Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 03/21/2019
Format: 03/21/2019
In Re J'Khari F.
M2018-00708-COA-R3-PT

This is a termination of parental rights case involving the parental rights of the mother, Alexis F. (“Mother”), to her minor child, J’Khari F. (“the Child”), who was five years old at the time of trial. On April 10, 2015, the Warren County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) 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”), effective April 9, 2015. The Child was immediately placed in foster care, where he remained at the time of trial. The trial court subsequently entered an order on September 24, 2015, finding that the Child was dependent and neglected due to Mother’s insufficient housing, Mother’s insufficient means to support the Child, and the Child’s positive drug test result for methamphetamine. On April 18, 2017, DCS filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother. 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 willfully failing to support him, (2) Mother had abandoned the Child by willfully failing to visit him, (3) Mother had abandoned the Child by engaging in conduct prior to her incarceration that exhibited wanton disregard for the Child’s welfare, (4) Mother had not substantially complied with the reasonable requirements of the permanency plans, (5) the conditions leading to the Child’s removal from Mother’s custody persisted, and (6) Mother had failed to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume custody of or financial responsibility for the Child. 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. Upon a determination that the evidence presented at trial did not support a finding by clear and convincing evidence that Mother had abandoned the Child by willfully failing to support him during the four months prior to her incarceration, we reverse as to that statutory ground. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects.

Warren County Court of Appeals 01/31/19
Richard Alan Ellis v. Donica Ann Woods Ellis
W2017-02287-COA-R3-CV

This is an appeal from a final decree of divorce. The trial court ordered Husband to pay Wife alimony in futuro in the amount of $9,000 per month. In addition, the trial court awarded Wife her attorney’s fees as alimony in solido in the amount of $121,873.81. We vacate the trial court’s award of alimony in futuro and, for the reasons stated herein, remand the issue of Wife’s alimony for reconsideration. Additionally, we vacate the trial court’s award of Wife’s attorney’s fees and remand for the trial court to reconsider whether or not to award Wife her attorney’s fees and, if so, to award a reasonable attorney’s fee and state the basis for its decision. We also vacate the trial court’s order denying Wife’s motion for discretionary costs, and remand the issue to the trial court for a reconsideration of Wife’s motion on its merits.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/31/19
Steven L. McCullough v. Dan Rawls D/B/A Cleveland Performance Center
E2018-00016-COA-R3-CV

In this breach of contract action, the trial court entered a judgment against the individual defendant for the plaintiff’s damages and attorney’s fees. The defendant subsequently filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, asserting that he could not be held personally liable for damages because the work he had performed for the plaintiff was conducted through his business, which was a limited liability company. The trial court denied the motion to alter or amend, determining that there were no facts presented at trial to support the defendant’s contention that he was operating his business as a limited liability company. The defendant timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 01/30/19
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones
W2015-02210-SC-DDT-DD

In this capital case, a Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Henry Lee Jones, of alternative counts of first degree premeditated murder and first degree felony murder of Clarence James and alternative counts of first degree premeditated murder and first degree felony murder of Lillian James. The jury sentenced the Defendant to death on all four counts. As for the two counts related to Mr. James, the jury found the evidence sufficient to support six aggravating circumstances. As for the two counts related to Mrs. James, the jury found the evidence sufficient to support five aggravating circumstances. The trial court merged each of the felony murder convictions into the corresponding premeditated murder convictions and imposed two sentences of death. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the Defendant’s convictions and sentences. On automatic review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 39-13-206(a)(1), we now address the following issues: (1) Whether the Defendant was unconstitutionally denied the right to counsel; (2) whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence the former testimony of Tevarus Young; (3) whether the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions; and (4) whether the trial court erred in denying the appointment of a mitigation expert. We also conduct our mandatory review of the Defendant’s death sentences. Upon our thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the Defendant’s convictions and death sentences. As to the remaining issues raised by the Defendant, we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ conclusions and attach as an appendix to this opinion the relevant portions of that court’s decision.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/30/19
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones - Concurring
W2015-02210-SC-DDT-DD

I concur in the Court’s opinion except for the analysis regarding the proportionality review. In 1997, this Court narrowed the scope of the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D) by limiting consideration to only those cases in which the death penalty had been sought. State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 666 (Tenn. 1997). A majority of this Court reaffirmed this truncated approach in State v. Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d 180, 217 (Tenn. 2013). In Pruitt, I joined Justice William C. Koch, Jr. in dissenting from the Court’s decision to continue following the Bland approach, as it improperly narrowed the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D). Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d at 230 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting). We determined that the Court should return to its pre-Bland proportionality analysis by considering “all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death has been imposed” and focusing on whether the case under review more closely resembles cases that have resulted in the imposition of the death penalty than those that have not. Id. at 230–31 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting).

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/30/19
Home Builders Association Of Middle Tennessee v. Metropolitan Government Of Nashville And Davidson County
M2018-00834-COA-R3-CV

Plaintiff challenged a zoning ordinance on the grounds that it violated the Federal and State Constitutions, that it was preempted by a state law, and that it was ultra vires and thus void. The trial court dismissed this challenge on the grounds of ripeness, lack of standing, and because no private right of action was conferred by the statute that Plaintiff contended preempted the ordinance at issue. While the appeal was pending, the Tennessee Legislature enacted Public Chapter 685, which Defendant contended made the case moot and accordingly moved to dismiss the appeal. After a thorough consideration of the arguments, we grant the motion and dismiss the appeal as moot; we vacate the judgment of the trial court and dismiss the case.  

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/30/19
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Roger D. Moore v. Kimberly N. Wright Oden
M2018-00779-COA-R3-CV

This appeal involves the trial court’s entry of a 2005 child support order nunc pro tunc. After it became apparent that a certain decade-old child support order, which was the basis for several subsequent support orders, was missing from the record, the mother filed a motion requesting that the trial court enter the order nunc pro tunc. The trial court granted the motion, finding that the missing order was not included in the record by mistake of the court or clerk. Finding no error, we affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/30/19
State of Tennessee v. Kelvin Anthony Lee
W2018-00827-CCA-R3-CD

The Appellant, Kelvin Anthony Lee, filed a pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1, and the Lauderdale County Circuit Court summarily denied the motion. On appeal, the Appellant contends that his sentence of life without parole violates Montgomery v. Louisiana, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016); Moten v. State, 935 S.W.2d 416 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1996); and Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-204(j). Upon review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the trial court’s denial of the motion.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/30/19
Sherry Smith Ex Rel Lauren Taylor Agee v. Hannah Nicole Palmer
M2017-01822-COA-R3-CV

The mother of a woman whose body was discovered in Center Hill Lake, where she had been camping with several friends, brought this wrongful death action against those friends, alleging that they caused her daughter’s death and conspired to cover it up. One of the defendants asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in her answer to the complaint and in response to discovery requests; in due course, the defendant moved for summary judgment. The mother filed several affidavits and declarations in response, as to which the defendant filed motions in limine and motions to strike in total or in part. The defendant also asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege as to additional statements of disputed facts filed by the mother in response to the summary judgment motion. The trial court granted or denied, in whole or in part, each motion in limine and to strike; held that the mother was not entitled to an adverse inference as to the defendant’s invocation of the privilege in response to discovery and mother’s statement of disputed facts in opposition to the summary judgment motion; and granted summary judgment to the defendant. Mother appeals. Upon a thorough review of the record, we reverse the grant of summary judgment, vacate the rulings on the motions in limine that are at issue in this appeal, vacate the holdings relative to defendant’s invocation of her Fifth Amendment privilege, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

DeKalb County Court of Appeals 01/30/19
Sherry Smith Ex Rel Lauren Taylor Agee v. Hannah Nicole Palmer - Concurring
M2017-01822-COA-R3-CV

I concur in the reversal of the grant of summary judgment. But, because the basis of the reversal is Hannah Nicole Palmer’s failure to “satisfy her initial burden to produce evidence showing there was not a genuine issue of fact for trial,” I conclude it is unnecessary to reach the merits of the rulings on the motions in limine. I would vacate those rulings without further comment as, in my view, they were premised on the mistaken assumption that Ms. Palmer had shifted the burden to Sherry Smith.

DeKalb County Court of Appeals 01/30/19
Mohammad Hamad v. Real Time Staffing Services, LLC, Et Al.
M2017-02538-SC-R3-WC

In April 2011, Mohammad Hamad (“Employee”) was working at a Pillsbury factory through the defendant agency, Real Time Staffing Services (“Employer”), when he slipped on a wet floor and tore his left meniscus. After undergoing knee surgery, he returned to work at the factory. In September 2012, Employee once again was injured while lifting a heavy box. He sustained an injury to his left shoulder and an inguinal hernia. Employee has not returned to work since this second injury. Employee filed suit, arguing that he was totally and permanently disabled. The trial court found Employee only permanently partially disabled. Employee timely appealed, arguing that this Court should: (1) reverse and remand to the trial court to reconsider his contention that he is permanently and totally disabled under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-207(4)(B); (2) increase his disability award under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-242 (“the Escape Clause”); or (3) increase his disability award under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-241. 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 of the trial court.

Rutherford County Workers Compensation Panel 01/30/19
In Re: Ethan M.
E2018-00472-COA-R3-PT

This action involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her minor child. Following a bench trial, the court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to support and to visit. The court further found that termination was in the best interest of the child. We reverse the trial court on its finding that the mother abandoned the child by failing to visit. We affirm the trial court on all other rulings.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 01/29/19
Jimmy Heard v. Randy Lee, Warden
E2018-00700-CCA-R3-HC

The Petitioner, Jimmy Heard, appeals the Johnson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, contesting his transfer from Tennessee to Kentucky for trial. On appeal, he contends that the habeas corpus court was without jurisdiction to order his transfer because he was not served with an arrest warrant. On appeal, we conclude that the habeas corpus court properly denied the petition.

Bledsoe County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/29/19
Martha Renner v. Takoma Regional Hospital, Et Al.
E2018-00853-COA-R3-CV

This is a health care liability action in which the defendants filed a motion to dismiss based upon the plaintiff’s failure to file a certificate of good faith with the complaint. The plaintiff then filed the required certificate. The defendants responded with motions for summary judgment with attached affidavits, attesting that a certificate of good faith was not attached to the original complaint. The plaintiff moved for voluntary dismissal. The court granted the plaintiff’s motion and filed an order of voluntary dismissal. The defendants appeal, claiming that Rule 41.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure1 prohibits the taking a voluntary nonsuit when a summary judgment motion is pending. We affirm.

Greene County Court of Appeals 01/29/19
Sima Aryan v. Nicolas Aryan
M2017-02199-COA-R3-CV

In this post-divorce proceeding, the Mother appeals the trial court’s rulings on several motions; finding no reversible error, we affirm the judgment in all respects, except the award of child support, which is not final and is subject to further review by the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/29/19
Vanessa Berlanga, Et Al. v. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
M2017-00745-COA-R3-CV

Claimants to cash seized by the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office moved to dismiss the related administrative forfeiture proceeding. They also requested an award of attorney’s fees. An administrative law judge granted the motion to dismiss but did not address the request for attorney’s fees. Claimants later filed a separate motion for attorney’s fees, which the ALJ denied. Claimants then filed a petition for judicial review. Claimants filed their petition within sixty days of the denial of the motion for attorney’s fees but over sixty days from the day the order granting the motion to dismiss became final. The chancery court reversed, awarding claimants part of the attorney’s fees requested. Because it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the petition, we vacate the decision of the chancery court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/29/19
Royalton Woods Homeowner Association, Inc. v. Phillip Soholt, Et Al.
M2018-00596-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises from a dispute between a residential homeowner association and the owners of a lot in the subdivision. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to the association upon the determination that the subject property was encumbered by the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“CCRs”), due in part to the fact that the CCRs were expressly referenced and incorporated into the Special Warranty Deed conveyed to the homeowners. The court also granted summary judgment upon the finding it was undisputed that the challenged improvements made to the property by the homeowners, the parking of commercial vehicles on the street in front of the house, and operating a business out of the home were in violation of the CCRs. Following a hearing on damages and injunctive relief, the trial court issued an injunction ordering the homeowners to remove the unauthorized improvements, stop parking commercial vehicles on the street in front of the home, and cease conducting their business out of the home, and awarded unpaid assessments and attorney’s fees to the association. On appeal, the homeowners argue that their lot is not encumbered by the restrictive covenants, the association did not have standing or authority to enforce the restrictions, and the homeowners did not violate the restrictions. Additionally, the homeowners take issue with the court’s failure to apply the doctrine of laches, its decision to summarily dismiss their slander of title claim against the homeowner association, and the award of attorney’s fees. We have determined there is a genuine dispute of fact concerning whether the homeowners were conducting their business out of the home in violation of the CCRs which precludes summary judgment; therefore, we reverse the grant of summary judgment on that claim. We affirm the trial court’s rulings in all other respects.

Maury County Court of Appeals 01/29/19
Clyde Jason Stambaugh v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County, Et Al
M2017-02203-COA-R3-CV

The benefit board of a metropolitan government denied injured-on-duty benefits to a police officer with post-traumatic stress disorder. On a petition for writ of certiorari, the trial court upheld the benefit board’s decision. Finding material evidence to support the action of the benefit board, we affirm the decision of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/29/19
Christopher Batey v. Deliver This, Inc., Et Al.
M2018-00419-SC-WCO-WC

In this workers’ compensation case, Christopher Batey (“Employee”) filed a Petition for Benefit Determination after he sustained a back injury while working for Deliver This, Inc. (“Employer”). The trial court determined that Employee was entitled to 275 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-242(a)(2). On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board affirmed the trial court’s judgment, holding that the trial court erred in “defining an employee’s burden of proof under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-242(a)(2) and in defining the phrase ‘employee’s pre-injury occupation’ as used in subsection 242(a)(2)(B)” but concluding that the errors were harmless under the circumstances presented. Batey v. Deliver This, Inc., No. 2016-05-0666, 2018 WL 805490, at *7 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. App. Bd. Feb. 6, 2018). Employer and its insurer, Auto-Owners Insurance Company, have appealed. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, section 2, this Court directed that the appeal not be referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Panel. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and adopt its opinion in its entirety as set forth in the attached Appendix.

Supreme Court 01/29/19
State of Tennessee v. Heather Montgomery
E2018-00388-CCA-R3-CD

On August 26, 2016, the Defendant, Heather Montgomery, was convicted of two counts of sale of less than fifteen grams of heroin within 1,000 feet of a park and two counts of delivery of less than fifteen grams of heroin within 1,000 feet of a park. Counts 2 and 4 were merged into Counts 1 and 3, and the Defendant was sentenced as a Range I, standard offender to an effective 8-year term, to be served at 100% in the Department of Correction. The Defendant argues on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion is neither excluding the testimony of a confidential informant or granting a continuance and that the evidence is insufficient to sustain her convictions. After thorough review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court but remand for entry of corrected judgments.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/29/19
State of Tennessee v. Torvarius E. Mason
W2017-01863-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Torvarius E. Mason, 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 the lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter and that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Haywood County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/19
State of Tennessee v. Jonathon Trotter
E2018-00390-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns the unauthorized practice of law. The State of Tennessee (“the State”) filed a complaint in the Circuit Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) against Jonathon Trotter (“Trotter”) alleging that he engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Trotter had advertised on Facebook and Craigslist that, for a fee, he would prepare various legal documents for customers. Trotter, however, was not an attorney. The State filed a motion for summary judgment, which Trotter failed to reply to in a manner compliant with the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The Trial Court granted the State’s motion with respect to liability. The Trial Court later assessed damages against Trotter. Trotter appeals, arguing material facts are disputed such that his case should survive summary judgment and proceed to trial. We find and hold that the State made a properly supported motion for summary judgment, and that Trotter failed to show that there is a genuine disputed issue of material fact. We affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/28/19
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Clinton Wood
M2017-02483-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Thomas Clinton Wood, was indicted by the Putnam County Grand Jury for one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Following a jury trial, Defendant was convicted as charged and sentenced by the trial court to three years in confinement as a Range I standard offender. On appeal, Defendant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for aggravated assault, and that the trial court erred by denying alternative sentencing. After a careful review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/19
Joshua Keller v. Janice Casteel, Et Al.
E2017-01020-COA-R3-CV

This action involves the petitioner’s termination of employment as a firefighter for the City of Cleveland. The petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari and sought partial summary judgment, alleging, inter alia, that the termination procedure was unlawful. The trial court agreed and granted partial summary judgment. The case proceeded to a hearing on damages, after which, the court found that the petitioner failed to exercise reasonable diligence in securing employment. The petitioner filed a motion to alter or amend. The court then altered its original order and held that material evidence existed in the record to support the termination decision, reversing the order for partial summary judgment and dismissing the action. The petitioner appeals. We reverse.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 01/28/19
H Group Construction, LLC v. City of Lafollette
E2018-00478-COA-R9-CV

The unsuccessful bidder for certain municipal construction projects filed this action against the municipality, alleging, inter alia, that the municipality had violated its own competitive bidding ordinances and engaged in unlawful restraint of trade. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the municipality with regard to all claims except the bidder’s claim for damages for violation of the municipal ordinances and common law restraint of trade. In this interlocutory appeal, we have been asked to determine whether a cause of action exists against a governmental entity for common law restraint of trade and whether a bidder has a private right of action for damages against the municipality for alleged violations of municipal bidding ordinances. We determine that the municipality maintains sovereign immunity concerning any purported claim of common law restraint of trade. We further determine that because a petition for writ of certiorari would be the sole method of review of the City’s contract award, unsuccessful bidders are not authorized to bring a private cause of action for monetary damages for an alleged violation of the municipality’s competitive bidding ordinances. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s denial of the municipality’s motion for summary judgment and remand this matter to the trial court for entry of summary judgment in favor of the municipality.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 01/28/19