Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 11/28/2022
Format: 11/28/2022
State of Tennessee v. Jason Steven Molthan
M2021-01108-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Jason Steven Molthan, was convicted by a Williamson County Circuit Court jury of one count of stalking and one count of harassment. The trial court imposed consecutive sentences of eleven months and twenty-nine days at seventy-five percent service. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court should have merged his convictions and that the trial court erred by failing to file a consecutive sentencing order pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 32(c). Upon our review, we conclude that the Defendant has failed to provide this Court with an adequate appellate record and has not prepared a sufficient brief. Because we cannot conduct a meaningful appellate review of his issues, we conclude that the issues are waived. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/28/22
In Re Cayson C., Et Al.
E2022-00448-COA-R3-PT

This appeal concerns the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Grainger County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to terminate the parental rights of Pamela C. (“Mother”) to her minor children Cayson S.-C. and Chaston C. (“the Children,” collectively). After a hearing on the termination petition, the Juvenile Court entered an order terminating Mother’s parental rights to the Children. Mother appeals. We vacate the ground of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody because the Juvenile Court failed to make specific findings regarding the second prong of that ground. We find that all other grounds found by the Juvenile Court were proven by clear and convincing evidence. We find further, as did the Juvenile Court, that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the Children’s best interest. We affirm as modified.

Grainger County Court of Appeals 11/28/22
Suzanne R. Vance v. Sally Ann Blue et al.
M2021-00064-COA-R3-CV
Co-owners sought partition of their real property. They agreed that the property, a singlefamily
home, could not be partitioned in kind. But they disagreed on the appropriate
remedy. One owner asked the court to order a public sale and divide the proceeds between
the parties. The other owner sought permission to buy out her co-owner’s interest. The
court declined to order a sale. Instead, based on the equities, it directed one owner to buy
out the other owner’s interest at a fixed price. Because the court’s decision contravened
the partition statutes, we reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand for further proceedings.
Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/28/22
In Re Melvin M. et al.
M2021-01319-COA-R3-PT
A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his two children. The juvenile
court concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence of five statutory grounds for
terminating his parental rights. The court also concluded that there was clear and
convincing evidence that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the children’s
best interest. On appeal, although we conclude that there is not clear and convincing
evidence to support three of the grounds, clear and convincing evidence supports the
remaining grounds for termination and the best interest determination. So we affirm.
Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/28/22
Lorenta Hogue v. P&C Investments, Inc. et al.
M2021-01335-COA-R3-CV

This is an appeal from a jury verdict holding a real estate agent liable for common law negligence, intentional misrepresentation and fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and violation of the Tennessee Real Estate Broker License Act for his failure to disclose flooding and water intrusion issues at a home he had listed for sale. The jury awarded the plaintiff, a first-time home buyer, compensatory and punitive damages. The real estate agent appeals the jury’s verdict holding him liable for intentional misrepresentation and fraud, the admission of certain expert testimony, the admission of opposing counsel’s alleged prejudicial statements during closing argument, the amount of compensatory damages, and the award of and amount of punitive damages. Finding that the trial court failed to follow the appropriate procedures in reviewing the jury’s award of punitive damages, we vacate the award of punitive damages and remand the case for further proceedings. In all other respects, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/23/22
State of Tennessee v. Courtney Watkins
W2022-00411-CCA-R3-CD

The petitioner, Courtney Watkins, appeals from the summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction DNA analysis. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the postconviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/23/22
Roddarous Marcus Bond v. State of Tennessee
W2022-00221-CCA-R3-PC

The pro se petitioner, Roddarous Marcus Bond, appeals the summary denial of his petition for post-conviction relief by the Madison County Circuit Court, arguing the trial court erred in dismissing his petition because his sentence is illegal. After our review, we affirm the summary dismissal of the petition pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/23/22
State of Tennessee v. Betty Sparks
W2021-01213-CCA-R3-CD

A Hardeman County jury convicted the defendant, Betty Sparks, of first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault with serious bodily injury, and attempted especially aggravated robbery, for which she received an effective sentence of life imprisonment. On appeal, the defendant argues the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress. She also contends the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support her convictions. After reviewing the record and considering the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court. However, we remand the case for corrected judgment forms in counts one and two

Hardeman County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/23/22
Martigous Malone v. State of Tennessee
W2022-00018-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Martigous Malone, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received the effective assistance of counsel and entered a voluntary guilty plea. Following our review, we affirm the postconviction court’s denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/23/22
State of Tennessee v. Larry Dale Pitts
M2021-01334-CCA-R3-CD

Larry Dale Pitts, Defendant, was convicted of aggravated assault after a jury trial. The trial court denied his request for judicial diversion and sentenced him to split confinement, with one year of incarceration, and the remainder on supervised probation. He now appeals the sentencing determinations of the trial court, arguing that it abused its discretion in denying judicial diversion, denying full probation, and sentencing him to the maximum within-range sentence of six years. After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/22/22
In Re Masson S.
E2021-01196-COA-R3-PT

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate a mother’s parental rights to her son based on abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, abandonment by an incarcerated parent, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, failure to remedy persistent conditions, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of the child. The trial court granted the petition, finding that the five statutory grounds were proven by clear and convincing evidence and that terminating the mother’s parental rights is in the best interests of the child. We affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 11/22/22
In Re Legion S.
E2021-01198-COA-R3-PT

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate a mother’s parental rights to her daughter based on severe child abuse and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of the child. The trial court granted the petition, finding that the two statutory grounds were proven by clear and convincing evidence and that terminating the mother’s parental rights is in the best interests of the child. We affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 11/22/22
In Re: Joseph H. Crabtree, Jr., BPR #011451
M2022-00339-SC-BAR-BP
This is an attorney discipline proceeding concerning Tennessee attorney Joseph H.
Crabtree, Jr. and his representation of several clients with varying legal issues. The Board
of Professional Responsibility ("the Boare) filed formal petitions for discipline against
Mr. Crabtree in February 2019. A Hearing Panel of the Board ("Hearing Panel")
adjudicated the petitions and rendered a judgment suspending Mr. Crabtree for two years
and ordering him to serve six months as active suspension and the remainder on probation.
It also directed Mr. Crabtree to pay restitution to two clients, to reimburse one client for
any costs assessed against her upon the dismissal of her case, and to reimburse the
Tennessee Lawyers Fund for Client Protection ("TLFCP") for any money it pays to the
complainants in this matter. Mr. Crabtree failed to perfect an appeal from the Hearing
Panel's decision, and the Board petitioned this Court for an order enforcing the Hearing
Panel's judgment. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, sections 15.4(d) and (e),
we determined that the punishment imposed by the Hearing Panel appeared inadequate.
Thus, we proposed to increase it. Based on our careful consideration of the entire record,
"with a view to attaining uniformity of punishment throughout the State and
appropriateness of punishment under the circumstances of each particular case," we modify
the judgment of the Hearing Panel to impose a three-year suspension, with one year served
as active suspension and the remainder on probation. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 15.4(b), (d).
During the first year of the probationary period, Mr. Crabtree shall engage a practice
monitor at his own expense to supervise his compliance with trust account rules and office
management procedures in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section
12.9. Finally, as a condition of reinstatement, Mr. Crabtree shall complete twelve hours of
continuing legal education ("CLE"), with six hours focused on ethics and six hours on law
office management, in addition to the annual fifteen-hour CLE requirement. In all other
respects, including payment of restitution to his clients and reimbursement to TLFCP, the
decision of the Hearing Panel is affirmed.
McMinn County Supreme Court 11/22/22
Darin Woods v. State of Tennessee
W2021-01332-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Darin Woods, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for attempted second degree murder, attempted aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, for which he is serving an effective twenty-seven year sentence. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred in denying relief on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/22/22
Randolyn Laferney v. Kim Livesay Et Al
E2021-00812-COA-R3-CV

Plaintiff Randolyn Laferney filed a tort action against several defendants, alleging causes of action for, inter alia, libel, civil conspiracy, and malicious prosecution. The allegations arose primarily out of social media comments and posts made by the defendants regarding Ms. Laferney. On December 10, 2020, the trial court dismissed the legal action as to some, but not all, of the defendants pursuant to Tennessee’s anti-SLAPP statute, the Tennessee Public Participation Act (“the TPPA” or “the Act”). Several months later, after the trial court awarded the dismissed defendants their attorney’s fees, Ms. Laferney appealed to this Court. Because we conclude that the notice of appeal was untimely pursuant to the TPPA, the appeal is dismissed.

Washington County Court of Appeals 11/22/22
City of Knoxville, Tennessee v. Netflix, Inc. et al.
M2021-01107-SC-R23-CV

This is a case about fitting new technology into a not-so-new statutory scheme. Exercising our power to answer questions certified to us by federal courts, we consider whether two video streaming services—Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC—provide “video service” within the meaning of a Tennessee law that requires such providers to obtain a franchise and pay franchise fees to localities. Netflix and Hulu say they do not provide “video service” and therefore do not owe franchise fees; the City of Knoxville says they do. We agree with Netflix and Hulu.

Supreme Court 11/22/22
State of Tennessee v. Tony Dale Crass
M2021-00528-CCA-R3-CD

The Williamson County Grand Jury indicted Tony Dale Crass, Defendant, with driving under the influence (DUI), DUI per se, and possession of a firearm while under the influence. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the State did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop and that video evidence of Defendant’s driving was erased and deleted as a result of a malfunctioning recording system in Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Trooper Joey Story’s patrol car. The trial court concluded that the loss of video evidence constituted a violation of the State’s duty to preserve potentially exculpatory evidence recognized in State v. Ferguson, 2 S.W.3d 912 (Tenn. 1999), and deprived Defendant of the right to a fair trial. The trial court granted the motion to suppress and dismissed the indictment, and the State appealed. We conclude that the video was not lost or destroyed by the State, (2) that a Ferguson violation is not applicable to a suppression hearing based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause for a traffic stop, (3) that the trial court misapplied the “degree of negligence” Ferguson factor by equating perceived public policy decisions on the part of the State to negligence, and (4) that Defendant’s right to a fair trial can be protected without dismissal of the indictment. We reverse the judgment of the trial court, reinstate the indictment, and remand for further proceedings.

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/22/22
In Re Estrella A. et al.
M2022-00163-COA-R3-PT
Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on five grounds, including severe
child abuse. Because we conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports the grounds
for termination and that termination is in the children’s best interests, we affirm.
Montgomery County Court of Appeals 11/21/22
Abraham A. Augustin v. Bradley County Sheriff's Office Et Al.
E2021-00345-COA-R3-CV

This is the second appeal of this forfeiture action. Appellant seeks the return of seized property and damages under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-33-215(b). In Augustin v. Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, et al., 598 S.W.3d 220 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 10, 2019), this Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Mr. Augustin’s claim for return of the seized property but remanded the case for further proceedings on the section 40-33- 215(b) question. The trial court denied Appellant’s request for damages under section 40- 33-215(b). Because Appellant is not a prevailing party, he does not meet the threshold requirement for an award of damages under section 40-33-215(b). Affirmed and remanded.

 

Bradley County Court of Appeals 11/21/22
Family Trust Services LLC et al v. Green Wise Homes LLC et al
M2021-01350-COA-R3-CV
This appeal involves claims by four plaintiffs against an attorney, his business partner,
and the attorney’s and partner’s limited liability company. The plaintiffs claim that the
defendants fraudulently redeemed properties sold via tax sales, utilizing forged or
fraudulent documents. Following a bifurcated jury trial, the plaintiffs’ claims were
dismissed except for the claim of one plaintiff against the attorney defendant, which
resulted in a verdict for damages in the amount of $53,450. The trial court subsequently
denied a motion for new trial filed by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs have appealed. Upon
thorough review, we conclude that the trial court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motion for
new trial should be reversed. However, we affirm the trial court’s pre-trial determination
that judgment on the pleadings was appropriate concerning the plaintiffs’ claims of unjust
enrichment and “theft” of the right of redemption. We further affirm (1) the trial court’s
grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants concerning the plaintiffs’ claim
based on Tennessee Code Annotated § 66-22-113 and (2) the court’s denial of the
defendant company’s motion to dissolve the lien lis pendens on its property. The
remaining issue raised by the defendants is pretermitted as moot. We remand this matter
to the trial court for a new trial.
Davidson County Court of Appeals 11/21/22
State of Tennessee v. Robert Lancaster Steed, Jr.
E2022-00145-CCA-R3-CD

In 2019, the Defendant, Robert Lancaster Steed, Jr., pleaded guilty to evading arrest, false imprisonment, domestic assault, and theft. The trial court sentenced the Defendant, by agreement of the parties, to an effective sentence of six years of probation. After several violations, the trial court ultimately revoked the Defendant’s probation and ordered him to serve his sentence in the Department of Correction. On appeal, the Defendant contends that his poor performance on probation was due to his drug addiction, so the trial court should have ordered a period of confinement followed by intensive outpatient substance abuse and mental health treatment. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 11/21/22
Sarah Boren v. David Wade, Jr.
W2020-01560-COA-R3-CV

This case involves a post-divorce modification of the parties’ parenting plan for their minor child. The trial court suspended Appellant/Father’s visitation. Because the trial court failed to make any findings concerning the child’s best interest, Tenn. R. Civ. P. 52.01, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-6-404(b), 36-6-106(a), we vacate the trial court’s order.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/18/22
Balmoral Shopping Center, LLC v. City of Memphis ET AL.
W2022-01488-COA-T10B-CV

This is an appeal of a trial judge’s denial of a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B motion for the recusal of the trial judge from the case. We affirm the trial court’s denial of the recusal motion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 11/18/22
State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker
E2018-01439-SC-R11-CD
Tyshon Booker challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee’s mandatory sentence of life
imprisonment when imposed on a juvenile homicide offender. In fulfilling our duty to
decide constitutional issues, we hold that an automatic life sentence when imposed on a
juvenile homicide offender with no consideration of the juvenile’s age or other
circumstances violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Mr. Booker stands convicted of
felony murder and especially aggravated robbery—crimes he committed when he was
sixteen years old. For the homicide conviction, the trial court automatically sentenced Mr.
Booker under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-501(h)(2) to life in prison, a
sixty-year sentence requiring at least fifty-one years of incarceration. But this sentence
does not square with the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Eighth
Amendment. When sentencing a juvenile homicide offender, a court must have discretion
to impose a lesser sentence after considering the juvenile’s age and other circumstances.
Here, the court had no sentencing discretion. In remedying this constitutional violation, we
exercise judicial restraint. We need not create a new sentencing scheme or resentence Mr.
Booker—his life sentence stands. Rather, we follow the policy embodied in the federal
Constitution as explained in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190 (2016) and grant Mr.
Booker an individualized parole hearing where his age and other circumstances will be
properly considered. The timing of his parole hearing is based on release eligibility in the
unrepealed version of section 40-35-501(h)(1), previously in effect, that provides for a term
of sixty years with release eligibility of sixty percent, but not less than twenty-five years
of service. Thus, Mr. Booker remains sentenced to sixty years in prison, and after he has
served between twenty-five and thirty-six years, he will receive an individualized parole
hearing where his age and other circumstances will be considered. Our limited ruling,
applying only to juvenile homicide offenders, promotes the State’s interest in finality and
efficient use of resources, protects Mr. Booker’s Eighth Amendment rights, and is based
on sentencing policy enacted by the General Assembly.
Knox County Supreme Court 11/18/22
State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker (Concur)
E2018-01439-SC-R11-CD
Not so long ago, it was commonplace for states to require juveniles convicted of
homicide to serve sentences of over fifty years. Now, that practice has vanished. A review
of sentencing statutes enacted by state legislatures and court decisions shows that there is
now only one state where juvenile offenders face a mandatory non-aggregated sentence of
more than 50 years for first-degree murder with no aggravating factors—Tennessee. In the
entirety of the nation, Tennessee stands alone.
Knox County Supreme Court 11/18/22