Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 12/01/2020
Format: 12/01/2020
ZAKKAWANDA ZAWUMBA MOSS v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
M2019-00972-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Zakkawanda Zawumba Moss, appeals the Lincoln County Circuit Court’s denial of his post-conviction petition, seeking relief from his six convictions of first degree premediated murder and six consecutive life sentences. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that we should remand the case to the post-conviction court in order to provide the Petitioner an opportunity to present additional proof in support of his petition. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we disagree with the Petitioner and affirm the post-conviction court’s denial of the petition.

Lincoln County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/25/20
Jason Hale v. Turney Center Disciplinary Board, Et Al.
M2020-00724-COA-R3-CV

Appellant prison inmate appeals the dismissal of his petition for a writ of certiorari. On appeal, Appellant asserts that the board failed to comply with the Uniform Disciplinary Procedure in imposing discipline in this case. Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the appellant relief, we affirm. 

Hickman County Court of Appeals 11/25/20
Susan Jo Walls v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00809-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Susan Jo Walls, appeals the Bedford County Circuit Court’s denial of her post-conviction petition, seeking relief from her convictions of first degree premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder and resulting effective life sentence.  On appeal, the Petitioner contends that she received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel.  Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/25/20
A & P Excavating And Materials, LLC v. David Geiger
E2019-01712-COA-R3-CV

In this contract action, the trial court entered a judgment dismissing the plaintiff logging company’s complaint for breach of contract, determining that the defendant landowner had been within his rights to terminate the parties’ agreement because (1) the contract, which had been drafted by the owner of the logging company, was not sufficiently specific to be enforceable and (2) the logging company had violated what was an unambiguous section of the contract requiring that the logging company follow directions concerning the logging operation given by the landowner’s property manager. The logging company has appealed. Having determined that the parties’ contract is enforceable, we reverse the trial court’s first basis for dismissal of the logging company’s breach of contract claim. However, we affirm the remainder of the trial court’s judgment in its entirety.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 11/25/20
Sypriss Smith v. All Nations Church of God, et al.
W2019-02184-COA-R3-CV

Former employee sued her former employer for retaliatory discharge under the Tennessee Public Protection Act, disability discrimination, and religious discrimination. Former employee voluntarily dismissed the religious discrimination claim prior to trial; the jury returned a verdict in favor of the former employee on only the retaliatory discharge claim, awarding total damages of $15,500.00, inclusive of punitive damages. Former employee then sought an award of over $100,000.00 in attorney’s fees under the applicable statutes, which the trial court reduced to $12,500.00, the same amount of punitive damages awarded by the jury. Former employee appeals only the attorney’s fee award. We vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Madison County Court of Appeals 11/25/20
Jacob Daniel Drucker v. Colleen Erin Daley
M2019-01264-COA-R3-JV

Mother challenges the trial court’s granting of father’s petition to modify the residential parenting schedule to give him equal residential parenting time. She argues that the father failed to establish a material change in circumstances affecting the child’s well-being in a meaningful way. We have determined that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings that there was a material change of circumstances under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-101(a)(2)(C) and that modification of the parenting schedule was in the best interest of the child.    

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 11/25/20
In Re Allie-Mae K., Et Al.
M2020-00215-COA-R3-PT

This appeal involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that multiple grounds for termination were proven and that termination is in the best interest of the children. We reverse one ground for termination but otherwise affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 11/24/20
In Re Allie-Mae K., Et Al. - Concurring In Part
M2020-00215-COA-R3-PT

While I concur with the end result reached by the majority in this case, I write separately to note my disagreement with the the majority’s suggestion that the split of authority surrounding In re Amynn K., No. E2017-01866-COA-R3-PT, 2018 WL 3058280 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 20, 2018) and In re Ayden S., No. M2017-01185-COA-R3-PT, 2018 WL 2447044 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 31, 2018), has been fully resolved in favor of In re Amynn K. See, e.g., In re Allyson P., No. E2019-01606-COA-R3-PT, 2020 WL 3317318, at *9 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 17, 2020) (following In re Ayden S. and reversing the trial court’s decision to terminate a mother’s parental rights based upon this ground when the proof showed that mother was unable to assume custody of her child but was not unwilling). As I perceive it, this split remains clear and irreconcilable.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 11/24/20
The Total Garage Store, LLC. v. Nicholas C. Moody
M2019-01342-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns a noncompetition agreement. The Total Garage Store, LLC (“TGS”) sued former employee Nicholas C. Moody (“Moody”) in the Chancery Court for Montgomery County (“the Trial Court”). TGS alleged that Moody violated his noncompetition agreement (“the Agreement”). At the end of a hearing on TGS’s motion for a temporary injunction held 35 days after suit was filed, the Trial Court invoked Tenn. R. Civ. P. 65.04(7) to declare that the hearing was on the merits of the case, not just the injunction. The Trial Court found the Agreement enforceable and entered an injunction order. Later, TGS filed a motion for contempt against Moody alleging that he violated the order. After a hearing, the Trial Court found Moody guilty of six counts of criminal contempt. The Trial Court also awarded damages to TGS. Moody appeals. Because the record does not reflect that Moody received adequate notice that the injunction hearing also would be on the merits, we vacate the Trial Court’s judgment as it pertains to Moody’s alleged violation of the Agreement. However, this does not and did not entitle Moody to ignore the temporary injunction, and we affirm the Trial Court in its finding Moody guilty of criminal contempt. We therefore affirm, in part, and vacate, in part, the Trial Court’s judgment, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 11/24/20
Mini Systems, Inc. v. Marvin Alexander, et al.
W2019-01871-COA-R3-CV

This case arises from a breach of contract dispute involving the construction of two storage buildings. Among other issues is whether Appellee’s actions were “unfair or deceptive” pursuant to the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. The trial court ultimately found that there was a breach of contract, but that Appellee’s actions were not deceptive and dismissed the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act claim. Appellant now appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his claim under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Weakley County Court of Appeals 11/24/20
Barbara Lundell v. Lois Hubbs Et Al.
E2019-02168-COA-R3-CV

In this negligence action arising from the plaintiff’s injuries sustained while attempting to traverse the aisle of a moving school bus, the trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment following a determination that (1) the plaintiff had not demonstrated that the defendants had breached any duty of care to the plaintiff and (2) alternatively, any reasonable fact-finder could only conclude that the plaintiff was at least fifty percent (50%) at fault for her injuries. In so finding, the trial court declined to consider the plaintiff’s captioned “Declaration” in part because it failed to meet the affidavit requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.06. In filing her “Declaration” in support of her opposition to summary judgment, the plaintiff sought to amend her prior deposition testimony concerning the location of her fall. The trial court additionally denied the plaintiff’s “Motion to Deem Requests for Admission Admitted” after the plaintiff averred that the defendants had failed to respond to the plaintiff’s initial requests for admission for over five-hundred days. The plaintiff has appealed. Having determined that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding the defendants’ breach of duty of care and comparative fault, we reverse the trial court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of the defendants and the trial court’s finding that the plaintiff’s “Declaration” should not be considered. We affirm the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s “Motion to Deem Requests for Admissions Admitted.”

Knox County Court of Appeals 11/23/20
In Re Malachi M.
E2020-00561-COA-R3-PT

This appeal involves a petition to terminate the parental rights of a father to a minor child. The trial court found that there was clear and convincing evidence to terminate the father’s rights on the ground of abandonment by an incarcerated parent and that termination was in the best interest of the child. The father appealed. We affirm the trial court’s decision to terminate the father’s parental rights and remand.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 11/20/20
Antonio Wicks v. State of Tennessee
W2019-02187-CCA-R3-PC

A Shelby County jury convicted Petitioner, Antonio Wicks, of second degree murder in the death of the victim, Donald Miller, and the trial court sentenced Petitioner to 25 years’ incarceration as a Range I violent offender. This court affirmed Petitioner’s conviction on direct appeal. See State v. Antonio Wicks, No. W2011-00964-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 1424717, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 23, 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Aug. 16, 2012). Petitioner filed a pro se post-conviction petition and four amended petitions following the appointment of counsel. Following a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. Petitioner now appeals, claiming that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel because trial counsel failed to (1) move for a mistrial due to only having eleven jurors; (2) file a motion to dismiss the indictment pursuant to State v. Ferguson, 2 S.W.3d 912, 915-16 (Tenn. 1999); (3) cross-examine the State’s witness regarding the loss or destruction of potentially exculpatory evidence; (4) object to improper prosecutorial argument; and (5) raise in the motion for new trial and on direct appeal the failure to cross-examine a witness and improper prosecutorial argument. After a thorough review of the record and applicable case law, the judgment of the postconviction court is affirmed.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Patrick Phillips
W2019-02004-CCA-R3-CD

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant, Patrick Phillips, of rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed an effective sentence of twenty-seven years in confinement. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support his convictions and argues the trial court erred in denying his motion for new trial based on the State’s failure to answer the defendant’s motion for a bill of particulars. After reviewing the record and considering the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Devin Rogers
W2019-01841-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Devin Rogers, appeals from his Shelby County Criminal Court convictions for aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary, for which he received an effective elevenyear sentence. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, arguing that his co-defendant’s testimony was “wildly contradictory” to that of the victim. Following our review, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Jashun Yance Robertson
W2020-00439-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Jashun Yance Robertson, appeals the Fayette County Circuit Court’s denial of his request for judicial diversion pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-313. Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion by relying on Defendant’s prior delinquent acts to deny diversion, when there was no proof regarding these acts in the record, and by failing to consider the “judicially recognized differences between juveniles and adults” in reaching its decision. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Fayette County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Earl Jerome Lee, Jr.
W2019-01939-CCA-R3-CD

The Appellant, Earl Jerome Lee, Jr., appeals as of right from the Madison County Circuit Court’s summary denial of his Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 motion to correct an illegal sentence. He contends that he is entitled to relief because his conviction for attempted felony escape was erroneously ordered to be served concurrently with his other sentences. Although we disagree with the trial court’s conclusion that this issue had been previously litigated, we nevertheless conclude that the Appellant fails to state a colorable claim for relief. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/20/20
James Howell v. Lee R. Morisy, M.D., et al.
W2020-00343-COA-R3-CV

In this Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 9 interlocutory appeal, we address whether the trial court erred in applying Tennessee Rule of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) 1.7 in determining whether Appellants’ law firm had a concurrent conflict of interest. Because a law firm may not cure a concurrent conflict by withdrawing from representing a client to avoid a conflict of interest with another client, we conclude that the trial court properly applied RPC 1.7. We also conclude that the trial court properly considered alternatives to disqualification.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/20/20
Gloria J. Jones v. Justin Martin, et al.
W2019-02047-COA-R3-CV

Appellant and her son were driver and passenger, respectively, in a motor vehicle when they were struck in the rear by a vehicle driven by one of the Appellees. Appellant’s son later died from medical causes not related to the accident. Appellant then filed suit for injuries in her own name and as next of kin of her deceased son. Following arguments by the Appellees that Appellant had no authority to prosecute the case on behalf of her son, the trial court dismissed the claim corresponding to the injuries allegedly sustained by the son. Appellant then took a nonsuit of her remaining claim. This appeal concerns initially whether or not the judgment on appeal is a final judgment and, if so, the application of Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-5-102 to this case. Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-5-102, which provides for the survival of actions despite the death of the person wronged, specifies that the right of action shall pass “in like manner as the right of action described in § 20-5-106.” By way of that referenced authority, it is clear that a next of kin is one of the persons authorized to bring an action that survives under section 20-5-102. For the reasons set out herein, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to hear this appeal and reverse the trial court’s dismissal.

Fayette County Court of Appeals 11/20/20
Craig Williams v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, et al.
W2019-00851-COA-R3-CV

Appellant was injured in an accident involving a vehicle owned by Lexus of Memphis and insured under a policy issued by Appellee insurance company. The at-fault driver entered into a rental agreement with Lexus of Memphis for use of the subject vehicle. After a jury entered a verdict in favor of Appellant against the at-fault driver, Appellant sought to collect the judgment under a policy issued by Appellee. The trial court held that the at-fault driver, as a renter of the vehicle, was exempt from coverage under the policy. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/20/20
John Doe Ex Rel. Jane Doe v. Brentwood Academy, Inc. Et Al.
M2017-02554-COA-R3-CV

In this consolidated appeal, we review whether the trial court erred in holding appellants’ attorney in civil contempt and/or in assessing fees and costs after this Court, in a previous appeal, reversed the trial court’s grant of appellees’ motion for involuntary dismissal and mandated for entry of an order granting appellants’ motion for voluntary dismissal. We conclude that there was no contempt and that the fees assessed for contempt were unwarranted. Because the underlying lawsuit was voluntarily nonsuited, we pretermit appellants’ issue concerning whether the trial court erred in denying recusal.  

Williamson County Court of Appeals 11/20/20
STATE OF TENNESSEE v. JUSTIN W. WALKINGTON
M2019-01772-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Justin W. Walkington, appeals his Giles County Circuit Court jury conviction of child abuse of a child under the age of eight, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that child abuse was a lesser included offense of aggravated sexual battery, that the trial court’s child abuse instruction actually charged the elements of child neglect, and that the trial court erred by denying the defendant any form of alternative sentencing. We hold that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that child abuse was a lesser included offense in this case because the evidence was legally insufficient to support that charge. Additionally, the trial court’s instruction on the offense of child abuse erroneously included the elements of child neglect, which charge was also unsupported by the evidence. Because the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction of either child abuse or child neglect but was sufficient to support a conviction of simple assault by offensive touching, we reverse and vacate the defendant’s conviction of child abuse and remand the case to the trial court for a sentencing hearing on the offense of Class B misdemeanor assault and the entry of an amended judgment reflecting the new conviction offense and sentence.

Giles County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/19/20
State of Tennessee v. Anthony Dewight Washington
M2020-00268-CCA-R3-CD
Defendant, Anthony Dewight Washington, appeals as of right from the trial court’s summary dismissal of his Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 motion to correct a clerical error in the judgment of his conviction for the offense of possession, in a drugfree zone, of 0.5 gram or more of cocaine for sale. After review of the appellate record and the briefs filed by the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
 
Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/19/20
STATE OF TENNESSEE v. CHRISTOPHER W. GADSDEN
M2019-01385-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Christopher W. Gadsden, was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury for first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, and theft of property valued between $1,000 and $10,000. Following a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of second degree murder and theft of property valued between $1,000 and $10,000. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed a total effective sentence of 24 years in the Tennessee Department of Correction with 100 percent release eligibility. In this appeal as of right, Defendant contends that: 1) the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for second degree murder; 2) the trial court erred by admitting certain autopsy photographs into evidence; 3) the trial court erred by excluding evidence of a prior bad act by the victim; and 4) his sentence is excessive. Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/19/20
Ronald L. Jones v. Louise Helms, et al.
W2019-00864-COA-R3-CV

In this case, a sister contests the sale of her deceased brother’s interest in real estate they inherited from their mother to satisfy an outstanding judgment lien against the brother. Because the sister waives her right to appellate review of most of her arguments and we discern no error in the circuit court’s exercise of subject matter jurisdiction, we affirm the circuit court.

Gibson County Court of Appeals 11/19/20