conviction of first degree murder in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate aggravated child abuse, two counts aggravated child abuse, and one count of filing a false report.  SeeTenn. Code Ann.  §§ 39-13-202(a)(2); -15-402; -16-502.  On appeal, the Defendant contends (1) that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction, arguing that the evidence presented to the jury was predominately circumstantial and that there was no direct proof that the Defendant committed the offenses for which he was charged; (2) that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted autopsy photographs of the victim, specifically photographs of the victim’s brain and eyes; (3) that the trial court erred when it denied the Defendant’s motion for a new trial after counsel for the co-defendant attempted to introduce testimony regarding the Defendant’s prior drug sales; and (4) that the trial court erred in admitting the victim’s autopsy report, which contained un-redacted information regarding prior physical abuse.  Following our review, we affirm the Defendant’s convictions for first degree felony murder, aggravated child abuse, and false reporting.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/17
Gary Voigt vs. Michael A. Plate, et al.
E2016-00473-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge John B. Bennett

In this personal injury and contract reformation case, the plaintiff filed a complaint, seeking damages resulting from a motor vehicle collision and reformation of a release of all claims signed by the plaintiff. As grounds for reformation, the plaintiff claimed that an agent of the defendant company fraudulently induced the plaintiff to sign the release. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the plaintiff could not establish an essential element of his action because the plaintiff did not act promptly in seeking reformation of the release. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant upon finding, as a matter of law, that the plaintiff’s action was not prompt after discovery of the alleged fraud and that the plaintiff therefore was not entitled to reformation of the release. The plaintiff timely appealed. Having determined that the question of whether the plaintiff’s actions were sufficiently prompt in seeking the equitable relief of reformation presents a genuine issue of material fact, we reverse the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 02/28/17
In re Karissa V., et al.
E2016-00395-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Frank V. Williams, III

This appeal concerns the termination of parental rights. Glenn V. (“Grandfather”) filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Roane County (“the Trial Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of his son, Christopher V. (“Father”), and Makara G. (“Mother”) to their minor children, Karissa and Makilee (“the Children”). After a trial, the Trial Court terminated Father’s and Mother’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by failure to support and failure to visit. The Trial Court also granted Grandfather’s motion for adoption. Father and Mother filed appeals to this Court. We, inter alia, reverse the ground of failure to visit with respect to both parents. We also reverse the ground of failure to support with respect to Mother. However, we affirm the ground of failure to support with respect to Father. We find further that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. We affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the judgment of the Trial Court.

Roane County Court of Appeals 02/27/17
Clay Harris Dalton v. Jerry Sandifer, et al.
E2016-00696-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

This case involves a dispute over the commission earned from a real estate transaction. The parties disagree as to whether the plaintiff, Clay Harris Dalton, is entitled to a part of the commission on the transaction. Jerry Sandifer is a principal real estate broker licensed in Tennessee. He is the sole proprietor of Tennessee Realty Pros, LLC (TRP), a Tennessee limited liability company. Dalton is an affiliate real estate broker licensed in Tennessee. On September 6, 2013, Dalton registered his real estate license with Sandifer and TRP (collectively the Brokerage). On November 1, 2013, TRP secured a commercial exclusive right to sell listing agreement from a seller. The agreement encompasses the real estate sold in the transaction at issue. Eventually, TRP procured a buyer, and on March 23, 2014, the buyer executed a commercial purchase and sales agreement. That agreement listed Dalton as the Buyer's Designated Agent and selling licensee. It listed Sandifer as the Seller's Designated Agent and listing licensee. On September 30, 2014, the real estate closing took place, resulting in a total broker's commission of $97,400. Because only one brokerage was involved in the transaction, the entire commission was paid to TRP. Dalton claims that he is entitled to a share of the commission. He further asserts that he had an agreement with Sandifer that Dalton would be paid a share of the commission on the buyer's side of the transaction. Because the Brokerage refused to disburse any of the commission to Dalton, he filed a complaint seeking his share of the commission. The trial court found that, based on the customary and contractual commission split at TRP, Dalton is entitled to $34,090 for acting as the buyer's agent. The court also found that Dalton was entitled to $2,000 for his efforts in listing real property for the Brokerage. Accordingly, the trial court awarded Dalton a total judgment of $36,090. The Brokerage appeals. We affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 02/27/17
State of Tennessee v. Fred Birchfield
E2016-00493-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Eugene Eblen

The Defendant, Fred Birchfield, was found guilty by a Morgan County Criminal Court jury of second degree murder, a Class A felony, and reckless homicide, a Class D felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-210 (2014) (second degree murder), 39-13-215 (2014) (reckless homicide). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to consecutive terms of eighteen years for second degree murder and three years for reckless homicide, for an effective twenty-one-year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his second degree murder conviction and (2) the trial court erred by failing to grant his motion for a change of venue. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Morgan County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/27/17
State of Tennessee v. Gerald Lamont Byars
W2016-00005-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

Following a jury trial, the Defendant, Gerald Lamont Byars, was convicted of attempted possession of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine with intent to sell, attempted possession of 0.5 grams or more of cocaine with intent to deliver, simple possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The jury also found that the two attempted cocaine possession offenses constituted criminal gang offenses, and the Defendant received enhanced punishment—a sixteen-year sentence, with the attempted cocaine possession counts and the gang enhancement counts all being merged into a single conviction. He now appeals as of right, arguing (1) that the evidence was insufficient to support his attempted cocaine possession convictions and the gang enhancement violations; (2) that the trial court erred by qualifying a Haywood County Sheriff's Officer as an expert in gang activity; (3) that the gang enhancement statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-121, is unconstitutional, entitling him to plain error relief; and (4) that his sixteen-year sentence is excessive. Following our review of the record, we ascertain no error in the guilt phase of the trial on the underlying attempted cocaine possession offenses in Counts 1 and 2. However, because the criminal gang enhancement statute as employed by the State in the guilt phase of the trial on Counts 5 and 6 violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is facially unconstitutional, plain error requires us to reverse the judgments of the trial court in Counts 1, 2, 5, and 6, vacate and dismiss the criminal gang enhancements in Counts 5 and 6, and remand for modification of the judgments in Counts 1 and 2 and a new sentencing hearing on those counts. Because the Defendant does not challenge his misdemeanor convictions or sentences in Counts 3 and 4, those judgments are affirmed.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/27/17
Gloria House v. State of Tennessee
E2016-01259-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

The petitioner, Gloria House, appeals the summary dismissal of her motion to reopen her petition for post-conviction relief or, in the alternative, petition for writ of error coram nobis, which pleading challenged her 1993 convictions of nine counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of felony theft, and seven counts of misdemeanor theft. Discerning no error, we affirm the summary dismissal of the petition.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/27/17
State of Tennessee v. Henri Brooks
W2015-00833-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula L. Skahan

The Defendant, Henri Brooks, entered a guilty plea to a charge of making a false entry on an election document, a Class D felony. The Defendant, who was completing a term as a County Commissioner for Shelby County at the time of the offense, listed an incorrect address on a document related to her bid for the position of Shelby County Juvenile Court Clerk. The trial court held a sentencing hearing during which the primary contested issue was the Defendant‘s request for judicial diversion. The trial court ultimately denied diversion and instead sentenced the Defendant to two years of probation. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in denying diversion because it failed to weigh the factors it was required to consider in denying diversion, because it relied on improper evidence in making the decision, and because the denial was in part based on the Defendant‘s exercise of her First Amendment rights. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that the trial court improperly relied on evidence outside the record in reaching its decision. Accordingly, we reverse the denial of diversion, and we remand for a new sentencing hearing.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/27/17
Stacey J. Cordell v. Cleveland Tennessee Hospital, LLC, et al
M2016-01466-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

The trial court, pursuant to a motion to dismiss filed by defendants, dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit because she did not comply with certain aspects of the Tennessee Healthcare Liability Act incident to the filing of her original complaint. Because we do not construe the allegations in the original complaint as presenting any health care liability claims, we reverse the trial court’s dismissal of this lawsuit and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/27/17
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Bostick
W2016-00573-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

The Defendant, Christopher Bostick, was found guilty by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of rape of a child, a Class A felony, and aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-15-522 (2014), 39-13-504 (2014). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to consecutive terms of twenty-five years for rape of a child and nine years for aggravated sexual battery, for an effective sentence of thirty-four years at 100% service. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions and (2) the trial court erred by limiting his cross-examination of the victim’s sister and the forensic interviewer. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/24/17
Cedric Mims v. State of Tennessee
W2016-00418-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula L. Skahan

The Petitioner, Cedric Mims, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief in which he challenged his convictions of felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, and attempted voluntary manslaughter and his effective sentence of life in prison. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he was denied his right to the effective assistance of counsel. We affirm the post-conviction court's denial of relief.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/24/17
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Allen
W2016-00505-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The Defendant, Christopher Allen, entered a guilty plea to one count of aggravated burglary, a Class C felony, with sentencing to be determined by the trial court. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court found that the Defendant was a Range I standard offender and imposed a five-year prison sentence to be served consecutively with a prior eleven-month and twenty-nine-day sentence. The trial court also required the Defendant to pay restitution to his victim. The Defendant appeals the trial court's denial of alternative sentencing. We conclude that the trial court did not err in sentencing the Defendant to a term of imprisonment. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/24/17
State of Tennessee v. David Banks
W2016-00173-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula L. Skahan

A jury convicted the Defendant, David Banks, of attempted rape of a child, a Class B felony; two counts of aggravated sexual battery, Class B felonies; and one count of child abuse, a Class A misdemeanor, for crimes he committed against two child victims. The Defendant appeals, asserting that the evidence is insufficient to support the verdicts. The Defendant also asserts that the trial court erred in refusing to permit an employee of the Department of Children's Services (“DCS”) to testify regarding a note she had written which stated that one of the victims had manifested behavioral issues, including lying. Because the evidence was sufficient to allow a rational trier of fact to convict the Defendant and because there was no error in the exclusion of the evidence, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/24/17
Bobby McBee v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
W2015-01253-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This appeal arises from a negligence action filed by the plaintiff employee in June 2010, pursuant to the Federal Employer Liability Act ("FELA"), see 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60 (2012), against his former employer, the defendant railroad. The employee, who had worked for the railroad for thirty-nine years in a variety of positions, alleged that he suffered bilateral rotator cuff tears as a result of the railroad‘s negligence in failing to provide him with proper equipment while he worked as a foreman flagman from January 2007 through March 2009. In February 2012, the railroad filed a motion for summary judgment based on the three-year statute of limitations provided in 45 U.S.C. § 56. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motion in April 2012 but stated that it would reconsider if presented with additional evidence. The railroad subsequently filed additional motions for summary judgment in January 2014, reasserting the statute-of-limitations defense and asserting that the employee could not prove his claim due to an alleged lack of expert testimony regarding medical causation and an alleged inability to demonstrate the railroad‘s liability through expert testimony. Following a hearing, the trial court denied the motions for summary judgment as to the statute of limitations and medical causation. The court, however, granted summary judgment in favor of the railroad based on the employee‘s lack of expert testimony regarding liability. The employee has appealed the judgment, and the railroad has raised an issue regarding the statute of limitations. Having determined that under the circumstances of this action, the employee presented evidence that created a material factual dispute as to whether the railroad negligently contributed to his injuries, we reverse the trial court‘s grant of summary judgment. We affirm the trial court‘s judgment in all other respects.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/24/17
Michael Holley, et al v. Bethany Holley Ortiz
M2015-01432-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

This appeal concerns a mother’s petition to modify an agreed order granting custody of her two minor children to their maternal grandparents. The trial court determined that the mother was entitled to invoke the doctrine of superior parental rights because it concluded that the previous order was a temporary custody order. The court then awarded the mother custody of her children. The grandparents seek review of the trial court’s decision, first, to deny the grandparent’s request for a continuance to secure new counsel and, second, to allow the mother a presumption of superior parental rights. While we disagree that the presumption of superior parental rights applied, we conclude that Mother still demonstrated a material change in circumstances and that a change in custody was in the children’s best interests. We also conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the grandparents’ motion to continue. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Giles County Court of Appeals 02/24/17
Mansour Bin El Amin v. State of Tennessee
M2016-00048-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

The Petitioner, Mansour Bin El Amin, filed a petition for post-conviction relief from his conviction of theft of property valued at $1,000 or more but less than $10,000. In the petition, the Petitioner alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective. The Petitioner also filed a motion for the post-conviction court to approve funds for a private investigator to locate witnesses for the Petitioner’s case. The post-conviction court denied the petition and the motion, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/24/17
State of Tennessee v. Charles R. Presley
M2015-01600-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

The Appellant, Charles R. Presley, appeals the trial court’s revocation of his probation and its order that he serve his eight-year sentence for identity theft in confinement. The Appellant contends that the evidence was not sufficient to show that he “was actually on probation, what the probation conditions were, or whether he was advised of his probation conditions.” Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/24/17
Daniel Adam Barnes v. State of Tennessee
M2016-00178-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Normal McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry Wallace

The Petitioner, Daniel Adam Barnes, filed in the Cheatham County Circuit Court a petition for post-conviction relief from his conviction of violating Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-111 and the accompanying sentence of eleven months and twenty-nine days. The Petitioner alleged that his counsel was ineffective by failing to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence on direct appeal. The post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Cheatham County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/24/17
In Re: Estate of Sandra Kay Christian
E2015-02276-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

In this case involving the Last Will and Testament of Sandra Kay Christian, we construe a provision in her will in order to determine the interests of the parties with respect to real property owned by her. The deceased passed away on November 15, 2012. Her will contains a residuary clause. That clause devises two-fifths of the residue of her estate to Phyllis Midgett, Ms. Christian's sister. The will contains a separate provision that permits the deceased's nephews, John Reuben Christian, III and Ashley Paul Christian (the Nephews), to purchase her residence. The will provides that, in the event the Nephews elect to purchase the property, they will pay the deceased's niece, Regina Christian Dykes (the Niece), an amount that would make her share of the estate equal to theirs. The Nephews expressed their intent to purchase the residence. Ms. Midgett brought this action seeking a declaration that she has a two-fifths interest in the residence property. The trial court found the will provision at issue to be unambiguous. Consequently, the court held that Midgett has no interest in the residence property. The court directed Nephews to pay one-third of the value of the property to the Niece. Midgett appeals. We affirm

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 02/24/17
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth Gaines
W2016-01262-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

The Petitioner, Kenneth Gaines, appeals the Shelby County Criminal Court's summary denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. Because the motion failed to state a colorable claim for relief, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/23/17
Christopher D. Hodge v. State of Tennessee
W2016-00892-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

The Petitioner, Christopher D. Hodge, appeals the Lauderdale County Circuit Court's summary dismissal of his petition requesting DNA analysis of evidence pursuant to the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001. Based upon the record and the parties' briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/23/17
Larry D. Patton, et al. v. Shelby County Government, et al.
W2016-00970-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Felicia Corbin Johnson

In 2014, the plaintiffs filed this claim against several defendants pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act due to the recording of a forged deed in 2009. The circuit court dismissed the lawsuit based on the GTLA’s one-year statute of limitations. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/23/17