Court Opinions

Format: 05/20/2022
Format: 05/20/2022
Leo Charles Hillman et al. v. Young Street Partners II, LLC et al
M2021-00142-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This case involves the interpretation of a commercial lease provision containing a tenant improvement allowance.  Following a hearing, the trial court initially entered an order in August 2020, granting partial summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs/assignees and directing the defendant/assignor, Young Street Partners II, LLC (“Young Street”), to reimburse the plaintiffs for $92,000.00 they had paid to a tenant claiming the improvement allowance, as well as costs, attorney’s fees, and statutory prejudgment interest.  Upon the filing of subsequent competing motions for summary judgment and following a hearing, the trial court confirmed its prior judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and further dismissed Young Street’s counterclaim for attorney’s fees and costs in an order entered in January 2021, thereby denying Young Street’s motion for partial summary judgment.  Following entry of an order of voluntary dismissal without prejudice against all defendants except Young Street and upon the plaintiffs’ motion, the trial court entered an order certifying its January 2021 order as final pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02.  Young Street has appealed.  Determining that the trial court improvidently granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, we vacate the judgment and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.  We deny the plaintiffs’ request for an award of attorney’s fees on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/20/22
State of Tennessee v. Roy Michael Ford
E2021-00780-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

Roy Michael Ford, Defendant, was indicted for several offenses in relation to the death of Scotty Brogan, the victim. Defendant sought severance of the second degree murder charge from the remaining offenses. The trial court granted the request and Defendant proceeded to trial on the second degree murder charge. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to 17 years in incarceration. Defendant appeals, arguing that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the second degree murder conviction; (2) the trial court erred in admitting a photograph of the deceased victim; (3) the trial court improperly permitted a witness to testify about what she would have done had she been in Defendant’s position; and (4) his sentence is excessive. After a review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Claiborne County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/19/22
Estate of Donna McCullough v. Anthony McCullough
W2020-01723-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Krisit M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Daniel L. Smith

Donna McCullough (“Wife”) and Anthony McCullough (“Husband”) executed a marital dissolution agreement (the “MDA”) on June 14, 2018. The agreement provided that Husband was to pay Wife $4,521.00 per month in alimony and that the obligation terminated upon the death of either party. The parties were divorced by the General Sessions Court for Hardin County on September 21, 2018. Several months later, Husband sought to set aside the final decree of divorce, arguing that the alimony provision in the MDA was void. Following a hearing, the trial court denied Husband’s motion and granted Wife her attorney’s fees incurred in defending the action. Husband appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hardin County Court of Appeals 05/19/22
Romilus Caraway v. State of Tennessee
W2021-00360-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

In this appeal, the sole issue presented for our review by the Petitioner, Romilus Caraway, is whether the post-conviction court abused its discretion in dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief based on an abuse of judicial process for failure to prosecute. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/19/22
State of Tennessee v. Norris Ray
W2021-01060-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chirs Craft

Norris Ray, Defendant, appeals after the summary dismissal of a motion filed pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 in which Defendant argued that his life sentence was illegal for several different reasons. After a review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/19/22
Quartez Gary v. State of Tennessee
W2021-00315-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula Skahan

A Shelby County jury convicted the Petitioner, Quartez Gary, of attempted first degree murder and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court imposed a sentence of twenty-three years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, this court affirmed the judgments. State v. Quartez Gary, No. W2017-01495-CCA-R3-CD, 2018 WL 3689143 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 31, 2018), no perm. app. filed. The Petitioner timely filed a pro se post-conviction petition and an amended petition through appointed counsel. The post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, the Petitioner asserts that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/19/22
Joshua Allen Felts v. State of Tennessee
M2020-01688-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins
The Petitioner, Joshua Allen Felts, appeals from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of post-conviction relief from his convictions for three counts of theft and two counts of attempted theft. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred by denying relief on his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims. We reverse the postconviction court’s judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.
 
Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/19/22
State of Tennessee v. Demetris Lovell Merriweather
M2021-01278-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. Campbell, Sr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert T. Bateman

The Defendant, Demetris Lovell Merriweather, appeals the Montgomery County Circuit Court’s summary denial of his pro se motion to correct an illegal sentence pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1.  After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/19/22
In Re Bonnie E.
E2021-00919-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Wylie Richardson

In this case involving termination of the mother’s parental rights to her child, the McMinn County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) determined that several statutory grounds for termination had been proven by clear and convincing evidence. The trial court further determined that clear and convincing evidence demonstrated that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. The mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

McMinn County Court of Appeals 05/19/22
Calvin Douglas v. State of Tennessee
W2021-01401-CCA-R3-ECN
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carolyn W. Blackett

Petitioner, Calvin Douglas, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for writ of error coram nobis, in which he alleged the existence of newly discovered evidence. Petitioner argues that due process requires tolling of the statute of limitations. Upon review, we determine that the petition was properly dismissed and affirm the judgment of the coram nobis court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/18/22
State of Tennessee v. Franklin Sean Smith
E2019-01515-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carter Scott Moore

Defendant, Franklin Sean Smith, was convicted of aggravated rape of a child, aggravated sexual battery, and incest. After a sentencing hearing, Defendant received a 60-year sentence. Defendant appeals, arguing that: (1) the trial court committed plain error in allowing the State’s “numerous instances of improper prosecutorial arguments”; (2) the trial court committed plain error in allowing the State to introduce into evidence Defendant’s letter to his wife; (3) the State withheld evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); (4) the trial court committed plain error in admitting the victim’s forensic interview; (5) his convictions violated the protections of double jeopardy; (6) he received the ineffective assistance of counsel; (7) his convictions should be overturned based on the cumulative error doctrine; and (8) the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. Following a thorough review of the record, we discern no error and affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Cocke County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/18/22
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al. v. Tennessee Department of Education et al. - Concurring in Part & Dissenting in Part
M2020-00683-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

SHARON G. LEE, J., with whom HOLLY KIRBY, J., joins, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
In this interlocutory appeal, the issues we address are whether the Plaintiffs,Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) and Shelby County, have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program,2 (“the ESA Act”), and, if so, whether the ESA Act violates the Home Rule Amendment.
I agree with the Court that the Plaintiffs have standing to bring this action. The ESA Act causes a distinct and palpable injury to the Plaintiffs’ sovereignty—their right to control their local affairs—as guaranteed by the Home Rule Amendment. As we have held, the Home Rule Amendment was adopted “to strengthen local self-government” and “to fundamentally change” the relationship with the General Assembly. Civil Serv. Merit Bd.of Knoxville v. Burson, 816 S.W.2d 725, 728 (Tenn. 1991); S. Constructors, Inc. v. Loudon Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 58 S.W.3d 706, 714 (Tenn. 2001). Based on the Home Rule Amendment, Tennessee’s counties and home-rule municipalities “derive their power from sources other than the prerogative of the legislature,” and they enjoy constitutional protection against local legislation enacted without their consent. S. Constructors, 58 S.W.3d at 714; Tenn. Const. art. XI, § 9, cl. 2. Thus, the Plaintiffs’ standing is based on the ESA Act’s impairment of their ability to self-govern regarding school funding.
I disagree with the Court that the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment. The Court’s decision ignores the acknowledged harm to the Plaintiffs’ sovereignty caused by the ESA Act.3 It is this established injury to the Plaintiffs’ ability to self-govern that the Home Rule Amendment was intended to protect. While the ESA Act facially refers only to a Local Education Agency (“LEA”),4 the Act substantially affects the Plaintiffs’ ability to decide issues of local concern. That is enough under our previous decisions to implicate the Home Rule Amendment. Without a provision of local approval as required by the Amendment, the ESA Act is unconstitutional.
 
Davidson County Supreme Court 05/18/22
State of Tennessee v. Devin Royce Knight
W2021-00159-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: J. Weber McCraw

A Fayette County jury convicted the Defendant, Devin Royce Knight, of attempt to commit first degree premeditated murder, aggravated domestic assault by strangulation, kidnapping, and vandalism under $1000, and the trial court imposed an effective twenty-two year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions for attempt to commit first degree murder and kidnapping. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Fayette County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/18/22
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al. v. Tennessee Department of Education et al.
M2020-00683-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This case is before us on an interlocutory appeal limited to a single claim: Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program (the “ESA Act” or the “Act”), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-6-2601 to -2612, under article XI, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution (the “Home Rule Amendment” or the “Amendment”).  The trial court held that Plaintiffs had standing to pursue this claim and denied Defendants’ motions to dismiss on that basis.  The court held that the ESA Act is unconstitutional under the Home Rule Amendment and granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on this claim.  The trial court then sua sponte granted Defendants an interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Appeals granted their application for an interlocutory appeal by permission pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment with respect to the issue of standing and the issue of the constitutionality of the ESA Act under the Home Rule Amendment.  We hold that Plaintiffs have standing to bring their Home Rule Amendment claim and affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that issue.  However, we hold that the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment such that the Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Amendment, and we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that issue.  Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court with respect to Plaintiffs’ claim under the Home Rule Amendment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the trial court for entry of a judgment dismissing that claim, for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, and for consideration of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 05/18/22
State of Tennessee v. Timothy Mitchell Dawson
E2021-00913-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sandra Donaghy

The defendant, Timothy Mitchell Dawson, appeals his McMinn County Criminal Court Jury conviction of theft of property valued at more than $1,000 but less than $2,500, challenging the admission of evidence about an unrelated theft purportedly committed by the defendant and the sufficiency of the convicting evidence. Because the trial court erred by admitting evidence of the defendant’s uncharged conduct and because that error cannot be classified as harmless, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for a new trial.

McMinn County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/18/22
Abraham A. Augustin v. Tennessee Department of Safety And Homeland Security
E2021-00635-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr.

This case arises from the 2009 seizure of Appellant’s property and the subsequent forfeiture of same. Appellant petitioned for judicial review, and the trial court dismissed the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On appeal, we conclude that because Appellant’s petition was not filed within sixty days of receiving notice of the forfeiture, see Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322(b)(1)(A)(iv), the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the forfeiture. Accordingly, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/17/22
Nasser Luby Saleh v. Lystacha G. Pratt
E2021-00965-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan

This appeal arises after the trial court found the defendant in contempt of an order of protection and sentenced him to 510 days of incarceration. We affirm the judgment holding the appellant in contempt in its entirety.

Knox County Court of Appeals 05/17/22
Jonathan Schelfe v. State of Tennessee
M2021-00501-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Christopher V. Sockwell

In 2013, the Petitioner, Jonathan Schelfe, pleaded guilty to ten counts of rape of a child, eight counts of aggravated sexual battery, four counts of rape, two counts of solicitation of a minor, and one count of sexual exploitation of a minor.  The trial court imposed an effective sentence of forty years of incarceration.  The Petitioner filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence with regard to four of his convictions, which the trial court denied.  This court affirmed the denial.  State v. Jonathan Schelfe, No. M2018-01604-CCA-R3-CD, 2019 WL 4071981, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Nashville, Aug. 29, 2019), no perm. app. filed.  Thereafter, the Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, alleging a violation of his constitutional rights, and the habeas court entered an order summarily dismissing the petition.  We affirm the habeas court’s judgment. 

Wayne County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/16/22
In Re Khalil J.
M2021-00908-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sheila Calloway

This appeal involves a petition to terminate parental rights.  The juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence that three grounds for termination as to both mother and father were proven: (1) persistent conditions; (2) mental incompetence; and (3) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility.  The juvenile court also found that termination was in the best interests of the child.  Both the mother and the father appeal.  We reverse the juvenile court’s finding of persistent conditions as to the mother and the father, but otherwise affirm the termination of parental rights.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/16/22
Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. David Payne, et al.
W2021-00376-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Yolanda Kight Brown

This appeal concerns a dispute over insurance coverage. Amy Higgs (“Higgs”) individually and on behalf of her deceased son, Cayson Emmit Turnmire (“Cayson”), sued David Payne (“Payne”) for the negligent maintenance of his property in relation to Cayson’s death by drowning in Payne’s swimming pool. Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company (“Tennessee Farmers”), Payne’s homeowners’ insurance carrier, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court for Shelby County (“the Trial Court”) against Payne and Higgs. Tennessee Farmers argued that, due to an exclusion in Payne’s homeowners’ insurance policy against claims “arising from or in connection with the swimming pool,” it is not obligated to defend or indemnify Payne. Tennessee Farmers and Higgs filed cross motions for summary judgment. The Trial Court granted Tennessee Farmers’ motion and denied Higgs’ motion. Higgs appeals. Citing the concurrent cause doctrine, Higgs argues that Tennessee Farmers must defend and indemnify Payne as, apart from the pool, certain non-excluded causes contributed to Cayson’s death—namely, Payne’s failure to fence or gate his property. We hold, inter alia, that each of Higgs’ alleged non-excluded concurrent causes are bound up inextricably with Cayson’s tragic drowning in Payne’s pool, an excluded cause under Payne’s insurance policy. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 05/13/22
Larry Brown et al. v. Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland and Security
M2021-00422-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This case arises from the seizure of property owned by Appellants and the ensuing forfeiture action brought against them by Appellee Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.  After Appellee voluntarily dismissed the forfeiture action, the Administrative Law Judge awarded Appellants a portion of their requested attorney’s fees under Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-325(a).  The Chancery Court of Davidson County reversed the award of fees on its finding that Appellee did not issue a “citation” as required for recovery of attorney’s fees under section 4-5-325(a).  The trial court also held that Appellants were not entitled to recover attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.  Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 05/13/22
Ronald Wayne Gilbert v. State of Tennessee
E2021-00737-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James L. Gass

Following a bench trial, Ronald Wayne Gilbert (“Petitioner”) was convicted of especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault, for which he received an effective sentence of thirteen and one-half years’ incarceration. This court affirmed Petitioner’s convictions on direct appeal. State v. Ronald Wayne Gilbert, No. E2017-00396-CCA-R3-CD, 2018 WL 2411835, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 29, 2018), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 13, 2018). Petitioner filed a pro se post-conviction petition and an amended petition following the appointment of counsel. Following a hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, Petitioner argues that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s failure to argue that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for especially aggravated kidnapping based on State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559 (Tenn. 2012). Petitioner further argues that his conviction for especially aggravated kidnapping constitutes plain error. After a thorough review of the record and applicable case law, the judgment of the post-conviction court is affirmed.

Sevier County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/13/22
State of Tennessee v. Frank Barnett Palmer
M2021-00480-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton

Defendant, Frank Barnett Palmer, entered a guilty plea as a Range II multiple offender, pursuant to Hicks v. State, 945 S.W.2d 706 (Tenn. 1997), to one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and one count of evading arrest in a motor vehicle, both Class E felonies.  As a part of the plea agreement, the State agreed to a sentence of two to four years on each count, to be determined by the trial court, with a forty-five percent release eligibility.  Following a hearing, the trial court sentenced Defendant to four years with a forty-five percent release eligibility on each count, with six months to serve in count one and the remainder of the sentences suspended to supervised probation, and ran the sentences consecutively.  On appeal, Defendant argues that his sentences are excessive and that the trial court erred in imposing split confinement.  After a thorough review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/13/22
Debra Jean Griffith-Ball v. Stanley Lauren Ball
M2020-00509-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kathryn Wall Olita

A husband and wife divorced after a long marriage.  They disputed whether certain assets were marital or separate property and whether the wife was entitled to alimony.  The trial court found that the disputed assets were the husband’s separate property.  And it awarded the wife alimony in futuro, as well as attorney’s fees as alimony in solido.  Upon our review, we find the evidence preponderates against the finding that the assets are separate property.  So, with those assets included in the marital estate, we remand for a new property division.  And, because the division of marital property is a factor in awarding alimony, we vacate the alimony awards.  On remand, the court should consider whether alimony is still appropriate under its new property division and, if so, the type, amount, and duration of the award. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 05/13/22
Christopher C. Solomon v. State of Tennessee
M2021-00739-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

The Petitioner, Christopher C. Solomon, pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular assault, and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, and he received an effective thirty-three-year sentence.  The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, contending that he received ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel failed to seek the trial judge’s recusal at sentencing.  Following a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Petitioner appeals.  After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.  

Sumner County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/13/22