Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 03/21/2019
Format: 03/21/2019
Glenn R. Funk v. Scripps Media, Inc., Et Al.
M2017-00256-SC-R11-CV

We granted review of this interlocutory appeal arising from a defamation action to address whether the Court of Appeals correctly determined that (1) a showing of malice cannot defeat the fair report privilege and (2) an assertion of the fair report privilege exempts the defendants from part of the protections of Tennessee Code Annotated section 24-1-208, Tennessee’s news media shield law. With respect to the first issue, we conclude that neither actual nor express malice defeats the privilege; the only limitations on the fair report privilege are that a report of an official action or proceeding must be fair and accurate. With respect to the second issue, we conclude that the fair report privilege is a defense based upon a source of information that renders the source of the statements the plaintiff alleges to be defamatory unprotected by Tennessee’s shield law. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the separate grounds stated in this opinion and remand this case to the trial court. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/13/19
State of Tennessee, Ex Rel. Herbert H. Slatery, III, Et Al. v. Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft, Et Al.
M2018-00791-COA-R9-CV

At issue in this appeal is the breadth of federal preemption under Title II of the federal Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7521 to 7590, for claims that pertain to: (1) the initial manufacture and installation of “defeat device” software in emissions control systems in automobiles, and (2) post-sale software updates of emissions control systems during manufacturer recalls. The State of Tennessee brought this action against several automobile manufacturers for violating state anti-tampering laws by tampering with the emissions control systems in more than 8,000 of their “clean diesel” vehicles that were registered and operated in Tennessee from 2008 to 2015. The manufacturers responded by filing Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motions to dismiss arguing that all of the claims were preempted by the federal Clean Air Act. The trial court dismissed the claims that pertained to the initial manufacture and installation of emissions control systems for automobiles as expressly preempted by Section 209(a) of the act; however, the court denied the manufacturers’ motions to dismiss the claims that pertained to the post-sale software updates of emissions control systems during manufacturer recalls. We have determined that all of the State’s claims are preempted by the federal Clean Air Act. Therefore, we affirm the dismissal of the claims related to the initial manufacture and installation of emissions control systems, reverse the decision to deny the Rule 12 motions to dismiss the post-sale software updates and installations, and remand with instructions to dismiss all claims.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/13/19
Country Mile, LLC, Et Al. v. Cameron Properties
M2017-01771-COA-R3-CV

Cameron Properties, LLC (“Landlord”) appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court for Williamson County (“the Trial Court”), which, inter alia, found Landlord in breach of a lease agreement with Country Mile, LLC (“Country Mile”) and awarded a judgment against Landlord of $18,037.75. Landlord raises issues, among others, regarding standing, whether Country Mile breached the lease agreement by failing to pay rent, and whether Landlord is entitled to an award of all of its attorney’s fees. We find and hold, that Country Mile, Well North, LLC, and Dean Pennington all had standing; that the Trial Court did not err in finding the tenants in breach but that Landlord had breached the lease agreement first; that the tenants proved $18,037.75 in damages from Landlord’s breach; and that pursuant to the lease agreement Landlord is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees due to the tenant’s breach. We affirm the Trial Court’s judgment.  

Williamson County Court of Appeals 03/13/19
Patrick Durkin v. MTown Construction, LLC
W2018-00953-COA-R3-CV

This is the second appeal from a trial court’s award in a case dealing with damage to real property. The plaintiff’s home had been damaged by a rainstorm while a construction company was in the middle of repairing the roof. The trial court entered an award in favor of the plaintiff for the reasonable costs of repair and remediation in the amount of $118,926.12 by totaling the damage estimate of the defendant’s insurance adjuster with the estimates provided by the plaintiff’s experts. While we affirm the trial court’s method of awarding damages based on the reasonable costs of repair, finding duplication in its award, we vacate the amount of the trial court’s judgment and remand the case for a new calculation of damages.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/13/19
Anthony Wilson v. State of Tennessee
W2017-02270-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Anthony Wilson, filed a post-conviction petition seeking relief from his convictions of first degree premeditated murder and attempted first degree murder and his accompanying effective life sentence. In the petition, the Petitioner alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to (1) hire an investigator, (2) meet with the Petitioner and keep him adequately informed about the case, (3) file motions “to challenge the evidence,” (4) seek a jury instruction regarding the defense of others, (5) properly crossexamine witnesses, and (6) raise objections at trial. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Steven Michael Odom
W2018-00634-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Steven Michael Odom, appeals his jury convictions for aggravated burglary and theft of property $500 or more but less than $1,000. The Defendant alleges that (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his jury convictions, challenging the evidence establishing his entry into a habitation and his criminal responsibility for the actions of his co-defendant; and (2) that the trial court’s refusal to play for the jury the portion of the Defendant’s police interview during which the Defendant stated adamantly that he was telling the truth was error. Following our review of the record and the applicable authorities, we conclude that the Defendant’s issues do not entitle him to relief. However, we find plain error because the trial court failed to apply the amended theft grading statute at sentencing. Accordingly, we vacate the two-year, Class E felony sentence for the Defendant’s theft conviction, and the case is remanded for entry of a modified judgment reflecting an eleven-month and twenty-nine-day sentence for a Class A misdemeanor conviction of theft of property valued at $1,000 or less. Furthermore, upon remand, it shall be notated on all three judgment forms, including the Defendant’s guilty plea to felon in possession of a weapon offense, the concurrent nature of the Defendant’s various sentences. In all other respects, the judgments are affirmed.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Willard Hampton
W2018-00623-CC-R3-CD

The Defendant, Willard Hampton, was convicted by a jury of two counts of simple possession of marijuana, which convictions were later merged by the trial court. The Defendant appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized during the traffic stop because there was insufficient proof to establish that he committed a traffic offense in Shelby County, and (2) the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s request for diversion or probation because of the Defendant’s untruthfulness and lack of candor at trial. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court. However, we remand for entry of corrected judgments to set the percentage of minimum service at seventy-five percent.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Jerome Antonio McElrath
W2015-01794-SC-R11-CD

We granted the State’s permission to appeal in this case to determine whether to adopt, as a matter of state law, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009), and if so, whether the Herring good-faith exception permits introduction of the evidence in this case. A Union City police officer arrested the defendant without a warrant because he was on a list of individuals who had been “barred” from housing authority property. The list in question was maintained by the Union City Police Department. Upon performing a search incident to arrest, the officer seized marijuana from the defendant. Nineteen days later, the same officer arrested the defendant on the same property based on the same list and again seized marijuana from the defendant. It was later discovered that the list was incorrect and that the defendant’s name should have been removed prior to the date of his arrests. The trial court suppressed the evidence in both cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals based their decisions on Tennessee’s not having yet adopted Herring’s good-faith exception. Upon discretionary review, we adopt the good-faith exception as set forth by Herring but conclude that neither of the defendant’s arrests falls within the good-faith exception. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed.  

Obion County Court of Appeals 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Jerome Antonio McElrath - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
W2015-01794-SC-R11-CD

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

Obion County Supreme Court 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Jerome Antonio McElrath - Concurring In the suppression of evidence; dissenting from the adoption of an exclusionary rule exception for constitutional violations caused by careless police recordkeeping
W2015-01794-SC-R11-CD

A Union City Police Department officer twice arrested and searched Jerome Antonio McElrath because of systemic and long-standing errors in the police department’s records. By stopping and searching McElrath without probable cause based on these errors, the police violated McElrath’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. I disagree with the majority’s adoption of an exception to the exclusionary rule to excuse negligent police recordkeeping. That said, I agree with the majority’s conclusion that the negligence exception does not apply here because of the police department’s systemically flawed recordkeeping process. The majority provides a good roadmap for trial courts to make the fact-intensive determination of whether isolated or systemic negligence caused the police error thus, whether the negligence exception applies. 

Obion County Supreme Court 03/12/19
In Re: Rilyn S.
E2018-00027-COA-R3-PT

A putative father challenges the trial court’s decision to terminate his parental rights on five grounds. We find that the trial court erred in terminating the putative father’s rights for failure to support. In all other respects, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

Loudon County Court of Appeals 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Joshua D. Johnson
E2018-00793-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Joshua D. Johnson, appeals the Sullivan County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his pro se petition for
post-conviction relief. Because the post-conviction court should have granted the petitioner an opportunity to amend his petition to comply with the statutory requirements, we reverse and remand.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Jerome Antonio McElrath
W2015-01794-SC-R11-CD


We granted the State’s permission to appeal in this case to determine whether to adopt, as a matter of state law, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009), and if so, whether the Herring good-faith exception permits introduction of the evidence in this case. A Union City police officer arrested the defendant without a warrant because he was on a list of individuals who had been “barred” from housing authority property. The list in question was maintained by the Union City Police Department. Upon performing a search incident to arrest, the officer seized marijuana from the defendant. Nineteen days later, the same officer arrested the defendant on the same property based on the same list and again seized marijuana from the defendant. It was later discovered that the list was incorrect and that the defendant’s name should have been removed prior to the date of his arrests. The trial court suppressed the evidence in both cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals based their decisions on Tennessee’s not having yet adopted Herring’s good-faith exception. Upon discretionary review, we adopt the good-faith exception as set forth by Herring but conclude that neither of the defendant’s arrests falls within the good-faith exception. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed
 

Obion County Supreme Court 03/12/19
Timothy Carter v. State of Tennessee
M2018-00061-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Timothy Carter, appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which petition challenged his Davidson County Criminal Court jury convictions of theft of property valued at more than $60,000 and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In this appeal, the petitioner asserts that the post-conviction court erred by concluding that he had forfeited the right to appointed counsel in the post-conviction proceeding and by ruling that he was not entitled to post-conviction relief. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
In Re Elizabeth H.
M2018-01464-COA-R3-PT

The mother has appealed from a final judgment terminating her parental rights. Because the mother did not file her notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the judgment as required by Tenn. R. App. P. 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/11/19
State of Tennessee v. Earnest Costosteno Woodley
M2018-00217-CCA-R3-CD

A Davidson County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Earnest Costosteno Woodley, of four counts of attempted first degree premeditated murder, and the trial court sentenced him as a repeat violent offender to four concurrent terms of life without parole. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred by admitting evidence in violation of Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b), that the trial court erred by allowing irrelevant and highly prejudicial cross-examination of his mental health expert, and that the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions because the State failed to show premeditation and because he established the defense of insanity. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
Rico Vales v. State of Tennessee
W2017-02361-CCA-R3-PC

Petitioner, Rico Vales, was convicted by a jury of two counts of aggravated assault by display or use of a deadly weapon and one count of being a felon in possession of a handgun. He received an effective sentence of 15 years. Petitioner sought post-conviction relief, claiming that his trial counsel was ineffective. Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. Having reviewed the record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
George Washington Matthews v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00966-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, George Washington Matthews, appeals from the Lake County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by: (1) failing to use a peremptory challenge to remove a juror who knew that the Petitioner had been an inmate at the penitentiary; (2) failing to object to testimony that the Petitioner previously had been incarcerated; and (3) failing to advise the Petitioner of the State’s settlement offer of three years. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Lake County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
Jay R. Hassman v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01739-CCA-R3-PC

In October 2017, the Madison County Circuit Court revoked Jay R. Hassman’s (the Petitioner) probation for relocating to the State of Florida without permission and ordered him to serve the remainder of his sentence in confinement. The Petitioner did not appeal the trial court’s revocation of his probation to this court. Instead, he filed a “Motion for New Revocation Hearing” in the trial court, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at the revocation hearing. Jay R. Hassman v. State, No. W2018-00784-CCA-R3-PC, 2019 WL 244585 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 16, 2019). The trial court denied relief on the basis that the motion was untimely as a motion for reduction of sentence under Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 35 and that the motion could not be construed as a petition for post-conviction relief. Id. The Petitioner appealed the denial of his “Motion for New Revocation Hearing” to this court, which was recently denied. Id. Two months after he filed the “Motion for New Revocation Hearing,” on June 4, 2018, the Petitioner filed a petition seeking post-conviction relief, claiming that the State of Tennessee breached the terms of his plea agreement, which was alleged to have been conditioned upon the Petitioner’s ability to “move out of State.” The Petitioner further claimed that due process considerations should toll the untimely filing of the post-conviction petition because “the breach of the plea agreement did not become known to [him] until” his arrest for the probation violation in October 2017. By order on June 8, 2018, the trial court dismissed the post-conviction petition as time-barred and because “the issues raised by the petition could have been raised at the revocation hearing or on appeal.” On July 2, 2018, the Petitioner, acting pro se, filed a “Motion for New Trial,” “disagree[ing]” with the trial court’s June 8 order and findings, and respectfully requesting the trial court to reconsider. On September 12, 2018, by written order, the trial court denied the Petitioner’s “Motion for New Trial.” The Petitioner is now before this court and seeks review from the denial of his “Motion for New Trial.” Because no appeal as of right flows from the Petitioner’s filing, we decline review and dismiss.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
State of Tennessee v. Tyler Brooks and Tavares Jackson
W2017-00768-CCA-R3-CD

A Shelby County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Appellants, Tyler Brooks and Tavares Jackson, of aggravated robbery. Additionally, Appellant Jackson was convicted of vandalism of property valued over $500. The trial court sentenced each Appellant to a total effective sentence of nine years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, both Appellants challenge the sufficiency of the evidence sustaining their aggravated robbery convictions. Appellant Jackson also contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the victim’s identification of the perpetrators at the scene, by “denying the defense to enter the case notes of the lead detective,” by making prejudicial gestures during trial, and by allowing an officer to give speculative testimony regarding the Appellants’ guilt. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
State of Tennessee v. Dylan Brewer
W2017-01725-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Dylan Brewer, was convicted of one count of aggravated robbery and was sentenced to eight years. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred by failing to orally instruct the jury as to the definitions of intentionally and knowingly, that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction for aggravated robbery, and that the trial court erred in excluding Defendant’s written statement after deeming portions of the statement to be self-serving. Upon our review of the record, we conclude that the evidence is sufficient to sustain Defendant’s conviction. Additionally, we conclude that any error with regard to the exclusion of Defendant’s statement was harmless because the disputed portion was admitted to clarify an earlier mischaracterization and Defendant testified. However, we conclude that the trial court committed plain error by failing to read to the jury the written instructions defining the terms intentionally and knowingly because the mens rea is an essential element of the offense and was a contested issue at trial. Therefore, we reverse the judgement of the trial court and remand the case for a new trial before a properly instructed jury.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
Kenneth Spencer v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00545-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Kenneth Spencer, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that the post-conviction court erred in finding that he received effective assistance of counsel. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the postconviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
Vernon Charles Patton v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01835-CCA-R3-HC

Vernon Charles Patton, Petitioner, seeks habeas corpus relief from a pending indictment for which he is being held on bail awaiting trial. The habeas corpus court summarily dismissed the petition because the petition failed to comply with the mandatory procedural requirements for filing for habeas corpus relief and failed to state a cognizable claim. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/11/19
George W. Brown, et al. v. Markesha C. Echols, et al.
W2018-01240-COA-R3-CV

This is a motor vehicle accident case. Following a jury trial, the Plaintiffs were awarded $250,000.00 in damages. On appeal, the Defendant challenges, among other things, the trial court’s admission of video testimony from a medical expert and the court’s decision to allow a vocational expert to testify as to loss of earning capacity damages. Because we are of the opinion that the Defendant’s evidentiary objections have merit, we vacate the jury’s verdict and the trial court’s judgment and remand for a new trial.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/11/19
Jairus Lee v. Estes Express, et al.
W2018-00642-COA-R3-CV

A plaintiff injured in a motor vehicle accident filed a civil warrant in general sessions court seeking damages for his personal injuries. The defendants claimed the action was barred by the statute of limitations and moved for judgment on the pleadings. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion because the warrant was filed but not issued before the statute of limitations period expired. We affirm the trial court’s judgment on appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/11/19