Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 12/01/2020
Format: 12/01/2020
Mindy Donovan v. Joshua R. Hastings
M2019-01396-COA-R3-CV

The trial court dismissed a contractor’s amended countercomplaint against a homeowner for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court then awarded the homeowner her attorney fees in the amount of $3,600 pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-12-119(c). The homeowner appealed arguing that, in limiting her recovery to $3,600, the trial court interpreted the statute too narrowly. Because the trial court properly interpreted the statute, we affirm the trial court’s decision.
 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
Mindy Donovan v. Joshua R. Hastings - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2019-01396-COA-R3-CV

I concur in the majority’s conclusion that some of the issues raised by the defendant/appellee, Joshua R. Hastings, are untimely. Mr. Hastings was required to raise issues related to the voluntary dismissal of claims and his motions to compel within thirty days of the final judgment. See TENN. R. APP. P. 4(a). After ruling on those issues, the trial court deemed the May 24, 2019 order to be a final judgment. See TENN. R. CIV. P. 58. But Mr. Hastings did not seek an appeal within thirty days of that order. So appellate review is limited to what took place after the time for appeal of the May 24, 2019 order ran, the award of attorney’s fees to plaintiff/appellant Mindy Donovan.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Decosio Jacques Clark
E2020-00416-SC-T10B-CO

The defendant in this case is a co-defendant below with the defendants in the matter, State v. Griffin, __ S.W.3d __, __, No. E2020-00327-SC-T10B-CO (Tenn. 2020). This Court issued a separate opinion today in Griffin which is controlling to the outcome of this case. See id. Specifically, we held in Griffin that the trial judge properly denied recusal, even though he served as a Deputy District Attorney General in Knox County at the time the defendants were indicted by the Knox County Grand Jury. Id. For the reasons provided in Griffin, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals in this case and reinstate the trial court’s denial of recusal.

Knox County Supreme Court 10/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Raffell Griffin, Et Al.
E2020-00327-SC-T10B-CO

The trial judge in this matter served as a deputy district attorney general in Knox County at the time the defendants were indicted by the Knox County Grand Jury. After a subsequent appointment to serve as a trial judge in Knox County Criminal Court, the trial judge was assigned to the defendants’ cases. The defendants moved for recusal, arguing that the trial judge had supervisory authority over their cases as Deputy District Attorney General. The trial judge denied the motions for recusal, and the defendants filed an appeal in the Court of Criminal Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, section 2. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision, holding that recusal of the trial judge was necessary. We then granted the State’s accelerated application for permission to appeal to this Court. Having thoroughly reviewed the filings of the parties and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial judge’s denial of the motion to recuse was appropriate in this case. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Knox County Supreme Court 10/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Isaiah Styles
E2020-00176-SC-T10B-CO

This case is one of three cases decided today by this Court involving a trial judge who previously served as a deputy district attorney general in Knox County at the time the defendants in each case were indicted by the Knox County Grand Jury. After a subsequent appointment to serve as a trial judge in Knox County Criminal Court, the trial judge was assigned to the defendants’ cases. The defendant in this case moved for recusal, arguing that the trial judge previously had supervisory authority over his case as Deputy District Attorney General. The trial judge denied the motion for recusal, and the defendant filed an appeal in the Court of Criminal Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, section 2. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision, holding that recusal of the trial judge was necessary. We then granted the State’s accelerated application for permission to appeal to this Court. This Court issued a separate opinion today in State v. Griffin, __ S.W.3d __, __, No. E2020-00327-SC-T10B-CO (Tenn. 2020), which is controlling to the outcome of this case. Specifically, we held in Griffin that the defendant failed to establish that the trial judge’s supervisory responsibilities in his role as a deputy district attorney general were personal or substantial in that case. Id. We hold that the same is true for this case. Therefore, for the reasons provided in Griffin, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s denial of recusal in this case.

Knox County Supreme Court 10/30/20
Moriarco Lee v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01592-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Moriarco Lee, was found guilty by a jury of attempted first degree murder and aggravated assault, and he received a twenty-two-year sentence in confinement. The Petitioner’s convictions were affirmed on direct appeal to this court. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief contending, among other claims not raised on appeal, that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel failed to subpoena alibi witnesses to testify at trial, failed to present video evidence at trial, and failed to challenge a biased juror. Following a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Petitioner appeals. After a review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/30/20
Bryan Austin Demeza v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01658-CCA-R3-PC

A Tipton County jury convicted the Petitioner, Bryan Austin Demeza, of one count of aggravated child neglect, three counts of aggravated child abuse, and one count of felony murder. On direct appeal, this court reduced one of the Petitioner’s convictions from aggravated child neglect to child neglect. State v. Bryan Austin Demeza, W2016-02086-CCA-R3-CD, 2018 WL 1040145, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Nov. 7, 2017), perm. app. denied (Tenn. June 8, 2018). The Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel, which the post-conviction court denied after a hearing. After review, we affirm the postconviction court’s judgment.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/30/20
Brian Lee Higdon v. Aehui Nmi Higdon
M2019-02281-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises from a divorce. Brian Lee Higdon (“Husband”) filed for divorce from Aehui Higdon (“Wife”) in the Chancery Court for Rutherford County (“the Trial Court”). The parties executed a marital dissolution agreement (“the MDA”). The Trial Court approved the MDA and entered a Final Decree of Divorce. Wife later filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 seeking to have the MDA and Final Decree of Divorce set aside on grounds of mistake of fact, fraud, and fundamental unfairness. After a hearing at which both Husband and Wife testified, the Trial Court denied Wife’s motion. Wife appeals, arguing among other things that she was coerced into signing the MDA. Deferring to the Trial Court’s implicit credibility determinations, we do not find that Wife was coerced into signing the MDA. Wife failed to meet her burden of clear and convincing evidence that there was mistake of fact, fraud, or fundamental unfairness in the execution of the MDA. In sum, we discern no abuse of discretion in the Trial Court’s decision to deny Wife’s Rule 60.02 motion. We affirm. 

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 10/29/20
State of Tennessee v. Trevor Rochel Cullom, Alias
E2019-01943-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Trevor Rochel Cullom, Alias, appeals from the trial court’s decision to revoke his probation. After a review of the record, we determine that Defendant was denied due process during his revocation hearing. As a result, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for a new hearing.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/29/20
State of Tennessee v. Antonio Toomes
W2019-00360-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Antonio Toomes, appeals his convictions for felony murder and especially aggravated burglary, for which he received an effective sentence of life imprisonment plus thirty years. On appeal, the Defendant contends: (1) the trial court erred in ordering him to proceed pro se at trial on the day before trial; (2) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress his statements to law enforcement; and (3) the prosecutors made improper comments during voir dire and closing arguments. We conclude that the trial court erred in finding that the Defendant implicitly waived or forfeited his right to counsel and in requiring the Defendant to proceed pro se at trial. Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and remand for a new trial.

Crockett County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/29/20
State of Tennessee v. Joseph Moran
W2019-00837-CCA-R3-CD

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant, Joseph Moran, of two counts of sexual battery and one count of domestic assault by provocative contact. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed an effective sentence of two years, suspended to supervised probation after serving sixty days in confinement. On appeal, the defendant argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Upon our review of the record, arguments of the parties, and pertinent authorities, we agree the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress, but given the otherwise overwhelming evidence presented at trial, this error was harmless. Therefore, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/29/20
State of Tennessee v. Jose Hernandez
W2019-00154-CCA-R3-CD

On November 9, 2018, the Defendant, Jose Hernandez, pleaded guilty to driving under the influence, a Class A misdemeanor. The trial court sentenced him to 11 months and 29 days in a workhouse, which the court suspended to 11 months and 29 days on supervised probation. The Defendant argues on appeal that: 1) the trial court imposed supplemental probation conditions that were preempted by federal law; 2) the Defendant’s supplemental probation conditions did not provide sufficient notice of what was expected of him on probation; and 3) the trial court violated the Defendant’s due process rights by failing to give notice of his probation violation and a revocation hearing. After thorough review, we reverse and remand for a probation revocation hearing.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/29/20
In Re Estate of Dawson Lewis
W2019-01839-COA-R3-CV

The petitioners filed a petition to probate the will of the decedent. The will offered for probate had markings on the provisions concerning the appointment of executors to the will and the payment of the head stone. The petitioners filed an affidavit stating that they had no knowledge concerning who made the markings on the decedent’s will. The Trial Court entered an order denying the petition to probate the will, finding that the markings on the will “negated it from being accepted to Probate” and that the decedent had, therefore, died intestate. The petitioners appealed. We reverse the judgment of the Trial Court and remand for the decedent’s will to be admitted to probate.

Gibson County Court of Appeals 10/28/20
In Re Autumn D. Et Al.
E2020-00560-COA-R3-PT

The trial court terminated Father’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by an incarcerated parent through wanton disregard and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of the children. The trial court also found that termination was in the children’s best interests. Father appeals. Because there are significant deficiencies in the trial court’s order, we vacate and remand for further proceedings.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 10/28/20
Monsieur Shawnellias Burgess v. Bradford Hills HOA Et Al.
M2020-1371-COA-T10B-CV

A pro se plaintiff moved to recuse based on comments made by the judge at a hearing. The motion to recuse was denied, and this accelerated interlocutory appeal followed. Because the plaintiff’s filings are deficient, we affirm the denial of the motion for recusal. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/28/20
State of Tennessee v. Terry Wayne Henson
W2019-00462-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Terry Wayne Henson, was convicted by a McNairy County jury of two counts of rape of a child, a Class A felony; one count of incest, a Class C felony; and one count of violation of the sex offender registry, a Class E felony. He was sentenced by the trial court to an effective term of thirty-five years at 100% in the Department of Correction. On appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the evidence in support of his child rape and incest convictions, arguing that the State failed to prove that the alleged offenses occurred during the time frame set out in the indictment and that there was insufficient proof of penetration of either victim. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

McNairy County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/28/20
State of Tennessee v. Eric D. Wallace
W2019-01140-CCA-R3-CD

In 1995, the Defendant, Eric D. Wallace, was convicted in the Shelby County Criminal Court in case number 95-03054 of first degree felony murder and in case number 95-03055 of attempted first degree murder and was sentenced to consecutive terms of life and fifteen years. The judgment forms reflected over 1,000 days of jail credit awarded in each case. In April 2019, apparently in response to a declaratory judgment action filed by the Defendant against the Department of Correction in the Davidson County Chancery Court, pretrial jail credits that were erroneously included in case number 95-03055 were presumably deleted from the judgment form by notation on the original judgment. The pro se Defendant is now attempting to appeal to this court the trial court’s alleged correction of the judgment in case number 95-03055 to remove the erroneously applied jail credits. In the meantime, the Defendant has an appeal of the decision of the Davidson County Chancery Court in his declaratory judgment action pending before the Court of Appeals. Because the record in this case is wholly inadequate for this court to determine what, if anything occurred in the criminal court, and the Defendant appears to have an appeal pending concerning the same matter in the Court of Appeals, we dismiss this appeal.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/28/20
STATE OF TENNESSEE v. LACY LYNDON AUSTIN
M2018-00591-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Lacy Lyndon Austin, appeals his convictions for possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell or deliver within 1,000 feet of a school zone, possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a felony drug offense and a felony involving the use of force or violence, simple possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The Defendant argues that (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of a traffic stop; (2) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion by admitting a cell phone and photographs of text messages sent to the phone. Following our review, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/27/20
Doris Davis Flowers, et al. v. Terisa Kimmins, et al.
W2019-02091-COA-R3-CV

In this appeal regarding the proceeds of the decedent’s life insurance policy, the Interim Clerk and Master of the Shelby County Chancery Court (“trial court”) issued, pursuant to local rule, a “Notice and Recommendation for Sua Sponte Dismissal for Lack of Prosecution” after no activity concerning the case had occurred for over a year. The notice, which directed the parties to appear before the trial court on September 10, 2019, was not mailed to the defendant. Consequently, the defendant did not appear. Following the hearing, the trial court ordered a scheduling conference, at which the defendant also did not appear. During the scheduling conference, the trial court directed the plaintiffs to submit testimony and other evidence concerning the proceeds of the life insurance policy. Upon the plaintiffs’ request for a declaratory judgment, the trial court entered an order finding, inter alia, that the defendant had failed to appear. The court awarded proceeds of the life insurance policy to the plaintiffs and assessed costs against the defendant. The defendant has appealed. On appeal, the parties have stipulated that the defendant did not receive notice of the hearings. We therefore vacate the trial court’s order of final judgment and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/27/20
Abby Nicole Breeden v. Derrick Jerome Garland, Sr.
E2020-00629-COA-R3-CV

Pro se appellant appeals the trial court’s entry of an order of protection that was entered against him. The appellant’s brief significantly fails to comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27. Accordingly, we find that any issues on appeal are waived and we dismiss the appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/27/20
ERIC JAMES BOGLE v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
M2019-01728-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Eric Bogle, appeals from the Marshall County Circuit Court’s denial of post-conviction relief from his conviction for rape of a child. On appeal, the Petitioner argues that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance in (1) failing to introduce photographs of the Petitioner and the minor victim in order to establish a “positive relationship” between them and (2) failing to present evidence that the Petitioner’s prescribed medication had an effect on his confession given to law enforcement. Following our review of the facts and relevant law, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Marshall County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/26/20
Laura Cowan Coffey v. David L. Coffey
E2019-00157-COA-R3-CV

This is the second appeal in this action, the facts of which date back to the 1995 death of Steven Coffey, the successful owner of a securities business. In 2015, the deceased’s widow sued the deceased’s father, who had served as executor of the estate. Following summary judgment in favor of the executor, the widow appealed and we remanded the matter to the trial court. Following a bench trial, the trial court ruled, among other things, that the three-year statute of limitations applicable to the widow’s claims were tolled by application of the fraudulent concealment doctrine. The executor appealed. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/26/20
State of Tennessee v. Kevin Dewayne Golden
W2019-01418-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Kelvin Dewayne Golden, was convicted after a jury trial of rape of a child, and he received a sentence of thirty years. In this appeal as of right, the Defendant contends (1) that the juvenile court erred in transferring him to criminal court, (2) that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss due to a delay in prosecuting the case, and (3) that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/23/20
State of Tennessee v. Larreal Brown and Randall Rowland
W2018-02128-CCA-R3-CD

After a joint trial, a Shelby County jury found the defendants, Larreal Brown and Randall Rowland, guilty of especially aggravated kidnapping (Count 1), aggravated rape (Counts 2, 3, and 4), aggravated robbery (Count 5), and aggravated assault while acting in concert with two or more others (Count 6). The trial court imposed effective sentences of 120 and 71 years in confinement, respectively. On appeal, Defendant Brown asserts the trial court improperly limited his ability to cross-examine Gage Caulk, a co-defendant, regarding Mr. Caulk’s sentencing exposure, and Defendant Rowland argues the trial court erred by excluding prior inconsistent statements made by the victim and contained in a police report. After our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/23/20
State of Tennessee v. Amanda Jones
W2019-01771-CCA-R3-CD

A Dyer County jury found the defendant, Amanda E. Jones, guilty of sale of amphetamine, a Schedule II drug. As a result of her conviction, the trial court sentenced the defendant to six years in the Tennessee Department of Correction, suspended to supervised probation after serving 365 days in confinement. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support her conviction. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/23/20