Court Opinions

Format: 04/24/2019
Format: 04/24/2019
Kristen Paulette Stokes v. Steven Wade Stokes
M2018-00174-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Phillip R. Robinson

A mother and father each sought to be named the primary residential parent of their son, who was nine years old when the court granted the father a divorce. The trial court designated the father as the primary residential parent and granted the mother 146 days of residential parenting time with the child per year. The mother appealed, arguing that the court erred in conducting its comparative fitness analysis and in concluding that the father should be the primary residential parent. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/07/19
In Re: Cumberland Bail Bonding
M2017-02172-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

The Appellant, Cumberland Bail Bonding, argues that the trial court erred in suspending its bonding privileges due to a violation of Rule 26.05(B) of the Local Rules of the Thirty-First Judicial District, a rule requiring a bonding agent to be present for a defendant’s court appearance. After review, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Van Buren County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/07/19
Jason Perry v. State of Tennessee
E2018-00824-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Scott Green

The petitioner, Jason Perry, appeals the ruling of the Knox County Criminal Court granting him relief from a sentence imposed pursuant to Code section 40-35-121(b), the gang enhancement statute previously declared unconstitutional by this court, arguing that the trial court erred by finding that the illegal sentence issue was not a material element of his plea agreement and arguing that he should have been permitted to withdraw his guilty pleas. The record supports the determination of the trial court. For reasons discussed more fully below, however, we affirm that court’s ruling not as a grant of post-conviction relief but as a grant of habeas corpus relief.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/07/19
In Re Estate of Charles E. Caldwell
E2017-02297-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

This appeal involves a will contest. The decedent’s son alleges that his father “was of unsound mind, without sufficient degree of mental capacity and/or was mentally incompetent to make a valid will” and “was unduly influenced . . . in all circumstances surrounding and including the execution of the purported Last Will and Testament” by his daughter. The trial court found that the decedent had the requisite testamentary capacity to execute the November 2012 will, no confidential relationship existed between the Decedent and his daughter that triggered a presumption of undue influence, and the will was not a product of undue influence. The trial court further found that, in the alternative, the daughter rebutted any presumption of undue influence. The plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 03/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Anthony Eugene Barnett
M2017-02317-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones

The defendant, Anthony Eugene Barnett, appeals his Lawrence County Circuit Court jury convictions of possession with intent to sell alprazolam, possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of a dangerous felony, simple possession of marijuana, and speeding, challenging the sufficiency of the convicting evidence and the trial court’s ruling admitting certain evidence. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Lawrence County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/06/19
State of Tennessee v. Darius Alexander Cox
M2017-02178-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

Defendant, Darius Alexander Cox, was convicted after a jury trial of two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, two counts of aggravated robbery, and two counts of employing a firearm during a dangerous felony. After a sentencing hearing, Defendant received a total effective sentence of forty years. After the denial of his motion for new trial, Defendant appeals and argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that the trial court erroneously admitted evidence of other crimes under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b), that the prosecutor made improper comments during closing argument, and that the trial court erred by imposing consecutive sentences. After a thorough review, we conclude that the trial court committed reversible error by admitting evidence of Defendant’s other crimes because the evidence was not relevant to a material issue other than Defendant’s character. Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and remand for a new trial.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/06/19
In Re Devin V. et al.
E2018-01438-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

J.V. (mother) and R.W. (father) have two children together, D.V. (child 1) and S.W. (child 2). In connection with a case involving the custody of the children, father attended a hearing in the trial court. He brought his children to the courthouse. While there, he was taken into custody and thereafter extradited to Michigan on outstanding warrants. Mother was not able to care for the children. As a consequence, the children remained in Hamilton County without a parent or legal guardian. The children were adjudicated dependent and neglected and placed in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services. Father was later convicted in Michigan on four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree; mother was identified as the victim. Father was sentenced to serve a minimum of fifteen years in prison. In 2017, DCS filed a petition to terminate mother and father’s parental rights. Mother did not oppose the termination, but father did. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence to support DCS’s petition to terminate the parties’ parental rights. By the same quantum of proof, the court also found that termination is in the children’s best interest. Father appeals. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 03/06/19
Almonda Duckworth v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00920-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

The Petitioner, Almonda Duckworth, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and his guilty pleas were unknowing and involuntary. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the
post-conviction court denying the petition.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/05/19
Naomi Marie Jones v. Donnie Frank Jones, Jr.
M2018-01746-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry J. Wallace

Wife/Appellee filed a complaint for divorce while the Husband/Appellant was incarcerated. After the matter was set for final hearing, Husband filed a motion with the trial court requesting that Husband be allowed to participate in the proceeding via telecommunication. The trial court failed to rule on Husband’s motion, and proceeded to hold the hearing and grant Wife’s petition with no participation from Husband. Because we conclude that the trial court erred in proceeding with the final hearing while Husband’s motion remained pending, the judgment of the trial court is hereby vacated in its entirety and the case is remanded for a new trial. 

Dickson County Court of Appeals 03/05/19
In Re Estate of Milford Cleo Todd
W2018-01088-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carma Dennis McGee

In this case, the decedent’s ex-wife filed a claim against his estate to collect unpaid pension benefits awarded to her in their divorce. She asserted that the decedent failed to pay her a pro rata share of his cost-of-living allowances and “supplemental” benefit. The executrix for the decedent’s estate filed an exception to the claim, asserting that the divorce decree expressly provided that the ex-wife would “have no claim against the estate of [the decedent],” and did not award cost-of-living allowances or an interest in the “supplemental” benefit. The trial court found that the divorce decree did not bar the ex-wife’s action, that the ex-wife was entitled to a share of the decedent’s cost-of-living allowances and “supplemental” benefit, and awarded prejudgment interest. We affirm the trial court’s award of damages and interest but modify the judgment to reflect that the ex-wife is entitled to postjudgment rather than prejudgment interest.

Benton County Court of Appeals 03/05/19
Janet C. Fleming v. City of Memphis
W2018-00984-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This appeal concerns whether the public duty doctrine, which immunizes public employees and governmental entities from liability when their duty is owed to the general public rather than any particular individual, survived the 1973 enactment of the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“The GTLA”). While walking in Memphis, Janet C. Fleming (“Plaintiff”) was bitten by a pit bull. Plaintiff sued the City of Memphis (“Defendant”) in the Circuit Court for Shelby County (“the Trial Court”) alleging that Defendant knew of the dog’s violent tendencies from prior incidents and should have taken stronger preventative action. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment asserting the public duty doctrine. The Trial Court granted the motion. Plaintiff appeals, arguing that the GTLA supersedes the public duty doctrine despite the fact that our Supreme Court has held otherwise in a never-overturned opinion. Constrained to adhere to our Supreme Court’s binding precedent, we hold that the public duty doctrine was not superseded by the GTLA. We hold further that while the GTLA does not provide immunity to Defendant, the public duty doctrine does because Defendant’s duty was to the public at large and Plaintiff has not established a special duty exception. We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/05/19
State of Tennessee v. Stephen Richard Mayes
E2018-00612-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green
The Defendant, Stephen Richard Mayes, pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping, and the trial court entered the agreed out-of-range sentence of fifteen years of incarceration, to be served as a Range II offender. The Defendant filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Rule 36.1 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure, alleging that he was mentally incompetent at the time of sentencing, that he negotiated to be sentenced as a Range I offender and not a Range II offender, and that his sentence was illegal as it was out-of-range. The trial court summarily dismissed the motion, finding that he had not presented a colorable claim for relief because he had negotiated and agreed to an out-of-range sentence, which had not yet expired. On appeal, the Defendant maintains that his sentence is illegal. After review, we affirm the criminal court’s judgment.
 
Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/04/19
State of Tennessee v. Joe T. Brooks
E2018-00445-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don W. Poole

The Defendant, Joe T. Brooks, appeals as of right, from the Hamilton County Criminal Court’s revocation of his probationary sentence and order of nine months’ incarceration for his conviction of reckless endangerment. The Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering him to serve nine months of confinement before being returned to supervised probation. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/01/19
State of Tennessee v. Larry Joe Carroll, AKA Larrie Carroll
M2017-02508-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

Following a bench trial, Larry Joe Carroll (“Defendant”) was convicted of criminal trespass, criminal simulation valued at $1,000 or less, and criminal impersonation, for which he received an effective sentence of two years to serve in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence as it relates to his convictions for criminal simulation valued at $1,000 or less and criminal impersonation. Following a thorough review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/01/19
Dexter Lee Williams v. Tennessee Department Of Correction, Et Al.
M2018-01375-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

Appellant, an inmate in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Correction, appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his petition for common law writ of certiorari. Appellant raises several issues regarding violations of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s uniform disciplinary procedures. The inmate was found guilty of refusal/attempt to alter a drug test. After exhausting his administrative appeals, he filed an application for a writ of certiorari in the trial court. The trial court granted the writ of certiorari, and on review of the record, dismissed Appellant’s petition. Finding no error, we affirm.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 03/01/19
Christopher Michael Parker v. Courtney Williams Parker
M2017-01503-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Franklin L. Russell

In this post-divorce dispute, the mother filed a criminal contempt petition alleging the father had violated the permanent parenting plan.  Two years later, the father filed a petition for criminal contempt and modification of the parenting plan.  The court consolidated the competing petitions for trial.  Sometime after the court began hearing proof, the mother filed a motion to change venue, arguing that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to modify the plan because she and the child had lived in Georgia for seven years.  The court denied the mother’s motion.  And after completion of the trial, the court found that a material change in circumstance had occurred sufficient to modify the residential parenting schedule and that modification of the schedule was in the child’s best interest.  The court also found the mother in criminal contempt for violations of the parenting plan.  Based on the circumstances surrounding the mother’s contempt, the court ordered the mother to pay the father’s attorney’s fees.  Upon review, we conclude that the trial court retained exclusive, continuing jurisdiction to modify the parenting plan.  Based on the state of the record, we also affirm the modification of the parenting plan and the criminal contempt conviction.  But we vacate the award of attorney’s fees and remand for reconsideration of the amount of fees awarded. 

Bedford County Court of Appeals 03/01/19
State of Tennessee v. David Levon Byers, Jr.
W2018-01247-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

Following a bench trial, the Defendant-Appellant, David Levon Byers, Jr., was convicted of possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, possession of drug paraphernalia, and “improper lane change” in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-123, for which he received an effective sentence of four-years to be served on supervised probation. Prior to trial, the Defendant filed a motion to suppress challenging the constitutionality of the traffic stop, which was denied by the trial court. The sole issue presented in this appeal as of right is whether the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Upon our review, we affirm.

Fayette County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/19
State of Tennessee v. Robert Antwan McElmurry
W2018-00360-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

The Defendant, Robert Antwan McElmurry, was convicted by a Dyer County Circuit Court jury of aggravated statutory rape, a Class D felony, and was sentenced to eight years in the Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/19
Alejandro Vasquez v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00682-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Alan E. Glenn
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

The Petitioner, Alejandro Vasquez, appeals the dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that due process considerations should toll the running of the statute of limitations because he is a native Spanish speaker and cannot speak English. Following our review, we affirm the dismissal of the petition as time-barred.

Lake County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/19
State of Tennessee v. Ronnell Barclay
W2017-01329-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

Defendant, Ronnell Barclay, was convicted after a jury trial of one count of rape of a child, one count of aggravated sexual battery, and six counts of exploitation of a minor. After a sentencing hearing, Defendant was sentenced to a total effective sentence of
thirty-five years. After the denial of a motion for new trial, Defendant appeals and argues that he did not receive adequate notice of the factual basis for the charge of rape of a child, that the State withheld exculpatory statements made by the victim, and that the prosecutor made improper statements during rebuttal closing argument. After a review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/28/19
Gary Miller v. Collin Miller, et al.
W2018-00482-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

This case involves the interpretation of a buy-sell provision in a partnership agreement. The trial court concluded that the buy-sell provision was properly triggered by the Appellee and ordered that $125,000.00 be paid to the Appellee, representing the value of Appellee’s interest in the partnership. The trial court also awarded the Appellee attorney’s fees and held that other claims which had been pursued by the parties were moot. Having reviewed the terms of the buy-sell provision, we conclude that the provision was never properly triggered and, therefore, reverse the judgment of the trial court to the extent that it purported to enforce the parties’ agreement. Because various other claims were dismissed as moot in light of the trial court’s specific enforcement of the buy-sell provision that dismissal is hereby vacated, and those additional claims are remanded for further consideration and proceedings in the trial court.

Madison County Court of Appeals 02/28/19
Michael Jon Eckley v. Margit Eckley
M2016-02236-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

In this appeal arising from a divorce, the trial court adopted a permanent parenting plan for the parties’ two minor children that named the father the primary residential parent for one child and the mother the primary residential parent for the other. The court also awarded Mother alimony in futuro after finding her to be relatively economically disadvantaged and that rehabilitation was not feasible. On appeal, the father challenges both the permanent parenting plan and the alimony award. We affirm. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 02/28/19
Branch Banking And Trust Company v. Wayne R. Hill Et Al.
E2018-00232-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Telford E. Forgerty, Jr.

In this action for a deficiency judgment following the foreclosure sale of six tracts of real property, some of which were improved by resort cabins, the trial court granted the plaintiff bank’s motion for partial summary judgment against the defendant real estate developers and their limited liability company, for which the developers were guarantors, finding that the developers were liable for deficiency balances owed on promissory notes and guaranty agreements, as well as accrued interest, bank charges, late fees, and attorney’s fees. Following a bench trial concerning the amounts owed, the trial court awarded money judgments to the bank in the amounts, respectively, of $1,180,223.77 against the developers as individuals and $144,848.30 against the developers’ limited liability company. Finding, inter alia, that the developers had failed to properly plead the defense of inadequate foreclosure sales prices, the trial court sustained the bank’s objections to the developers’ requests to cross-examine the bank’s witnesses and introduce additional evidence regarding the adequacy of the foreclosure sales prices and foreclosure process. The trial court subsequently denied the developers’ motion to vacate the order granting the money judgments. The developers have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 02/28/19
Dale J. Montpelier v. Herbert S. Moncier et al.
E2018-00448-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

Defendant/Appellant filed a motion for attorney fees in the Knox County Circuit Court after Plaintiffs/Appellees’ claims against the defendant were dismissed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6). The trial court denied Defendant’s request, concluding that one of the plaintiffs’ claims was an issue of first impression and as such, the plaintiffs were exempt from having attorney’s fees assessed against them. Defendant appeals. Because we conclude that the trial court’s application of the attorney fees statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-12-119, was in error, we vacate the order of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Knox County Court of Appeals 02/28/19
Dustin W. Brown v. Sarah Farley
E2018-01144-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry M. Warner

In this child custody action, the trial court awarded custody of the minor child to the child’s father despite the fact that the child had resided with and/or been in the legal custody of the respondent maternal grandmother for a significant period of time. The maternal grandmother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 02/28/19