Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 07/17/2019
Format: 07/17/2019
Christopher Danta Logan v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01176-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Christopher Danta Logan, appeals the Tipton County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his pro se petition for
post-conviction relief. The Petitioner argues that he timely filed his petition alleging he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. The State agrees that the Petitioner timely filed his petition. After a review of the record and applicable law, we conclude that the
post-conviction court committed reversible error; therefore, we reverse the post-conviction court’s summary dismissal of the petition and remand for a hearing regarding the timeliness of the Petitioner’s post-conviction petition.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/15/19
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Bethel Hendrix
M2017-00386-CCA-R3-CD

A Williamson County Circuit Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Thomas Bethel Hendrix, of two counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of child abuse, and the trial court imposed a total effective sentence of twenty-five years in confinement. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred by admitting certain statements he made to law enforcement and that the trial court erred by failing to merge his convictions into a single conviction of aggravated child abuse. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court but conclude that the Appellant’s convictions must be merged. Accordingly, the case is remanded to the trial court for merger of the convictions into a single conviction of aggravated child abuse. We note that merger of the convictions does not affect the Appellant’s twenty-five-year sentence because the trial court ordered that he serve the sentences concurrently.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
Andrea Renea Hopwood v. Corey Daniel Hopwood
M2018-00446-COA-R3-CV

This is another appeal arising from the divorce of Corey Daniel Hopwood (“Father”) and Andrea Renea Hopwood (“Mother”). In a previous opinion, we remanded for a new determination concerning the duration and amount of an award to Mother of rehabilitative alimony and the calculation of an award to Mother of attorney’s fees attributable only to child custody and child support issues. The Chancery Court for Williamson County (“the Remand Court”) addressed these two issues on remand. Father appeals to this Court, arguing in large part that he simply cannot afford to pay what the Remand Court ordered him to pay. Discerning no abuse of discretion, we affirm the Remand Court’s rulings with respect to rehabilitative alimony and attorney’s fees attributable to child support and child custody. However, we modify the Remand Court’s judgment to reduce the amount of life insurance Father is required to carry to secure his alimony obligation in light of the reduction of his alimony obligation. We further modify the Remand Court’s judgment to eliminate $750 in attorney’s fees assessed against Father for filing an improperly-styled motion when he was acting pro se. The judgment of the Remand Court is affirmed as modified.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 05/14/19
Shirley Keen v. Ingles Markets, Inc.
E2018-00306-SC-R3-WC

In 1997, an employee sustained a workers’ compensation injury. In 1999, the chancery court approved a settlement of the claim, which in part required the employer to pay for reasonable and necessary future medical treatment. In 2016, the employer declined to provide certain treatment based on the results of a utilization review under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-124. The chancery court granted the employee’s motion to compel the medical treatment and held in abeyance her request for attorney fees under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-204(b)(2). The employee filed a second motion to compel because of a dispute about whether the first order to compel required the employer to provide the employee with a particular medication. The chancery court granted the second motion to compel and awarded the employee attorney fees, but in a lesser amount than the employee had requested. Both parties appealed. The employee contends that the chancery court erred in awarding attorney fees by failing to make findings based on the factors in Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(a) (RPC 1.5(a)). The employer contends the chancery court erred by granting the second motion to compel treatment. 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 under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We vacate the chancery court’s award of attorney fees and remand for a determination of attorney fees in accordance with the factors set forth in RPC 1.5(a). We affirm the chancery court’s judgment granting the second motion to compel.

Campbell County Workers Compensation Panel 05/14/19
State of Tennessee v. Jonathan Alexander
W2018-00442-CCA-R3-CD

A Hardin County jury convicted the defendant of two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm (counts 1 and 2), possession of a Schedule II controlled substance with intent to sell or deliver (count 3), possession of unlawful drug paraphernalia (count 4), and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony (count 5). On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions in counts 3 and 5 and asserts the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the inference of casual exchange pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-419. Upon our review of the record, we conclude sufficient evidence exists to support the defendant’s convictions and the defendant failed to preserve the jury instruction issue for appeal. In reviewing the sentencing determinations of the trial court, however, we note several errors in the completion of the judgment forms for counts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Specifically, there are clerical errors in the felony classifications as marked in counts 1, 2, and 3 (in count 1, the trial court incorrectly classified the conviction as a Class C felony rather than a Class B felony; in count 2, the trial court incorrectly classified the conviction as a Class E felony rather than a Class C felony; and in count 3, the trial court incorrectly classified the conviction as a Class C felony rather than a Class B felony). Additionally, in merging the defendant’s convictions in counts 1 and 2, the trial court failed to impose a sentence for the merged conviction of count 2. Finally, in count 4, the trial court incorrectly sentenced the defendant for a misdemeanor conviction rather than the felony for which he was found guilty, warranting a new sentencing hearing on the same. Consequently, we remand the case to the trial court for sentencing as to counts 2 and 4 and the entry of corrected and completed judgment forms as to counts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Hardin County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
Dexter Sappington v. State of Tennessee
W2018-01516-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Dexter Sappington, Jr., appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel prior to and during his guilty plea hearing. After our review of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Hardeman County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
Brice Cook v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00237-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Brice Cook, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received effective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal. After our review of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
Brice Cook v. State of Tennessee - Dissenting
W2018-00237-CCA-R3-PC

I respectfully disagree with the majority’s conclusion that the Petitioner is not entitled to relief based upon his claim of bias by the post-conviction judge. Rather, I conclude that the post-conviction judge’s comments at the conclusion of the hearing were so egregious that the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned and, thus, warranted recusal. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, R.J.C. 2.11(A) (“A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned….”). Because the judge presided over the proceedings when disqualified from doing so, I would reverse the post-conviction court’s order denying the Petitioner post-conviction relief and remand for a new hearing with a different judge.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/14/19
Reginald Tyrone Donnell v. Russell Washburn, Warden
M2018-00706-CCA-R3-HC

The Petitioner, Reginald Tyrone Donnell, filed a petition for habeas corpus relief from his two convictions of second degree murder, contending that the indictment charging him was void and that a fatal variance existed between the indictment and the proof adduced at trial. The habeas corpus court summarily dismissed the petition for failure to comply with the procedural requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-21-107, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the habeas corpus court’s summary dismissal of the petition.

Trousdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/13/19
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