Court Opinions

Format: 06/28/2022
Format: 06/28/2022
Linda Michelle Watts v. David Wayne Suiter
W2021-00496-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Samual Weiss

This appeal involves unmarried parties who jointly own real property together. After a two-day bench trial, the trial court divided the equity in the jointly owned property equally, stating that it could not “speculate” as to the parties’ agreements or “parse through” their relationship “to determine who paid what or who did what when.” The trial court also dismissed related tort claims and ordered one party to pay a share of the other’s attorney fees. We vacate in part, affirm in part, and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/13/22
Joshua Clint Hopper v. Obion County School System
W2021-00805-COA-R9-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

This is an interlocutory appeal from a personal injury case involving a minor who was struck in the eye by a mechanical pencil while attending an afterschool program. The trial court denied the school system’s motion for summary judgment. The trial court granted the school system permission to seek an interlocutory appeal. Thereafter, the school system filed its application for permission to appeal, which we granted. We reverse the decision of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Obion County Court of Appeals 06/13/22
Casey Colbert v. State of Tennessee
W2021-00778-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

The Petitioner, Casey Colbert, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his convictions for first degree felony murder and attempted aggravated robbery, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct depriving him of his right to a fair trial. After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/13/22
Joseph Sanford McNair, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
E2021-00219-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle A. Hixson

The Petitioner, Joseph Sanford McNair, Jr., filed a petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, possession of cocaine with intent to sell, and possession of marijuana and the accompanying effective twelve-year sentence. In the petition, the Petitioner alleged that trial counsel was ineffective (1) by failing to pursue a Sixth Amendment claim regarding the racial composition of the jury pool; (2) by failing to pursue a claim regarding the “constructive amendment in the indictment”; and (3) by failing to fully pursue the Petitioner’s Fourth Amendment rights during a motion to suppress. The Petitioner also raises two free-standing claims: (1) his Sixth Amendment right to a jury composed of a fair cross-section of the community was violated because black people were underrepresented in the jury pool; and (2) his rights against double jeopardy were violated when the trial court allowed the indictment to be constructively amended after the jury rendered its verdict. The post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/13/22
Estate of Jennifer Diane Vickers v. Diversicare Leasing Corporation et al.
M2021-00894-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Middle Section Presiding Judge, Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bonita Jo Atwood

A nursing home resident commenced this health care liability action after she had 18 teeth extracted, after which she suffered excessive bleeding. Before suing, the plaintiff’s daughter, acting as her mother’s attorney in fact, provided each prospective defendant with a form that purported to authorize the release of the plaintiff’s health information as required by Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-26-121(a)(1). Four months later, the plaintiff filed her complaint and a certificate of good faith as required by § 29-26-122(a). The defendants responded by moving to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the pre-suit authorizations were invalid because the daughter lacked the authority to make “health care decisions” for the plaintiff. The trial court denied the motions, finding the general power of attorney authorized the daughter to release the plaintiff’s medical records. After the plaintiff filed an amended complaint to add a claim for lack of informed consent, the defendants moved to dismiss all claims set forth in the amended complaint based on the plaintiff’s failure to file a new certificate of good faith. The plaintiff argued that a new certificate was unnecessary; nevertheless, she moved for an extension of time to comply. Following a hearing, the court found that a new certificate of good faith was required by § 29-26-122(a) because the amended complaint asserted a new claim. The court also denied the plaintiff’s motion for an extension of time to comply on the ground that the plaintiff failed to establish “extraordinary cause” to justify an extension. Based on these findings, the court granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss all claims. This appeal followed. We agree that a new certificate of good faith was required; however, we find that the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard to deny the motion for an extension of time in which to comply. This is because the standard applicable to a motion for an extension of time to comply is “good cause,” not “extraordinary cause,” and good cause is a less exacting standard than extraordinary cause. See Stovall v. UHS Lakeside,LLC, No. W2013-01504-COA-R9-CV, 2014 WL 2155345, at *12 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 22, 2014) (citations omitted), overruled on other grounds by Davis ex rel. Davis v. Ibach, 465 S.W.3d 570 (Tenn. 2015). Accordingly, this issue, along with the trial court’s decision to dismiss the entire amended complaint, are vacated and remanded for further consideration by the trial court. As a result, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 06/13/22
Robert Smith v. State of Tennessee
W2021-00890-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

In November of 2018, Petitioner, Robert Smith, pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated rape in exchange for an effective 18-year sentence. The crimes were all committed in 1986. Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief alleging ineffective assistance of plea counsel. At the evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court heard testimony and arguments on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim and whether Petitioner freely and voluntarily entered his guilty plea. The post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, Petitioner argues that he did not freely and voluntarily enter his guilty plea. After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/10/22
State of Tennessee v. Daniel Leon McCaig
W2021-00736-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Lee Moore, Jr.

Daniel Leon McCaig, Defendant, pled guilty to several offenses in 2018 and received a sentence to be served on Community Corrections. After a partial revocation of his alternative sentence in 2020, Defendant was arrested for new charges two separate times in 2021. As a result of the new charges, two probation violation reports were filed. After a hearing, the trial court revoked Defendant’s probation and reinstated his eight-year sentence with credit for time served. Defendant appeals the revocation. After a de novo review, we affirm the revocation of probation.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/10/22
State of Tennessee v. Darrin Keith Ward
W2021-00047-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee Moore

Aggrieved of his Dyer County Circuit Court jury convictions of possession with intent to sell or deliver more than 300 grams of cocaine and possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of a dangerous felony, the defendant, Darrin Keith Ward, appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by failing to dismiss for cause a juror who was sleeping during trial and committed plain error by permitting a police officer to testify as an expert in narcotics trafficking. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/10/22
Ebony Marshall v. State of Tennessee
W2021-01131-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jennifer Johnson Mitchell

The Petitioner, Ebony Marshall, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for two counts of robbery and his effective twenty-five-year sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred by determining that his petition was untimely and by summarily dismissing his petition. We conclude that the petition for relief was timely filed. We reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/10/22
Tommie Phillips v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01927-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

In this post-conviction matter, we clarify the appropriate burden of proof and legal standard to be applied when a criminal defendant claims ineffective assistance of counsel based on trial counsel’s failure to move to suppress evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds.  The Petitioner, Tommie Phillips (“Petitioner”) was convicted of several offenses, including felony murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping, and especially aggravated burglary.  The Court of Criminal Appeals modified the especially aggravated burglary conviction to aggravated burglary.  The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, asserting, among other things, that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective by failing to seek suppression of various statements he made to police on Fourth Amendment grounds.  The post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the decision of the post-conviction court.  We granted the Petitioner’s application for permission to appeal and directed the parties to discuss the applicable standard of review in this case.  Specifically, the Court sought to clarify the petitioner’s burden to establish prejudice when he or she alleges counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress on Fourth Amendment grounds.  Upon our review of the record and applicable law, we conclude that to establish prejudice with this type of claim, the petitioner must prove that “his Fourth Amendment claim is meritorious and that there is a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been different absent the excludable evidence.”  Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 375 (1986).  In applying this standard to the case before us, we conclude that the Court of Criminal Appeals properly affirmed the post-conviction court’s denial of relief.  Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/10/22
State of Tennessee Ex Rel. Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter v. HRC Medical Centers, Inc. et al.
M2021-00488-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

The State appeals the trial court’s holding that Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-8-101(1) applied to the State’s attempt to have the Defendants’ real estate sold in order to collect on its judgment, such that the statutory right of redemption could not be barred. Because we conclude that the sale sought by the State could proceed under subsection (2) of that statute, we vacate the court’s order and remand for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 06/10/22
State of Tennessee v. Douglas Cody Gass
E2021-00692-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

Douglas Cody Gass, Defendant, entered an open guilty plea to reckless aggravated assault (Count 10), felony evading arrest (Count 11), and vehicular homicide (Count 12); and the remaining nine counts were dismissed. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed a total effective sentence of twenty years—four years to serve in Count 10, six years to serve in Count 12, and four years suspended to ten years’ probation in Count 11— and aligned the sentences consecutively. Defendant claims that the trial court erred in setting the length of his sentences, in imposing consecutive sentences, and in denying alternative sentencing in Counts 10 and 12. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/10/22
Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck v. Tennessee Republican Party et al.
M2022-00735-SC-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Plaintiff Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck sought to be a Republican candidate for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District for the United States House of Representatives.  The Tennessee Republican Party and the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee (“Defendants”), acting under relevant statutory authority and party rules, determined that Mr. Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican and informed the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections of the decision to exclude Mr. Starbuck from the ballot.  Mr. Starbuck initially sought relief in federal court and failed to obtain injunctive relief.  After voluntarily dismissing his federal action, Mr. Starbuck filed a complaint in the Davidson County Chancery Court alleging, among other things, that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act by determining in a non-public meeting that he was not a bona fide Republican.  The chancery court granted Mr. Starbuck a temporary injunction on the basis that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and ordered that Mr. Starbuck be restored to the ballot.  Defendants filed an application for extraordinary appeal under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 10.  This Court assumed jurisdiction over the appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d) and Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 48 and granted the application for extraordinary appeal.  We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the injunction because the Tennessee Open Meetings Act does not apply to Defendants.  We vacate the injunction and remand to the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/10/22
Wilson Bank & Trust et al. v. Consolidated Utility District of Rutherford County et al.
M2021-00167-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bonita Jo Atwood

In 2014, development company KW Group, LLC (“KW”) purchased a tract of land located in Rutherford County, Tennessee, from Wilson Bank & Trust (“Wilson Bank”). The land was intended for a subdivision. A previous holder of the land, Mid-Cumberland Development, Inc. (“Mid-Cumberland”), had deeded two lots out of the main tract to Consolidated Utility District of Rutherford County (“CUD”) in 2011. Desiring to have a portion of the two lots re-consolidated with the primary tract, KW and Wilson Bank filed suit against CUD and Mid-Cumberland in 2016. The plaintiffs sought reformation and/or rescission of the 2011 deed conveying the lots to CUD and stated causes of action for promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment. Following briefing by the parties, the trial court dismissed all of the plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice. We affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 06/10/22
Cedarius M. v. State of Tennessee
W2020-01594-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

The appellant is a minor who was charged with a serious crime. After the state notified the appellant of its intent to seek transfer of the appellant for prosecution as an adult, the appellant asked for an in-person transfer hearing. The juvenile court denied the motion, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The appellant then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the circuit court, which was denied. On appeal, the appellant contends that the juvenile court’s order violates various constitutional protections that he should be afforded under the circumstances. But the parties now agree that transfer hearings are taking place in-person in the Shelby County Juvenile Court. Because we conclude that this appeal is now moot and not subject to any recognized exception to the mootness doctrine, we dismiss this appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/09/22
Quincy Scott v. State of Tennessee
E2021-00400-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway
Trial Court Judge: Judge Andrew M. Freiberg

Quincy Scott (“Petitioner”) filed a petition for post-conviction relief claiming that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at his probation revocation hearing. The postconviction court dismissed the petition based on the holding of Young v. State, 101 S.W.3d 430, 433 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2002), that the Post-Conviction Procedure Act “does not permit the filing of a petition . . . to attack collaterally the validity of a proceeding to revoke the suspension of sentence and/or probation.” We affirm.

Bradley County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/09/22
In Re Estate of James M. McKinney
M2021-00703-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Joseph A. Woodruff

In this appeal, we construe a will. The trial court determined that the will disinherited one of the testator’s two daughters by necessary implication when the testator identified only one daughter as his child in the “Family” clause and did not indicate a specific intent to include the other daughter in the residue clause that disposed of his estate. Upon our de novo review, we hold that inclusive language in the family clause does not operate to disinherit one daughter when the residue clause defined “children” differently, such that both of the testator’s daughters are beneficiaries under the will. We therefore reverse the judgment of the chancery court and remand the matter for further proceedings.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 06/09/22
State of Tennessee v. Charles Hardy, Jr.
E2021-00616-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

The Defendant, Charles Hardy, Jr., alias, appeals his convictions for first degree premeditated murder and tampering with evidence, for which he received an effective sentence of life imprisonment. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions. Upon reviewing the parties’ briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/09/22
In Re Jayce S.
E2020-01573-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

Father appeals from a trial court’s termination of his parental rights. Due to the lack of a sufficiently complete record on appeal, we vacate the trial court’s judgment and remand the matter for a new trial.

Grainger County Court of Appeals 06/09/22
State of Tennessee v. David Stewart Cowles, Jr.
E2021-00603-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Dugger, Jr.

Defendant, David Stewart Cowles, Jr., entered an open guilty plea to theft of property valued at $10,000 but less than $60,000 with the manner and length of the sentence to be determined by the trial court. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed a sentence of split confinement, with seven months to be served in the county jail and the remainder of the sentence on supervised probation. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing a sentence of split confinement and in denying a community corrections sentence. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Greene County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/09/22
Ashley Shearin Meade v. Paducah Nissan, LLC et al.
M2021-00563-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Western Section Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

Wife appeals from the trial court’s decision to dismiss a complaint against the car dealership managed by her estranged husband for claims associated with the use of a demonstrator vehicle. We affirm the decision of the trial court. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 06/09/22
Malcolm D. Myers as Executor of the Estate of Charles Price Boone v. Dawna Divine Boone
W2020-01167-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

This appeal stems from a divorce proceeding, in which the Shelby County Circuit Court (“Trial Court”) found that two billboard marketing agreements for billboards located at 5871 Poplar Avenue and 0 Ricky Bell Cove were property belonging to the corporation, St. Charles Place, Inc., a corporation owned solely by Husband. The Trial Court found that the parties’ marriage was short-term in nature and distributed the marital property, awarding Dawna Divine Boone (“Wife”) 60% of the marital estate and Charles Price Boone (“Husband”) 40% of the marital estate. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the Trial Court in all respects.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 06/08/22
Lee Richard Slotnik v. Shani Marie Slotnik
M2022-00645-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

In this accelerated interlocutory appeal, a mother seeks review of the denial of her motion to recuse the trial judge.  She contends that statements the trial judge made at a hearing present a reasonable basis for questioning the judge’s impartiality or could only stem from an extrajudicial source.  We conclude that they do not.  So we affirm. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 06/07/22
Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Candes Vonniest Prewitt
M2021-01141-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

This is an appeal of a trial court’s judgment affirming a decision of a hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility. The hearing panel found that an attorney had violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct and imposed a thirty-day suspension from the practice of law with conditions on reinstatement. After careful review, we affirm the decision of the hearing panel and the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/06/22
State Of Tennessee v. Jennifer Sadie Thompson
M2021-00420-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Curtis Smith

The Appellant, Jennifer Sadie Thompson, filed a pro se motion for correction of sentence pursuant to Rule 36.1, which was denied by the trial court.  On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred by denying her motion, arguing that the Tennessee Department of Correction failed to apply sentencing credits to which she was entitled.  Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.  

Franklin County Court of Criminal Appeals 06/06/22