Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 11/22/2017
Format: 11/22/2017
State of Tennessee v. Raymond Banjard Mims

After being charged by presentment with three counts of the Class A felony, criminal conspiracy to commit first degree murder, as well as one count of criminal conspiracy to possess more than ten pounds of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver and one count of simple possession of marijuana, Defendant, Raymond Banjard Mims, entered a quite favorable plea agreement. Defendant pled guilty to greatly reduced counts of conspiracy to commit assault, Class B misdemeanors, in addition to conspiracy to possess over ten pounds of marijuana for sale or delivery and simple possession of marijuana in exchange for an effective sentence of two years. He reserved the right to seek an alternative sentence. The trial court denied alternative sentencing. Defendant appeals the denial of an alternative sentence. After a review, we determine that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering Defendant to serve his sentence in confinement. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/22/17
State of Tennessee v. Marcus Thomas

The defendant, Marcus Thomas, appeals the summary dismissal of his motion, filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, to correct what he believes to be an illegal sentence imposed for his 2013 Shelby County Criminal Court guilty-pleaded convictions of aggravated robbery. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/22/17
In Re: Estate of J. Don Brock

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether the contestants—five of the decedent’s seven children—have standing to bring this will contest. The contestants were expressly disinherited by a will dated October 1, 2013, and admitted to probate and by a prior will, dated October 11, 2012, produced during this litigation. The trial court dismissed this will contest for lack of standing, concluding that two prior decisions of this Court—Cowan v. Walker, 96 S.W. 967 (Tenn. 1906) and Jennings v. Bridgeford, 403 S.W.2d 289 (Tenn. 1966)—required the dismissal. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Although we agree with the courts below that Cowan and Jennings include imprecise language that could be viewed as establishing a broad, bright-line rule that persons disinherited by facially valid successive wills lack standing, we conclude that those decisions are factually distinct and did not announce such a broad rule. We reaffirm the general rule, long recognized in Tennessee, that to establish standing a contestant must show that he or she would be entitled to share in the decedent’s estate if the will were set aside or if no will existed. The contestants here have satisfied this requirement by showing that they would share in the decedent’s estate under the laws of intestacy and under prior wills. Thus, the judgments of the trial court and Court of Appeals dismissing this will contest for lack of standing are reversed, and this matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision. 

Hamilton County Supreme Court 11/22/17
In Re Bentley D.

The trial court terminated the father’s parental rights. The father timely filed a notice of appeal signed by his attorney but not signed personally by the father. The Court of Appeals filed an order directing the father to show cause why his appeal should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction for failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-124(d), which states: “Any notice of appeal filed in a termination of parental rights action shall be signed by the appellant.” The father’s response to the show cause order included a challenge to the constitutionality of section 36-1-124(d). The Tennessee Attorney General filed a notice of intent to defend the constitutionality of the statute. This Court, upon its own motion, assumed jurisdiction over the case and directed the parties and the Attorney General to address the following issues: (1) whether failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-124(d) is a jurisdictional defect; and (2) whether Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-124(d) is unconstitutional based on separation of powers, due process, and/or equal protection grounds. We conclude that that the statute does not require a notice of appeal to be signed personally by the appellant. Because the timely notice of appeal signed by the father’s attorney satisfies the signature requirement, we hold that the father’s appeal is not subject to dismissal. This holding renders moot the other issues before us. We remand the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the merits of the father’s appeal.  

Washington County Supreme Court 11/22/17
Tennessee Clutch And Supply , Inc. v. Auto-Owners (Mutual) Insurance Company

This appeal arises from a dispute between an insured and its insurance carrier concerning the coverage limits under an “Employee Dishonesty” endorsement to a commercial general liability policy for an employee’s dishonesty that spanned two policy years. After the insured discovered that one of its employees embezzled approximately $100,000 in 2014 and 2015, it filed a claim for $30,000, the aggregate of the policy limits of $15,000 for each policy year. The insurer took the position that the limitation of coverage for such an occurrence was $15,000, paid that amount, and denied the balance of the claim. The trial court held that the policy language was ambiguous and by construing the policies in favor of the insured, determined there were two policies, each of which provided $15,000 of coverage and ruled that Plaintiff was entitled to recover $30,000. The insurer appealed. Finding no ambiguity, we have determined that the 2015 policy was not a separate policy but a renewal of the 2014 policy, that the policy limit for employee dishonesty is $15,000 per occurrence, and that there was one continuous occurrence, as that term is defined in the policy, which spanned two years. We have also determined that the policy prohibits “stacking” of coverage from one policy year to the next. For these reasons, we respectfully reverse the judgment of the trial court and hold that the policy limits for the claim asserted by the insured is $15,000.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/22/17
Edward Ronny Arnold v. Bob Oglesby, Et Al.

A former state employee filed suit claiming that he should have been paid for the state holiday on November 27, 2015, because he worked on October 12, 2015, the day from which the holiday was shifted pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-4-105(a)(3). His position was terminated before the November 27, 2015 holiday occurred. The general sessions and circuit courts granted the Department of General Services Commissioner’s motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity. We reverse.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/22/17
Gregory L. Mathis v. State of Tennessee

The Petitioner, Gregory L. Mathis, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2010 convictions for aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, and two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping and his effective 126-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that (1) he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, (2) his especially aggravated kidnapping convictions violate principles of due process, and (3) he is entitled to a new trial based upon codefendant Turner’s testimony at the post-conviction hearing. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/21/17
Charles Grogan v. Daniel Uggla, Et Al.

In this case, the plaintiff Charles Grogan was injured when he fell from a second story deck that had not been properly constructed but had recently been inspected by the defendant Jerry Black, a home inspector hired by homeowner Daniel Uggla. Defendant Black was a franchisee of defendant Pillar to Post, Inc. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. We granted this appeal to consider as a matter of first impression in this state whether a home inspector is subject to liability for the physical harm suffered by a social guest of the home inspector’s client. We conclude that the defendants successfully negated essential elements of the claims of negligent misrepresentation and negligent inspection such that summary judgment was appropriate in this case. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals and the trial court judgments are affirmed.

Williamson County Supreme Court 11/21/17
Charles Grogan v. Daniel Uggla, Et Al. - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part

I write separately in this case because I concur with part of the majority’s analysis and disagree with other parts of it. 

Williamson County Supreme Court 11/21/17
Charles Grogan v. Daniel Uggla, Et Al. - Dissenting

The primary issue is whether a home inspector owes a duty of reasonable care to a homeowner’s guest. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the guest, as is required at the summary judgment stage, it was foreseeable that a negligent inspection of the home, and particularly the second-story deck railing, could result in a significant injury to a guest. The foreseeability and gravity of the harm outweighs the burden on the home inspector to protect against the harm. Due to the importance of home inspections, public policy favors the imposition of a duty of care on the home inspector. Therefore, a home inspector, as a matter of law, owes a duty of reasonable care to a guest of the homeowner. Here, a jury should have had the opportunity to decide whether the home inspector breached his duty of care. For these reasons, I dissent from the dismissal of the guest’s claim against the home inspector.

Williamson County Supreme Court 11/21/17
State of Tennessee v. Pascasio Martinez

The Defendant, Pascasio Martinez, was convicted by a jury of two counts of driving under the influence (DUI), a Class A misdemeanor, and two counts of DUI, fourth offense, a Class E felony. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 55-10-401, -402(a)(4). The trial court merged the Defendant’s convictions and imposed a sentence of two years’ confinement with 150 days of mandatory service. On appeal, the Defendant contends (1) that the trial court erred in admitting the results of forensic testing on the Defendant’s blood because the State failed to establish “a valid chain of custody”; (2) that the use of the Defendant’s official driver record to prove his prior DUI convictions violated his Confrontation Clause rights; and (3) that the Defendant’s official driver record was not sufficient evidence to establish his prior DUI convictions. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/21/17
State of Tennessee v. Antoine Perrier

We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case with direction to the parties to particularly address the following issues:  (1) the meaning of the phrase “not engaged in unlawful activity” in the self-defense statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-611, and (2) whether the trial court or the jury decides whether the defendant was engaged in unlawful activity.  We hold that the legislature intended the phrase “not engaged in unlawful activity” in the self-defense statute to be a condition of the statutory privilege not to retreat when confronted with unlawful force and that the trial court should make the threshold determination of whether the defendant was engaged in unlawful activity when he used force in an alleged self-defense situation.  We further conclude that the defendant’s conduct in this case constituted unlawful activity for the purposes of this statute.  The defendant has also presented four other issues to this Court, arguing that the trial court erred by failing to properly instruct the jury on the lesser-included offenses of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, that the second count of the indictment was deficient, that the trial court should have given the jury an instruction on the defense of necessity, and that the evidence was insufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for assault.  We affirm the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, albeit on separate grounds. 

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/21/17
State of Tennessee v. Elvis Hester

A Shelby County Criminal Court Jury found the Appellant guilty of possession of marijuana, and the trial court imposed a sentence of six years. On appeal, the Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence sustaining his conviction and the trial court’s sentencing him for a Class E felony instead of a Class A misdemeanor as was required by the recent amendment to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-418(e). Upon review, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the Appellant’s conviction. We further conclude that the trial court erred by sentencing the Appellant for a Class E felony, and we remand to the trial court for entry of a corrected judgment reflecting that the conviction is a Class A misdemeanor and that the accompanying sentence is eleven months and twenty-nine days.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/21/17
State of Tennessee v. Sedrick Clayton

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant of the first degree murders of Arithio Fisher (Count I), Patricia Fisher (Count II), and Pashea Fisher (Count III), and the attempted first degree murder of A’reco Fisher (Count IV), as well as possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony (Count V), employing a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony (Count VI), and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (Count VII). The jury sentenced the defendant to death for each of the first degree murders. The trial court imposed agreed-upon sentences of fifteen years for the attempted murder and three years, six years, and eleven months, twenty-nine days, respectively, for the remaining convictions, with the sentences for Counts I, II, III, IV, and VII to be served concurrently with each other and the sentences for Counts V and VI to be served concurrently with each other but consecutively to the previous sentences, for an effective sentence of death plus six years. On appeal, we hold that: (1) the evidence is sufficient to support the jury’s finding that the defendant acted with premeditation in commission of the offenses; (2) the defendant waived his Fourth Amendment challenge to the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress his statements; and (3) each of the death sentences satisfies our mandatory statutory review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206. As to the remaining issues raised by the defendant, we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ conclusions and attach as an appendix to this opinion the relevant portions of that court’s decision. The defendant’s convictions and sentences, as merged by the Court of Criminal Appeals, are affirmed.

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/20/17
State of Tennessee v. Sedrick Clayton - Concurring

I concur in the Court’s opinion except for the analysis regarding the proportionality review. In 1997, this Court narrowed the scope of the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1)(D) by limiting its consideration to only those cases in which the death penalty had been sought. State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 666 (Tenn. 1997). A majority of this Court reaffirmed this truncated approach in State v. Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d 180, 217 (Tenn. 2013). In Pruitt, I joined Justice William C. Koch, Jr. in dissenting from the Court’s decision to continue following the Bland approach, as it improperly narrowed the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1)(D). Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d at 230 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting). We determined that the Court should return to its pre-Bland proportionality analysis by considering “all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death has been imposed” and focusing on whether the case under review more closely resembles cases that have resulted in the imposition of the death penalty than those that have not. Id. at 230-31 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting).

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/20/17
Brian Christopher Dunn v. State of Tennessee

A Williamson County jury convicted the Petitioner, Brian Christopher Dunn, of initiating a process intended to result in the manufacture of methamphetamine and driving with a suspended, canceled, or revoked license, which the trial court then found to be his sixth offense. The trial court sentenced the Petitioner to an effective sentence of 11 months and 29 days, and this court affirmed the Petitioner’s convictions on direct appeal. State v. Brian Christopher Dunn, No. M2015-00759-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL 1446113, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Nashville, Apr. 12, 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Aug. 17, 2016). The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress the evidence against him, failing to file a Ferguson motion, and failing to file a motion for a new trial. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition. The Petitioner maintains these issues on appeal, and we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/20/17
Estate of Bonnie C. Brimer v. Bernice Hennessee et al.

Summary judgment was granted to the defendant in an action brought by the executrix of an estate to declare the rights of the parties to joint bank accounts created by the decedent. The executrix appeals the grant of summary judgment. We conclude that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the decedent was unduly influenced and accordingly reverse the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

Morgan County Court of Appeals 11/20/17
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Paul Odum

Defendant, Thomas Paul Odum, was indicted for first degree felony murder, first degree premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, aggravated burglary, burglary, theft of property valued at more than $1000, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Prior to trial, the State filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty and dismissed the first degree premeditated murder charge. At the close of the State’s proof, the trial court granted a motion for judgment of acquittal with respect to the burglary charge. The jury ultimately found Defendant guilty of felony murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, aggravated burglary, theft of property valued at more than $1000, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Following the penalty phase, the jury sentenced Defendant to life without the possibility of parole. The trial judge separately sentenced Defendant to an effective sentence of five years for the remaining convictions, to be served consecutively to Defendant’s life sentence. Defendant appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court erred by denying the motion to disqualify the District Attorney’s Office prior to trial; (2) the trial court erred by denying the motion to suppress Defendant’s statement; (3) the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions; and (4) the sentence was excessive. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

McMinn County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/20/17
Verrina M. Shields Bey v. Wilson & Associates, PLLC, et al.

This is an appeal challenging the trial court’s order denying a motion for interlocutory appeal. Due to the deficiencies in Appellant’s brief on appeal, we find that she waived consideration of any issues on appeal and hereby dismiss the appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/17/17
Douglas E. Shuler v. Eastman Chemical Company et al.

The plaintiff, Douglas E. Shuler, filed this action seeking workers’ compensation benefits in the Circuit Court for Sullivan County against his former employer, Eastman Chemical Company (“Eastman”), and the Second Injury Fund, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“Second Injury Fund”). Mr. Shuler alleged that he had developed cancer from exposure to harmful substances in Eastman’s workplace. Eastman and the Second Injury Fund each filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Shuler’s claim, asserting that the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims had original and exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of the claim. The trial court granted the motions and dismissed Mr. Shuler’s claim. Mr. Shuler timely appealed. 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. Following our thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We further determine that any facial constitutional challenges to Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 50-6-217, -237, and -238 have been waived.

Sullivan County Workers Compensation Panel 11/17/17
Jean Dedmon v. Debbie Steelman, Et Al.

We granted this appeal to address whether our holding in West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corp., 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014), applies in personal injury cases. We hold that it does not. West held that “reasonable charges” for medical services under Tennessee’s Hospital Lien Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-22-101 to –107 (2012), are the discounted amounts a hospital accepts as full payment from patients’ private insurers, not the full, undiscounted amounts billed to patients. West, 459 S.W.3d at 46. West defined “reasonable charges” in the context of interpreting the Hospital Lien Act, and its holding is limited to that Act. As an alternative argument, we are asked in this appeal to consider applying the principles in West to the determination of reasonable medical expenses in personal injury cases. Doing so involves the collateral source rule, which excludes evidence of benefits to the plaintiff from sources collateral to the tortfeasor and precludes the reduction of the plaintiff’s damage award by such collateral payments. The rule is based on the principles that tortfeasors should be responsible for all of the harm they cause and that payments from collateral sources intended to benefit an injured party should not be used to reduce the liability of the party who inflicted the injury. After a thorough review of court decisions in Tennessee and across the country on the collateral source rule, we decline to alter existing law in Tennessee. We hold that the collateral source rule applies in this personal injury case, in which the collateral benefit at issue is private insurance. Consequently, the plaintiffs may submit evidence of the injured party’s full, undiscounted medical bills as proof of reasonable medical expenses. Furthermore, the defendants are precluded from submitting evidence of discounted rates accepted by medical providers from the insurer to rebut the plaintiffs’ proof that the full, undiscounted charges are reasonable. The defendants remain free to submit any other competent evidence to rebut the plaintiffs’ proof on the reasonableness of the medical expenses, so long as that evidence does not contravene the collateral source rule. The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings

Crockett County Supreme Court 11/17/17
In Re Conservatorship of Waltraud E. Lemonte

This appeal involves competing conservatorship petitions filed by the children of the Ward. Appellees, daughters of the Ward, filed a petition seeking to be named as co-conservators for the Ward and seeking to revoke powers of attorney executed by the Ward in favor of her son who is the Appellant. Appellant filed his answer and counter-petition to be appointed conservator. Appellees opposed Appellant’s counter-petition on the ground that he is a convicted felon and, therefore, ineligible to serve as the Ward’s conservator, under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 40-20-115. The trial court found that Appellant’s Nevada sentence for drug charges disqualified him from serving as the Ward’s agent or fiduciary. As such, the trial court revoked the Appellant’s powers of attorney and dismissed Appellant’s counter-petition. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 11/17/17
Jerretta Certain v. Judy Goodwin

On February 6, 2014, defendant Judy Goodwin, principal of Barfield Elementary School, received an anonymous telephone call. The caller said she was a nurse and the grandparent of a child that she had just picked up at the school. The caller reported that she had seen a teacher, as it turned out, plaintiff Jerretta Certain, who appeared to the caller to be in an altered state. The caller said Ms. Certain was putting children in danger. Principal Goodwin decided to investigate the caller’s claim. She asked Ms. Certain, school nurse Jessica Floyd, and Student Resource Officer Ward Bates, to come to Ms. Certain’s classroom. All three observed Ms. Certain. Generally speaking, each considered her to be in an altered state. They described her as appearing drowsy, slow, and walking with difficulty. They discovered in her bags seven bottles of medications, all prescribed for Ms. Certain, in properly-marked childproof containers. Ms. Certain alleges that Principal Goodwin stated, “I believe what we’re looking at is an addiction to prescription drugs.” The principal asked Nurse Floyd, “would you want your child in her classroom next year knowing that she’s addicted to prescriptions like this?” Ms. Certain brought this action against Principal Goodwin for defamation, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court granted Principal Goodwin summary judgment on all claims, holding as a matter of law that Ms. Certain could not establish the following essential elements: (1) actual malice; (2) that the alleged statements were defamatory; and (3) that the statements were published. Ms. Certain appeals. As modified, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 11/17/17
In Re Estate of Lois Culp

This case deals with the issue of whether a personal representative of an estate can obtain additional attorney’s fees incurred in connection with an appeal−an appeal that occurred after the personal representative had disbursed all the estate funds other than those belonging to the estate beneficiary who pursued the appeal. That individual−Donnie Culp (Culp)−appealed the sale of his late mother’s real and personal property by Dianne Rich (the personal representative), executor of his late mother’s estate. Prior to Culp’s appeal, the personal representative obtained a court order closing the estate and awarding her $43,256.37 in attorney’s fees. These attorney’s fees included an estimated 40 hours for an appeal. After paying all estate debts, including her compensation and attorney’s fees, the personal representative disbursed all remaining estate funds, other than Culp’s share, to the other beneficiaries. The personal representative now seeks $17,500 in additional attorney’s fees for the over 70 hours that her attorney spent on the appeal. The trial court denied the personal representative’s request for additional attorney’s fees, holding that it would be inappropriate to award them to her out of Culp’s share of the estate. The court noted that the personal representative should have raised the issue before distributing the rest of the estate. We hold that the personal representative’s attorney was fully compensated by the initial award of attorney’s fees for her attorney’s services on appeal. We further hold that no estate funds remain from which the personal representative could obtain additional attorney’s fees because she distributed all funds other than Culp’s share. Additionally, we hold that Culp lacks standing to ask this Court to determine whether the personal representative should be individually liable for her attorney’s fees. The personal representative appeals. We affirm.  

Wayne County Court of Appeals 11/17/17
Brandon Leon Forbes v. State of Tennessee

The Petitioner, Brandon Leon Forbes, was convicted of aggravated burglary, theft of property valued at $10,000 or more but less than $60,000, and vandalism of property valued at $500 or less and was sentenced as a Range III, persistent offender to a total effective sentence of twenty-four years. Subsequently, his convictions were affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Brandon Leon Forbes, No. W2014-02073-CCA-R3-CD, 2015 WL 5813434, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 5, 2015). He then filed a timely petition for postconviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The post-conviction court denied relief, and we affirm that order.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/17/17