Court Opinions

Format: 11/19/2017
Format: 11/19/2017
State of Tennessee v. John David Altenhoff
M2017-00052-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith

John David Altenhoff, the Defendant, pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and agreed to an eight-year sentence with the manner of service to be determined by the trial court.  After finding that the Defendant had an extensive history of criminal behavior, that society needed to be protected from the Defendant, and that measures less than incarceration had unsuccessfully been applied to the Defendant, the trial court ordered the Defendant to serve his sentence in the Department of Correction.  On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court erred in denying an alternative sentence.  After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm.

Sequatchie County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/20/17
In Re Halley M.
M2016-01596-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Thompson

Jerome V. and Teresa V. (“Petitioners”) appeal the May 26, 2015 order of the Circuit Court for Sumner County (“the Trial Court”) dismissing their Petition for Adoption and Termination of Parental Rights (“the Petition”) based upon Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-119. We find and hold that Petitioners have shown good cause why the Petition should not be dismissed, and we vacate the Trial Court’s May 26, 2015 order, reinstate the Petition, and remand this case for further proceedings.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 09/19/17
Jerry Alan Thigpen v. Trousdale County Highway Department, et al.
M2016-02556-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

Jerry Thigpen sued the Trousdale County Highway Department and two individuals, alleging damage to his home caused by roadway resurfacing. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that the claims were barred by the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”). We affirm.

Trousdale County Court of Appeals 09/19/17
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc. - Dissenting
E2016-02178-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

I maintain that the Court of Appeals properly concluded that recusal was necessary in this case. While I adhere to the position expressed by both the appellate court’s majority and concurring opinions that “[n]othing in the record on appeal leads this Court to believe that the trial judge holds a prejudice or bias against any party or that the trial judge cannot remain impartial despite this communication,” Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc., No. E2016-02178-COA-T10B-CV, 2016 WL 7364901, at *8 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2016), perm. app. granted (Tenn. Feb. 17, 2017), I nonetheless perceive an appearance of impropriety that is expressly disfavored by the Canons of Judicial Conduct, see Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, Canon 1.2 (“A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”). Therefore, I respectfully disagree with the decision of the majority of this Court that recusal is unnecessary.

Carter County Supreme Court 09/19/17
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc.
E2016-02178-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

This case is on appeal from a trial court judge’s decision not to recuse herself based on a telephone call to a university department director concerning a potential expert witness’ qualifications. Upon the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for recusal of the trial court judge, the defendant filed an accelerated interlocutory appeal in the Court of Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, section 2. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that recusal of the trial judge was necessary. We granted the plaintiff’s accelerated application for permission to appeal to this Court. Having thoroughly reviewed the filings of both parties and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial court’s denial of the motion to recuse was appropriate in this case. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Carter County Supreme Court 09/19/17
Gabriel C. Torres v. State of Tennessee
M2016-02361-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R.Goodman III

The State appeals after the post-conviction court granted Petitioner, Gabriel C. Torres, post-conviction relief in the form of a new trial.  Because the proper remedy was the grant of a delayed appeal, we reverse and remand the judgment of the post-conviction court.  

Robertson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/19/17
State of Tennessee v. Savannah Humphrey
M2016-02183-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R.Goodman III

Defendant, Savannah Humphrey, was convicted of one count of aggravated child abuse and one count of aggravated child neglect for injuries sustained by the three-month-old victim while in Defendant’s care.  On appeal, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for judgment of acquittal.  Based upon our review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/19/17
Kevin J. Mamon v. Geico Indemnity Insurance Company, et al.
M2016-01145-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.
Plaintiff appeals the dismissal of his claims against all three defendants and the award of $400 to defendant Master Muffler on its counterclaim following a bench trial. We affirm the trial court in all respects.
 
Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/19/17
Martin E. Hughes v. Tennessee Department of Corrections, et al.
M2016-02212-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

The plaintiff, an inmate proceeding self-represented, filed a “Petition for Declaratory Judgment” (“Petition”) on June 24, 2016, alleging that the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (“HCCF”) staff had failed to follow numerous policies established by the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”).  In conjunction with the Petition, the plaintiff filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.  The plaintiff subsequently filed a document entitled, “Complaint.”  On September 12, 2016, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, asserting, inter alia, that the plaintiff’s action was statutorily barred.  The trial court entered two orders on October 7, 2016, respectively denying the plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss.  The plaintiff filed a notice of appeal.  Determining that the trial court did not err in dismissing the plaintiff’s claims, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/18/17
State of Tennessee v. Mario Patterson
W2016-02080-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

A Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Mario Patterson, of first degree felony murder, and the trial court imposed a mandatory life sentence. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the State failed to prove that he intended to commit a robbery and, therefore, he was improperly convicted of first degree felony murder. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/18/17
John Moffitt v. State of Tennessee
W2017-02487-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

A jury convicted the Petitioner, John Moffitt, of reckless aggravated assault, and the trial court sentenced him to four years of incarceration. The Petitioner appealed, and this court affirmed his conviction and sentence. State v. John Moffitt, No. W2014-02388-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 369379, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Jan. 29, 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. June 24, 2016). The Petitioner filed a petition for postconviction relief, alleging that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition. On appeal, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Henderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/18/17
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones
W2015-02210-CCA-R3-DD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

Defendant, Henry Lee Jones, was convicted of two counts of premeditated first degree murder and two counts of felony murder for his role in the 2003 murders of two Shelby County citizens. The jury sentenced Defendant to death for each murder. Defendant now appeals from these convictions and sentences. Defendant argues that the trial court erred by allowing Defendant to represent himself and committed other errors with regard to the provision of elbow counsel; the trial court erred by declaring a witness unavailable and allowing testimony from that witness regarding a prior bad act; the trial court erred by admitting photographs of the victims’ bodies and wounds; the State utilized improper closing argument; the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions; the trial court erred in denying Defendant a mitigation expert or investigator in preparation for sentencing; and the death sentence is arbitrary and disproportionate. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm Defendant’s convictions and sentences of death.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/18/17
Shay Simpson, et al. v. National Fitness Center, Inc., et al.
E2017-00018-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deborah C. Stevens

This appeal arises from a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs Shay and Brian Simpson (“the Simpsons,” collectively, or “Ms.” or “Mr. Simpson,” respectively) against defendants National Fitness Center, Inc. and National Fitness Center, LLC (“National Fitness,” collectively). Ms. Simpson and National Fitness orally contracted to allow the Simpsons “a couple of weeks” additional time to consider whether to cancel their club membership. After more than two weeks elapsed, the Simpsons elected to cancel but National Fitness refused to accept the cancellation. This case was tried before the Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”). The Trial Court found that National Fitness breached the contract and committed a deceptive act under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). The Trial Court ordered “a return of all monies paid [by the Simpsons] to [National Fitness] . . .” and awarded attorney’s fees to the Simpsons. National Fitness appealed to this Court. We affirm the Trial Court in its determination that the Simpsons effectively exercised their right to cancel and that they were entitled to a refund of any monies paid. However, we reverse the Trial Court in its determination that National Fitness violated the TCPA. We, therefore, reverse the award of attorney’s fees. We affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the judgment of the Trial Court.

Knox County Court of Appeals 09/18/17
Brittany Nicole Vandyke v. Brooke E. Foulk, M.D., et al.
E2016-00584-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

This is a medical malpractice action1 in which the plaintiff filed suit against the hospital and her physicians following the death of her newborn son hours after his delivery. The case proceeded to a jury trial. The jury found in favor of the defendants. Following the denial of post-trial motions, the plaintiff appeals, claiming the trial court erred in excluding testimony and when it gave a jury instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

Washington County Court of Appeals 09/18/17
Shayla Leanne Guy Brantley v. Cordary Quincy Vernard Brantley
M2016-01999-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Louis W. Oliver, III

In this divorce action, Father contends the trial court erred by adding substantive restrictions to the parties’ agreed upon Permanent Parenting Plan that, inter alia, imposed “paramour” and “lifestyle” restrictions on Father that were not imposed on Mother. We have determined that the trial court unilaterally imposed substantive and material restrictions on Father’s activities during his parenting time without affording him an evidentiary hearing. We have also determined that some of the restrictions placed on Father are too vague to be enforceable and that the Statement of the Evidence does not provide a factual basis for the restrictions placed on Father. For these reasons we vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 09/15/17
Jimmy Newell v. Richard Montgomery, et al.
M2016-01787-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle
The petitioner sought a writ of certiorari seeking redress for the respondents’ failure to schedule an initial parole hearing prior to his release eligibility date. The trial court dismissed the petition as moot, finding that a parole hearing was conducted following the filing of the petition and that any challenge relating to the parole hearing was untimely. The petitioner appeals. We affirm.
 
Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/15/17
In Re Leyna A.
M2016-02548-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

The parents of a minor child filed a petition to change the first and middle names of their child but not the surname. The trial court denied the petition without a hearing on the ground: “The Petition fails to state a valid reason for the name change, especially in light of the fact that Petitioners seek to change someone else’s name.” The parents filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment. They supported their motion with letters written by the sixteen-year-old child, the child’s doctor, the child’s therapist, and one of the child’s teachers, each explaining why the name change was in the child’s best interest. Without ruling on the motion, the trial court set the matter for an evidentiary hearing during which the mother, father, and child testified, and the letters from the doctor, therapist, and teacher were admitted into evidence. Thereafter, the trial court denied the motion to alter or amend because “the controlling law has not changed,” no “previously unavailable evidence became available,” and “Petitioners have not shown that there was a clear error of law or that an injustice occurred.” The trial court also ruled on the merits of the petition and denied and dismissed the petition. This appeal followed. We have determined that the trial court erred by denying the motion to alter or amend the initial order because the petition stated a claim for which relief could be granted. As for the court’s ruling on the merits of the petition following the evidentiary hearing, we have determined that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding that Petitioners failed to show that it was in the child’s best interest to change his first and middle names. We have also determined that the court’s legal conclusions were based on an erroneous assessment of the law. Having determined that (1) Petitioners complied with and satisfied all procedural and legal requirements for a name change, (2) the preponderance of the evidence established that changing the child’s first and middle names was in the child’s best interest, and (3) there is no legal basis upon which to deny the petition, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand with instructions to enter judgment approving the petition to change the child’s name as requested in the petition.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/15/17
In Re Estate of Christina Marie Cotten
M2016-02402-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

The personal representative, on behalf of the decedent’s estate, brought this negligence action against the defendant based, inter alia, on the defendant’s alleged acts of displaying and failing to properly store and prevent accessibility to the firearm with which the decedent ultimately committed suicide. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, determining that he owed no duty of care to the decedent and that her suicide was an independent, intervening cause that broke the chain of causation. The estate has appealed. Based upon the applicable balancing test, we conclude that the defendant owed a legal duty of care to the decedent and that summary judgment was improperly granted in the defendant’s favor on the basis of lack of duty. We further determine that the estate’s evidence at the summary judgment stage was sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact for trial regarding causation. We therefore vacate the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We affirm, however, the trial court’s determination that no special relationship existed such as to impose liability for nonfeasance.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/15/17
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth Darrin Fisher
E2016-01333-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

The Defendant, Kenneth Darrin Fisher, was convicted by an Anderson County Circuit Court jury of attempted first degree murder, a Class A felony, for which he is serving an eighteen-year sentence as a Range I, standard offender. See T.C.A. §§ 39-12-101 (2014) (criminal attempt), 39-13-202 (2014) (first degree murder). On appeal, he contends that (1) the indictment is deficient, (2) the evidence is insufficient because the State failed to prove the offense occurred before the return of the indictment, (3) the trial court erred in failing to require the State to provide an election of the offense, and (4) the trial court erred in admitting testimony of a law enforcement officer regarding what the officer thought the Defendant would have done if the Defendant had not been stopped by the police. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Anderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/15/17
Jerome Johnson v. State of Tennessee
W2016-02349-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

Petitioner, Jerome Johnson, was convicted of reckless endangerment, aggravated assault, and solicitation of the filing of a false police report. His convictions and effective sentence of fifteen years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days were affirmed on direct appeal. See State v. Jerome Johnson, No. W2012-01754-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 5488522, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 30, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Feb. 11, 2014). Petitioner subsequently sought post-conviction relief for ineffective assistance of both trial counsel and appellate counsel. The post-conviction court denied relief after a hearing. On appeal, we hold that Petitioner failed to show that counsels’ actions were deficient and that Petitioner was prejudiced thereby. Accordingly, the judgment of the
post-conviction court is affirmed.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/15/17
State of Tennessee v. Rico Carter Whisnet
W2016-02173-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

The Defendant, Rico Carter Whisnet, was convicted by a Hardeman County Circuit Court jury of delivery of less than 0.5 gram cocaine, a Class C felony, and delivery of 0.5 gram or more of cocaine, a Class B felony. See T.C.A. § 39-17-417 (2014). The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range II, multiple offender to concurrent terms of eight and sixteen years in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred in its application of the mitigating and enhancement factors and by imposing more than the minimum sentence. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hardeman County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/15/17
Dialysis Clinic, Inc., et al. v. Kevin Medley, et al.
M2016-02266-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

Appellant appeals the denial of its Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 24 motion to intervene in the underlying lawsuit. Because the order appealed is not final, this Court has no subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the appeal. Tenn. R. App. P. 3(a). Appeal dismissed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/14/17
State of Tennessee v. Paul Buchanan
W2017-00160-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

The Appellant, Paul Buchanan, was convicted of aggravated robbery, two counts of felon in possession of a firearm, and one count of convicted felon in possession of handgun. The trial court merged the convicted felon in possession of handgun and one of the felon in possession of a firearm convictions into the remaining felon in possession of a firearm conviction and sentenced the Appellant to thirty years for aggravated robbery and to ten years for convicted felon in possession of a firearm, to be served consecutively. On appeal, the Appellant argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions. After reviewing the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/14/17
State of Tennessee v. Chad E. Henry
W2016-01439-CCA-R9-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle Atkins

We granted this interlocutory appeal to review the trial court’s suppression of the results of a mandatory blood draw from the Defendant, Chad E. Henry, conducted pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-10-406(d)(5) (Supp. 2014) (also referred to herein as the mandatory blood draw provision for individuals with a prior conviction for driving under the influence) of the implied consent statute. Henry was arrested and a mandatory blood draw was conducted without a warrant after his car struck the rear of another car. Henry was subsequently indicted by the Chester County Circuit Court for one count of driving under the influence (DUI), one count of third offense DUI, one count of violating the financial responsibility law, and one count of aggravated assault. Following his indictment, Henry moved to suppress the results from the mandatory blood draw, asserting that the warrantless blood test violated his constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. After a hearing, the trial court granted the motion to suppress, holding that the blood draw was illegal because the officers failed to advise Henry, pursuant to Code section 55-10-406(c) (Supp. 2014), that his refusal to submit to the test would result in the suspension of his driver’s license. The State filed a motion for an interlocutory appeal challenging the suppression of the evidence, which the trial court granted, and this court granted the State’s application for a Rule 9 appeal. In this appeal, the State argues (1) Henry’s implied consent to blood testing, by virtue of Tennessee’s implied consent statute, operates as an exception to the warrant requirement, (2) the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, as outlined in State v. Reynolds, 504 S.W.3d 283 (Tenn. 2016), applies in this case because the officers acted pursuant to the binding authority of State v. Humphreys, 70 S.W.3d 752 (Tenn. 2001), and the implied consent statute when they required Henry to submit to a warrantless blood test, and (3) motorists with prior DUI convictions, like Henry, have a reduced expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment when arrested for a subsequent DUI. Because nonexception to the warrant requirement justifies the warrantless blood draw in this case and because the good-faith exception does not apply, we affirm the trial court’s suppression of the evidence.

Chester County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/14/17
Tennessee Department of Correction v. David Pressley
M2015-00902-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman

We granted this appeal to determine whether a “preferred service” state employee has a protected property interest in his or her employment and whether due process or specific statutory language requires the State to bear the ultimate burden of proof in a post-termination administrative appeal under section 8-30-318 of the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management Act of 2012, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 8-30-101 through -407. The Respondent, David Pressley, was employed by the Petitioner, Tennessee Department of Correction, as a correctional officer at the Morgan County Correctional Complex. Mr. Pressley was dismissed from his employment and challenged his termination pursuant to the TEAM Act’s appeals process. Mr. Pressley’s termination was upheld by the Commissioner of TDOC at Step I of the TEAM Act’s appeals process and at Step II by the Commissioner of Human Resources. At Step III of the appeals process, the Board of Appeals reinstated Mr. Pressley and reduced his discipline to a 14-day suspension. The Board of Appeals also determined that the State bore the ultimate burden of proof in the Step III appeal. The State appealed to chancery court, challenging the assignment of the burden of proof. The chancery court reversed the Board of Appeals’ decision on the burden of proof issue and remanded the matter to the Board of Appeals. Mr. Pressley appealed to the Court of Appeals which, in turn, reversed the chancery court’s decision and determined that “preferred service” state employees have a protected property interest in their employment and that the State bore the ultimate burden of proof in the Step III appeal. We reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remand this matter to the Board of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/14/17