Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 01/16/2018
Format: 01/16/2018
State of Tennessee v. Mario Donte Keene
E2017-00316-CCA-R3-CD

The Greene County Grand Jury indicted the Defendant, Mario Donte Keene, on four counts of felony murder, one count of especially aggravated robbery, and one count of especially aggravated kidnapping, all in connection with the death of the victim, Donald Gunter. A jury convicted the Defendant as charged, and the trial court sentenced the Defendant to an effective sentence of life. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient for a rational juror to have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, and especially aggravated kidnapping. The Defendant also asserts that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct in its closing arguments, warranting a new trial. After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm the Defendant’s convictions but remand the case for entry of amended judgments merging counts two, three, and four into count one.

Greene County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/12/18
Jamal Watson v. Tennessee Board Of Regents, Et Al.
E2017-00014-COA-R3-CV

This case involves the dismissal of a Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA) action filed by Jamal Watson against the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) (collectively the defendants). PSCC offered Watson a fulltime, tenure-track position, but subsequently rescinded the offer. Watson filed a THRA case in the Circuit Court for Knox County (the trial court) against the defendants alleging race discrimination. He later filed a notice of claim for breach of contract in the Tennessee Claims Commission against the same entities. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss in the trial court alleging that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The defendants asserted that Watson waived his cause of action against “any state officer or employee,” pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(b), by filing a claim against the state in the Tennessee Claims Commission. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss. Watson appeals. We reverse.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/12/18
Sebastian Valentino v. State of Tennessee
M2017-00448-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Sebastian Valentino, appeals from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. The Petitioner contends that his guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered because he received ineffective assistance from his trial counsel. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/18
State of Tennessee v. Matthew Glen Howell
M2016-01812-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Matthew Glen Howell, who was originally charged with aggravated assault, appeals his 2016 Davidson County Criminal Court conviction of simple assault, which was imposed by the trial court after the jury found the defendant guilty of the inapplicable lesser included offense of reckless aggravated assault.  The defendant argues that, because the jury acquitted him of the crime of intentional or knowing aggravated assault and instead found him guilty of reckless aggravated assault, the trial court erred by amending the conviction offense to one that required an intentional or knowing mens rea.  The defendant also challenges several of the trial court’s evidentiary rulings.  Because the jury found the defendant guilty of a crime that did not exist under the facts of the case and because double jeopardy and collateral estoppel principles precluded the trial court from imposing a conviction that required an element of which the defendant had already been acquitted, the defendant’s conviction of simple assault is vacated, and the case is dismissed.  

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/18
State of Tennessee v. Matthew Glen Howell - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
M2016-01812-CCA-R3-CD

I agree with the majority’s conclusions in section II of the opinion, the evidence of a federal lawsuit and section III, impeachment of the victim.  However, I respectfully disagree with the majority’s conclusion in section I that a new trial on the offense of simple assault is barred by the prohibition against double jeopardy.  I am of the opinion that there is no valid and final judgment for the purposes of collateral estoppel via double jeopardy and that a rational jury could have grounded its verdict upon an issue other than that which Defendant seeks to estop.  Therefore, I would remand the case for a new trial on simple assault.  

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/18
Melissa Gale Johnson, Et Al. v. Rutherford County, Tennessee, Et Al.
M2017-00618-COA-R3-CV

The plaintiffs, as co-conservators for their adult son, filed this action against the county, seeking payment of medical expenses incurred by their son following an assault upon him by another inmate while he was incarcerated at the county jail facility. The plaintiffs later amended their complaint to add allegations of civil rights violations, general negligence, and health care liability. The county filed a third-party complaint against the medical provider with whom the county had contracted to provide medical services for the inmates at the jail. The third-party complaint was based upon an indemnity clause contained within the respective parties’ contract. The medical provider filed a motion to dismiss the county’s third-party complaint because the county had not complied with the requirements of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”). Following a hearing, the trial court dismissed the county’s third-party complaint by reason of the county’s failure to comply with the requirements of the THCLA. The county timely appealed. Having determined that the trial court erred by treating the county’s third-party complaint as a THCLA claim, we reverse the court’s dismissal of the county’s third-party complaint.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 01/11/18
Alfred H. Knight, Et Al. v. Tyree B. Harris, IV
M2016-00909-COA-R3-CV

This case arises out of the dissolution of a law firm and the resulting accounting. The trial court held that Appellant, who withdrew as a member of the Appellee/Firm, converted a portion of an earned fee by withdrawing the fee directly from the Firm’s trust account. The trial court further held that the conversion was done through concealment so as to warrant an award of punitive damages. Appellant appeals the trial court’s finding of conversion, the award of punitive damages, and its award of various accounts receivable and payables. We reverse the trial court’s award of punitive damages against Appellant and reduce the compensatory damages award.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/11/18
State of Tennessee v. James A. Kilgore
M2016-02393-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, James A. Kilgore, pled guilty to attempted conspiracy to manufacture more than 300 grams of methamphetamine, a Class B felony, and attempted initiation of a process to manufacture methamphetamine, a Class C felony, in exchange for respective ten- and five-year sentences, to be served consecutively. The five-year term was to be served on supervised probation; whereas, the manner of service for the ten-year term was to be determined by the trial court. After a sentencing hearing, the trial court ordered that the Defendant serve the ten-year sentence in confinement, which, on appeal, the Defendant challenges as error. We affirm the sentencing decision of the trial court.

Marion County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/18
In Re Nashay B., Et Al.
M2017-00630-COA-R3-PT

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her two children. The juvenile court found three statutory grounds for termination of parental rights: abandonment by failure to support, abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, and persistence of conditions. The juvenile court also found that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. We conclude that the evidence was less than clear and convincing that the mother abandoned the children by failure to support. But the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support the other grounds for termination and that termination is in the children’s best interest. Thus, we affirm the termination of the mother’s parental rights.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 01/10/18
Warren Pratcher v. State of Tennessee
W2017-00300-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Warren Pratcher, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for
post-conviction relief. The Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred in dismissing his second petition for post-conviction relief on the basis that his first petition had been withdrawn with prejudice. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the
post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/18
Warren Pratcher v. State of Tennessee-Concurring
W2017-00300-CCA-R3-PC

I respectfully concur separately in this case to clarify a distinction between, on the one hand, the post-conviction court’s ordering a dismissal of the first petition with prejudice and, on the other hand, the petitioner’s waiver of post-conviction relief upon the voluntary dismissal of the first petition. Although I believe the latter may be effectual, I believe the former is not effectual apart from the petitioner’s waiver.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/18
John Valentine v. State of Tennessee
W2017-00161-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, John Valentine, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel at trial. After our review of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/18
Brandon Washington v. State of Tennessee
W2016-01965-CCA-R3-HC

The Petitioner, Brandon Washington, appeals the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, seeking relief from his convictions of aggravated assault, evading arrest, and various drug offenses. Based upon our review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/18
Julius Perkins v. Mike Parris, Warden
W2016-02341-CCA-R3-HC

The Petitioner, Julius Perkins, appeals the Lake County Circuit Court’s summary denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, seeking relief from his conviction of first degree felony murder and resulting life sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner alleges that his conviction is void because of a faulty indictment and that the court erred by dismissing his petition without appointing counsel. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Lake County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/18
State of Tennessee v. Andrew Shearin
W2016-02228-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Andrew Shearin, pled guilty in the Shelby County Criminal Court to sexual exploitation of a minor involving more than 100 images, a Class B felony, and was sentenced by the trial court as a Range I, standard offender to twelve years at 100% in the Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues that the trial court imposed an excessive sentence by misapplying enhancement factors. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/18
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth Bernard Scott
W2016-02488-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Kenneth Bernard Scott, was convicted by a Henderson County jury of the sale and delivery of less than .5 grams of cocaine, a Class C felony, and two counts of the sale and delivery of .5 grams or more of cocaine, a Class B felony, and was sentenced by the trial court as a Range II, multiple offender to an effective term of sixteen years in the Department of Correction. The Defendant raises two issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred by allowing laboratory reports into evidence without the testimony of the technician who conducted the testing and prepared the reports; and (2) whether the trial court imposed an excessive sentence. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Henderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/18
Estate of Kelly Joe Morgan Lynn v. State of Tennessee
W2017-00806-COA-R3-CV

Claimant estate appeals the dismissal of its claim against the State related to the failure of a State prison to provide medical care to an inmate. Following a trial, the Claims Commission dismissed the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Court of Appeals 01/09/18
State of Tennessee v. LaJuan Harbison
E2015-00700-SC-R11-CD

A jury convicted LaJuan Harbison of four counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter and four counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the convictions and remanded for a new trial, holding that the trial court erred in denying Harbison’s request for a separate trial, that his multiple convictions for employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony violated the prohibition against double jeopardy, and that the evidence was insufficient to support one of the counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. We granted the State’s application for permission to appeal to determine whether the trial court properly exercised its discretion by denying Harbison’s motion for severance; whether Harbison waived the double jeopardy issue; and if not, whether Harbison’s convictions for employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony violate the prohibition against double jeopardy where he used one firearm but was convicted of multiple dangerous felonies against different victims. We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Harbison’s request for a separate trial; Harbison did not waive the double jeopardy issue; and his multiple convictions for employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony do not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, reinstate Harbison’s three convictions for attempted voluntary manslaughter and three convictions for employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and remand to the trial court for resentencing and corrected judgments.

Knox County Supreme Court 01/09/18
Jennifer Steakin v. Daniel Steakin
M2017-00115-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises from the modification of a parenting plan in a post-divorce action. The original 2010 parenting plan awarded the parties equal parenting time. When the parties’ only child started school in 2012, the parents informally modified the parenting schedule so that Father had parenting time every other weekend and the parents split the holidays equally. In 2015, Mother commenced this action seeking court approval of the informal parenting schedule. The trial court granted Mother’s petition to modify and adopted Mother’s proposed parenting plan. Father appeals, claiming the trial court erred by, inter alia, failing to make findings of fact as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01, miscalculating Father’s parenting time, awarding Mother sole education and
non-emergency healthcare decision-making authority, ordering the child to attend a certain elementary school, awarding Mother a judgment for her attorney’s fees, and assessing post-judgment interest at 5.5%. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court in all respects. We also find that Mother is entitled to recover reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees incurred on appeal pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-5-103(c).

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/09/18
Lloyd Michael Harris, Jr. v. Mastec North America, Inc., Et Al.
M2016-02307-SC-R3-WC

In March 2004, the trial court entered a final order finding the employee permanently and totally disabled and awarding benefits of $274.49 per week “until he is eligible for full benefits in the Old Age Insurance Benefit Program under the Social Security Act.” The trial court also ordered that 180 weeks of benefits and attorney’s fees would be paid to the employee in a lump sum. In May 2016, the employer filed a motion to amend, alleging that the order should have reflected the employee’s retirement age as sixty-five (65) and should have stated “with specificity when [the employer] shall receive a credit for the commuted portion of the award.” The trial court found that the motion was untimely and that, in any event, the final order provided the employee with weekly benefits “through the date of his eligibility for full benefits in the Old Age Insurance Benefit Program under the Social Security Act as of the date of the entry of the Final Judgment,” i.e., age sixty-seven (67). We affirm the trial court’s judgment. 

Cheatham County Workers Compensation Panel 01/09/18
State of Tennessee v. Jeffrey Wayne Hughes
M2017-00057-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Jeffrey Wayne Hughes, pled guilty to one count of theft over $250,000, one count of theft between $10,000 and $60,000, and six counts of money laundering. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed an effective sentence of twenty-seven years in confinement. On appeal, the defendant contends the trial court erred when failing to apply certain mitigating factors, denying probation on the money laundering offenses, and ordering his theft convictions to be served consecutively to his money laundering convictions. Following our review of the record, arguments of the parties, and pertinent authorities, we affirm the sentences imposed by the trial court.

Lawrence County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/08/18
In Re Kandace D.
E2017-00830-COA-R3-PT

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights to his minor child. The child’s physical custodians petitioned to terminate the father’s parental rights. The trial court found that the petitioners had established, by clear-and-convincing evidence, three grounds for termination: (1) abandonment by an incarcerated parent, with the parent having exhibited a wanton disregard for the welfare of the child prior to his incarceration; (2) incarceration with a child under age eight and a prison sentence of ten years or more; and (3) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal from the father’s home. The trial court also determined that termination of the father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest. The father appeals the three grounds for termination found by the trial court. The father also appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of his parental rights is in the child’s best interest. We reverse as to the ground of persistence of conditions, but affirm termination of the father’s rights on both other grounds. We also affirm the trial court’s conclusion that termination of the father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 01/08/18
Una P. Irvin v. Ernest J. Irvin, II
M2016-02540-COA-R3-CV

Father filed a petition for modification of a permanent parenting plan seeking designation as the primary residential parent of the parties’ two children. Mother filed a counter-petition for modification of the residential parenting schedule in the permanent parenting plan. After a hearing, the trial court denied Father’s petition and granted Mother’s petition, reducing Father’s parenting time by twenty-four days. Father appealed. Because the trial court did not conduct an appropriate best interest analysis, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings as necessary.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 01/08/18
State of Tennessee v. Joseph D. Sexton
M2017-00735-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Joseph D. Sexton, entered an open guilty plea to one count of attempted aggravated sexual battery. The trial court held a sentencing hearing and sentenced the Defendant to five years of incarceration. The Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in calculating the length of the sentence based on the enhancing and mitigating factors presented and that the trial court erred in denying alternative sentencing. After a thorough review of the record, we determine that there was no abuse of discretion, and we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Robertson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/05/18
Keenan Scott McNeal v. State of Tennessee
E2017-00281-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Keenan Scott McNeal, appeals from the Blount County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his conviction for the sale of one-half gram or more of a substance containing cocaine within 1000 feet of a child care facility, for which he is serving an eight-year sentence. On appeal, he contends that he received the ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/05/18