Court Opinions

Format: 09/23/2018
Format: 09/23/2018
Clinton Austin v. State of Tennessee
W2017-02374-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Glenn Wright

The petitioner, Clinton Austin, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged his 2014 conviction of aggravated sexual battery, alleging that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel at trial. Discerning no error, we affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/15/18
Marlon McKay v. State of Tennessee
W2017-00202-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

A Shelby County jury convicted the Petitioner, Marlon McKay, of felony murder and attempted aggravated robbery. The trial court sentenced the Petitioner to an effective sentence of life plus six years. This Court affirmed the trial court’s judgments on appeal. State v. Marlon McKay, No. W2010-01785-CCA-MR3C, 2011 WL 5335285 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Nov. 4, 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Apr. 12, 2012). The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged, as relevant on appeal, that his trial counsel was ineffective for: (1) not challenging his forty-eight hour hold when his arrest was not supported by probable cause; and (2) not timely filing a motion for new trial or a notice of appeal. The post-conviction court denied relief, and the Petitioner appeals. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/15/18
Kellye And Reid v. Mitchell Sherman Reid
M2017-00119-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

In this post-divorce proceeding the self-employed father of the parties’ two children sought a reduction in his child support obligation on the ground that his income had substantially decreased. The mother of the children opposed the petition, asserting that Father was attempting to hide income by referring income-producing business to his brother, who was also self- employed in the same trade; Mother also sought an increase in support due to Father’s increase in income and modification of the parenting plan. The trial court held that Father was voluntarily underemployed and that the proof of his income was not credible; concluding that neither party had carried their burden of proof the court denied both petitions insofar as each sought modification of the child support obligation. The court denied Mother’s proposed modification of the parenting plan and both parties’ request for an award of counsel fees for services rendered in the proceeding. Both parties appeal. Upon a thorough review of the record, we affirm the denial of Father’s petition to modify his support obligation and the order denying his counsel fees; we reverse the trial court’s holding that Father was underemployed and remand the case for a determination of whether income should be imputed to Father and, if so, whether there has been a significant variance such as to justify an increase in his support obligation; we vacate the order denying Mother’s petition to modify the parenting plan and remand the case for the court to make findings of fact and conclusions of law in compliance with Rule 52.01 and, in its discretion, for further consideration; we vacate the order denying Mother attorney’s fees.  

Putnam County Court of Appeals 08/15/18
Headwaters Of The Harpeth, LLC v. Tina Majors
M2017-02331-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Walter C. Kurtz

This appeal arises from a detainer action. After the general sessions court awarded the owner a writ of possession and a monetary judgment for rent, the defendant appealed to circuit court. The defendant also filed a separate action in chancery court seeking an equitable interest in the property under a resulting trust to compensate her for improvements she made to the property. The owner filed an answer and counter-complaint in the chancery court to recover the same damages it sought in the circuit court. While the chancery action was pending, the parties entered into an agreed order in the circuit court requiring the defendant to pay rent for her occupancy of the premises, but that execution would be stayed pending resolution of the chancery court action. After the chancery court dismissed all claims with prejudice, the owner filed a motion in the circuit court to lift the stay of the agreed order and for entry of a final judgment to recover rent owed by the defendant. The defendant filed an objection, maintaining that the counterclaim for rent in chancery court consolidated the two cases; therefore, the owner’s claim for rent had been dismissed by the chancery court. The defendant also contended the claim for rent in the circuit court action was barred under the doctrine of res judicata. The circuit court overruled the objection holding that the two actions were never consolidated, and res judicata did not apply because the circuit court action was filed before and pending when the chancery court case was commenced. This appeal followed. We affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 08/15/18
Teal Properties, Inc. v. Dog House Investments, LLC, Et Al.
M2018-00257-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones, III

The dispositive issue on appeal is whether co-owners of a limited liability company who signed a commercial lease agreement on behalf of the entity are personally liable for the lessee’s obligations when they signed the agreement twice: once on a line preceded by the text “By:” and followed on the next line by the text “Title:” and a second time on a line below which the signatory’s name was typed, followed by the word “Individually.” After the lessor filed suit against the lessee company and the co-owners individually to collect utilities and tax payments allegedly owed under the lease agreement, the co-owners filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted, arguing that the lease contains no provisions that make them personally liable for the lessee’s obligations. The trial court granted the co-owners’ motion, and lessor appealed. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/15/18
State of Tennessee v. Gdongalay P. Berry
M2017-00867-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt, Jr.

A Davidson County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Gdongalay P. Berry, of two counts of first degree premeditated murder, two counts of first degree felony murder, two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, and two counts of especially aggravated robbery. The jury imposed sentences of death for the murder convictions, and the trial court ordered an effective fifty-year sentence for the remaining convictions, which was to be served consecutively to the death sentences. Subsequently, the post-conviction court vacated the Appellant’s death sentences and ordered a new sentencing hearing for the murder convictions. After the new hearing, the trial court resentenced the Appellant to consecutive life sentences. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred by ordering consecutive sentencing for the murder convictions because the trial court failed to give “meaningful” consideration to his rehabilitation during his twenty-one years in prison. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/15/18
Darrell Tate v. State of Tennessee
E2017-02104-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Dugger

The Petitioner, Darrell Tate, appeals from the Hawkins County Criminal Court’s dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2015 guilty pleas to initiating the manufacture of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and failure to appear, for which he is serving a sixteen-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that his guilty pleas were involuntary. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Hawkins County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/15/18
Juan LaSean Perry v. State of Tennessee
M2018-00207-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

The Petitioner, Juan LaSean Perry, appeals from the Trousdale County Circuit Court’s dismissal of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus from his 2005 conviction for second degree murder and his twenty-five-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that the habeas corpus court erred by dismissing his petition. We affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Trousdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/15/18
Extended Stay America v. Scott Wilson
M2018-01337-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amanda Jane McClendon

This is an appeal from a judgment entered on February 20, 2015. Because the appellant did not file his notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the judgment as required by Tenn. R. App. P. 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/14/18
Bethel University v. Tennessee State Board of Education, Et Al.
M2017-01428-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman

The Tennessee Board of Education (“the Board”) denied approval of Bethel University’s (“Bethel”) educator preparation program (“EPP”). After unsuccessfully pursuing remedies under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (UAPA), Bethel sought judicial review of the Board’s action. The trial court found that the Board Policy 5.504, relied upon by the Board in its decision, was invalid and reinstated approval of Bethel’s EPP. The Board appeals, asserting 5.504 is a valid policy within the meaning of the UAPA and that the court erred in reinstating Bethel’s EPP. We affirm the trial court’s holding that 5.504 is a rule within the meaning of the UAPA and, since it was not promulgated as a rule in accordance with the UAPA, it is invalid and could not be used as a basis of denying approval of Bethel’s EPP. Further, we have determined that the court exceeded its authority in ordering reinstatement of Bethel’s EPP; we vacate the decision in that regard and remand the case to the trial court with instructions to remand the case to the Board for further consideration of Bethel’s approval status as an EPP.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/14/18
Queen City Pastry, LLC v. Bakery Technology Enterprises, LLC
M2017-00112-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

The purchaser of automated cake-line equipment filed this action against the seller alleging breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranties, negligent misrepresentation, and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.  On the seller’s motion, the trial court dismissed the complaint as untimely.  Because we conclude that the complaint was filed after the applicable limitations periods, either as agreed to by the parties or set by statute, we affirm.

Maury County Court of Appeals 08/14/18
Board of Professional Responsibility of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Larry Edward Parrish
W2017-00889-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies
This is a direct appeal of a disciplinary proceeding involving a Memphis attorney who filed motions to recuse containing pejorative statements about three appellate judges. A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility found that the attorney had violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct and that his sanction should be a public censure. The trial court agreed that the attorney was guilty of misconduct but modified the hearing panel’s decision, determining that the appropriate sanction was a six-month suspension, with thirty days served on active suspension and the remainder on probation.  We hold that the attorney’s pejorative statements in the motions to recuse were not protected by the First Amendment and there was material and substantial evidence of noncompliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, we hold that the hearing panel acted arbitrarily and capriciously in determining that the attorney should receive a public censure rather than suspension. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 
Shelby County Supreme Court 08/14/18
Jonathan Elliott v. Apple Investors Group, LLC, et al.
W2017-02385-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

This is an appeal in a slip and fall case. The plaintiff fell in a restaurant bathroom due to water on the floor. According to the plaintiff, the water was steadily dripping from a utility faucet located beneath the bathroom vanity. The plaintiff argues that the existence of the utility faucet was a dangerous condition such that the restaurant had a duty to either remedy it or warn of its existence. The trial court granted summary judgment to the restaurant, concluding that the existence of the faucet was not a dangerous condition. We agree and affirm the decision of the circuit court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/14/18
C & C North America, Inc. d/b/a Cosentino v. Natural Stone Distributors, LLC, et al.
W2017-01922-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor JoeDae L. Jenkins

This is an appeal from an interpleader action filed by a party who owed funds that were claimed by two other parties. The trial court found that interpleader was appropriate pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 22.01 and allowed the disputed funds to be deposited with the court. The two remaining claimants to the funds filed crossmotions for summary judgment. The trial court found that one party was originally owed the funds but that this party owed a debt to the other claimant. As such, the trial court ruled that the funds would be paid to the party who was not originally owed the funds but who had the outstanding claim against the other claimant. We reverse in part, affirm as modified, and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/14/18
State of Tennessee v. Robert Taylor
W2017-00765-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

The defendant, Robert Taylor, appeals his Shelby County Criminal Court jury convictions of second degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, claiming that the trial court erred by excluding certain evidence, that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions of second degree murder, and that the sentence imposed was excessive. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/18
Daetrus Pilate v. State of Tennessee
W2017-02060-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

Petitioner, Daetrus Pilate, filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief claiming that his confession was coerced and that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel in Case No. 11-05220. After appointment of counsel, an amended petition was filed claiming that Petitioner received ineffective assistance of counsel in Case No. 11-05220 and in Case No. 12-01054. Following a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/18
State v. A.B. Price Jr. and Victor Tyrone Sims - Dissent
W2017-00677-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish

The posture of this matter is that, as the Defendant arrived in the trial court to enter his plea of guilty and be placed on probation, the trial court announced to the parties that the court wanted to be “educated” as to the workings of the PSA, to which the Defendant would be subject. As the majority opinion in this matter explains, the practical effect of the PSA is that certain alleged infractions of the probation requirements would not go to the court but, rather, would be handled by a probation officer. Subsequently, a hearing was held in this matter at which a probation officer testified regarding the general workings of the PSA. The Defendant, having not yet pled guilty, was not yet subject to the PSA provisions; and defense counsel had not questioned its constitutionality. One week later, the trial court filed its lengthy and detailed order, finding that the constitutionality of the PSA was ripe for the court’s consideration, and concluding that, were the Defendant subject to its provisions, his rights to due process and equal protection of the law would be violated.

Henry County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/18
State v. A.B. Price Jr. and Victor Tyrone Sims - Concurring
W2017-00677-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish

I fully concur with Judge McMullen’s opinion. I write separately in order to elaborate on some of the details on the Public Safety Act of 2016 (“Public Safety Act”) which this court concludes violates the Tennessee Constitution. I do not take any pleasure when, after a thorough review of the statutes, the Tennessee Constitution, and applicable case law, I am compelled to conclude that statutes passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor violate provisions of our state’s constitution. I do not doubt the good intentions of the executive and legislative branches of our state government in establishing Section 14 of the Public Safety Act. Only the portion of the Public Safety Act found presently in T.C.A. § 40-28-301-306 pertaining to probation is deemed unconstitutional by this court. The provisions are contained solely in Section 14 of ch. 906 of the 2016 Public Acts.

Henry County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/18
State v. A.B. Price Jr. and Victor Tyrone Sims
W2017-00677-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish

This consolidated appeal comes to us following the passage of the Public Safety Act (“the PSA”), which, as relevant here, see Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-28-301,-306, changed how non-criminal or “technical” violations of probation are handled in Tennessee. These provisions require the Tennessee Department of Probation and Parole (“the department”) to develop, among other things, a single system of graduated sanctions for technical violations of community supervision and an administrative review process for objections by the probationer to imposition of such sanctions. Prior to accepting the Defendants’ guilty pleas, the trial court expressed concern regarding the implementation of the PSA, as these consolidated cases were the first in its district to which the graduated sanctions of the PSA would apply. The Defendants then objected to the imposition of the PSA as a mandatory condition of their probation and “request[ed] that the Court find certain of the provisions of T.C.A. § 40-28-301 through § 40-28-306, relative to sentences of probation, to be facially unconstitutional, and, therefore, decline to incorporate them within the judgment.” Specifically at issue are the provisions (1) mandating trial courts to include as a condition of probation that the department supervising the individual may impose graduated sanctions for violations of probation; and (2) the extent to which the department’s administrative process to review graduated sanctions contested by supervised individuals complies with principles of due process. After a hearing, the trial court issued an extensive order finding these sections of the PSA violated the separation of powers doctrine and principles of due process and equal protection. It is from this order that the State appeals. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Henry County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/18
State of Tennessee v. William Shannon Gresham
M2017-00672-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

Defendant, William Shannon Gresham, was indicted by the Sumner County Grand Jury for one count of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, two counts of rape of a child, and two counts of aggravated sexual battery. The trial court dismissed one count of rape of a child upon motion of the State at the close of the State’s proof, and the trial court dismissed one count of aggravated sexual battery at the close of the defense’s proof. The jury found Defendant not guilty of aggravated sexual battery, and Defendant was convicted on one count each of the lesser-included offenses of sexual exploitation of a minor and child abuse. The trial court sentenced Defendant to four years’ incarceration for sexual exploitation of a minor and two years’ incarceration for child abuse, to be served concurrently. Following a hearing on Defendant’s “Motion for Judgment of Acquittal and/or New Trial,” the trial court granted a judgment of acquittal on Defendant’s sexual exploitation of a minor conviction, concluding that the photographs of the victim did not depict “lascivious exhibition” as defined in State v. Whited, 506 S.W.3d 416 (Tenn. 2016). In this appeal as of right, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his conviction for child abuse and the trial court’s denial of probation. Following a careful review of the record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sumner County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/18
Martin Dean "Cub" Meeks v. State of Tennessee
M2017-01887-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Graham

The Petitioner, Martin Dean “Cub” Meeks, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition seeking to overturn his conviction for first degree premeditated murder. The Petitioner alleged that trial counsel was deficient in failing to obtain expert evidence, but he did not present any expert testimony at the post-conviction hearing. Because the Petitioner has not shown that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, we affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

Grundy County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/14/18
Victory Thayer v. United Parcel Service, ET AL.
W2017-02153-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge William B. Acree, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

Victory Thayer (“Employee”) alleged that he sustained a compensable injury in 1997 in the course and scope of his employment with United Parcel Service (“Employer”). Employer and its insurer, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (“Insurer”), filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted their motion on the ground that the one-year statute of limitations barred Employee’s claim. Employee has appealed that decision. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment.

Shelby County Workers Compensation Panel 08/13/18
Kathryn Lynn Jones v. Gary Edward Jones
M2017-01823-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor L. Craig Johnson

This is the second appeal arising from a divorce action. In this appeal, the wife contends the trial court erred by depriving her of the post-trial increase in her proportionate share of marital investment accounts. On remand, the trial court held that the wife was awarded a sum certain as of the date of divorce; thus, the subsequent increase in the value of the account was the husband’s property. We affirm.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 08/13/18
Troy Nicholas v. Tennessee Department of Safety And Homeland Security
M2017-01674-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

After police seized a vehicle allegedly used to transport drugs, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security initiated forfeiture proceedings against the vehicle’s owner. The owner filed a claim contesting the forfeiture proceedings, and the Department dismissed the claim as untimely. The owner petitioned for judicial review, and the trial court reversed the dismissal, reinstated the owner’s claim, and remanded for a hearing. We affirm the trial court’s decision.          

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/13/18
Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Michael Gibbs Sheppard
M2017-00804-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones

This is a direct appeal of a disciplinary proceeding against a Brentwood attorney arising out of the mismanagement of client funds held in trust. A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that the attorney had violated Rules 1.15 (safekeeping property and funds) and 8.4 (misconduct) of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct. The hearing panel recommended that the attorney be suspended for sixty days, to be followed by two years of probation under the supervision of a practice monitor, and that he complete fifteen hours of continuing legal education on law office management and trust accounting procedures. The chancery court modified the hearing panel’s decision by increasing the periods of suspension and probation and by imposing additional conditions of probation. We hold that the hearing panel’s decision was supported by material and substantial evidence and was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. The chancery court, therefore, erred in modifying the hearing panel’s decision. We reverse the judgment of the chancery court and affirm the hearing panel’s decision.

Williamson County Supreme Court 08/13/18