Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 12/01/2020
Format: 12/01/2020
State of Tennessee v. Nichole Larae Marlow

The Appellant, Nichole Larae Marlow, pled guilty in the Campbell County Criminal Court to possession of contraband in a penal institution, a Class D felony, and received a sevenyear sentence to be served in confinement. On appeal, the Appellant contends that her sentence is excessive and that the trial court erred by denying her request for alternative sentencing. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/23/20

On September 30, 2019, the Defendant, Adam Lee Loper, pleaded guilty to theft of more than $2,500. The trial court imposed a
three-year sentence of incarceration. The Defendant argues on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his request for probation. After thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/22/20
Wanda Sue Binkley v. Allen Dale Binkley

In this case arising from a divorce, Wife appeals the trial court’s classification as marital property a piece of real estate, which was transferred to Wife during the marriage by her mother, and on which Wife owned and operated a business.  Following a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 10/22/20
In Re Brantley O.

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to her child. The juvenile court determined that there were three statutory grounds for terminating the mother’s parental rights: abandonment by an incarcerated parent, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody and financial responsibility. The juvenile court also determined that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in her child’s best interest. Because the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support both the grounds for termination and the best interest determination, we affirm.

Franklin County Court of Appeals 10/22/20
In Re Jude M.

This is a termination of parental rights case focusing on Jude M., the minor child (“the Child”) of Sarah M. (“Mother”) and Andy G. (“Father”). In November 2018, Father and his wife, Jamie G. (“Stepmother”), filed a petition in the Greene County Chancery Court (“trial court”), seeking to terminate the parental rights of Mother and allow Stepmother to adopt the Child. The Child previously had been removed from Mother’s custody pursuant to an order entered by the Greene County Juvenile Court (“juvenile court”) upon a petition for emergency custody filed by Father. Following a bench trial, the trial court granted the termination petition upon its finding by clear and convincing evidence that Mother had abandoned the Child by failing to visit her during the statutorily determinative period and that conditions leading to the removal of the Child from Mother’s custody persisted. The trial court further found by clear and convincing evidence that it was in the Child’s best interest to terminate Mother’s parental rights. Mother has appealed. Having determined that Petitioners failed to demonstrate the threshold requirement of a petition having been filed in the juvenile court that alleged the Child to be a dependent and neglected child, we reverse the trial court’s finding on the ground of persistence of the conditions leading to removal of the Child from Mother’s custody.

Greene County Court of Appeals 10/22/20
Antonio Romero Roberts v. State of Tennessee

Pro se petitioner, Antonio Romero Roberts, appeals the summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief by the Criminal Court for Hamilton County. Upon our review, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/22/20
Kabir Afzali Et Al. v. Shirzad Etemadi

This appeal concerns a trial court’s dismissal under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) based on the affirmative defenses of res judicata and waiver. This is the second action between the parties involving the same real property. In the first action, the plaintiffs sought to enforce an option to purchase property they were leasing from the defendant. While the action was pending, the defendant recorded a document with the Davidson County Register of Deeds that purported to create an ingress-egress easement across the property to an adjoining tract he owned. During the pendency of the first action, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, pursuant to which the defendant agreed to sell the property to the plaintiffs, and the parties released all claims against each other. After the first action was dismissed, the plaintiffs discovered the purported easement, which prompted them to file a motion to set aside the dismissal. Meanwhile, the parties set a deadline for closing, and the defendant prepared a warranty deed that reserved the same easement he previously attempted to create. The plaintiffs insisted that the deed be rewritten without the easement. When the defendant refused, they proceeded with the closing. Shortly after the closing, the trial court denied the motion to set aside the dismissal of the first action. The plaintiffs recorded a Notice of Acceptance of Deed under Protest the day after the deed was recorded and commenced this action three weeks later. The complaint asserted that the defendant clouded the property’s title by filing a defective easement and breached the settlement by delivering a deed that did not describe the property as bargained for. On the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the trial court found the matter had been adjudicated in the first action and that the plaintiffs waived their claims by closing on the property. We have determined that neither the doctrine of res judicata nor the doctrine of waiver applies. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/21/20
Liberty Construction Company, LLC v. Peter H. Curry, Et Al.

This is an action by a construction company to recover on a written stipulated sum contract and an oral cost-plus contract for the construction of a commercial building. The construction company sought to recover for additional work performed that was not included in the scope of the stipulated sum contract and the remaining balance of the cost-plus contract. The building owners contended that the construction company was not entitled to additional payment under the written agreement and counterclaimed for payments the owners made directly to suppliers for work included in the scope of the stipulated sum contract, and for reimbursement of funds expended to correct a defect caused by the construction company. The trial court held that neither the construction company nor the owners were entitled to recover under the stipulated sum contract; that the owners were not entitled to reimbursement because they failed to establish that the construction company caused the defect or, in the alternative, failed to provide a reasonable opportunity to cure; and that the construction company was entitled to judgment for work performed in connection with the cost-plus agreement. We reverse the court’s determination that the owners were not entitled to a credit for certain payments made directly to suppliers, that prejudgment interest commenced on November 10, 2014, when the notice of completion was filed, and that the owners did not provide the construction company with notice and an opportunity to cure. We affirm the trial court’s holding in all other respects.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 10/21/20
Carolyn Richardson v. H & J Properties, LLC, et al.

A residential tenant was injured after slipping on water that accumulated from a leak in the ceiling of her home. Prior to the accident, the tenant notified the owner of the residence and the property manager of the leak. The tenant brought suit for her injuries, alleging a common law negligence claim and a claim for the defendants’ alleged failure to comply with requirements in the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on both claims, finding that the tenant had co-extensive knowledge of the dangerous condition, so the defendants were not liable for her injuries. The tenant appeals, primarily arguing that the common law rule on landlord non-liability is displaced by the Act. We affirm and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 10/21/20

The Defendant, Christopher McLawhorn, was convicted by a Davidson County Criminal Court jury of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder; especially aggravated burglary, a Class B felony; and two counts of theft of property valued at $1000 or less, Class A misdemeanors. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-202 (first degree murder) (2014) (subsequently amended), 39-14-404 (2018) (especially aggravated burglary), 39-14-146 (2014) (subsequently amended) (theft). The trial court merged the first degree murder convictions and imposed a life sentence. Following a sentencing hearing, the court imposed a sentence of twelve years as a Range I offender for especially aggravated burglary, to be served consecutively to the life sentence. The court imposed sentences of eleven months and twenty-nine days for each of the two theft convictions and ordered them to be served consecutively to each other and concurrently to the life sentence. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions and that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress and admitting evidence obtained from a search of his cell phone. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/20/20
State of Tennessee v. Edward Rudolph Wyse, Jr.

The defendant, Edward Rudolph Wyse, Jr., appeals his 2019 Cocke County Circuit Court jury convictions of rape and incest, challenging the denial of the motion to suppress his statement to the police, the sufficiency of the convicting evidence, and the propriety of the sentence. The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress the statement. Sufficient evidence supports the defendant’s conviction of incest, and that conviction is affirmed. Because the State failed to produce any evidence that the defendant used force or coercion to accomplish the sexual penetration of the victim, we reverse the conviction of rape and dismiss that charge. Because the trial court erroneously failed to consider probation as a sentencing alternative and because our dismissal of the rape charge impacts the defendant’s eligibility for other sentencing alternatives, we reverse the sentencing decision of the trial court and remand the case for a new sentencing hearing for the conviction of incest.

Cocke County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/20/20
City of Athens v. William Straser

In a direct appeal from the Athens City Court (“municipal court”), the McMinn County Circuit Court (“trial court”) determined that the defendant, William Straser, was not entitled to a trial by jury in defense of a citation issued by the plaintiff city. Following a bench trial conducted on November 22, 2019, the trial court further determined that Mr. Straser had erected a carport on his property in violation of a municipal ordinance requiring a thirty-foot minimum setback. Mr. Straser has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 10/20/20
Candace Renea Cavness Howard (Beasley) v. Breck Markham Beasley

This appeal concerns a post-divorce motion to terminate transitional alimony. In the parties’ MDA, they agreed the ex-wife would receive transitional alimony for eleven years. In 2013, the ex-husband filed the motion to terminate, alleging that the ex-wife had remarried and was cohabitating with her new spouse and that the new spouse was providing financial support. Several years later, the trial court heard the motion and terminated transitional alimony as of December 31, 2018. In rendering its decision, the trial court failed to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01. Therefore, we vacate the trial court’s decision and remand with instructions to make the necessary findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 10/20/20
Ezra Maize v. Friendship Community Church Inc, Et Al.

Plaintiff, a former pastor at a church in Chattanooga, brought suit against the church, church elders, and another pastor at the church, alleging that various torts were committed against him. Following a series of motions by the defendants that sought the dismissal of plaintiff’s claims, the trial court ultimately dismissed all legal theories that were asserted in the case. Among other bases for the dismissal, the trial court held that a number of plaintiff’s claims were barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. Discerning no error in the trial court’s decision to dismiss plaintiff’s claims, we affirm its judgment.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 10/19/20
State of Tennessee v. Jeffery Siler

Jeffery Siler, Defendant, appeals the trial court’s summary dismissal of his Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36 motion to correct a clerical error in the trial court’s order revoking Defendant’s probation. Defendant claims that the revocation order erroneously failed to award 622 days’ jail credit for the time Defendant served on a concurrent federal sentence while his state court sentence was suspended and Defendant was on unsupervised probation. Defendant’s probationary period ran from the date of his state court convictions until the date the probation revocation warrant was issued. This probationary period encompassed the 622 days Defendant was incarcerated on the concurrent federal sentence. Because Defendant’s probation was revoked before his probationary period expired, Defendant was not entitled to credit upon reinstatement of the original state court sentence. State v. Hunter, 1 S.W.3d 643, 644 (Tenn. 1999). Therefore, there is no clerical error in the revocation order. We affirm the trial court’s summary denial of the Rule 36 motion.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/19/20
Alexandra Mattie Steadman v. Christopher John Sakacsi

The notice of appeal filed by the appellant, Alexandra Mattie Steadman, stated that the appellant was appealing the judgment entered on July 10, 2020. As the July 10, 2020 order does not constitute a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 10/19/20
Peter R. Culpepper v. Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C. Et Al.

In this legal malpractice action, the trial court granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of the defendants, determining that the plaintiff had waived any conflict of interest in his signed engagement letter. The court also ruled that the plaintiff’s legal malpractice claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The plaintiff has appealed. Upon our review of the pleadings and acceptance as true of all well-pleaded facts contained in the plaintiff’s complaint and the reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom, we determine that the plaintiff has pled sufficient facts in support of his claim of legal malpractice. We therefore reverse the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings with regard to the plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim.

Knox County Court of Appeals 10/16/20
James Kelly v. State of Tennessee

The pro se Petitioner, James Kelly, appeals as of right from the Bradley County Criminal Court’s order summarily denying his pro se pleading that the trial court treated as a petition for post-conviction relief. The State has filed a motion to affirm the trial court’s judgment pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. Following our review, we conclude that the State’s motion is well-taken and affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
Darrell A. Cooper v. State of Tennessee

The Petitioner, Darrell A. Cooper, appeals from the Knox County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his 2016 convictions for two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, and one count of possession of a firearm while being a convicted felon, for which he is serving a twenty-year sentence. The Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, rendering his guilty pleas involuntary. We remand the case to the post-conviction court for the entry of an order setting forth findings of facts and conclusions of law in compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-30-111(b) (2018).

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
State of Tennessee v. Nelson P. Troglin

The Defendant, Nelson P. Troglin, appeals from the Bledsoe County Circuit Court’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence. See Tenn. R. Crim. P. 36.1. He contends that the trial court erred in denying relief on the basis that he was illegally convicted of the offense of attempted first degree felony murder. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Bledsoe County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
In Re Meghan M.R.

A trial court terminated the parental rights of a mother based on the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit, abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, persistence of conditions, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody. The mother appealed, and we affirm the termination on all grounds.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 10/16/20
State of Tennessee v. Robert Glen Gray

A McNairy County jury convicted the Defendant, Robert Glen Gray, of two counts of delivery of methamphetamine weighing .5 grams or more. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to a total effective sentence of twenty-five years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

McNairy County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
State of Tennessee v. Ronald Davis

The Defendant, Ronald Davis, appeals the trial court’s revocation of his three-year probationary sentence for identity theft. The trial court determined that the Defendant’s failure to report to his probation officer violated the terms of his probation sentence and ordered the Defendant to serve his sentence. The Defendant asserts that the trial court’s revocation of his probation sentence was an abuse of discretion because he “was trying to connect with his probation officer.” The record supports the trial court’s finding that the Defendant failed to report to his probation officer during a six-month period. Based upon this evidence, we conclude that revocation of the probation sentence was not an abuse of discretion.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
Corey Mitchell v. State of Tennessee

Following the reversal and remand of this case for a new evidentiary hearing, Corey Mitchell v. State, No. W2016-01818-CCA-R3-PC, 2018 WL 3005379, at *7 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 14, 2018), the post-conviction court again denied relief to the Petitioner, Corey Mitchell. In this appeal, the Petitioner argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, that his guilty plea was unknowing and involuntary, and that his plea should be withdrawn to correct manifest injustice. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20
State of Tennessee v. Carl Allen

Defendant, Carl Allen, is appealing the trial court’s denial of his motion to correct illegal sentence filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/16/20