Court Opinions

Format: 12/08/2022
Format: 12/08/2022
Harold R. Gunn v. City of Humboldt
W2022-00029-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

This is an appeal from a grant of an involuntary dismissal. The plaintiff brought suit against the City of Humboldt for damages to his real property due to the collapse of a portion of his parking lot into his adjacent drainage ditch. At trial, the court granted the defendant’s motion for an involuntary dismissal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02(2) at the close of the plaintiff’s proof and dismissed the case. We affirm.

Gibson County Court of Appeals 10/05/22
State of Tennessee v. Ashley Nicole Thomas
W2021-00534-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph H. Walker, III

The Defendant, Ashley Nicole Thomas, was convicted by a Tipton County Circuit Court jury of one count of aggravated neglect of a child eight years of age or less; one count of aggravated child neglect; three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor; one count of facilitation of sexual exploitation of a minor; three counts of criminal responsibility for the rape of a child; and one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child in violation of the Child Protection Act. For these convictions, she received an effective forty-year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred (1) when it allowed the State to amend the indictment on the first day of trial, thereby substantially changing the nature of the case; (2) by allowing the State to make its election of offenses for the Child Protection Act counts after the commencement of trial in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-508(d), which requires a written thirty-day notice; and (3) by failing to dismiss the indictment due to the State’s destroying pornographic videos prior to her trial in violation of State v. Ferguson, 2 S.W.3d 912 (Tenn. 1999). Because the Defendant was acquitted of one of three required predicate offenses to support the continuous sexual abuse of a child conviction, the judgment of the trial court in Count Thirteen is reversed, the conviction is vacated, and the charge is dismissed. We, likewise, remand this case for the entry of a corrected judgment in Count Five to reflect the jury’s guilty verdict. The remaining judgments of the trial court are affirmed.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/04/22
State of Tennessee v. Benjamin Hartshaw
M2021-01231-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James A. Turner

The Defendant, Benjamin Hartshaw, was convicted by a Rutherford County Circuit Court jury of six counts of rape of a child, a Class A felony, and four counts of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony, for which he is serving an effective forty-six-year sentence. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-504(a)(4) (2018) (aggravated sexual battery of a victim less than thirteen years of age), 39-13-522(a) (2018) (rape of a child). On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial after one of the prosecutors referred in closing argument to the Defendant’s having been “arrested and . . . put in jail,” (2) the court erred in giving a curative instruction, contrary to the defense request for no instruction, and (3) he is entitled to relief due to cumulative trial error. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/04/22
Bernard Woodard v. State of Tennessee
M2022-00162-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Tom Greenholtz
Trial Court Judge: Judge Wesley Thomas Bray

The Petitioner, Bernard Woodard, was convicted of burglary, theft, and evading arrest. He later filed a petition for post conviction relief alleging various grounds, including that his lawyer was ineffective, that the jury was drawn from an unrepresentative venire, and that the prosecutor made improper comments during closing arguments regarding his right to remain silent. The post-conviction court summarily dismissed the petition, finding that the petition failed to state a colorable claim for relief. On appeal, the Petitioner challenges the dismissal of his petition. We hold that the post-conviction court properly dismissed claims that have been waived. However, we also hold that the Petitioner has stated colorable claims for relief by alleging sufficient facts showing that he was denied the effective assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel. As such, we respectfully remand these claims for the appointment of counsel and further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Putnam County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/04/22
State of Tennessee v. Lonnie Lynn Graves
E2021-00647-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Jill Bartee Ayers
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sandra Donaghy

Defendant, Lonnie Lynn Graves, pled guilty to possession of 26 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to sell or deliver, possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of a dangerous felony, and felon in possession of a firearm but specifically reserved a certified question of law pursuant to Rule 37(b)(2)(A) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. The question pertained to the legality of the search of Defendant’s vehicle during a traffic stop for speeding which was the subject of an unsuccessful suppression motion. Because the judgments failed to comply with the strict requirements of Rule 37(b)(2)(A), Defendant did not properly reserve a certified issue for review. As a result, we are without jurisdiction to review the merits of Defendant’s claim, and accordingly dismiss his appeal.

Monroe County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/04/22
Ruth Mitchell v. City of Franklin, Tennessee
M2021-00877-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff

This appeal is an action subject to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, in which a pedestrian suffered injuries after she tripped and fell on a sidewalk in Franklin, Tennessee.  The pedestrian filed a complaint claiming that the city was negligent.  After a bench trial, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the city and dismissed the case.  The pedestrian appeals.  We affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 10/04/22
State of Tennessee v. Ethan Newton Bean
E2021-01492-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tammy M. Harrington

The Defendant-Appellant, Ethan Newton Bean, pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault in case number C-26054 and one count of aggravated assault in case number C- 26203. The Defendant received consecutive five-year sentences for each count, to be served under supervised probation. He concedes on appeal that the trial court properly revoked his probation but contends that it abused its discretion in ordering the remainder of his sentence to be served in confinement. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 10/03/22
In Re Joshua M. Et Al.
E2021-01527-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brad Lewis Davidson

Grandparents filed a petition in juvenile court seeking to terminate a mother’s parental rights. When the mother failed to file an answer to the petition, the grandparents filed a motion for default judgment. After hearing arguments on the motion and receiving evidence on the termination petition, the court granted the motion for default judgment and entered an order terminating the mother’s parental rights based on the grounds of (1) abandonment by failure to support, (2) persistence of conditions, and (3) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody and financial responsibility of the children. The court also determined termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. We affirm the abandonment by failure to support ground but reverse the other two grounds. Concluding that the juvenile court failed to make sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding its best interest analysis, we vacate the court’s decision that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the best interest of the children and remand for further findings.

Cocke County Court of Appeals 10/03/22
Rhynuia L. Barnes v. State of Tennessee
M2022-00367-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Kyle A. Hixson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

The petitioner, Rhynuia L. Barnes, who was convicted of first degree premediated murder, appeals the summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction fingerprint analysis.  The petitioner argues that fingerprint analysis of his deceased father’s palm print would prove his innocence if his father’s print were a match to the unidentified palm print discovered on the murder weapon.  After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/30/22
State of Tennessee v. Johnny Dewayne Boyd
M2021-01057-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Jill Bartee Ayers
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

Defendant, Johnny DeWayne Boyd, was convicted by a jury of rape of a child and incest.  The trial court imposed an effective thirty-year sentence in the Department of Correction.  On appeal, Defendant contends (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss based on the State’s failure to file a bill of particulars, and (2) that he was prejudiced by the trial court’s denial of his motion to continue the trial due to a court security officer testing positive for COVID-19 and the trial court’s failure to comply with the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Order on COVID-19 protocol.  After a careful review of the record, we conclude that Defendant failed to file a timely motion for new trial before the trial court.  Additionally, Defendant failed to file a timely notice of appeal.  Because the record does not support this court’s waiver of the untimely notice of appeal, we dismiss Defendant’s appeal. 

Giles County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/30/22
Dale Vinson Merritt v. State of Tennessee
E2021-01095-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

The petitioner, Dale Vinson Merritt, appeals the denial of his petitions for post-conviction relief, which petitions challenged his convictions of delivery of less than 15 grams of heroin within a drug-free zone in case number 114585 and possession with intent to sell or deliver more than 15 grams of heroin in case number 114584, alleging that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel. Discerning no error, we affirm the denial of postconviction relief.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/30/22
Danny Ray Franks, et al. v. Roger Bilbrey, et al.
M2021-00766-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This appeal concerns an alleged breach of contract.  Danny Ray Franks (“Mr. Franks”) and his spouse Angela May Franks (“Ms. Franks”) (“Plaintiffs,” collectively) hired Roger Bilbrey (“Mr. Bilbrey”) and Bilbrey’s Construction, Inc. (“Defendants,” collectively) to build a “barndominium,” a metal building that looks like a barn with a stained-concrete floor, garage, and living quarters.  The parties’ contract (“the Agreement”), which was drafted by Mr. Bilbrey, provided that work would start immediately and be completed by Thanksgiving of 2018.  However, the project was not completed by that date.  Some five months later, the project still was unfinished.  Plaintiffs then fired Defendants.  Plaintiffs sued Defendants in the Chancery Court for Overton County (“the Trial Court”) for breach of contract.  The Trial Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor.  Defendants appeal.  We hold that time was of the essence under the Agreement.  We further find that Defendants committed a material breach of the Agreement by failing to timely complete Plaintiffs’ barndominium.  We affirm. 

Overton County Court of Appeals 09/30/22
State of Tennessee v. Daryl Bobo
W2021-00811-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

Defendant, Daryl Bobo, appeals the trial court’s summary dismissal of a motion filed pursuant to Rule 36 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure in which Defendant challenged the legality of his effective 60-year sentence as a Range III, persistent offender resulting from multiple drug-related convictions. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/22
State of Tennessee v. Jeffrey Lloyd Locke
M2021-01437-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. Campbell, Sr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

The Defendant, Jeffrey Lloyd Locke, was convicted in the Warren County Circuit Court of felony evading arrest in a motor vehicle and received a three-year sentence to be served as one hundred days in jail followed by supervised probation. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction because the proof does not show that his attempted arrest was lawful and that he is entitled to a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct during the State’s rebuttal closing argument. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Warren County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/22
State of Tennessee v. Jeffrey Lloyd Locke - M2021-01437-CCA-R3-CD
M2021-01437-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge:
Trial Court Judge:
Warren County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/29/22
Mark Steven Meadows et al. v. Sharon Kay Story et al.
M2020-00886-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

The members of a limited liability company, a father and his son, sought the LLC’s judicial dissolution.  Disagreements had surfaced between them, primarily over the ownership of assets and the value of their capital accounts.  Father and son were also pitted against each other in a separate lawsuit involving other business entities.  In the proceeding to dissolve the LLC, the trial court appointed a receiver to determine ownership of the assets.  The court approved the receiver’s report.  And, after a bench trial, the court found that father’s capital account was less than his son’s account.  In doing so, the court excluded evidence offered by father related to the separate lawsuit based on relevancy.  The court also excluded the testimony of an attorney based on the attorney-client privilege.  Finding no reversable error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/29/22
Ford Motor Credit Comp, LLC d/b/a Lincoln Automotive Financial Services v. Marjori Malone et al.
M2022-01182-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

The defendants have appealed from an order entered on July 25, 2022. Because the defendants did not file their notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the order as required by Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a), we dismiss the appeal.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/28/22
Gaines Richardson v. State of Tennessee
W2021-00981-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula L. Skahan

The Petitioner, Gaines Richardson, appeals the denial of post-conviction relief from his convictions for aggravated robbery, asserting that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel and that the evidence was insufficient to establish his convictions. After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/22
State of Tennessee v. Zachary Frank Farris
W2021-01400-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish

A Carroll County jury convicted Zachary Frank Farris, Defendant, of six counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court imposed a total effective sentence of 12 years’ confinement. Defendant did not file a motion for new trial. In this direct appeal, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, arguing that the State failed to prove that he was in constructive possession of the firearms. Additionally, Defendant asserts that the trial court erred by allowing a witness for the State to testify when the State failed to give defense counsel notice of the witness. Having reviewed the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Carroll County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/22
State of Tennessee v. Rickeena Hamilton
E2021-00409-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

Defendant, Rickeena Hamilton, appeals her convictions for second degree murder and tampering with evidence and her effective twenty-eight-year sentence. On appeal, Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support her conviction for second degree murder; (2) the State improperly introduced speculative and improper opinion testimony from fact witnesses; (3) the trial court erred in admitting evidence that Defendant declined to make a statement following her arrest; (4) the trial court issued multiple erroneous jury instructions; (5) the State made improper comments during closing arguments; (6) the trial court imposed an excessive sentence; and (7) the cumulative effect of the errors warrants relief. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/22
Sypriss Smith v. All Nations Church of God, et al.
W2021-00846-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

This case stems from a retaliatory discharge claim under the Tennessee Public Protection Act. The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded her $3,000.00 in compensatory damages and $12,500.00 in punitive damages. The trial court then awarded the plaintiff $12,500.00 of the over $100,000.00 in attorney’s fees she requested. Following a remand from this Court, the trial court increased the attorney’s fees award to $32,000.00. Discerning no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s second attorney’s fees award, we affirm. We also award the plaintiff her reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in prosecuting the first appeal.

Madison County Court of Appeals 09/28/22
Bill Charles v. Donna McQueen
M2021-00878-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

This case involves a lawsuit alleging claims of defamation and false light arising from an online review.  In response to the lawsuit, the defendant filed a petition under the Tennessee Public Participation Act to dismiss the lawsuit.  The trial court ultimately granted the petition and dismissed the case.  For the reasons stated herein, we affirm in part and reverse in part.   

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/28/22
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Leon Clark
E2021-00558-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

The Defendant, Christopher Leon Clark, was convicted by a Knox County Criminal Court jury of first degree premeditated murder, for which he is serving a life sentence. See T.C.A. § 39-13-202(a)(1) (2018) (subsequently amended). On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion for a hearing to determine whether the State complied with an alleged duty to present exculpatory evidence to the grand jury, (2) the court erred in denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress eyewitness identification testimony, and (3) cumulative error requires that he receive a new trial. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/28/22
In Re Aubree D.
M2021-01229-COA-R3-JV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This is a dependency and neglect case.  The child was taken into protective custody by Appellee Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) after an investigation revealed that the then ten-week-old child suffered approximately 15 bone breaks.  The Juvenile Court for Davidson County conducted a hearing and adjudicated the child dependent and neglected on its finding that Appellant, the child’s mother, had committed severe child abuse. Mother appealed to the Circuit Court for Overton County (“trial court”).  Following a de novo trial, the trial court held that mother perpetrated severe child abuse on the child.  Consequently, the trial court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected, and found that it was in the child’s best interest to remain in the custody of Appellee Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). Mother appeals. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Overton County Court of Appeals 09/28/22
Benjamin Owen v. State of Tennessee
W2021-01049-CCA-R3-CO
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The Defendant, Benjamin Owen, filed a petition for the return of seized property pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-709. The Defendant, however, has no appeal as of right under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 3. Because we have no subject matter jurisdiction, we dismiss the Defendant’s appeal.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/27/22