Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 09/18/2020
Format: 09/18/2020
State of Tennessee v. Willie Nathan Jones
M2019-01273-CCA-R3-CD

In February 2016, the Putnam County Grand Jury indicted Defendant, Willie Nathan Jones, for first degree premeditated murder and first degree felony murder in the death of Rodney Richards and for attempted first degree murder of Stacy Maynard. Following a trial in April 2018, a jury found Defendant guilty of the lesser-included offenses of second degree murder and attempted second degree murder, for which Defendant received an effective sentence of thirty-seven years’ incarceration. On appeal, Defendant contends that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions; (2) the trial court erred by repeatedly referring to Mr. Richards and Ms. Maynard as “victims” throughout trial; (3) the trial court violated Defendant’s due process rights by preventing him from properly impeaching a State’s witness using the sheriff department’s “Use of Force” and “Critical Incident” guidelines; (4) the State violated Defendant’s right to a fair trial by “continuously commenting on the evidence and credibility during closing arguments”; (5) the trial court erred by failing to suppress Defendant’s statements to police because he was questioned while tired and under the influence and because Defendant’s request for counsel was not honored; (6) the trial court abused its discretion in ordering consecutive sentencing; and (7) cumulative error necessitates a new trial. Following a thorough review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
State of Tennessee v. Doyle Wayne Mason, Jr.
E2019-00174-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Doyle Wayne Mason, Jr., was convicted by a jury of one count each of aggravated sexual battery, solicitation of a minor, and sexual battery by an authority figure; and eleven counts each of statutory rape by an authority figure, incest, and rape. The trial court imposed an effective sentence of fifty-two years’ incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant argues that (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for aggravated sexual battery, solicitation of a minor, and rape; (2) a material and prejudicial variance existed between the bill of particulars and the State’s election relative to the aggravated sexual battery count; (3) the court “took on the role of the prosecutor” by questioning the victim and inadvertently conveyed to the jury that the court found the victim credible; (4) the court erred by admitting hearsay evidence that the victim reported the abuse to others; and (5) the sentence imposed by the court was excessive. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
Shasta Jackson v. State of Tennessee
E2019-01148-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Shasta Jackson, appeals as of right from the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of her petition for post-conviction relief. The Petitioner contends that she received ineffective assistance of trial counsel when counsel advised her to testify at trial. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
State of Tennessee v. Marquiceon Fields
W2018-02014-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Marquiceon Fields, was convicted of one count of rape of a child and was sentenced to twenty-eight years’ incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court erred by failing to require the State to make an election of offenses, that the evidence is insufficient to support the Defendant’s conviction, and that the trial court erred by sentencing the Defendant as a Range II offender. The State concedes that the trial court erred in sentencing the Defendant. Based on our review of the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the Defendant’s conviction but modify his sentence to twenty-five years and remand for entry of an amended judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
State of Tennessee v. Gary Thomas Russell
W2019-01874-CCR-R3-CD

A jury convicted the Defendant, Gary Thomas Russell, of violating the sex offender residential restrictions and acquitted him of harboring a runaway child. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to six years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction because he was not “alone with a minor” as defined by Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-39-211(k)(2). After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
Corbyn Davis v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01886-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Corbyn Davis, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition challenging his convictions for first degree, premeditated murder and possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a felony. On appeal, the Petitioner asserts that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to provide him discovery in a timely manner, failing to investigate telephone records and social media accounts, failing to move to suppress the murder weapon, failing to present the testimony of a witness, and failing to prepare him for trial. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that the Petitioner has failed to show deficiency or prejudice with regard to each claim, and we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
State of Tennessee v. James Michael Johnson
E2019-01941-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, James Michael Johnson, appeals the Sullivan County Criminal Court’s order revoking his probation and ordering him to serve his four-year sentence in confinement. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
State of Tennessee v. John M. Banks
M2019-00017-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, John M. Banks, was convicted of aggravated burglary (Count One), possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony (Count Two), especially aggravated robbery (Count Three), and two counts of aggravated robbery (Counts Four and Five). The trial court imposed concurrent sentences of four years for aggravated burglary, eighteen years for especially aggravated robbery, and eight years for each count of aggravated robbery to run consecutively to a six-year sentence for possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, for an effective twenty-four-year sentence. On appeal, Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his two convictions for aggravated robbery, that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress his statement, and that the trial court erred in sentencing him to eighteen years for his especially aggravated robbery conviction. Upon reviewing the record and applicable law, we reverse Defendant’s conviction for aggravated robbery in Count Five and affirm the remaining convictions and sentences.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
KATHY ALEXANDER v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
M2019-01637-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Kathy Alexander, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of her petition for post-conviction relief, seeking relief from her guilty plea to theft of property valued $60,000 or more but less than $250,000, a Class B felony, and her resulting sentence of twenty years as a Range III, persistent offender. On appeal, the Petitioner claims that she received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel and that her guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
Brice Cook v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00237-SC-R11-PC

The dispositive question in this appeal is whether the post-conviction judge should have recused himself because his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. We answer this question in the affirmative and hold that the post-conviction judge was obligated to recuse himself in this case even though the petitioner failed to file a motion for recusal. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed; the judgment of the post-conviction court is vacated; and this matter is remanded to the trial court for a new post-conviction hearing before a different judge.

Shelby County Supreme Court 08/25/20
In Re Estate Of Donald Cowan
M2019-01597-COA-R3-CV

The estate of the decedent appeals the trial court’s decision to grant the widow’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) motion to dismiss the estate’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The complaint, filed in 2019, sought rescission of a quitclaim deed executed by the decedentin 1990 that created a tenancy by the entirety with his wife. The complaint alleged that the decedent executed the deed shortly after the marriage in consideration of and reliance on “a contract” between the spouses. The complaint alleged that the contract obligated the husband “to create a tenancy by the entirety” and, in return, the wife was “obligated to cohabit with him and to provide the love, affection and companionship that was essential for a ‘long and enduring marriage.’” Although the couple remained married until the decedent’s death in 2018—28 years after they married—the complaint alleged that the 1990 deed should be rescinded for the failure of consideration and the failure of a condition subsequent. The complaint additionally asserted that the wife was unjustly enriched by the conveyance and asked that a constructive trust be imposed on the property. The trial court dismissed the complaint, finding that it did not allege facts that would give rise to any obligation upon the wife because the deed unambiguously evinced the husband’s intent to convey the property as a gift. The court also found, inter alia, the complaint was barred by the statute of limitations applicable to each claim, the doctrine of gross laches, and the statute of frauds. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/25/20
State of Tennessee v. Jessica Cox
E2019-00026-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Jessica Cox, appeals her Knox County Criminal Court jury convictions of aggravated child abuse and reckless endangerment, arguing that the trial court erred by excluding evidence of an expert witness, that the trial court erred by excluding certain testimony and preventing her from mounting a defense, and that the evidence was insufficient to support certain convictions. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/25/20
Church of God in Christ, Inc., et al. v. L.M. Haley Ministries, Inc., et al.
W2019-01411-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns a dispute over church property. David A. Hall (“Bishop Hall”), a bishop with The Church of God in Christ, Inc. (“COGIC”), tried to assert control over New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ (“New Jerusalem Church”), a COGIC member church, but was blocked by parties opposed to his pastorate. Bishop Hall, COGIC and New Jerusalem Church (“Plaintiffs,” collectively) sued these opponents (“Defendants,” collectively) in the Chancery Court for Shelby County (“the Trial Court”). Plaintiffs later filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Trial Court granted. Defendants appeal. Defendants argue, among other things, that under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, the Trial Court and this Court lack subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate this dispute. However, we find this case amenable to resolution under the hybrid neutral-principles approach articulated by our Supreme Court in a factually similar case. The undisputed material facts show that New Jerusalem Church’s property is held in trust for COGIC and that Bishop Hall is the duly appointed Jurisdictional Bishop with rights of pastor at New Jerusalem Church. Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 08/24/20
Tina Rogers Et Al. v. Adventure House LLC Et Al.
E2019-01422-COA-R3-CV

This negligence action arose from approximately 102 events of food poisoning or illness purportedly related to numerous patrons (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) who dined at or visited Adventure House, LLC d/b/a River Drifters Restaurant and River Drifters Adventure Center (“the Restaurant”), located on real property owned by Robert L. Newman (“the Premises”). Plaintiffs filed suit against the Restaurant; Mr. Newman; and Charles and Renee Eich, the owners of the Restaurant. Upon Plaintiffs’ motion to certify the action as a class action, the Hamilton County Circuit Court (“trial court”) denied Plaintiffs’ motion upon a determination that Plaintiffs had failed to carry their burden to prove the commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation elements required by Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 23.01. The trial court further determined that if those elements were met, the class could maintain its certification pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 23.02(1)(b). However, based on its determination that the class did not satisfy the threshold certification requirements under Rule 23.01, the trial court denied Plaintiffs’ motion to certify the litigation as a class action. Plaintiffs have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 08/24/20
In Re Rukia B. Et Al.
E2020-00422-COA-R3-PT

Nathan B. (“Father”) and Kendra B. (“Stepmother”) appeal the judgment of the Campbell County Circuit Court (the “Trial Court”) denying their petition for termination of the parental rights of Hannah B. (“Mother”), as to Mother’s two biological children. Because the Trial Court’s final order does not contain sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law as to the best interests of the children, this Court is unable to engage in meaningful appellate review, and the judgment of the Trial Court is vacated and remanded.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 08/24/20
Friendship Water Co. v. City of Friendship, Tennessee
W2019-02039-COA-R9-CV

Subsequent to the grant of partial summary judgment in the trial court, we granted an application for an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. Having reflected upon the specific issue for which our Rule 9 order granted review, we are of the opinion that the present appeal was improvidently granted as framed. In addition, we observe that the trial court’s partial summary judgment order fails to clearly articulate the legal grounds upon which that order is based. Given our conclusion that the interlocutory appeal was improvidently granted, we dismiss the appeal.

Crockett County Court of Appeals 08/21/20
Regions Bank v. The Blumberg Trust Et Al.
E2020-00051-COA-R3-CV

Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of its Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 24 motion to intervene. Because the trial court’s order does not state the basis for its denial of the motion, we cannot review the ultimate decision. Vacated and remanded.

Washington County Court of Appeals 08/21/20
Wolf Organization, Inc. v. TNG Contractors, LLC
M2020-00093-COA-R3-CV

This is the second appeal in this case. In the first appeal, we affirmed the trial court’s enrollment of Appellee’s Pennsylvania judgment. In enrolling the foreign judgment, the trial court omitted the 1.5% interest awarded by the Pennsylvania court and entered judgment only for the principal amount of the foreign judgment. In seeking to enforce its judgment, Appellee filed a bank levy against Appellant, wherein Appellee included the 1.5% interest. Because neither party raised an issue in the first appeal concerning whether the trial court’s omission of the interest was error, the question is waived, and Appellee is entitled to only post-judgment interest under Tennessee Code Annotated section 47-14-121(a). Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s denial of Appellant’s motion to quash Appellee’s bank levy in the amount of $40,482.03. The case is remanded for calculation of post-judgment interest consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/21/20
Teal Properties, Inc. v. C&H Commercial Contractors, Inc.
M2018-02086-COA-R3-CV

Relief under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02(5) is reserved for extraordinary circumstances.  Outcomes, specifically judgments, occasioned by a party’s own inaction or lack of attention are not extraordinary.  And a court does not abuse its discretion in denying a Rule 60.02(5) motion when a judgment results from such circumstances.  So we affirm.

Coffee County Court of Appeals 08/20/20
Horizon Trades, Inc. v. Aubrey Givens, Et Al.
M2019-01876-COA-R3-CV

The defendant in a malicious prosecution action moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. He contended that the prior suit that engendered the malicious prosecution action was not terminated on its merits. The plaintiff responded that the prior suit was dismissed on multiple grounds and that one of those grounds was on the merits. The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted the motion to dismiss. We do as well and affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 08/20/20
In Re Nevaeh B.
E2020-00315-COA-R3-PT

This is a termination of parental rights case. The trial court found the sole ground raised by the Department for termination against the child’s father of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the child or assume financial responsibility pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-113(g)(14) had been established. The court further found that the termination of father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interests. Father filed a timely appeal. On appeal, we vacate the trial court’s order terminating father’s parental rights due to the court’s failure to consider all required elements of the statutory ground for termination.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 08/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Ruben Walton
W2019-01762-CCA-R3-CD

A Shelby County jury found the defendant, Ruben Walton, guilty of second-degree murder, and the trial court imposed a sentence of twenty-two years to be served at one hundred percent. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction, two evidentiary rulings of the trial court regarding threatening statements the defendant made prior to the murder, and his sentence. After our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/20/20
Cordell Ash v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01172-CCA-R3-PC

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant, Cordell Ash, of especially aggravated robbery, attempted first-degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed an effective sentence of thirty years in confinement. In this delayed appeal, the defendant argues the trial court erred in denying his motion for mistrial after the victim made a reference to the defendant’s alleged gang activity. After reviewing the record and considering the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Zachary Thompson
W2019-00023-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Zachary Thompson, was found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury on self-defense and that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 08/20/20
In re Raylan W.
M2020-00102-COA-R3-PT

After Mother failed to timely appeal the final order terminating her parental rights, she sought relief pursuant to Rule 60.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The trial court denied the motion, and Mother timely appealed from that order. Because we conclude that the trial court erred in denying Mother’s Rule 60.02 motion, we proceed to consider the correctness of the trial court’s final order terminating Mother’s parental rights. But we conclude that the trial court did not err in finding clear and convincing evidence of grounds for termination and that termination is in the child’s best interest. We therefore affirm the
termination of Mother’s parental rights.

White County Court of Appeals 08/20/20