Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 03/03/2021
Format: 03/03/2021
State of Tennessee v. James Howard Theus, III
W2020-00160-CCA-R3-CD

James Howard Theus, III, Defendant, was indicted for four counts of violating the sex offender registry. He pled guilty to the charges as stated in the indictment with an agreed upon sentence of three years with the manner of service of the sentence to be determined by the trial court after a sentencing hearing. The trial court denied alternative sentencing, ordering Defendant to serve his sentence in incarceration. Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion. After a review, we determine that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/08/21
State of Tennessee v. Terrill J. Whitelow
W2020-00598-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Terrill J. Whitelow, was indicted by the Dyer County Grand Jury on three counts: Count 1, attempted carjacking; Count 2, aggravated burglary; and Count 3, evading arrest. After a trial, the jury found Defendant guilty as charged on Counts 2 and 3. Defendant received an effective sentence of ten year’s incarceration. Defendant filed a motion for new trial in which he argued the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. The trial court denied the motion for new trial. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court but remand the matter to the trial court for entry of a judgment disposing of Count 1 of the indictment.

Dyer County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/08/21
Corey Clark v. Monica Clark, Et Al.
M2020-01519-COA-R3-CV

This is an appeal from an order entered on September 21, 2020, dismissing the husband’s petition seeking to set aside a 2014 judgment. Because the husband did not file his notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the order appealed, we dismiss the appeal.

Wilson County Court of Appeals 01/07/21
William Pillars v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00234-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, William Pillars, filed a petition for post-conviction relief alleging that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel at trial and on appeal. The post-conviction court denied relief, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Franklin County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/07/21
Melanie Lemon v. Williamson County Schools, Et Al.
M2018-01878-SC-R11-CV


We granted permission to appeal in this case to address whether a claim for wrongful termination of employment can be asserted under the Teacher Tenure Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 49-5-501 to -515, by classifying a tenured teacher’s resignation as a constructive discharge rather than a voluntary quit. The plaintiff tenured teacher in this appeal quit her teaching position and sued for wrongful termination under the Tenure Act. We conclude that the doctrine of constructive discharge is inconsistent with the robust procedural framework in the Act, intended to give tenured teachers ample opportunity to be heard and ensure that dismissal decisions are made methodically, with transparency, and by consensus of professional educators. We reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision to apply the doctrine of constructive discharge to the plaintiff’s claims, and we hold that constructive discharge is not applicable to wrongful termination claims under the Tenure Act. We affirm the trial court’s dismissal of those claims. We also affirm the lower courts’ dismissal of the plaintiff teacher’s tort claims against the school system and individual school officials.

Williamson County Supreme Court 01/07/21
Caitlyn Metz v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00883-CCA-R3-PC

A jury convicted Caitlyn Metz, Petitioner, of first-degree felony murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated child neglect in the death of her twenty-three-month-old son, the victim, and the trial court sentenced her to an effective life sentence. Petitioner filed a post-conviction petition, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel, a Brady violation, and improper prosecutorial argument, and the post-conviction court denied the petition. On appeal, Petitioner contends that she was denied the effective assistance of counsel due to trial counsel’s failure to pursue a motion for severance from Joshua Starner, Co-Defendant, and other pretrial motions; failure to investigate Co-Defendant’s military records and Petitioner’s mental health; failure to present witnesses; and cumulative error. Following a thorough review, we conclude that Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel. We reverse the judgment of the post-conviction court, vacate and set aside the judgments of conviction, and remand for a new trial.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/07/21
William L. Kellerman, ET Al. v. Gerald S. Gabriel, Et Al.
M2019-01893-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises out of a boundary dispute. Following a bench trial, the court determined that the plaintiffs established the boundary line based on an oral boundary agreement between the parties’ predecessors in interest. On appeal, the defendant takes issue with the trial court’s finding that the parties to the oral boundary agreement were uncertain of the location of the original boundary at the time they entered into the agreement. The defendant also takes issue with the trial court’s determination that the plaintiffs’ deed was not void for champerty based on the court’s conclusion that the remnants of the fence the defendant relied on to establish the property line met none of the requirements of adverse possession. After reviewing the evidence presented at the trial, we affirm the trial court’s decision.

Cannon County Court of Appeals 01/06/21
In re Tennessee Bonding Company
M2020-00656-CCA-R3-CD

Tennessee Bonding Company, Appellant, surrendered the defendant, Larry Patton, to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department but failed to notify the trial court of the surrender. Five weeks later, the trial court sua sponte entered an order exonerating Appellant on the bond but requiring Appellant to return “any and all premiums previously paid” and discharging the defendant from any remaining obligation for payment on the bond. Appellant filed a motion to reconsider asking for a hearing, which was summarily denied by the court. In this extraordinary appeal, Appellant claims the trial court erred by denying Appellant a hearing. After review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Lewis County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/06/21
Julio Enrique Fernandez v. State of Tennessee
E2020-00495-CCA-R3-HC

The Petitioner, Julio Enrique Fernandez, appeals from the Sevier County Circuit Court’s order denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Petitioner’s counsel has filed a motion to withdraw pursuant to Rule 22 of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. We conclude that counsel’s motion is well-taken and, in accordance with Rule 22(F), affirm the habeas corpus court’s judgment pursuant to Rule 20 of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.

Sevier County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/06/21
State of Tennessee v. Juan Ramon Chaves-Abrego
M2019-01686-CCA-R3-CD

A Maury County Circuit Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Juan Ramon Chaves-Abrego, of one count of rape of a child, a Class A felony, and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony, and he received an effective forty-year sentence to be served at one hundred percent. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions and that the trial court erred by ordering consecutive sentencing. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the Appellant’s convictions and effective sentence but remand the case to the trial court for correction of the judgment of conviction in count two, rape of a child, to reflect that the trial court sentenced the Appellant as a Range II offender.

Maury County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/06/21
State of Tennessee v. Torey Jay Estes
W2019-01676-CCA-R3-CD
A Gibson County jury convicted the defendant, Torey Jay Estes, of attempted voluntary manslaughter, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment for which he received an effective sentence of thirty-five-years, eleven months, and twentynine days. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for attempted
first-degree murder and an evidentiary ruling regarding the admissibility of the victim’s 9-1-1 call into evidence. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.
 
Gibson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/06/21
State of Tennessee v. Brandon D. Middlebrook
E2019-01503-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Brandon Middlebrook, appeals his 2015 Knox County Criminal Court jury convictions of aggravated burglary, attempted first degree murder, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, challenging the sufficiency of the convicting evidence and arguing that the trial court erred by permitting the State to use the non-testifying co-defendant’s statement to question the defendant at trial. We hold that the trial court erred by permitting the State to cross-examine the defendant using the statement of his co-defendant but that the error can be classified as harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence is sufficient to support the defendant’s convictions of attempted first degree murder. Because the defendant’s previous felony convictions do not qualify as prior convictions under the terms of Code section 39-17-1324, the defendant’s convictions of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony after having been previously convicted of a dangerous felony in Counts 3, 7, 11, 15, 19, and 23 are vacated and those charges dismissed. The case is remanded to the trial court for the entry of corrected judgment forms reflecting the proper merger of the remaining convictions of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony and the imposition of a six-year mandatory minimum period of incarceration for each of those convictions. See T.C.A. § 39-17- 1324(h)(1). The judgments of the trial court are otherwise affirmed.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/05/21
State of Tennessee v. Teresa Ann Norwood
E2020-00042-CCA-R3-CD

The State appeals the Knox County Criminal Court’s order dismissing the 2019 presentment charging the defendant, Teresa Ann Norwood, with a single count of passing a worthless check, arguing that the trial court impermissibly ruled on the sufficiency of the evidence. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/05/21
St. Paul Community Limited Partnership, Et Al. v. St. Paul Community Church
M2020-00272-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns the trial court’s denial of attorney’s fees upon remand from this court.  The defendant church requested attorney’s fees, to which the plaintiff lessee asserted that such fees were not warranted given the nature of the action.  The trial court denied the request for fees, holding that an award of attorney’s fees was conditioned upon the need to hire counsel for the enforcement of the lease agreement and that the action at issue was one for declaratory judgment.  We reverse and hold that attorney’s fees are warranted pursuant to the terms of the lease agreement.  We remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/05/21
In Re John A.
E2020-00449-COA-R3-PT

Petitioner Angela Y. brought this action to terminate the parental rights of Melissa V. (“Mother”) to her child John A. (“Child”). Petitioner is the sister of Child’s father. Petitioner has had custody and taken care of the Child since April 25, 2017, when the Child was a little over one year old. The trial court terminated Mother’s rights on the grounds of abandonment by failure to visit and abandonment by failure to support Child. We reverse the trial court’s finding that Mother abandoned Child by willfully failing to visit. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of Mother’s parental rights.

Morgan County Court of Appeals 01/04/21
Carolyn Coffman, Et Al. v. Armstrong International, Inc., Et Al.
E2017-01985-SC-R11-CV

This is a product liability action stemming from occupational exposure to asbestos. Pertinent to this appeal, Mr. and Mrs. Coffman (“Appellees”) asserted claims against the manufacturers of certain equipment (“Equipment Defendants”) under the Tennessee Products Liability Act for failing to warn of dangers for exposure to asbestos-containing products that the Equipment Defendants did not themselves manufacture or sell. The trial court granted summary judgment to the Equipment Defendants and the Court of Appeals reversed. This Court granted the Equipment Defendants’ application in part and directed the parties to address: “Whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the Equipment Defendants had a duty to warn of the dangers associated with the post-sale integration of asbestos-containing materials manufactured and sold by others.” We have concluded that the Equipment Defendants had no duty to warn on the facts and law applicable here. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Knox County Supreme Court 01/04/21
Carolyn Coffman, Et Al. v. Armstrong International, Inc., Et Al. - Dissenting
E2017-01985-SC-R11-CV

In late 2014 Carolyn Coffman’s husband, Donald Coffman, was diagnosed with lethal malignant pleural mesothelioma, a virulent cancer of the thin membrane that lines the lungs and chest, caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. He died three months later. Mr. Coffman had been exposed to asbestos while working as a mechanic at the Tennessee Eastman Chemical plant in Kingsport. The Defendants, who manufactured the valves, gaskets, and other items that Mr. Coffman worked around, did not warn him that asbestos products had been added to the Defendants’ manufactured products after being sold. The Defendants also did not warn Mr. Coffman that exposure to these asbestos-containing products could cause him to develop mesothelioma. Based on the evidence Mrs. Coffman submitted on summary judgment, the Defendants knew or should have known that asbestos-containing products would have to be added to their equipment after the sale to make the equipment usable, yet the Defendants did not warn Mr. Coffman of the danger. Thus, the question before the Court is whether the Defendants had a duty to warn that the products they manufactured and sold were unreasonably dangerous when the Defendants knew or should have known that their products required post-sale integration of an asbestos-containing component to work properly. 

Knox County Supreme Court 01/04/21
Kirby Parkway Professional Condominium Association, Inc. v. Cindy-Jarvis Limited, L.P., et al.
W2019-02280-COA-R3-CV

This is an appeal from a case between a nonprofit development management association and a condominium unit owner regarding the unit owner’s failure to pay monthly fees as well as a special assessment approved by the Board of the association. The trial court held in favor of the association, finding that it was well within its authority to assess both the monthly fees as well as the special assessment against the unit owner. The unit owner now appeals. For the reasons contained herein, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/30/20
In Re Treymarion S., et al.
W2019-01330-COA-R3-PT

In this matter involving the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her two minor children, who were eight and seven years of age, respectively, at the time of trial, the trial court determined that there were three statutory grounds supporting termination: (1) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, (2) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and (3) persistence of the conditions leading to the Children’s removal. The trial court further found clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. The mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Henry County Court of Appeals 12/30/20
Justice Ball v. State of Tennessee
W2019-02239-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Justice Ball, appeals from the Shelby County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions for especially aggravated kidnapping, carjacking, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and evading arrest and his effective fifteen-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 12/30/20
Kendrick Watson v. State of Tennessee
W2019-00489-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Kendrick Watson, pled guilty in the Shelby County Criminal Court to conspiracy to introduce marijuana into a penal facility, money laundering, aggravated assault, being a convicted felon in possession of a handgun, and conspiracy to possess more than three hundred pounds of marijuana in exchange for a total effective sentence of seventeen years as a Range I, standard offender. Subsequently, the Petitioner filed for postconviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective and that he had been denied due process prior to and during the plea process. The Petitioner also contended that the post-conviction court should recuse itself. The post-conviction court denied the recusal motion and denied post-conviction relief, and the Petitioner appeals. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 12/30/20
Camille Black v. Maryam H. Mula Khel
W2020-00228-COA-R3-CV

This appeal involves a personal injury action stemming from an automobile accident. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss, holding that the plaintiff’s filing fell outside of the applicable statute of limitations. In granting dismissal, the trial court found that the plaintiff was not entitled to relief under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 15.03. For the same reasons, the trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion to alter or amend. The plaintiff appealed. We affirm the trial court’s decisions and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/30/20
Gwendolyn H. King v. Bank of America, N.A., et al.
W2018-01177-COA-R3-CV

Following two unsuccessful lawsuits filed by the instant plaintiff in federal district court, a foreclosure on the plaintiff’s home, and a successful unlawful detainer action filed in general sessions court by the purchaser of the home at foreclosure, the plaintiff filed this action against multiple defendants in the chancery court, seeking an order setting aside the foreclosure and a temporary injunction prohibiting her eviction. Following a hearing, the trial court dismissed the instant action on the basis of res judicata. The plaintiff has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 12/29/20
In Re Amber R., et al.
W2019-01521-COA-R3-PT

In this termination of parental rights case, Appellant/Mother appeals the trial court’s termination of her parental rights to the minor children on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1), 36-1-102(1)(A)(ii); (2) substantial noncompliance with the requirements of the permanency plan, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2); (3) persistence of conditions, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3); and (4) mental incompetence, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(8). Appellant also appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of her parental rights is in the children’s best interests. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Carroll County Court of Appeals 12/29/20
Garrett Ramos v. The Electric Employees' Civil Service And Pension Board Of The Metropolitan Government Of Nashville And Davidson County
M2020-00324-COA-R3-CV

Appellant, a Lineman with the Nashville Electric Service (“NES”), filed a grievance with Appellee Electric Employees’ Civil Service and Pension Board (the “Board”) after the NES revoked Appellant’s unauthorized raise. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held that the facts supported the NES’ decision to withdraw the raise, and the Board adopted that finding. Appellant appealed to the Chancery Court of Davidson County (“trial court”). The trial court held that there was substantial and material evidence to support the Board’s decision and that the decision was neither arbitrary nor capricious. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 12/23/20