Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 03/03/2021
Format: 03/03/2021
Tawana S. Wilson v. Timothy L. Wilson

A husband never answered his wife’s complaint for divorce, and the trial court entered a default against him. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted the wife a divorce, divided the marital estate, and awarded the wife alimony. On appeal, the husband faults the court for denying his motion to set aside the final decree, for its valuation and division of the marital estate, and for its alimony award. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/11/21
Elijah "LIJ" Shaw Et Al. v. Metropolitan Government Of Nashville And Davidson County

Two homeowners filed suit against a metropolitan government challenging a metropolitan code provision that prevented them from serving customers at their home-based businesses. The trial court granted summary judgment to the metropolitan government. After the homeowners filed this appeal, the metropolitan council repealed the challenged code provision and enacted a new provision allowing certain home-based businesses to serve up to six clients a day. We have determined that, in light of the metropolitan government’s enactment of the new ordinance, this appeal is moot.      

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/11/21
David Louis Way v. State of Tennessee

The Petitioner, David Louis Way, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for burglary, theft over $1000, vandalism over $1000, and possession of burglary tools. He asserts that his right to due process was violated at trial because he was ordered to wear leg restraints, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. After review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Sevier County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/10/21
Tracy Marie Haltom v. Gregory Wayne Haltom

The trial court granted a wife’s complaint for divorce and divided the marital assets between the parties. The wife appealed, claiming that the trial court erred in classifying and dividing the marital assets. We affirm the trial court’s classification and distribution of the marital property in all respects.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/10/21
Katherine Marie Lugo v. Hector Santiago Lugo

This is an appeal from post-divorce litigation between parents. The only issues raised on appeal relate to the awards of attorney’s fees and guardian ad litem fees. Due to inconsistencies and a lack of findings in the final order, we vacate and remand for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/10/21
Janieka Ellington v. Cajun Operating Company, et al.

This case involves a claim for personal injuries that were sustained by a customer of a fast food restaurant. The restaurant’s manager burned the customer with hot grease following an altercation between the manager and the customer’s boyfriend. Thereafter, the customer brought a vicarious liability claim against the owner and operator of the restaurant based on the manager’s actions. After initial discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the manager acted outside of the scope of her employment by throwing the hot grease at the plaintiff. The trial court agreed and granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, dismissing the plaintiff’s claims. Plaintiff appealed. We affirm the trial court’s decision and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/10/21
Lisa M. Aazad v. Johney B. Aazad

Pursuant to the requirements of Rule 13(b) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Court directed the appellant to show cause why this appeal should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction after it became clear that there was no final judgment from which an appeal as of right would lie.

Knox County Court of Appeals 02/09/21
Christa Lambert Karr, Et Al. v. Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital Et Al.

This appeal concerns the dismissal of a health care liability action against Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, Saint Thomas Health, and Ascension Health. The trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice on the ground the statute of limitation, through the application of the discovery rule, barred all of the claims. The plaintiffs appealed. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/09/21
Yolanda Carter v. Maurice Butler

The parties dispute the meaning of a one-page written agreement. Appellee asserts the agreement entitled her to purchase a piece of real property over a four-and-a-half-year lease term, with her rental payments and a non-refundable down payment going toward the purchase price. In contrast, Appellant asserts that Appellee was entitled to purchase the property after the four-and-a-half-year lease term, with credit for her down payment but not her monthly rental payments. Given the ambiguity of the agreement, we defer to the trial court’s interpretation and affirm its holding that Appellee purchased the property by the conclusion of the contract’s term.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/09/21
State of Tennessee v. Anthony Ellis

The Defendant, Anthony Ellis, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of first degree felony murder, attempted first degree premediated murder, a Class A felony, and attempted especially aggravated robbery, a Class B felony. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-202 (2018) (subsequently amended) (first degree murder); 39-13-403 (2018) (especially aggravated robbery); 39-12-101 (2018) (criminal attempt). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to concurrent terms of life imprisonment for felony murder, eighteen years for attempted premeditated murder, and ten years for attempted especially aggravated robbery. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his felony murder conviction and (2) the trial court erred by admitting evidence in violation of Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b). We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/09/21
Michael A. Rodgers v. State of Tennessee

The Petitioner, Michael A. Rodgers, appeals from the Madison County Circuit Court’s dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for possession of heroin with intent to deliver and possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and his effective sentence of twenty-two years as a Range III, persistent offender. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred in denying relief on his ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/09/21
State of Tennessee v. Rickey La Ron Houston Church (In re 911 Bail Bonding, LLC, Surety)

On July 16, 2019, the trial court entered a final judgment in the amount of $50,000 against Appellant, 911 Bail Bonding, LLC, and Defendant, Rickey La Ron Houston-Church. Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal from the final judgment. Appellant then filed two motions in the trial court to exonerate bond. Following a hearing on the motions, the trial court “set aside” the $50,000 forfeiture in the final judgment and “reduced” the forfeiture to $15,000. On appeal, Appellant claims that the trial court abused its discretion “by not analyzing fault” when it only reduced the forfeiture to $15,000. We determine that the trial court lost subject matter jurisdiction to amend or modify its final judgment when Appellant filed a notice of appeal seeking relief from that judgment. Because Appellant failed to set forth any argument whatsoever regarding the final judgment, we affirm the July 16, 2019 final judgment.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/08/21
In Re Ta'Korria P. Et Al.

Two parents have appealed from a final order terminating their parental rights. Because neither parent filed their notice of appeal with the clerk of this Court within thirty days after entry of the final order as required by Rule 4(a) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, we dismiss the appeal.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 02/08/21
State of Tennessee v. Daquan H. Fields

A jury found Defendant, Daquan H. Fields, guilty of felony murder, aggravated robbery, and reckless homicide. The reckless homicide conviction merged with the felony murder conviction, and Defendant received a life sentence. Defendant received a twelve-year sentence for the aggravated robbery conviction, to be served consecutively to the life sentence. On appeal, Defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions. Defendant further argues that the trial court erred in ordering his twelve-year sentence for aggravated robbery to be served consecutively to the life sentence. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/08/21
Jack W. Gibbons Et Al. v. Kyle Bennett Et Al.

This case involves the sale of a closely held corporation among family members and enforcement of the parties’ agreement relative thereto. The trial court determined, inter alia, that certain assets were the personal assets of the former corporate shareholders and did not pass with the sale of the corporation. The trial court also determined that the new sole shareholder of the corporation could not recover expenditures of corporate funds that were allegedly for the former shareholders’ personal use when they owned the corporation. The trial court further determined that although one of the former shareholders had violated a covenant not to compete contained in the parties’ sale agreement, the plaintiffs had failed to prove that such violation was the cause of the corporation’s lost profits following the sale. The plaintiffs timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Knox County Court of Appeals 02/08/21
Kevin Taylor v. State of Tennessee

In 2016, the Petitioner, Kevin Taylor, entered Alford pleas to three counts of aggravated robbery and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The trial court sentenced him to an effective eight-year sentence. The Petitioner filed a petition for postconviction relief, claiming that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel, which the post-conviction court denied after a hearing. We affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/08/21
Sredrick Cortavious Woodruff v. State of Tennessee

The petitioner, Sredrick (Cedric) Cortavious Woodruff, appeals the denial of his postconviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding he received the effective assistance of counsel prior to and during his guilty plea hearing. After our review of the record, briefs, and applicable law, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Henderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/08/21
State of Tennessee v. Danny Deberry

A Lauderdale County jury convicted Danny Deberry (“Defendant”) of second degree murder, and the trial court imposed a sentence of thirty years’ incarceration. On appeal, Defendant asserts that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support his conviction and that the trial court imposed an excessive sentence. Following a thorough review, we determine that the evidence was sufficient for any rational trier of fact to find Defendant guilty of second degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant. Accordingly, Defendant’s conviction for second degree murder is affirmed.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/08/21
In Re Kayden A., et al.

Mother, who physically abused two of her children and pled guilty to an eight-year sentence for attempted aggravated child abuse, appeals the termination of her parental rights. We affirm the grounds for termination as well as the trial court’s best interest finding.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/05/21
Reliant Bank v. Kelly D. Bush, Et Al.

This is the fourth appeal involving this particular dispute. In this case, the trial court dismissed a motion filed by the defendants seeking relief from a final judgment as an independent action under Rule 60.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. Because we conclude that an independent action was improper under the circumstances of this case, we affirm the trial court’s ruling on different grounds. 

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/05/21
Abbie Joseph Howell v. Lauren Elizabeth (Bond) Howell

This appeal concerns a prenuptial agreement that protected each spouse’s premarital property and waived the right to alimony. The couple signed the agreement on the day it was drafted, 11 days before their wedding. Seven years later, after the husband filed for divorce, the wife sought to set aside the agreement, asserting that she did not sign it knowledgeably and freely. The wife alleged that the husband took her to the attorney’s office without notice or an opportunity to seek independent counsel. The trial court concluded that the agreement was valid because the couple lived together for six years before getting engaged, the wife knew the husband would not marry her without a prenuptial agreement, and the wife was not pressured or coerced into signing the agreement. We affirm.

Cannon County Court of Appeals 02/05/21
In Re Mattie L.

In this parental termination case, we review the trial court’s application of the missing witness rule to a party in a non-jury trial, the trial court’s reliance on the doctrine of unclean hands, and whether the trial court erred in terminating parental rights on the grounds of abandonment. A mother and stepfather petitioned the trial court to terminate a father’s parental rights and allow the stepfather to adopt the child. The trial court terminated the father’s parental rights based on a finding of abandonment by willful failure to support, willful failure to make reasonable or consistent support payments, and willful failure to visit. The trial court also found termination was in the child’s best interest. In reaching these conclusions, the trial court presumed that because the father—a missing witness—did not appear for trial, his testimony would have been unfavorable to him. In addition, the trial court ruled that under the doctrine of unclean hands, the father should be “repelled at the courthouse steps” because he made false statements in his interrogatory answers. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding the trial court erred by applying the missing witness rule in a non-jury trial and by applying the doctrine of unclean hands. The Court of Appeals also held the mother and stepfather’s evidence of abandonment was less than clear and convincing. We hold: (1) the missing witness rule may apply in a non-jury trial, although here the trial court misapplied the rule; (2) the trial court erred in applying the doctrine of unclean hands to the father because he was defending against a petition for statutory relief while seeking no equitable relief, and his alleged misconduct was collateral to the issue of abandonment; and (3) the evidence of abandonment was not clear and convincing. Thus, we hold the trial court erred in terminating the father’s parental rights. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and dismiss the petition to terminate the father’s parental rights.

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/05/21
Kenneth Washington v. City of Memphis Civil Service Commission

This appeal arises from a petition for judicial review of a decision of the City of Memphis Civil Service Commission. The appellant was terminated from his employment with the City after he was found to have violated two sections of the city’s disciplinary policy. The Civil Service Commission upheld his termination. The appellant then sought judicial review in chancery court. After reviewing the record, the chancery court likewise upheld termination. The appellant appealed to this Court. Discerning no error, we affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/05/21
Sarah Perkins Chambers v. Joshua Timothy Chambers

This appeal arises from the modification of a parenting plan in a post-divorce action, upon a petition filed by the minor child’s father. We reverse the trial court’s finding that the mother moved more than fifty miles from the father and find that the parental relocation statute, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108, does not apply in this case. We have determined that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that there was a material change of circumstances under Tennessee Code Annotated
§ 36-6- 101(a)(2)(C) and that modification of the parenting schedule was in the best interest of the child. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s order in all other respects.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 02/04/21
David Chase v. Chris Stewart, Et Al.

A trial court held two attorneys in contempt, assessing damages and sanctions against them. Shortly before another hearing in which the court was to consider a supplemental award of attorney’s fees, the judge of the trial court made comments in an unrelated case about one of the attorneys held in contempt. That attorney moved to recuse based, in part, on the judge’s comments. The trial court denied the motion to recuse and later entered a supplemental order of damages against the attorneys. Because the judge’s comments provide a reasonable basis for questioning his impartiality, we reverse the denial of the motion to recuse. And because retroactive recusal is appropriate, we also vacate the contempt and damages orders.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/04/21