Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 04/18/2021
Format: 04/18/2021
Dwight Morisch v. Ryann Maenner, et al.
W2020-00362-COA-R3-JV

A grandfather filed a petition to obtain visitation with his grandchild. The trial court granted the petitioner relief, and the child’s mother appeals. The grandfather did not allege, and the proof did not establish, that the mother had opposed or severely reduced the grandfather’s visitation before the petition was filed. We, therefore, reverse the trial court’s judgment and dismiss the case.

Haywood County Court of Appeals 03/23/21
Dwight Morisch v. Ryann Maenner, et al. - Dissent
W2020-00362-COA-R3-JV

Respectfully, I must dissent from the majority’s decision to reverse the trial court’s order granting visitation to the grandfather in this case. At the outset, I emphasize that the scope of this appeal is very narrow. On appeal, Mother raised only the issues of whether she had opposed visitation and whether Grandfather had proven that severance of the relationship with the child would occasion substantial harm to the child.

Haywood County Court of Appeals 03/23/21
State of Tennessee v. Ricky L. Helmick, Jr.
E2019-02101-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Ricky L. Helmick, Jr., appeals his Hamblen County Criminal Court jury convictions of theft of property valued at more than $1,000 but not more than $2,500 and aggravated kidnapping to facilitate theft, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamblen County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/23/21
State of Tennessee v. John Curtis Perry Sr. and Ashley N. Hankins
M2019-01311-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendants, John Curtis Perry, Sr., and Ashley Nicole Hankins, appeal their convictions for three counts of felony murder for which they were sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal, the Defendants, either individually or collectively, argue that: (1) the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions; (2) the trial court erred in granting and denying various requests to continue the trial; (3) the trial court erroneously admitted evidence of prior bad acts; (4) the trial court erred in limiting the crossexamination of a witness; (5) the trial court erred in excluding a co-defendant’s statement; (6) the trial court erred in instructing the jury regarding the concealment and destruction of evidence; (7) the prosecutor made improper comments during rebuttal closing arguments; and (8) cumulative error warrants relief. Upon reviewing the record, the parties’ briefs, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court. However, we remand for entry of corrected judgments reflecting merger of the felony murder convictions into one conviction for each of the Defendants.

Stewart County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/23/21
Ricky L. Boren, et al. v. Hill Boren, PC, et al.
W2019-02235-CCA-R3-CV

This appeal involves several raised issues surrounding the ownership of the Hill Boren, PC law firm. Because the record transmitted to us on appeal evidences the lack of a final judgment, we dismiss the appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Madison County Court of Appeals 03/23/21
Arthur Woods v. Adam Arthur, M.D., et al.
W2019-01936-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns the dismissal of a health care liability action for failure to comply with a pre-suit notice content requirement in Tenn. Code Ann. § 26-29-121(a)(2). The trial court determined that the plaintiff failed to provide the defendant doctors and hospital with medical authorization forms that would permit pre-suit investigation of his claims. The plaintiff contends the dismissal was unwarranted because the medical authorizations substantially complied with the statute and the defendants already had the relevant records. The defendants argue that the forms were invalid because they lacked several required elements, including a description of the purpose for which the records could be disclosed and used. We affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/23/21
State of Tennessee v. Torsaunt Lamont Shanklin
M2019-01896-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Torsaunt Lamont Shanklin, was charged with drug and firearm offenses after those items were discovered during a search of his motel room. The Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the officers lacked probable cause for a search warrant based solely on the smell of marijuana coming from the room. The trial court denied the suppression motion. A jury convicted the Defendant of one count each of possession with the intent to manufacture, sell, or deliver twenty-six grams or more of cocaine, simple possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony, as well as three alternative counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He received an effective thirty-five-year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the denial of his motion to suppress. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that the Defendant is not entitled to suppression of the evidence, which was seized pursuant to a valid search warrant. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s judgments. However, we remand this case for entry of corrected judgment forms as detailed in this opinion.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/22/21
State of Tennessee v. Ronald Lyons, James Michael Usinger, Lee Harold Cromwell, Austin Gary Cooper, and Christopher Alan Hauser
M2019-01946-CCA-R3-CD

Ronald Lyons, James Michael Usinger, Lee Harold Cromwell, Austin Gary Cooper, and Christopher Alan Hauser, Defendants, were named in a 302-count indictment by the Davidson County Grand Jury for multiple counts of forgery and fraudulently filing a lien for their role in filing a total of 102 liens against 42 different individuals with the office of the Tennessee Secretary of State. Defendant Cooper was also named in a second indictment for five additional counts of forgery and five additional counts of fraudulently filing a lien. Prior to trial, Defendant Hauser filed a motion to dismiss for improper venue. Defendants Cromwell and Cooper joined in the motion. The trial court denied the motion after a hearing. After a jury trial, each defendant was convicted as charged in the indictment. The trial court sentenced Defendant Cromwell to an effective sentence of twenty-five years; Defendant Cooper to an effective sentence of fifty years; Defendant Lyons to an effective sentence of twenty-two years; Defendant Usinger to an effective sentence of twenty-one years; and Defendant Hauser to an effective sentence of twenty years. After motions for new trial and several amended motions for new trial were filed, the trial court held a hearing. The trial court denied the motions in a lengthy and thorough written order. Each defendant appealed, raising various issues challenging their convictions and sentences. After deep review, we affirm the all judgments and all sentences.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/22/21
State of Tennessee v. Michael Patrick Sullivan and Deborah Clark Buckner, Alias
E2019-01471-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendants, Michael Patrick Sullivan and Debra Clark Buckner, alias, appeal from their Knox County Criminal Court convictions for animal cruelty, for which they each received an effective sentence of eleven months, twenty-nine days, suspended to supervised probation. On appeal, the Defendants argue that Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-211 requiring a probable cause determination by a qualified livestock examiner is a condition precedent to an animal cruelty conviction and that the evidence was insufficient to establish the examiner’s qualifications in this case. Following our review, we conclude relative to co-defendant Sullivan that this court is without jurisdiction to consider his appeal because he was granted judicial diversion. Relative to co-defendant Buckner, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/22/21
Progressive Specialty Insurance Company v. Jee Yun Kim, Et Al.
M2019-01998-COA-R3-CV

After being injured in a car accident, a man filed a negligence lawsuit against several defendants, including the driver of the vehicle and the company that employed the driver. The insurance company that provided insurance coverage to the company in Alabama filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of whether the policy provided liability coverage for the company in the underlying tort action. After the insurance company and the plaintiff in the underlying tort action filed cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court granted summary judgment to the insurance company based on respondeat superior principles. We conclude that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the insurance company because, under Alabama law, the policy provided liability coverage for the company at the time the accident occurred.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 03/22/21
At-Last, Inc. d/b/a Blackwatch Investigation and Mitigation v. Terry Glen Buckley, et al.
W2020-00249-COA-R3-CV

This case involves a company’s claim for attorneys’ fees and expenses for the alleged breach of a non-compete agreement by its former employee. After a temporary injunction hearing, the trial court determined that the former employee breached the agreement and granted the company a temporary injunction. The court did not consolidate the hearing on the merits under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 65.04(7). Later, the claims were voluntarily dismissed, and the trial court awarded the company attorneys’ fees and expenses under the “Remedies” section of the parties’ agreement. The former employee appealed the trial court’s decision to grant the company attorneys’ fees and expenses. We reverse the trial court’s award and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 03/22/21
State of Tennessee v. Kellum Jordan Williams and Kevin Raynard Forman
M2019-01480-CCA-R3-CD

A Montgomery County jury convicted the defendants, Kellum Jordan Williams and Kevin Raynard Forman, of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, and especially aggravated kidnapping. The trial court merged the defendants’ convictions for premeditated murder and felony murder and imposed a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The trial court imposed a sentence of twenty-five years for especially aggravated kidnapping to be served consecutively to the murder sentence. On appeal, both defendants challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. Defendant Williams also challenges the length of his sentence. Defendant Forman raises additional issues, asserting that the trial court erred when it: (1) denied his motion to sever; (2) denied his motion to suppress; and (3) admitted evidence in violation of Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b). After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/19/21
Jeffrey Garner v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
W2020-00280-SC-R3-WC

Employee filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits alleging he sustained high-frequency hearing loss during his employment with Employer. Employer disputed both causation and the method used by Employee’s physician’s to ascertain anatomical impairment. After considering the proof, the trial court determined the hearing loss was caused by Employee’s employment and awarded benefits. Employer has appealed, arguing Employee’s hearing loss was not primarily caused by his employment and contending the trial court erred in adopting an anatomical impairment rating method not “used and accepted by the medical community.” The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the chancery court’s causation findings but we reverse the judgment in all other respects.

Obion County Workers Compensation Panel 03/19/21
In Re: Azhianne G.
E2020-00530-COA-R3-JV

The trial court found that the minor child, Azhianne G. (“the Child”), was dependent and neglected in his mother’s care. The trial court also determined that the Child had been severely abused based upon his disclosures of sexual abuse perpetrated by his mother. The mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 03/18/21
Estate of L. Frank Southerland v. Joshua Soller, Et Al.
E2020-01558-COA-R3-CV

The notice of appeal filed by the appellant, Joshua Soller, stated that Mr. Soller was appealing the trial court’s order entered on November 12, 2020. Because the order from which Mr. Soller has appealed is not a final appealable judgment, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 03/18/21
John Raymond Kautz v. Doris Diane Kautz Berberich
E2019-00796-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns a divorce. John Raymond Kautz (“Husband”) sued Doris Diane Kautz Berberich (“Wife”) for divorce in the Circuit Court for Polk County (“the Trial Court”). The parties entered into a marital dissolution agreement (“the MDA”), which the Trial Court approved in its final decree of divorce. Some years later, Wife filed a petition pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 seeking relief from the judgment on grounds that Husband failed to disclose certain assets. The Trial Court granted Wife’s motion. However, after a subsequent hearing, the Trial Court found that while Husband later hinted to Wife he had more assets than he disclosed, he actually had not concealed any valuable assets not already known to Wife. The Trial Court reinstated the MDA with certain amendments. Wife appeals. We decline to re-evaluate the Trial Court’s implicit credibility determinations, and the evidence does not preponderate against the Trial Court’s finding that Wife was aware of the valuable marital assets at the time the MDA was executed. We affirm.

Polk County Court of Appeals 03/18/21
In Re Estate of Gladys Alene Clifton
M2020-00432-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns the interpretation of a will. The will divided the testator’s residual estate into as many shares as the testator had children with the further instruction that the share of a deceased child would be divided among that child’s “issue then living.” The will stated, in pertinent part, that “‘issue’ . . . includes a person who has a parent-child relationship . . . with the person through whom this person claims benefits.” When she died, the testator had two surviving children and one deceased daughter. The deceased daughter was predeceased by one of her two sons, and the deceased son was survived by two children—the testator’s great-grandchildren. The petition to admit the will named the two surviving children and the deceased daughter’s living son as the beneficiaries of the estate but excluded the testator’s great-grandchildren, whose father had predeceased the testator. When the testator’s great-grandchildren filed a motion to be included with their uncle as “issue” of the deceased daughter, the estate opposed the motion, arguing that the great-grandchildren were not “issue” of testator’s deceased daughter because the petitioners did not have a “parent-child relationship” with the daughter, who was the petitioners’ grandmother. The trial court agreed and held that the only issue of the deceased daughter who could inherit was her living son—the great-grandchildren’s uncle. We respectfully disagree. The will’s plain language “includes” persons with a “parent-child relationship” to “the person through whom [the] person claims benefits,” but does not exclude those who do not. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 03/18/21
State of Tennessee v. Ariel K. Robinson, Christopher Duncan, and Timothy Shoffner
M2020-00058-CCA-R3-CD

In this consolidated appeal, Cheatham County juries convicted the defendants, Ariel K. Robinson, Christopher A. Duncan and Timothy David Shoffner, of attempted second degree murder, aggravated arson, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated burglary, and theft of more than $2,500 but less than $10,000. The trial court sentenced the defendants to thirtyseven, seventy-eight and 162 years respectively. On appeal, Defendant Shoffner contends that: (1) the trial court erred when it denied his motion to dismiss because the indictment did not adequately charge him with the offense of attempted first-degree murder. Defendant Duncan contends that: (2) the trial court improperly denied his motion to suppress. Defendants Robinson and Shoffner contend that: (3) the State delayed their viewing of the evidence before trial. Defendants Duncan and Shoffner contend that: (4) the State failed to establish a sufficient chain of custody for certain physical evidence; (5) the trial court improperly admitted cell phone tower maps; and (6) the trial court erred when it did not instruct the jury on facilitation. Defendant Robinson contends that: (7) the trial court erred when it denied her impeachment request. All three defendants contend that: (8) the evidence is insufficient to sustain their convictions; and (9) the trial court erred when it sentenced them. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Cheatham County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/17/21
Terry R. Baker v. State of Tennessee
M2020-00486-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Terry Ray Baker, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery, and the trial court sentenced him to the agreed upon sentence of fifteen years of incarceration, to be served at 100%. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which the post-conviction court dismissed after a hearing. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that his guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered because at the time he entered his plea he was confused about whether his sentence would be served at 100% or 45%, and his counsel did not give him time to consider his options. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/17/21
Jonathan King, Et Al. v. Dean Chase
M2019-01084-COA-R3-CV

Appellants, partners in a partnership that was the sole member of an LLC, filed suit against the manager of the partnership for alleged breach of fiduciary duties related to the sale of commercial real estate on behalf of the LLC. The manager and his business (a partner in the partnership, and together with manager, Appellees) filed counterclaims against Appellants, alleging breach of contractual and statutory duties. The trial court dismissed Appellants’ lawsuit on grant of summary judgment, and we affirm that decision. Appellees’ remaining claim for misrepresentation by concealment against Appellants was tried to a jury, which returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Appellees. Prior to the jury trial, the Business Court found, as a matter of law, that Appellees were entitled to indemnification by the LLC, and we affirm that decision. Because Appellants’ tort of misrepresentation by concealment resulted in a premature distribution of the sale proceeds by the LLC, the LLC was unable to fully indemnify Appellees. As such, the Business Court entered judgment against Appellants for attorney’s fees and expenses as compensatory damages. We affirm. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/17/21
Outpost Solar, LLC Et Al. v. Henry, Henry & Underwood, P. C. et al.
M2019-00416-COA-R3-CV

A limited liability company sued its former attorney and his law firm for legal malpractice.  The defendants moved for summary judgment.  The trial court found that the action was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.  Because the LLC’s cause of action accrued more than one year before suit was filed, we affirm.    

Giles County Court of Appeals 03/17/21
In Re Leilynn S.
M2020-00576-COA-R3-PT

This appeal involves the termination of a father’s parental rights.  Following a trial, the Chancery Court for Warren County (the “Trial Court”) entered an order terminating the father’s parental rights to the child based on the statutory ground of abandonment by failure to support and upon its finding that termination was in the child’s best interest.  Upon review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the termination of the father’s parental rights.

Warren County Court of Appeals 03/16/21
Carla Brown v. Jeremy Brittenum
M2019-01466-COA-R3-CV

The defendant appeals from an order granting the plaintiff possession of real property and back rent. Because the order does not resolve all the claims between the parties, we dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 03/16/21
David Jenkins v. State of Tennessee
M2019-01238-CCA-R3-PC

Pro se Petitioner David Jenkins was originally charged with first degree premeditated murder and felony murder in the perpetration of especially aggravated kidnapping. The trial court granted a directed verdict on the felony murder charge, and the jury convicted the Petitioner of first-degree premeditated murder. State v. David G. Jenkins, No. M2016- 00270-CCA-R3-CD, 2017 WL 1425610, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 21, 2017). The trial court sentenced the Petitioner to life imprisonment to be served consecutively to his sentence for a prior offense. The Petitioner later filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging numerous grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, which was denied by the post-conviction court. In this appeal, the Petitioner claims the post-conviction court erred in denying relief. Upon our review, we affirm.

Franklin County Court of Criminal Appeals 03/16/21
Vernon Mott v. K. Jeffrey Luethke, Esq., Et Al.
D2020-00317-COA-R3-CV

Following an automobile accident that occurred on March 22, 2016, the plaintiff filed a cause of action, in the form of a civil summons, in the Washington County General Sessions Court (“general sessions court”) on March 3, 2017, seeking an award of damages from the defendant, who was the other driver involved in the car accident. Unbeknownst to the plaintiff, however, the defendant had passed away in December 2016. On January 31, 2018, the plaintiff filed a “re-issue[d]” summons to be served upon the administrator ad litem of the decedent’s estate. After the matter was subsequently transferred to Washington County Circuit Court (“trial court”), the trial court granted the administrator’s motion for summary judgment, determining that the plaintiff had failed to timely file his tort action against the personal representative within the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court consequently dismissed the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. The plaintiff has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Washington County Court of Appeals 03/16/21