Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 01/21/2019
Format: 01/21/2019
Dwight Mitchell v. State of Tennessee, Department of Health
M2017-02041-COA-R3-CV

Plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action in 2017, seeking to have the chancery court invalidate two final orders entered against him by the Tennessee Department of Health, one entered in 2008, revoking his license to operate a residential home for the aged, and the second entered in 2011, placing him on the Tennessee Abuse Registry. Upon the Department’s motion, the chancellor dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, for failure to timely seek review under the Administrative Procedures Act, and on the basis of res judicata. The plaintiff appeals; on our de novo review, we affirm the dismissal of the petition for failure to comply with the judicial review provisions set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/11/18
In Re Gaberiel S. Et Al.
M2018-00522-COA-R3-PT

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his four children. The juvenile court found five statutory grounds for termination: (1) abandonment by willful failure to support; (2) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home; (3) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans; (4) persistence of conditions; and (5) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume custody or financial responsibility of the children. The court also found that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. We affirm.

DeKalb County Court of Appeals 12/11/18
Johnny McClain, Jr. v. Tennessee Board of Parole, Et Al.
M2018-00205-COA-R3-CV

This is an appeal from the dismissal of an inmate’s petition for common law writ of certiorari. The Tennessee Board of Parole denied petitioner parole, citing the seriousness of the offense, the substantial risk that petitioner would not conform to the conditions of his release, the adverse effect his release would have on institutional discipline, and his need to complete therapeutic community. Petitioner appealed the Board’s decision by petition for writ of certiorari. The petition was dismissed by the trial court, which found that the petitioner had failed to present any facts that would support a claim that the Board acted illegally, fraudulently, arbitrarily, or in excess of their jurisdiction. This appeal followed. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/11/18
In Re Estate of Jimmy D. Harris
W2016-01768-COA-R3-CV

Wife of the decedent appeals the probate court’s denial of her petition to admit a will to probate. Because we conclude that the testimony presented did not rebut the presumption of due execution created by the will’s attestation clause, we reverse.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/10/18
State of Tennessee v. Stephen Doantae Lester
E2017-02154-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Stephen Doantae Lester, was convicted of felony murder and especially aggravated robbery. On appeal, Defendant argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions; that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of Defendant’s gang affiliation and rank; that Defendant was deprived of a fair trial by statements made by the State during closing arguments and by juror misconduct; that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on certain lesser-included offenses; and that the cumulative effect of these errors deprived Defendant of a fair trial. Upon our review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/10/18
State of Tennessee v. Jonathan David Patterson
M2016-01716-SC-R11-CD

We granted this appeal to determine what showing, if any, a defendant must make to prevail on a motion for reduction of sentence under Rule 35 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure, where the defendant pleaded guilty without an agreement as to sentencing, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(B). The Court of Criminal Appeals held that a defendant must present post-sentencing information or developments warranting a reduction of sentence to prevail on a Rule 35 motion. We disagree and limit this standard to Rule 35 motions seeking reduction of specific sentences imposed in exchange for guilty pleas, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C). Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s judgment granting the defendant’s Rule 35 motion and reducing his aggregate sentence. 

Putnam County Supreme Court 12/10/18
In Re Eleanor Chappell Revocable Living Trust
W2017-02541-COA-R3-CV

Decedent’s son, Appellant, sought to set aside Decedent’s trust, alleging that Decedent lacked capacity at the time she executed the trust and that Appellees, Decedent’s sister and the sister’s husband, exercised undue influence over Decedent in the execution of the trust. Appellees moved for dismissal arguing that Appellant’s lawsuit was barred by res judicata based on Appellant’s previous suit for conservatorship over Decedent. The trial court held that the elements of res judicata were not met but dismissed Appellant’s lawsuit on its finding that same was barred by the six-year statute of limitations for claims for breach of fiduciary duty under Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-109(a)(3). We conclude that the trial court’s conclusion as to res judicata was correct. However, because Appellant’s complaint does not state a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty, the applicable statute of limitations is that set out in Tennessee Code Annotated section 35-15-604(a)(1), and Appellant’s lawsuit was timely filed.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/10/18
State of Tennessee v. Reuben Eugene Mitchell
E2017-01739-CCA-R3-CD

A Knox County jury convicted the Defendant, Reuben Eugene Mitchell, of arson and filing a false insurance claim valued between $10,000 and $60,000, and the trial court sentenced him to four years of probation. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions. After review, we conclude that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the Defendant’s conviction for filing a false insurance claim, and we vacate the judgment and dismiss that charge. We affirm the Defendant’s conviction for arson.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/07/18
State of Tennessee vs. Reuben Eugene Mitchell - concurring in part, dissenting in part
E2017-01739-CCA-R3-CD

I agree with the majority’s conclusion that the evidence was sufficient to support the Defendant’s arson conviction. I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that the evidence is insufficient to support the Defendant’s conviction for filing a false insurance claim.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/07/18
In Re Michayla T. Et Al.
M2018-00367-COA-R3-PT

A mother appeals the termination of parental rights to her two children. After investigating a report of drug exposure, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) obtained emergency temporary custody of the children. After nearly ten months, DCS petitioned to terminate the mother’s parental rights. The juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence six statutory grounds for termination: abandonment by failure to establish a suitable home, abandonment by an incarcerated parent by willful failure to support, abandonment by wanton disregard, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, persistence of conditions, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility for the children. The court also found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. We affirm.

Warren County Court of Appeals 12/07/18
Cyntoia Brown v. Carolyn Jordan
M2018-01415-SC-R23-CO

We accepted certification of a question of law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that requires us to determine if a defendant convicted of first-degree murder committed on or after July 1, 1995, and sentenced to life in prison under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-202(c)(3) will become eligible for release, and if so, after how many years. We conclude that a defendant so convicted and sentenced to life in prison under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-202(c)(3) may be released, at the earliest, after fifty-one years of imprisonment.

Supreme Court 12/06/18
State of Tennessee v. Kayla Marie Anderson
M2018-00015-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Kayla Marie Anderson, pled nolo contendere to theft of property valued over five hundred dollars for her role in arranging a drug transaction during which the victim was robbed. The Defendant preserved as certified questions several issues related to her arrest, her interview, and the search of her telephone pursuant to two separate warrants. Because the record reveals the existence of inculpatory evidence not derived from the arrest, interview, or search, we determine that the questions are not dispositive and dismiss the appeal.

Maury County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/06/18
State of Tennessee v. Wayford Demonbreum, Jr.
M2017-01844-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Wayford Demonbreum, Jr., appeals the denial of his Motion for Correction or Reduction of Sentence filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 35. In this appeal, Defendant argues that his sentence should be reduced because his plea agreement stated the offense to which he pleaded guilty as attempted possession of marijuana in an amount less than 70 pounds, which is a Class E felony. T.C.A. § 39-17-417(i)(13); T.C.A. § 39-12-107(a). The State responds that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion, having determined that the plea agreement was erroneous, and Defendant understood that he was pleading guilty to the offense of attempted possession of marijuana in an amount more than 70 pounds, a Class C felony, for which Defendant was sentenced as a Range I offender to six years. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Wilson County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/06/18
Andrea Scott et al. v. Carlton J. Ditto et al.
E2017-01356-COA-R3-CV

This is the second appeal of a case in which a parcel of property was sold by the City of Chattanooga at a delinquent tax sale. The property had earlier been sold at a foreclosure sale conducted by the holder of a deed of trust on the property. The successor in interest to the purchaser of the property at the foreclosure sale brought an action against the purchaser at the tax sale and others to quiet title to the property; the tax sale purchaser filed a counterclaim and cross-claim against two of the defendants. The trial court granted summary judgment to the foreclosure sale purchaser based on its determination that she was a bona fide purchaser without notice of the tax sale and that she had recorded her deed first; the court dismissed the cross-claims. The tax sale purchaser appealed and this Court affirmed the dismissal of the cross-claims and reversed the grant of summary judgment to the foreclosure sale purchaser, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she had notice of the tax sale purchaser’s interest in the property prior to her purchase. Upon remand, the case was tried without a jury, and the trial court ruled in favor of the foreclosure sale purchaser, holding that she was a bona fide purchaser of the property without notice of the tax sale purchaser’s claim of ownership. Tax sale purchaser appeals; finding no error, we affirm the judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 12/06/18
Anna Maria Butler v. McKee Foods Corporation
E2017-02471-SC-R3-WC

Anna Maria Butler (“Employee”) alleged that she sustained a compensable injury on May 2, 2012, in the course and scope of her employment with McKee Foods Corporation (“Employer”). The trial court found that Employee sustained a compensable injury and awarded permanent total disability benefits. Employer has appealed that decision, arguing that Employee’s injury was not causally related to her employment. The 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. We affirm the judgment.

Hamilton County Workers Compensation Panel 12/06/18
Angel Geovanna Hurtado v. State of Tennessee
M2017-00908-CCA-R3-PC

A Davidson County jury convicted Petitioner, Angel Geovanna Hurtado, of three counts of aggravated child abuse, one count of child neglect, and one count of reckless aggravated assault. She was sentenced to serve twenty-five years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. The judgment was affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Angel Geovanna Hurtado, No. M2014-00180-CCA-R3CD, 2014 WL 7417763 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 30, 2014). Petitioner filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief. Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court dismissed the petition. Petitioner has appealed, asserting that she is entitled to relief based upon her trial counsel’s ineffective assistance of counsel. Following a review of the briefs of the parties and the entire record, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/06/18
State of Tennessee v. Michael Wayne Parsons
W2018-00144-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Michael Wayne Parsons, was convicted by a Tipton County jury of felony failure to appear, a Class E felony, and was sentenced by the trial court as a Range II, multiple offender to three years in the Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues: (1) that he is entitled to diplomatic immunity from prosecution because he is an ambassador of the “Tsilhqot’in Nation, Country of Chilcotin” and (2) that the indictment was insufficient to confer jurisdiction over his person because it lists his name in all capital letters, which denotes a corporation rather than a “live man.” Because the notice of appeal was untimely, we dismiss the appeal.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/05/18
State of Tennessee v. Ronald Jones
W2017-00754-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Ronald Jones, was convicted of the second degree murder of the victim and sentenced to serve 25 years. On appeal, he argues that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction. We disagree and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/05/18
William Farmer v. State of Tennessee
W2017-00729-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, William Farmer, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief in which he challenged his guilty plea to carjacking and his tenyear sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that his guilty plea was not knowingly entered. After a review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/05/18
Teresa Kocher, et al. v. Laua Bearden, et al.
W2017-02519-COA-R3-CV

This is the second appeal in this dispute involving a third party’s attempt to obtain access to a record that was sealed in the trial court pursuant to an agreed order. In the first appeal, this Court explained that judicial records are presumptively open, and the reason for sealing judicial records must be compelling. Because the trial court had not articulated any specific reasons for keeping the record sealed, we remanded for the trial court to reconsider its decision to deny the petitioner access to the record. We said, “If the trial court determines on remand that the record should remain sealed due to a compelling reason, that reason ‘is to be articulated along with findings specific enough that a reviewing court can determine whether the closure order was properly entered.’” Kocher v. Bearden, 546 S.W.3d 78, 87 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2017) perm. app. denied (Tenn. Oct. 6, 2017) (quoting In re NHC-Nashville Fire Litig., 293 S.W.3d 547, 560 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2008)). Unfortunately, the trial court did not comply with these instructions on remand. After repeatedly expressing disagreement with this Court’s decision, the trial judge refused to modify the seal on the record, citing only “confidential information pertaining to the minor plaintiff.” Because both the trial court and the appellees have failed to articulate any compelling reason for maintaining the seal to the exclusion of the petitioner, we reverse the order of the trial court and remand for reassignment to a different trial judge and the entry of an order allowing the petitioner to access the sealed record.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
Stephanie Solima v. David Solima
M2017-01924-COA-R3-CV

This appeal involves a post-divorce custody dispute between David Solima (father) and Stephanie Solima (mother) with respect to their only child, A.J.S. Father filed a petition in the trial court seeking a modification of the then-existing permanent parenting plan. Finding that there had been a material change in circumstances, the court entered an order modifying the parenting plan. Father then filed a motion to alter or amend, which the trial court denied. Father now appeals the court’s order denying his motion. We hold that the order appealed from is not a final judgment because the trial court has not fully adjudicated the issue of child support. Accordingly, we dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and remand for further proceedings.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
Jon Vazeen v. Martin Sir
M2018-00333-COA-R3-CV

Jon Vazeen (plaintiff) filed this action for legal malpractice and fraud against his former attorney, Martin Sir (defendant). Plaintiff alleged that defendant was guilty of “repeated unprofessional behavior” and the “inept and total mishandling” of his divorce case. He also alleged defendant defrauded him by “infusing several thousand dollars of fake items in his invoice” for attorney’s fees. (Underlining in original). The trial court granted defendant summary judgment on the malpractice claim because the complaint was not filed within one year of the accrual of the claim, as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(c)(1)(2017). The court granted summary judgment on the fraud claim on the ground of res judicata. The court held that the fraud claim was barred by the earlier dismissal of plaintiff’s ethics complaint based upon the alleged fraud of the defendant with the Board of Professional Responsibility (the Board). We affirm the summary judgment of the trial court on the legal malpractice claim. We hold that the Board’s decision to dismiss an ethical complaint does not bar plaintiff from bringing a malpractice or fraud claim against an attorney on the ground of res judicata. Summary judgment on the fraud claim is vacated and the case is remanded for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/05/18
John N. Moffitt v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01108-COA-R3-CV

Appellant appeals the trial court’s denial of his petition for restoration of citizenship rights under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-29-105. Appellant contends that the trial court’s decision violates ex post facto protections by imposing a harsher sentence than that available at the time of his conviction. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand.

Henderson County Court of Appeals 12/04/18
Thomas F. Mabry v. Board of Professional Responsibility
E2018-00204-SC-R3-BP

Respondent attorney filed a notice with this Court that he was unable to respond to or defend against a disciplinary complaint because he suffered from a disability by reason of a mental illness. Following a formal hearing, a hearing panel concluded that the respondent attorney was not incapacitated from responding to or defending against the complaint against him. Upon its review, the chancery court reached the same conclusion as the hearing panel. The respondent attorney has now filed a direct appeal to this Court. We agree with the hearing panel and chancery court that the attorney has not shown by a preponderance of the evidence that he lacked the capacity, by reason of mental illness, to respond to or defend against his disciplinary complaint.  

Knox County Supreme Court 12/04/18
In Re R. L. Et Al.
M2017-02404-COA-R3-JV

In this dependency and neglect case, the juvenile court adjudicated father’s (E.L.) six children dependent and neglected and one of the female children (R.L.) a victim of severe abuse perpetrated by father. Father appealed to the circuit court. After a de novo hearing, the circuit court entered an order holding that clear and convincing evidence exists to demonstrate that R.L. was sexually abused by father and as such was a dependent and neglected and severely abused child. The court similarly found clear and convincing evidence that father’s additional children were also dependent and neglected. Father appeals. We affirm. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 12/04/18