Court Opinions

Format: 06/28/2022
Format: 06/28/2022
David Simpkins et al. v. John Maher Builders, Inc. et al.
M2021-00487-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James G. Martin, III

In this action concerning a newly-constructed home, the plaintiffs asserted,inter alia, claims of breach of contract, breach of warranty, fraud, intentional misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, negligence, and unfair and deceptive business practices by the defendant construction company and its owners.  The trial court granted a motion to dismiss filed by the defendants based upon expiration of the three-year statute of limitations applicable to claims of injury to real property.  We determine that although the trial court properly applied the three-year statute of limitations to the plaintiffs’ claims of injury to their real property, the trial court improperly determined that the doctrine of fraudulent concealment would not apply to toll the accrual of such limitations period concerning the plaintiffs’ claims for damages caused by the defendants’ failure to seal the utility penetrations beneath the home, a fact which allegedly was concealed by the defendants.  We also determine that the plaintiffs stated claims of breach of contract, including breach of any express or implied warranties provided by the contract, and that the trial court improperly dismissed these claims based on the incorrect statute of limitations.  We therefore vacate the trial court’s dismissal of the breach of contract and contractual warranty claims, as well as the claims based on the defendants’ failure to seal the utility penetrations, and we remand those claims to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.  We affirm the remaining portion of the trial court’s judgment in its entirety.  

Williamson County Court of Appeals 05/04/22
Randy Oscar Blakeney v. State of Tennessee
E2021-00508-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle A. Hixson

The Petitioner, Randy Oscar Blakeney, pled guilty in the Knox County Criminal Court to first degree murder and especially aggravated robbery and received a sentence of life plus forty years in confinement. Subsequently, he filed a petition requesting DNA analysis of evidence pursuant to the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001. The post-conviction court summarily denied the petition, and the Petitioner appeals. Based upon our review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/03/22
State of Tennessee v. Larry Donnell Higgins, Jr. - Concur in Part/Dissent in Part
W2021-00316-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Jill Bartee Ayers
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

I agree with the majority’s conclusion that the evidence sufficiently supports the jury’s verdict. However, I respectfully dissent from the majority’s holding that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Defendant’s motion for a mistrial. As noted by the majority, the decision to enter a mistrial rests within the trial court’s discretion. State v. Bell, 512 S.W.3d 167, 187 (Tenn. 2015); State v. Reid, 91 S.W.3d 247, 279 (Tenn. 2002). “This court will not interfere with the trial court’s decision absent an abuse of discretion.” State v. Jones, 568 S.W.3d 101, 126 (Tenn. 2019) (quoting Bell, 512 S.W.3d at 187). A mistrial should only be declared if there is manifest necessity. State v. Saylor, 117 S.W.3d 239, 250 (Tenn. 2003). Manifest necessity arises “when a trial cannot continue, or a miscarriage of justice would result if it did.” State v. Land, 34 S.W.3d 516, 527 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2000). “The purpose for declaring a mistrial is to correct damage done to the judicial process when some event has occurred which precludes an impartial verdict.” State v. Williams, 929 S.W.2d 385, 388 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1996). The party seeking a mistrial has the burden of establishing its necessity. State v. Banks, 271 S.W.3d 90, 137 (Tenn. 2008).

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/02/22
State of Tennessee v. Larry Donnell Higgins, Jr.
W2021-00316-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

Aggrieved of his Madison County Circuit Court Jury convictions of simple possession of marijuana, possession with intent to deliver not less than one-half ounce of marijuana, possession of a firearm with intent to go armed during the commission of a dangerous felony, and possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a felony crime of violence, the defendant, Larry Donnell Higgins, Jr., appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the convicting evidence and the denial of his motion for a mistrial. Because the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion for mistrial, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and remand the case for a new trial.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/02/22
State of Tennessee v. Felipe Gonzalez-Martinez
E2021-00322-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

The defendant, Felipe Gonzalez-Martinez, appeals his Jefferson County Circuit Court Jury convictions of rape of a child, arguing that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress his pretrial statement to the police, by admitting into evidence a video recording of the interview that produced his statement, by admitting into evidence handwritten notes exchanged by the defendant and the victim, and by imposing consecutive sentences. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Jefferson County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/02/22
Billy James Matthews v. State of Tennessee
W2021-00898-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle C. Atkins

As the result of a guilty plea to rape and robbery entered over 18 years ago, Billy James Matthews, Petitioner, was sentenced to an effective sentence of ten years. See Billy James Matthews v. State, No. W2005-02939-CCA-R3-PC, 2006 WL 2843291 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 5, 2006), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Jan. 22, 2007). After the denial of habeas corpus relief, see Billy James Matthews v. Warden Glenn Turner, No. W2004-01547-CCA-R3- HC, 2005 WL 957112, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 26, 2005), and post-conviction relief, Billy James Matthews v. State, 2006 WL 2843291, at *1, Petitioner sought relief via the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001. The post-conviction court dismissed the petition without a hearing. Petitioner filed an untimely notice of appeal. Because the interests of justice do not mandate waiver of the timely filing of the notice of appeal, the appeal is dismissed.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/29/22
State of Tennessee v. Demario Quintez Driver
M2021-00538-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge David D. Wolfe

A Cheatham County jury convicted the Defendant, Demario Quintez Driver, of rape and coercion of a witness, and the trial court sentenced him to sixteen years in the Tennessee Department of Correction.  On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction for rape and that the State’s closing argument amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.  After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Cheatham County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/29/22
State of Tennessee v. Patti Elizabeth Smith
E2021-00394-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry Steelman

The defendant, Patti Elizabeth Smith, appeals the denial of her Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 35 motion to reduce the sentence imposed for her 2018 guilty-pleaded conviction of reckless endangerment. Because the defendant has served the entirety of her sentence and been released from custody, we dismiss the appeal as moot.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/29/22
State of Tennessee v. Jacady Dwight Terry
E2021-00406-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Sandra Donaghy

The Defendant, Jacady Dwight Terry, was convicted by a jury of violating the motor vehicle habitual offender (“MVHO”) law, for which he received a five-year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court erred (1) by admitting the MVHO order into evidence because it was void; (2) by concluding that the MVHO violation was a strict liability offense and declining to give a mens rea instruction; and (3) by refusing to apply the “lesser penalty” provision of the criminal savings statute to the Defendant’s sentence.1 Following our review, we affirm.

Monroe County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/29/22
Keveena Marie Martin Judzewitsch v. George Aaron Judzewitsch
E2022-00475-COA-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan

This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal as of right pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B section 2.02 from the trial court’s denial of a motion for recusal. We have determined the petition must be summarily dismissed due to numerous and substantive failures to comply with Rule 10B section 2.02, including the failure to file a copy of the motion for recusal, supporting documents filed in the trial court, and a copy of the trial court’s order denying recusal. Accordingly, the appeal is dismissed.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/29/22
In Re Andrew W. Et Al.
E2021-00868-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Janice Hope Snider

A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights to three of her children. The juvenile court terminated on grounds of substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, persistence of conditions, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility for her children. The court also determined that termination was in her children’s best interest. After a thorough review, we agree and affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 04/29/22
Pratik Pandharipande, MD. v. FSD Corporation
M2020-01174-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Middle Section Presiding Judge, Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

This is a dispute between a property owner and his homeowners’ association concerning the scope and applicability of restrictive covenants. Two restrictive covenants are at issue. One is a covenant contained in the neighborhood’s 1984 Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions that limited usage of the homes to residential use as “a residence by a single family.” The other is a covenant contained in a 2018 Amendment that relaxed the 1984 residential use restriction by authorizing short-term rentals of no less than 30 consecutive days, subject to specific criteria. The plaintiff, who purchased a home in the development in 2015 and has been leasing it on a short-term vacation rental basis to third parties as a business venture, seeks a declaratory judgment that he may lease his home for rentals as short as two days. For its part, the homeowners’ association seeks to enforce the restrictive covenants in the 1984 Declaration as well as the 2018 Amendment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the homeowners’ association on both issues. In doing so, the court held that restrictions in the 1984 Declaration prohibited non-residential renting. The court also held that Plaintiff’s current use of his property is subject to the 2018 Amendment, which authorized short-term leasing subject to stipulations including that “[t]the length of the lease must be for a minimum of 30 consecutive days.” The plaintiff appeals. We affirm.

DeKalb County Court of Appeals 04/29/22
Tyree B. Harris, IV v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2020-01113-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

In this appeal from attorney disciplinary proceedings, the hearing panel found that the attorney’s testimony about his income in a juvenile court proceeding to reduce his child support obligation violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 8.4(c).  The hearing panel said that the attorney’s answers were carefully crafted to give the appearance of literal truth but were in fact dishonest in that they intentionally omitted relevant information fairly called for in the questions.  The hearing panel found that the presumptive sanction was disbarment, but it reduced the sanction to a one-year suspension in light of the attorney’s prior unblemished forty-year legal career.  The attorney appealed the hearing panel’s decision to the circuit court, which affirmed.  The attorney now appeals to this Court.  He maintains that, in context, his answers were truthful and responsive to the specific questions asked, and that there was no violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  He also contends that the sanction imposed by the hearing panel is overly harsh and an abuse of discretion.  We affirm the trial court’s judgment upholding the hearing panel’s decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/29/22
State of Tennessee v. Arthur M. Stewart
M2021-00595-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brody N. Kane

The defendant, Arthur M. Stewart, appeals the order of the trial court revoking his probation and ordering him to serve his original four-year sentence in confinement.  Upon our review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the revocation of the defendant’s probation but reverse the trial court’s imposition of the original sentence and remand for the trial court to make findings concerning the consequence imposed for the revocation in accordance with State v. Craig Dagnan, --- S.W.3d ---, 2022 WL 627247 (Tenn. Mar. 4, 2022). 

Wilson County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/27/22
Damonta M. Meneese v. State of Tennessee
M2021-01137-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge J. Ross Dyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton

The petitioner, Damonta M. Meneese, appeals the post-conviction court’s dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding his petition untimely.  Upon our review of the record, the applicable law, and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the dismissal.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/27/22
Eric Todd Jackson v. State of Tennessee
M2021-00302-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. Campbell, Sr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge William R. Goodman, III

The Petitioner, Eric Todd Jackson, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief and the denial of his Rule 36.1 motion to correct an illegal sentence, arguing that his guilty pleas to forgery and theft of property were unknowing and involuntary due to the ineffective assistance of counsel and that his sentence was illegal because he was innocent of the offenses.  After review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.  

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/27/22
State of Tennessee v. Robbie Gibson
E2021-00769-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

A Campbell County jury convicted the Defendant, Robbie Gibson, of aggravated stalking, aggravated assault, and possession of a prohibited weapon. The trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of thirteen years to be served in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his conviction for possession of a prohibited weapon and that the trial court erred when it limited the length of his closing argument. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/27/22
State of Tennessee v. Alain Benitez
M2021-00073-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Brody N. Kane

Defendant, Alain Benitez, appeals his convictions for two counts of first degree felony murder and two counts of robbery, for which he received an effective sentence of two consecutive life sentences.  Defendant contends that: (1) the evidence presented at trial is insufficient to support his convictions; (2) the trial court erred by admitting into evidence messages sent between Defendant and his girlfriend through Facebook Messenger; (3) the trial court erred in admitting “forensic evidence”; and (4) the trial court abused its discretion by imposing consecutive sentences.  Upon review, we affirm Defendant’s convictions but reverse the imposition of consecutive sentencing and remand to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.  The new sentencing hearing is limited to consideration of the factors outlined in State v. Wilkerson, 905 S.W.2d 933 (Tenn. 1995), to determine the propriety of consecutive sentencing. 

Smith County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/27/22
Martin Holmes et al. v. David Karkau et al.
M2021-00696-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Middle Section Presiding Judge, Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This is an action to set aside a change of beneficiary on a term life insurance policy under Tennessee’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“the TUFTA”), Tennessee Code Annotated §§ 66-3-301 to -314. The challenged event was the change of beneficiary from the wife of the insured/owner to two of their adult children, the form for which was executed by the wife as the attorney-in-fact for the insured/owner and transmitted to the insurance company the day before the insured/owner died. In pertinent part, the complaint alleged that the defendants—the wife and two adult children of the deceased insured/owner of the insurance policy—“devised and orchestrated” a “fraudulent scheme . . . to eliminate assets owned by [the insured’s wife] in the event that Plaintiffs obtain a judgment against her” in a separate civil action. The complaint further alleged that “[t]he transfer of the beneficiary interest in the . . . insurance policy was a fraudulent transfer under T.C.A. § 66-3-305(a)(1) because it was made with the intent to hinder, delay or defraud Plaintiffs as creditors defined under the Act.” The trial court dismissed the action under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted under the TUFTA. We affirm.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 04/27/22
Barbara Matthews Law v. Halbert Grant Law, Jr.
E2021-00206-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton

On May 1, 1992, Barbara Matthews Law (“Wife”) and Halbert Grant Law, Jr. (“Husband”), executed a prenuptial agreement. They married the following day. Wife filed for divorce in the Chancery Court for Hamilton County in December of 2017. The parties disputed, inter alia, the enforceability of the prenuptial agreement, as well as the classification and division of several assets. Trial was held over multiple days in 2019 and 2020, and the trial court entered its final decree divorcing the parties on July 31, 2020. The trial court held that the prenuptial agreement was valid and enforceable, classified the parties’ assets, and divided the marital estate. Wife was awarded the parties’ family home and $4,500.00 per month in alimony in futuro. Husband appeals, challenging the classification of the parties’ home as marital property, as well as the classification of one bank account. Wife cross-appeals, challenging the enforceability of the prenuptial agreement and the classification of several assets. Wife also requests increased alimony. We affirm the trial court’s finding that the parties’ prenuptial agreement is valid and enforceable. We reverse the trial court’s classification of three assets – the parties’ home, a checking account, and an investment account. We vacate the trial court’s decision as to those three assets and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion. In light of the changes in classification of several major assets, we also vacate and remand the trial court’s award of alimony for reconsideration.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
Edna Gergel v. James Gergel
E2020-01534-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor M. Nichole Cantrell

In this divorce action, the husband appeals the trial court’s distribution of the marital estate, denial of the husband’s request for alimony in futuro, grant to the wife of sole decision-making authority over the parties’ minor child, and grants to the wife of attorney’s fees and discretionary costs. The husband, who received disability benefits for a prior mental health diagnosis, also appeals the trial court’s finding that he was voluntarily unemployed and the court’s denial of his motion to strike certain expert witness testimony. Having determined that an unspecified portion of the discretionary costs awarded to the wife for fees related to three expert witnesses, one vocational rehabilitation consultant and two psychiatrists, were not allowable under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.04(2), we vacate the trial court’s award of discretionary costs as to the fees for these three experts’ work with the exception of $2,070.00 in demonstrably allowable fees paid to the vocational consultant. We remand for a specific determination of the fees for these three experts allowable, if any, as an award of discretionary costs to the wife under Rule 54.04(2). We also modify the trial court’s award of discretionary costs to the wife for court reporter fees to reduce them slightly pursuant to Rule 54.04(2). We otherwise affirm the trial court’s judgment. We deny the wife’s request for an award of attorney’s fees on appeal.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
Caroline Harrill v. PI Tennessee, LLC et al.
M2021-00424-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell Parks

A guest sued a landlord for negligence after the guest was injured by a vicious animal while visiting the landlord’s tenant.  The landlord filed a motion for summary judgment that the trial court granted.  Because the undisputed facts establish that the landlord did not breach any duty owed to the guest, we affirm.

Giles County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
City of Memphis v. Beverly Prye
W2020-01716-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge:

This appeal involves an employment termination case in which an employee of the City of Memphis witnessed the signing of a will, but after the decedent’s death, the probate court determined that the will submitted to probate did not bear the genuine signature of the decedent. Following an administrative appeal, the Civil Service Commission for the City of Memphis unanimously affirmed the decision of termination. The employee filed a petition for judicial review with the chancery court. The chancery court reversed the termination of the employee finding that the Civil Service Commission’s decision to sustain her termination was arbitrary and capricious. The chancery court reinstated the employee with full backpay and benefits. The City of Memphis appeals. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
Xingkui Guo v. Jon David Rogers
M2020-01209-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal concerns a claim of legal malpractice.  Xingkui Guo (“Plaintiff”) filed a lawsuit for legal malpractice in the Circuit Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) against his former attorney Jon David Rogers (“Defendant”).  Defendant filed an answer denying Plaintiff’s allegations as well as a counterclaim alleging that Plaintiff failed to pay him in full pursuant to the terms of their agreement.  Defendant later filed motions for summary judgment as to both Plaintiff’s complaint against him and his counterclaim against Plaintiff.  The Trial Court granted Defendant’s motions for summary judgment.  Plaintiff appeals.  We hold, inter alia, that there is no genuine issue of material fact necessitating trial.  The undisputed material evidence shows that Plaintiff’s loss in the underlying lawsuit was not due to negligence in Defendant’s representation.  The undisputed material evidence shows further that Plaintiff breached his retainer agreement with Defendant by failing to pay him in full pursuant to the terms of the agreement.  We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/26/22
State of Tennessee v. Jackie Dean Miller
M2020-01393-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

The Defendant, Jackie Dean Miller, was convicted by a Marshall County Circuit Court jury of aggravated burglary, a Class C felony, and two counts of theft of property valued at $10,000 or more but less than $60,000, a Class C felony.  See T.C.A. §§ 39-14-403 (2018) (subsequently repealed, replaced by § 39-14-1003 (Supp. 2021)) (aggravated burglary), 39-14-103 (2018) (theft), 39-14-105 (2018) (subsequently amended) (grading of theft).  The trial court merged the theft convictions and imposed an effective ten-year sentence to be served in the Department of Correction.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that:  (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions, (2) he was denied a fair trial because jurors may have seen the Defendant in a sheriff’s car, and (3) the trial court abused its discretion in imposing consecutive sentences.  We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Marshall County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/25/22