Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 04/18/2021
Format: 04/18/2021
State of Tennessee v. Jeffery D. Strong
M2018-00216-CCA-R3-CD

A Macon County Criminal Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Jeffery Dewayne Strong, of selling a Schedule III, controlled substance, a Class D felony, and the trial court sentenced him as a Range III, persistent offender to twelve years in confinement. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction and that the trial court erred by allowing the State to play an audio recording of the controlled drug buy. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we conclude that the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction and that the Appellant waived the issue regarding the audio recording because he failed to raise it in his motion for a new trial or at the hearing on the motion. Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Macon County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/26/21
Shelby County Board of Education, et al. v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association
W2020-00099-COA-R3-CV

In this appeal, we conclude that the original legal controversy was extinguished as moot prior to the trial court’s entry of judgment. As such, we vacate the trial court’s order as advisory and dismiss the appeal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/26/21
State of Tennessee v. Craig Rickard
M2019-01207-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Craig Rickard, was convicted by a Cheatham County Circuit Court jury of rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery and was sentenced pursuant to a pleabargained sentencing agreement to an effective term of twenty-five years at 100% in the Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues that the trial court erred by admitting the video recordings of the victim’s forensic interviews, in not conducting a jury out hearing to determine the victim’s qualifications as a witness, and by suggesting to the prosecutor the manner in which a question could be posed in order to avoid the Defendant’s hearsay objection. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Cheatham County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/26/21
Julie C. W. v. Frank Mitchell W. Jr.
M2019-01243-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises from a divorce.  Julie C. W. (“Wife”) sued Frank Mitchell W. Jr. (“Husband”) for divorce in the Circuit Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”).  After a trial, the Trial Court divided the marital estate, set child support and alimony, and entered a parenting plan.  Wife appeals, raising a number of issues.  In one issue, Wife argues that the Trial Court placed inordinate weight on the fact that Husband is 16 years older than her in awarding him roughly 59% of the marital estate, even though his earning power is substantially greater than hers.  We agree.  We vacate the Trial Court’s division of the marital estate and remand for a new and equitable division that is as close to a 50/50 division as possible, based upon the specific facts of this case.  However, on all other issues, we discern no reversible error by the Trial Court.  We thus affirm, in part, and vacate, in part, the Trial Court’s judgment, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/26/21
Julie C. W. v. Frank Mitchell W. Jr. - Concurring
M2019-01243-COA-R3-CV

I agree with the analysis and result of the majority opinion.  I write separately to address one troubling issue—the Trial Court’s findings regarding Wife’s spending $2,000 per month on food for herself and her two teenagers.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/26/21
In Re Jeremy C. Et Al.
M2020-00803-COA-R3-PT

This is a termination of parental rights case, focusing on Jeremy C. and Jessica C., the minor children (“the Children”) of Grace C. (“Mother”) and Jonathan H. (“Father”). The Children were originally removed from Mother’s home in December 2014 upon an emergency petition filed by Mother’s cousin in the Hickman County Juvenile Court (“juvenile court”). At the time of removal, Father had been incarcerated for approximately two years. The Children were then placed with Mother’s cousin and her husband while also receiving services from the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”). In March 2015, the juvenile court adjudicated the Children dependent and neglected. Upon a petition for relinquishment subsequently filed by the cousin and her husband, the Children were taken into DCS’s protective custody via an order entered by the juvenile court in March 2016. Following a hearing and upon DCS’s allegations that the Children had been severely abused while in the care of Mother and while residing with Mother’s former paramour, the juvenile court entered an agreed order in September 2016, adjudicating the Children dependent and neglected and severely abused. In July 2017, DCS filed a petition in the Hickman County Circuit Court (“trial court”) to terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father to the Children. Following a bench trial, the trial court granted the petition as to both parents. As pertinent to this appeal, the trial court found that statutory grounds existed to terminate Mother’s parental rights upon its finding by clear and convincing evidence that Mother had (1) abandoned the Children by willfully failing to visit them, (2) failed to substantially comply with the reasonable responsibilities and requirements of the permanency plans, (3) severely abused the Children, and (4) failed to manifest an ability and willingness to personally assume custody of or financial responsibility for the Children. The trial court further found by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interest. Mother has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parental rights to the Children.

Hickman County Court of Appeals 02/26/21
Kia Winfrey v. Blue Car, Inc.
M2020-00829-COA-R3-CV

After purchasing an automobile from the defendant, the plaintiff brought suit in the General Sessions Court for Davidson County, alleging fraud and deception. The defendant filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. The general sessions court dismissed both parties’ claims and the plaintiff appealed to the circuit court. The case was dormant for nearly six months. Eventually, the plaintiff moved to set a trial date with the circuit court. In response, the defendant moved to dismiss the case under Rule 20(b) of the Davidson County Local Rules of Court. The circuit court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss and denied the plaintiff’s subsequent motion to set aside. The plaintiff appealed. We reverse the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion to set aside and remand.

Court of Appeals 02/26/21
Matthew Keith Allyn v. Kathryn Anne Donahue
M2019-02229-COA-R3-CV

This case involves a petition to modify a parenting plan. Specifically, Father filed a petition to modify the parties’ residential parenting schedule, arguing that a material change of circumstances had occurred. After a hearing on the matter, the trial court found that Father had failed to prove a material change of circumstances by a preponderance of the evidence as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-101(a)(2)(C). For the reasons contained herein, we affirm the trial court.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 02/26/21
Carolyn Payne v. Maxine Bradley
M2019-01453-COA-R3-CV

Sisters filed counter-complaints related to the enforcement of a written contract. The trial court ruled that the contract was missing an essential term and therefore could not be enforced. The trial court, however, awarded the plaintiff a judgment in quantum meruit. We affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/26/21
Regina D. Gensci v. Cyrus W. Wiser
M2019-00442-COA-R3-CV

A husband filed a petition to retroactively reduce or terminate his alimony obligation, claiming he had no income during the relevant time period.  The husband also sought to recover payment from his former wife for half of the remaining marital debt based on his interpretation of the final divorce decree.  The trial court denied both requests.  We conclude that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that the husband’s ability to pay remained unchanged.  Based on the clear language of the final divorce decree and a subsequent agreed order, we also conclude that the wife was not responsible for the remaining debt.  So we affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/26/21
Delmar L. Mack, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
E2019-00273-CCA-R3-PC

Petitioner, Delmar L. Mack, Jr., appeals the Washington County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. Petitioner contends that his guilty pleas to attempted first degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated assault were not knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered because, at the time he entered his plea agreement, he was suffering from “severe mental distress and anxiety,” resulting in an inability to understand the nature and details of the agreement. Following a thorough review, we affirm the denial of post-conviction relief.

Washington County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/26/21
Jennifer Susan Bennett v. Duncan Geoffrey Bennett
E2020-00634-COA-R3-CV

Because a motion for attorney’s fees and for a timeline within which to pay a court ordered arrearage remain pending, the order appealed from does not constitute a final appealable judgment, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal

McMinn County Court of Appeals 02/25/21
State of Tennessee v. Jason Monroe Griffith
E2020-00259-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Jason Monroe Griffith, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted aggravated burglary, seven counts of aggravated burglary, ten counts of theft of property, and one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary, and he entered a “best interest” plea to one count of aggravated burglary pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25 (1970). The trial court imposed an effective sentence of 15 years and ordered the Defendant to pay $10,750 in restitution. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court should have held a hearing regarding his ability to pay restitution and the reasonableness of the restitution amount. After review, we reverse the judgment of the trial court with respect to restitution and remand this case for a restitution hearing and entry of amended judgments that reflect the amount of restitution and the manner of payment.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/25/21
Hampton Reserve Homeowner's Association, Inc. v. Kirk Leipzig
M2020-00288-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns a general sessions warrant for unpaid dues owed to the plaintiff homeowner’s association.  The general sessions court dismissed the action based upon a settlement agreement.  The plaintiff appealed to the circuit court, which ultimately entered an agreed order of dismissal during the pendency of this appeal.  We dismiss the appeal.  

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/25/21
Ronald Mercer v. Brandi Chiarella
M2020-00602-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises from a petition by Father to modify his child support. Mother contested Father’s request, ultimately filing a counter-petition wherein she argued that, based on Father’s income, his child support obligation should be increased. The trial court found in favor of Father, and Mother filed a timely appeal. For the reasons contained herein, we affirm the trial court’s order.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/25/21
Debra A. Irvin v. Green Wise Homes, LLC Et Al.
M2019-02232-COA-R3-CV

Debra A. Irvin (“Plaintiff” or “Appellee”) filed a complaint in 2019 alleging real estate fraud against numerous parties. Several defendants, including Green Wise Homes, LLC (“Green Wise”), asserted various counterclaims against Plaintiff and her attorneys, which the trial court dismissed for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The trial court then awarded attorney’s fees to Plaintiff against Green Wise pursuant to Tennessee C

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/24/21
In Re Lucas S.
M2019-01969-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 child on the grounds of: (1) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3)(A); (2) abandonment by failure to visit, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1), 36-1-102(1)(A)(1); (3) abandonment by failure to support, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1), 36-1-102(1)(A)(1); and (4) failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume custody of child, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14).  Mother also appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(i).  Because Appellees did not plead the ground of persistence of conditions and because the threshold requirements for that ground are not met, we reverse the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on the ground of persistence of conditions.  We affirm the trial court’s termination of Mother’s parental rights on all remaining grounds and on its finding that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

Trousdale County Court of Appeals 02/24/21
State of Tennessee v. Vonda Star Smith
E2019-00968-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Vonda Star Smith, was convicted by a Greene County Criminal Court jury of first degree premeditated murder and second degree murder. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13- 202(a)(1) (2018) (first degree murder) (subsequently amended), 39-13-210 (2014) (second degree murder) (subsequently amended), 39-13-214 (2018) (embryo or fetus as a victim of criminal homicide). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to life for first degree murder and to twenty-five years as a Range I offender for second degree murder, and the court imposed the sentences concurrently. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support her convictions, (2) the court erred in denying her motion to dismiss because the State’s failure to provide exculpatory information regarding the victim’s cell phone “ping” violated her right to due process, (3) the State’s failure to provide a witness’s statement during discovery deprived her of due process, (4) the court improperly commented on the evidence during a defense witness’s testimony, (5) cumulative errors require reversal of the Defendant’s convictions, and (6) the court erred in imposing a twenty-five-year sentence for second degree murder. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Greene County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/24/21
Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., Et Al. v. City of Memphis, Et Al.
W2019-00299-SC-R11-CV

The appellants filed the instant action seeking a declaratory judgment concerning the rights and obligations of the parties under a 2001 contract. The contract, to which the three appellees were parties, concerns the governance of the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee. In a previously filed action, the appellants sought similar relief, but the trial court dismissed the case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In the instant case, however, the trial court granted the appellees’ motions under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 to dismiss the complaint based on the court’s conclusion that the appellants lacked standing. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal but for a different reason. The intermediate appellate court instead concluded that dismissal was appropriate because the complaint was barred by the doctrine of res judicata and, as such, declined to address the standing issue. After thorough review, we conclude that the Court of Appeals’ decision was erroneous because an essential element of the res judicata doctrine—an underlying judgment that was final and on the merits—has not been established. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for consideration of whether the trial court properly dismissed the complaint based on the doctrine of standing.   

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/24/21
State of Tennessee v. Edward Wayne Shumacker Alias Jeff Wayne Witt
E2019-01297-CCA-R3-CD

The Appellant, Edward Wayne Shumacker, was convicted in the Hamilton County Criminal Court of driving under the influence (DUI), DUI per se, driving on a revoked license, violating the seatbelt law, violating the financial responsibility law, and violating the vehicle registration law, all misdemeanors. After the jury found the Appellant guilty, he stipulated that he had five prior convictions of DUI and two prior convictions of driving on a revoked license. The trial court sentenced the Appellant as a Range III, persistent offender to twelve years for each conviction of sixth offense DUI, Class C felonies; merged the convictions; and ordered that the Appellant serve the twelve-year sentence concurrently with his misdemeanor sentences. On appeal, the Appellant contends that the trial court erred by denying his motion for additional discovery, that the trial court erred by denying his motion to exclude references to other bad acts, that the trial court erred by overruling his objection to the admissibility of expert testimony, and that his twelve-year sentence for DUI is excessive. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we conclude that there is no reversible error and affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/23/21
State of Tennessee v. Samantha Grissom Scott
M2018-01852-SC-R11-CD

Defendant, Samantha Grissom Scott, pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to deliver more than twenty-six grams of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia but specifically reserved a certified question of law pursuant to Rule 37(b)(2)(A) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. The trial court, Defendant, and the State all agreed that the certified question is dispositive of the case. The question pertained to the legality of the initial search of Defendant’s house during which law enforcement discovered illegal contraband. In a split opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the appeal after determining that the certified question is not dispositive because the evidence would have been admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine notwithstanding the search in question. We conclude that the certified question is dispositive of the case, that the inevitable discovery doctrine does not apply, that exigent circumstances did not exist, that Defendant’s consent to the search was involuntary, and that the case against her should be dismissed. We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and dismiss Defendant’s convictions.

Warren County Supreme Court 02/23/21
Anthony Parker v. ABC Technologies, Inc. Et Al.
M2020-00675-COA-R3-CV

A discharged employee sued his former employer and two managers for (1) retaliatory discharge under the Tennessee Public Protection Act, (2) common law retaliatory discharge, (3) negligent retention, and (4) breach of contract.  The trial court dismissed the employee’s claims pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6).  After our independent examination of the pleadings, we conclude that the employee failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 02/23/21
Michael Bennett Et Al. v. Chattanooga Properties, LLC
E2019-01790-COA-R3-CV

Buyers filed this breach of contract action alleging that the seller failed to timely complete construction of their custom home. Buyers also sought damages for conversion based on the seller’s failure to return fixtures and other items purchased by the buyers for use in the construction. The seller maintained that construction was complete, as that term was defined in the parties’ agreement. In its counterclaim for breach of contract, the seller alleged that the buyers committed the first material breach by refusing to finalize the purchase. After a bench trial, the trial court found that the buyers had committed the first material breach by refusing to close the purchase after the seller had completed performance. The court dismissed the buyers’ claims and awarded the seller damages and attorney’s fees. The evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings with respect to the parties’ breach of contract claims. But we conclude that the court erred in dismissing the buyers’ conversion claim. All the elements of a conversion claim were established at trial. So we reverse the dismissal of the conversion claim and remand for a determination of damages on that claim. Otherwise, we affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 02/23/21
Stanley Blair Hill v. State of Tennessee
E2018-02080-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Stanley Blair Hill, filed for post-conviction relief from his conviction of first degree murder, alleging that his trial counsel were ineffective. The post-conviction court denied relief, and the Petitioner appeals, contending that counsel were ineffective by failing “to obtain adequate expert and investigative assistance and/or to present such testimony at trial”; by failing “to object to the introduction of improper, irrelevant, inflammatory and prejudicial evidence”; and by failing to adequately advise the Petitioner whether to accept or reject the State’s plea offer. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/22/21
State of Tennessee v. Nona Kilgore
M2020-003530-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Nona Kilgore, pleaded guilty to possession of a schedule IV controlled substance with intent to sell or deliver. The Defendant reserved a certified question of law pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 37(b)(2) as to whether the warrantless search of the Defendant’s home was lawful based on the issue of consent. After a thorough review of the record and relevant authorities, we conclude that the reserved question of law is not dispositive of the case and, accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.

Grundy County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/22/21