Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 06/18/2019
Format: 06/18/2019
April H. v. Scott H.
M2018-00759-COA-R3-CV

This is a divorce case. Wife filed for divorce in February 2017 after twelve years of marriage. Following a three-day trial, the trial court ordered Husband to pay $1000 in transitional alimony to Wife for six months and $500 per month for the following six months. The trial court also entered a permanent parenting plan for the parties’ two minor children naming Husband primary residential parent. Husband received 233 days of parenting time, and Wife received 132 days. Wife appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 05/13/19
Howard White, Et Al. v. Walter C. Grimes
M2018-00880-COA-R3-CV

This case involves an alleged contract for the sale of real property. The proposed buyers, who were originally lessees of the property, brought suit to enforce the alleged agreement, seeking specific performance and damages. After a trial, the Maury County Chancery Court held that a contract for the sale of the property did exist and that specific performance of the contract should be awarded. Certain monetary damages were also awarded to the former lessees. Having reviewed the record transmitted to us on appeal, we affirm in part and reverse in part. Although we affirm the chancery court’s decision that a valid contract exists and that the contract is properly subject to specific performance, we reverse the award of damages that is challenged on appeal for the reasons stated herein.

Maury County Court of Appeals 05/13/19
John and Donna Cavin v. Independent Asset Group, Et Al.
M2019-00509-COA-R3-CV

The appellees have moved the court to dismiss this appeal as premature. Because multiple motions remain pending in the trial court, we dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 05/13/19
Carlos Eugene Moore v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
W2018-00969-SC-R3-BP

Carlos Eugene Moore (“Attorney”) entered into a written contingent fee agreement to represent a client in a personal injury matter. The agreement, which was signed by the client, provided that if the client refused to accept any settlement offer which Attorney advised her was reasonable and should be taken, the client was responsible for the contingency fee “on the basis of that offer” unless Attorney waived the provision. When Attorney received an offer to settle the matter, he advised the client to accept the offer. She refused. Attorney filed a motion to withdraw which was granted. Attorney also sought to place a lien against the client’s eventual recovery for his fees and expenses “presently owe[d].” After the client filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility (“BPR”), the BPR filed a petition for discipline. A hearing panel was appointed and, after an evidentiary hearing, the panel concluded that (1) Attorney had “made an agreement for and has sought to collect an unreasonable fee,” violating Rule of Professional Conduct (“RPC” or “Rule”) 1.5(a) and 1.5(c); and (2) Attorney had “violated Rule 1.8(i) because [the client] became obligated when [Attorney] advised [her] that the settlement offer . . . was ‘reasonable and should be taken.’” The hearing panel imposed a sanction of public censure. Attorney sought review in chancery court, and the chancery court affirmed the hearing panel’s decision. Attorney then sought review in this Court, arguing that the hearing panel’s findings that he had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct were arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial and material evidence. Attorney further contends that the sanction imposed was arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial and material evidence. We hold that the record supports both the findings of violations and the imposition of a public censure. Accordingly, we affirm the chancery court’s ruling upholding the hearing panel’s decision.   

Shelby County Supreme Court 05/13/19
In Re: Kaden W.
E2018-00983-COA-R3-PT

This is a termination of parental rights case involving the parental rights of the mother, Tora W. (“Mother”), to her minor child, Kaden W. (“the Child”), who was eleven years old at the time of trial. On January 19, 2017, the Anderson County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) found that the Child was dependent and neglected and entered an order removing the Child from Mother’s custody and placing the Child into the temporary legal custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). The Child was immediately placed in foster care, where he remained at the time of trial. On December 20, 2017, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother.1 Following a bench trial, the trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights to the Child upon determining by clear and convincing evidence that (1) Mother had abandoned the Child by failing to provide a suitable home for him, (2) Mother had not substantially complied with the reasonable requirements of the permanency plans, and (3) the conditions leading to the Child’s removal from Mother’s custody persisted. The trial court further found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Child. Mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 05/13/19
Milcrofton Utility District Of Williamson County, Tennessee v. Non Potable Well Water, Inc. Et Al.
M2018-01431-COA-R3-CV

Appellant, a public utility, appeals the Davidson County Chancery Court’s dismissal of its complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Appellant argues that it has an exclusive right to provide water service under Tennessee Code Annotated section 7-82-301 and that Appellee is usurping its exclusive right by providing water to residents of a subdivision within Appellant’s service area. Because the gravamen of Appellant’s complaint is to maintain its exclusive franchise by the grant of injunctive relief prohibiting Appellee from providing water service, the case does not fall within the purview of Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-225. As such, we affirm the trial court’s conclusion that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/10/19
Milcrofton Utility District Of Williamson County, Tennessee v. Non Potable Well Water, Inc. Et Al. - Dissenting In Part
M2018-01431-COA-R3-CV

While I agree with the majority’s decision regarding the timeliness of Milcrofton’s action, I must respectfully dissent from the majority’s decision that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this case. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/10/19
State of Tennessee v. Torey Martez Underwood
E2018-00811-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Torey Martez Underwood, appeals the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of alternative sentencing for his guilty-pleaded conviction of attempted second degree murder. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/10/19
Derrick Richardson v. State of Tennessee
E2018-01352-CCA-R3-ECN

The Appellant, Derrick Richardson, appeals as of right from the Hamilton County Criminal Court’s judgment summarily denying his petition for a writ of error coram nobis. The State has filed a motion to dismiss this appeal due to an untimely notice of appeal. Following our review, we conclude that the interest of justice requires a waiver of the timely filing of the notice of appeal and deny the State’s motion to dismiss. We further conclude, however, that an opinion in this case would have no precedential value and affirm the judgment of the coram nobis court pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/09/19
State of Tennessee v. Rocky G. Tanner
M2018-00639-CCA-R3-CD

After a bench trial in July 2017, the defendant, Rocky G. Tanner, was found guilty of driving on a revoked or suspended license in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 55-50-504. At trial and in his motion for new trial, the defendant challenged the State’s ability to require drivers to maintain a valid license as unconstitutional. The defendant now challenges, for the first time, the constitutionality of Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-24-105(b) “claiming having his license suspended due to failure to pay court costs . . . is not legal under the United States Constitution.” However, because the defendant did not present this challenge to the trial court, he has waived consideration of his claim. Thus, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Stewart County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/09/19
Express Signs Of Cookeville, LLC v. Mary Jane Patterson Lusk, Et Al.
M2018-00556-COA-R3-CV

Defendants appeal from the order of the Putnam County Chancery Court denying their Rule 60.02(5) motion to vacate default judgments against them. Because the trial court was correct in denying Appellants’ motion to vacate, we affirm.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 05/08/19
Chris Whitney v. First Call Ambulance Service, Et Al.
M2018-01155-COA-R3-CV

This is an appeal from the trial court’s grant of summary judgment dismissing a plaintiff-employee’s THRA and TPPA claims against his employer. As to the employee’s THRA claim, the trial court found that the evidence of harassment and discriminatory conduct was not so severe or pervasive so as to establish a hostile work environment. As to the employee’s TPPA claim, the trial court found that the employer had a valid, non-discriminatory reason for termination. Additionally, the trial court found that the employee failed to establish that one of the entities was his employer for purpose of liability under either the THRA or the TPPA. Finding that the employee presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of disputed material fact with regard to his THRA and TPPA claims, we vacate the trial court’s order as to these claims and remand the case to the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/08/19
Jerry R. Clark, v. James M. Owens, Et Al.
M2018-01418-COA-R3-CV

This is an easement case. Appellant, the dominant land owner, appeals the trial court’s order fixing the width of the easement at 15 feet and limiting the use of the easement to residential and emergency ingress, egress, and utilities. The appellate record contains no transcript or statement of the evidence for our review as required by the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. Accordingly, we conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s findings. Affirmed and remanded.

Sequatchie County Court of Appeals 05/08/19
Matthew Lange, et al. v. Betty Jo Sullivan, et al.
W2018-01218-COA-R3-CV

Appellee’s father, decedent, died testate. Decedent’s will devised real property to Appellee in fee simple but also gave Appellants the right to use the house and curtilage for so long as Appellants’ did not abandon the property for a period of ninety consecutive days. The trial court held that decedent’s will gave Appellants a “license” to use the property—a holding that the parties do not appeal. On Appellee’s complaint for declaratory judgment, the trial court ordered Appellants to pay the mortgage debt, real estate taxes, maintenance, and insurance on the property. Appellants appeal raising the sole question of whether they should be responsible for the mortgage on the property. We hold that, as licensees, Appellants cannot be charged with the mortgage debt. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s order as to its holding that Appellants are responsible for the mortgage payments. The trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed.

Carroll County Court of Appeals 05/08/19
Coffee County Board of Education v. City of Tullahoma
M2017-00935-SC-R11-CV

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court granted summary judgment against the county and in favor of the city. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the tax distribution statute plainly required the city to distribute half of its liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds pro rata among all schools in the county. The city appeals. We agree with the city and hold that the distribution statute directed cities to expend and distribute half of their liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds for the benefit of the city’s own school system, if any. In this case, because the city has its own school system, it was permitted to use half of its liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds for its own school system, and it was not required to share those proceeds with the county or the county schools. Therefore, we reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the city.   

Coffee County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Blount County Board of Education , Et Al. v. City of Maryville, Tennessee, Et Al.
E2017-00047-SC-R11-CV

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court granted summary judgment against the county and in favor of the two defendant cities. The county also raised an alternative claim for reimbursement of past liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds that it had received from private club sales and shared with the cities; the county argued that, if cities were not required to share their tax proceeds, then counties should not be required to do so. The trial court rejected this claim as well and held that the statute required counties to distribute their liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds pro rata among all schools in the county, even though it did not require the same of cities. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Blount County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Bradley County School System, Et Al. v. The City of Cleveland, Tennessee
E2016-01030-SC-R11-CV

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the city. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the distribution statute was ambiguous and that the statutory framework, legislative history, and other sources supported the trial court’s interpretation of the statute. We affirm.

Bradley County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Sullivan County, Tennessee, Et Al. v. The City of Bristol, Tennessee, Et Al.
E2016-02109-SC-R11-CV

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant cities. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the distribution statute was ambiguous and that the statutory framework, legislative history, and other sources supported the trial court’s interpretation of the statute. Discerning no error, we affirm.  

Sullivan County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Washington County School System, Et Al. v. The City of Johnson City, Tennessee
E2016-02583-SC-R11-CV

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court held in favor of the county, concluding that the distribution statute was ambiguous and that public policy considerations favored the county’s interpretation. Upon interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed. After considering the statutory language, the statutory framework, and the legislative history, it adopted the interpretation of the statute advocated by the city. We agree with the Court of Appeals and hold in favor of the city.     

Washington County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Jakeil Malik Waller v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01235-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Jakeil Malik Waller, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. The Petitioner was convicted of second degree murder and reckless endangerment and received an effective sentence of twenty-seven years. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. After a review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/08/19
Lashun Gray v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01262-CCA-R3-PC

Petitioner, Lashun Gray, appeals the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of post-conviction relief from his convictions for attempted first degree murder and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, for which he received an effective sentence of thirty years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, Petitioner contends that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel based on: (1) trial counsel’s advice on whether Petitioner should testify at trial; (2) trial and appellate counsels’ failure to object to and appeal the jury instructions pertaining to criminal responsibility for the acts of another; and (3) trial counsel’s failure to properly advise Petitioner regarding the State’s plea offer of twenty-five years with a thirty-percent release eligibility. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/08/19
State of Tennessee v. Jared Worthington
W2018-01040-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Jared Worthington, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of DUI per se, a Class A misdemeanor, and reckless driving, a Class B misdemeanor, after the State dismissed his DUI by impairment charge. He was sentenced by the trial court to concurrent terms of one day for the reckless driving conviction and 11 months, 29 days for the DUI conviction, suspended to probation after service of ten days in the county jail. On appeal, the Defendant raises the following issues: (1) Whether the trial court erred in its rulings regarding the admission and publication of the dashboard camera video of the Defendant’s arrest; (2) Whether the trial court violated the Tennessee constitution by disparaging the evidence, which took the form of instructing the jury that much of the video was irrelevant; (3) Whether the trial court erred by not allowing defense counsel to question officers about the potential bias created by the fact that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) blood alcohol or drug concentration test fee (“BADT”) was collected only in those cases in which a defendant is convicted; and (4) Whether the trial court “shifted the burden of proof,” thereby violating the Defendant’s constitutional due process rights, by asking defense counsel in the presence of the jury whether the Defendant intended to put on any proof. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/08/19
Marvin J. Butler v. First South Financial Credit Union
W2018-00917-COA-R3-CV

The plaintiff appeals the summary judgment dismissal of his claims against the defendant bank for discrimination and breach of fiduciary duty. We affirm the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 05/07/19
Nathan E.Brooks v. Board of Professional Responsibility
E2018-00125-SC-R3-BP

In 1998, the appellant attorney agreed to entry of a consent order suspending his law license for two years. In 2017, the appellant filed this petition for reinstatement of his suspended law license. Instead of the advance cost deposit required by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 30.4(d)(9), he filed a pauper’s oath and affidavit of indigency. Upon motion of the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, the hearing panel dismissed the appellant’s petition without prejudice to his ability to file a new petition in compliance with Rule 9. On appeal, the chancery court affirmed. The appellant now appeals to this Court, arguing that a Tennessee statute entitles him to file his petition without paying the advance cost deposit, and also that mandating payment of the advance cost deposit deprives him of his constitutional right to due process. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 05/07/19
Nathan E.Brooks v. Board of Professional Responsibility - Concurring In Part and Not Joining In Part
E2018-00125-SC-R3-BP

Nathan E. Brooks petitioned to have his law license reinstated. Rather than pay an advance cost deposit under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 30.4(d)(9), Mr. Brooks filed a pauper’s oath and indigency affidavit. A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel dismissed the petition without prejudice, giving Mr. Brooks the opportunity to refile the petition with a cost deposit. The trial court agreed with the hearing panel and, now, so does the Tennessee Supreme Court. 

Hamilton County Supreme Court 05/07/19