Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 10/22/2019
Format: 10/22/2019
State of Tennessee v. Thorne Peters
W2018-01328-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Thorne Peters, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony drug offense, a Class D felony; possession of marijuana with intent to sell, a Class E felony; and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, a Class E felony. The trial court merged the drug convictions and imposed an effective sentence of four years. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence convicting him of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony drug offense. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/09/19
William L. Boone v. Town of Collierville
W2018-02005-COA-R9-CV

After the dismissal of his federal action, plaintiff filed a state court action alleging a violation of the Public Employee Political Freedom Act. The defendant city thereafter filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that because plaintiff’s action was against a state entity, plaintiff could not rely on the saving statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-115. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss but granted an interlocutory appeal. We granted the application for interlocutory appeal and now reverse the decision of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/08/19
Phillip Isaacs, Jr., Et Al. v. Brennon Fitzpatrick, Et Al.
M2018-01863-COA-R3-CV

This appeal involves a dispute between neighboring landowners over the use of a driveway that crosses the land of a third neighbor. Two of these landowners were previously involved in a separate lawsuit that resulted in an agreed declaratory judgment establishing an easement for one landowner at the location of the driveway. In the case at bar, the trial court found that the prior declaratory judgment is not binding on the neighboring landowners who were not parties to that earlier proceeding. After a two-day bench trial and on-site view of the premises, the trial court found that these neighbors had established an easement implied from prior use, and alternatively, an easement implied by necessity, enabling them to use the driveway as well. The other landowner, who was granted an easement by the earlier agreed order, has appealed, insisting that he has the exclusive right to use the driveway. For the following reasons, we affirm the decision of the chancery court.

Perry County Court of Appeals 08/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Brandon Robert Vandenburg
M2017-01882-CCA-R3-CD

A Davidson County jury convicted Brandon Robert Vandenburg, Defendant, of five counts of aggravated rape, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of unlawful photography. On appeal, Defendant argues the following: (1) the trial court’s denial of his motion to dismiss the superseding indictment violated his right to due process and protection from double jeopardy and violated Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 8; (2) prosecution on the superseding indictment created a realistic likelihood of vindictive prosecution; (3) the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of Dr. J. Sidney Alexander; (4) the trial court erred by denying Defendant’s request to question potential jurors about recent rape cases in national news and by failing to timely admonish prospective jurors; (5) the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress the June 27, 2013 interrogation and evidence obtained based on that interrogation; (6) the trial court erred in excluding Defendant’s voicemail on Joseph Quinzio’s cell phone; (7) the trial court erred by instructing the jury on the requisite culpability for criminal responsibility and on “presence and companionship” as it relates to criminal responsibility; (8) the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments; (9) the evidence was insufficient for a rational juror to have found Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (10) Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-605 is void for vagueness; (11) the trial court erred in ordering Defendant to serve an excessive sentence; (12) the trial court erred in denying Defendant’s motion to recuse; (13) the trial court erred by excluding evidence of the co-defendants’ prior bad acts; (14) the trial court erred by denying Defendant’s Tennessee Rule of Evidence 412 motion; and (15) the cumulative errors in Defendant’s trial warrant a new trial. After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments in counts one through four and six through eight. Although not raised by either party, we determine that Defendant’s conviction of aggravated rape in count five must be vacated. We modify the conviction in count five to attempted aggravated rape and remand to the trial court for sentencing in count five.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Brian Williams
M2018-01901-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Brian Williams, was indicted for aggravated burglary, a Class C felony; and theft of property valued at $1000 or less, a Class A misdemeanor. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-14-103, -105, -403. The Defendant pled guilty to the theft charge and was convicted by a jury of the aggravated burglary charge. The trial court later imposed a total effective sentence of four years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for aggravated burglary. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Demarcus Lamont Gonner
M2018-01969-CCA-R3-CD

Pro se Petitioner, Demarcus L. Gonner, appeals from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s summary denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Rule 36.1 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Hassan Falah Al Mutory
M2017-00346-SC-R11-CD

We granted this appeal to determine whether, after the death of a defendant during an appeal as of right from a conviction, the Court of Criminal Appeals should follow our holding in Carver v. State, 398 S.W.2d 719 (Tenn. 1966). We conclude that, due to changes in Tennessee’s public policy in the arena of victims’ rights, the doctrine of abatement ab initio must be abandoned. Because there is no evidence before the Court that any interest would benefit from allowing the deceased defendant’s appeal to continue, we hold that, in this case, the deceased defendant’s appeal as of right from his conviction should be dismissed.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Hassan Falah Al Mutory - Concurring in part and Dissenting in part
M2017-00346-SC-R11-CD

I agree that this Court should do away with the doctrine of abatement ab initio. It is an outdated concept. That said, I cannot go along with the Court’s decision to dismiss Mr. Mutory’s appeal. The Court should adopt a procedure for appellate review of a deceased defendant’s conviction and then remand the case so the parties can present evidence based on the new procedure. We have a duty to change the law when it no longer serves the interests of justice—but in doing so, we should not do an injustice to a party. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/07/19
Travis Capshaw v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01371-CCA-R3-PC

Petitioner, Travis Capshaw, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition. Petitioner argues that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel (1) failed to adequately utilize mental health issues as a mitigating factor in Petitioner’s first degree murder charge and (2) such failure caused trial counsel to erroneously advise Petitioner to plead guilty. Following a review of the briefs of the parties and the record, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/07/19
James Russell Vaughn, Jr. v. Sandra Pierce Vaughn
E2018-00794-COA-R3-CV

Husband and wife were divorced in 2004. The parties’ marital dissolution agreement obligated husband to pay wife $950 a month in alimony. Husband failed to make payments for over ten years. In 2015, wife filed a motion for contempt and order for body attachment seeking to recover the alimony arrearages. At trial, husband argued that the equitable doctrines of laches, waiver, and unclean hands barred wife’s claim. The trial court disagreed and awarded wife $114,000 in past due alimony and $1,000 in attorney’s fees. Husband appeals. We affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 08/06/19
Darrell Dean Hochhalter v. State of Tennessee
M2018-00243-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Darrell Dean Hochhalter, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel at trial. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/06/19
Joshua Terron Johnson v. State of Tennessee
E2018-01785-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Joshua Terron Johnson, appeals the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2014 convictions for facilitation of attempted first degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, unlawful possession of a weapon, and aggravated assault and his effective sentence of twenty-six years. The Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/06/19
In Re Keagan P.
E2019-00055-COA-R3-PT

A trial court terminated a father’s parental rights on the basis of abandonment by failure to visit and substantial noncompliance with a permanency plan. The father appealed, and we affirm the termination.

Blount County Court of Appeals 08/05/19
Gary Lee Odom v. Rachel Lea Zamata Odom
M2018-00405-COA-R3-CV

Two days before the parties’ divorce trial, wife discharged her attorney. Her attorney then moved to withdraw. One day before trial, wife moved pro se for recusal of the trial judge. On the morning of trial, the court denied the wife’s recusal motion and granted her attorney’s motion to withdraw. Wife was not present. After confirming that wife had notice of the date, the court proceeded with the trial. In the final decree, the court granted husband a divorce, classified and divided the marital property, and awarded husband a portion of his attorney’s fees. On appeal, we conclude that the trial court did not err in denying wife’s recusal motion, allowing her attorney to withdraw, or conducting the trial in her absence. But the court did err in awarding husband attorney’s fees as alimony in solido. So we reverse the court’s award of attorney’s fees as alimony in solido. In all other respects, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/05/19
State of Tennessee v. Leroy Myers, Jr.
M2015-01855-SC-R11-CD

The defendant, Leroy Myers, Jr., was indicted for the aggravated assault of Sandra Custode, an inspector with the Department of Codes and Public Safety (“Metro Codes Department”), by intentionally or knowingly causing her to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury by use or display of a deadly weapon.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-102(a)(1)(A)(iii).  Following a bench trial, he was convicted of felony reckless endangerment, which is not a lesser-included offense of aggravated assault as indicted in this case.  Both the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the defendant, through the actions of counsel, caused an effective amendment of the indictment.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal pursuant to Rule 11 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure to consider whether and under what circumstances the actions of counsel can rise to the level of causing an effective amendment to an indictment absent the clear consent of the defendant.  Upon our review, we hold:  (1) Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 7(b)(1) sets forth the procedure for amending an indictment with a defendant’s consent, and these mandates were not followed in this case; and (2) the actions of counsel amounted, at most, to mere acquiescence rather than an affirmative request for the trial court to consider felony reckless endangerment as a lesser offense.  We reverse the judgment of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, vacate the judgment of conviction, and dismiss the case.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/05/19
In Re: K.S.
E2018-02274-COA-R3-PT

The Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of S.M. (mother) with respect to her child, K.S. The trial court determined that clear and convincing evidence supported multiple grounds for terminating mother’s parental rights. By the same quantum of proof, the court determined that termination is in the best interest of the child. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 08/02/19
Henry Epps v. State of Tennessee
M2018-01772-CCA-R3-PC

Henry Epps, Petitioner, entered a best interest plea to six counts of sexual exploitation of a minor; the remaining nine counts of sexual exploitation of a minor were dismissed per the negotiated plea agreement. Petitioner received an effective sentence of eight years with release eligibility after service of 100% of the sentence in the Tennessee Department of Correction. Petitioner filed an original and an amended petition for post-conviction relief. After an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. Petitioner filed a timely notice of appeal. This court reversed and remanded for a new post-conviction hearing and for entry of an order that contained specific findings of fact and conclusions of law relating to all issues raised. At the second post-conviction hearing, the post-conviction court admitted numerous affidavits and reports from Petitioner’s forensic expert and the State’s forensic expert. The post-conviction court then denied relief in an order. On appeal, Petitioner alleges that trial counsel’s performance was deficient because he “failed to consult with or inform [Petitioner] as to whether [Petitioner]’s expert would be used at trial” and “unilaterally discarded [Petitioner]’s defense, allowing him no say as to whether the case would proceed to a trial that would have presumably consisted of a jury hearing testimony from each side’s competing experts.” Petitioner asserts that he would have proceeded to trial absent trial counsel’s deficient performance. He also contends that he did not knowingly and voluntarily plead guilty because he “did not have a meaningful opportunity to confer with trial counsel about alternatives[,]” that “trial counsel . . . unilaterally deprived [Petitioner] of the option to choose trial[,]” and that Petitioner “had no prior experience with criminal proceedings, which would have weighed in favor of a finding that [Petitioner]’s plea was not voluntary, intelligent, or knowing.” After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/02/19
Tennessee Clinical School, LLC, D/B/A Hermitage Hall v. Jeffrey E. Johns
M2018-00985-SC-R3-WC

This 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. The trial court entered a final order that Employee was entitled to benefits. The trial court found that Employer failed to prove willful misconduct under Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-110(a)(1) because Employer failed to prove bona fide enforcement of its policy and that Employee had a valid subjective belief for violating said policy. We reverse the trial court’s finding that Employer failed to prove bona fide enforcement of its policy, but we affirm the trial court’s finding that Employee did not willfully violate Employer’s policy. As a result, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Employee.

Davidson County Workers Compensation Panel 08/02/19
Cyrus Deville Wilson v. State of Tennessee
M2018-01109-CCA-R3-ECN

Cyrus DeVille Wilson, Petitioner, filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis. He argued that two key witnesses for the State, Marquise Harris and Phedrek Davis, had recanted their testimony. Petitioner argued that this recanted testimony was newly-discovered evidence that may have affected the outcome of his trial if it had been admitted. The coram nobis court denied relief. On appeal, Petitioner asserts that the coram nobis court abused its discretion by denying his petition. He argues that the coram nobis court illogically credited Mr. Harris’ and Mr. Davis’ trial testimony as juveniles over their recanted testimony as adults. He also contends that Detective Bill Pridemore’s testimony that Mr. Harris only spoke with police after being assured that he would receive a Crime Stopper reward was newly-discovered evidence that may have had an impact on the outcome of his trial. After a thorough review of the facts and applicable case law, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/01/19
Timothy Dunn, Sr. v. State of Tennessee
M2018-01614-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Timothy Dunn, Sr., appeals from the Robertson County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. The Petitioner contends that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to explain to the Petitioner the possible sentence he could receive if convicted at trial. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the post conviction court.

Robertson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/01/19
Robert D. Palmer, Jr. Et Al. v. Wayne Eric Colvard Et Al.
E2018-00454-COA-R3-CV

This case arises from the death of Robert D. Palmer, Sr. (“Decedent”). Prior to his death, Decedent entered into a contract with Wayne Eric Colvard and Wayne Eugene Colvard (collectively “Defendants”) for the sale of his tax preparation business. Decedent’s children, Robert Dean Palmer, Jr. and Suzanne Johnson (collectively “Plaintiffs”), filed suit against Defendants in their alleged capacities as personal representatives of Decedent’s estate for breach of contract, fraud, and unjust enrichment relating to the sale. The details of the complaint are not at issue in this appeal.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 07/31/19
Michael Cobble Et Al. v. Greene County, Tennessee Et Al.
E2018-02017-COA-R3-CV

This case involves an action by the petitioner landowners disputing the grant of a zoning variance to their neighbors, the respondent landowners, for the construction of a carport. In a previous appeal, this Court reversed the respondent county zoning board’s grant of the variance and remanded to the trial court for collection of costs and “further proceedings consistent with this [Court’s] Opinion.” See Cobble v. Greene Cty., 559 S.W.3d 118, 127 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017), perm. app. denied (Tenn. May 16, 2018) (“Cobble I”). Our Supreme Court subsequently denied the county’s and zoning board’s application for permission to appeal, and this Court issued a mandate on the same day. On September 4, 2018, the petitioners filed a motion for discretionary costs. The county and the zoning board filed a response, asserting that the motion for discretionary costs was untimely pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.04(2). The respondent landowners also filed a response objecting to the motion. Upon finding that this Court’s mandate was dispositive of all issues and that the petitioners had failed to file their motion within the thirty days allowed by Rule 54.04(2), the trial court entered an order denying the motion for discretionary costs. The petitioners have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 07/31/19
Antonio Terrell Pewitte v. State of Tennessee
M2018-01704-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Antonio Terrell Pewitte, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2015 conviction for aggravated child neglect and his twenty-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/31/19
State of Tennessee v. Austin Andrew Morse
M2018-00430-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Austin Andrew Morse, was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury for six counts of aggravated child abuse, four counts of aggravated child neglect, and four counts of aggravated child endangerment. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated child neglect. The remaining counts were dismissed. It was agreed that Defendant’s sentences would be served concurrently with a 70 percent release eligibility date. The trial court would determine the length of the sentences. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed sentences of 19 and 21 years for Defendant’s convictions. In this appeal as of right, Defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing the length of his sentences. Having reviewed the entire record and the briefs of both parties, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/31/19
State of Tennessee v. Jordan Clayton, Carlos Stokes, and Branden Brookins
W2018-00386-CCA-R3-CD

Defendants, Jordan Clayton, Carlos Stokes, and Branden Brookins, were convicted of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, attempt to commit first degree murder, two counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and reckless endangerment after a jury found them guilty of the murder of a seven-year-old female child. Defendant Clayton was also convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. On appeal, Defendants challenge the trial court’s refusal to sever the cases for trial, the admissibility of a recording of a preliminary hearing and a written statement of a witness with memory loss, and the sufficiency of the evidence. We determine that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying a motion to sever or by admitting the preliminary hearing recording and written statement into evidence. Additionally, we determine that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions. Consequently, we affirm the judgments of the trial court with respect to the convictions for first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and reckless endangerment. However, we reverse the judgments of the trial court with respect to the conspiracy to commit first degree murder convictions because the trial court improperly merged the conspiracy convictions with the first degree murder convictions. On remand, the trial court should reinstate the judgments for conspiracy to commit first degree murder.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 07/31/19