Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 04/18/2021
Format: 04/18/2021
State of Tennessee v. Dwayne Edward Harris
M2019-01609-CCA-R3-CD

A Williamson County jury convicted the Defendant, Dwayne Edward Harris, of joyriding (Count 1), carjacking (Count 2), and aggravated robbery (Count 3). In response to a motion for judgment of acquittal, the trial court reduced Count 3 from aggravated robbery to robbery. The trial court then merged Count 1 and Count 3 into Count 2, and sentenced the Defendant to an effective sentence of thirty years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. The Defendant appeals, asserting: (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions; (2) the trial court improperly admitted evidence; and (3) a Bruton violation. The State appeals the trial court’s reducing the jury’s conviction for aggravated robbery in Count 3 to robbery and the trial court’s merging Count 3 into Count 2. This court consolidated the Defendant’s and the State’s appeals. After review of the Defendant’s issues, we discern no error. As to the State’s issues on appeal, we vacate the trial court’s judgment in Count 3, reinstate the jury’s verdict of guilty of aggravated robbery, and remand for sentencing on Count 3. The trial court’s judgment in Count 2 is remanded for corrections consistent with this opinion. 

Williamson County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/22/21
Bradi Baker-Brunkhorst v. Geoffrey B. Brunkhorst
W2020-00154-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises from a divorce action. The matter in controversy concerns an attorney’s fee lien and abstract of suit filed and recorded by the wife’s former counsel following the entry of the divorce decree. In pertinent part, the decree required the husband to pay the entire equity in jointly owned real property to the wife contemporaneous with the wife quitclaiming her interest in the property to the husband; however, the husband died prior to the conveyance or the payment. Thereafter, the wife’s former counsel filed a motion to perfect and enforce its attorney’s lien on the property, and the court granted the motion. The administrator of the husband’s estate filed a motion to release the attorney’s lien, and the court ruled that the lien was valid and enforceable because neither party performed their respective obligations under the divorce decree. The administrator for the husband’s estate then filed a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59.04 motion to alter or amend on the grounds (1) there was no legal basis for allowing the wife’s attorneys to file a charging lien against property awarded to the husband and (2) the lien was not valid because the attorneys based the lien on the wrong section of the statute. The court denied the Rule 59.04 motion to alter or amend, and this appeal followed. The singular issue in this appeal is whether the trial court abused its discretion by denying the Rule 59.04 motion. Because the administrator’s motion was not based on a change in controlling law, previously unavailable evidence, or a clear error of law, see In re M.L.D., 182 S.W.3d 890, 895 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005), we hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying it. Therefore, we affirm.

Madison County Court of Appeals 02/22/21
State of Tennessee v. Cody King
E2019-01404-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Cody Ryan King, was convicted by a Morgan County Circuit Court jury of rape of a child, a Class A felony, attempted rape of a child, a Class B felony, two counts of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony, two counts of sexual battery, a Class E felony, and attempted statutory rape, a Class A misdemeanor. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-522 (2010) (subsequently amended) (rape of a child), 39-13-505 (2018) (sexual battery), 39- 13-504 (2018) (aggravated sexual battery); 39-13-506 (2010) (subsequently amended) (statutory rape); 39-12-101 (2018) (criminal attempt). The Defendant was sentenced to an effective twenty-five years for the convictions. However, at the motion for new trial hearing, the trial court ordered a new trial for one count of aggravated sexual battery on the basis that the State failed to make an election of the offenses. The court, likewise, ordered a new trial for both counts of aggravated sexual battery and both counts of sexual battery on the basis that the Defendant received the ineffective assistance of counsel for the failure to request a jury instruction on the lesser included offense of assault by offensive or provocative contact. As a result, the court ordered a new trial for two counts of aggravated sexual battery and two counts of sexual battery. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his rape of a child and attempted rape of a child convictions and (2) he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Because the Defendant received the ineffective assistance of counsel during the pretrial proceedings, we vacate the Defendant’s convictions and remand the case to the trial court with instructions for the State to reinstate the eight-year plea offer and to negotiate in good faith. 

Morgan County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/19/21
In Re Hadley R.
E2020-00256-COA-R3-PT

Scarlett B. (“Mother”) appeals the termination of her parental rights to the minor child, Hadley R. (“the Child”). In April 2019, Christy D. (“Petitioner”) filed a petition to terminate Mother’s parental rights in the Campbell County Chancery Court (“Trial Court”). Following a trial, the Trial Court terminated Mother’s parental rights on three grounds of abandonment due to Mother’s failure to visit the Child, failure to support the Child, and wanton disregard for the Child’s welfare. The Trial Court further found that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the Child’s best interest. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 02/19/21
Sandra Cummings v. Express Courier International, Inc.
E2020-00548-SC-R3-WC
Sandra Cummings was injured at work on April 29, 2010, and February 7, 2012. She filed complaints against Express Courier International, Inc. ("Employer"), Hartford Insurance Company ("Hartford"), and Zurich American Insurance Company ("Zurich"). The trial court found that Ms. Cummings is permanently and totally disabled as the result of an injury to the body and that Employer is entitled to an offset based on Ms. Cummings's social security benefits. Tenn. Code Ann.§ 50-6-207(4)(A)(i) (2014) (applicable to injuries occurring prior to July 1, 2014). In this appeal, Ms. Cummings argues that the trial court erred in applying the social security offset because her injury was to a scheduled member. In addition, Hartford argues that the trial court erred in ordering it to pay temporary total disability benefits because Zurich was the insurance carrier at the time of Ms. Cummings's second injury. The appeal has been referred to this Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 51. We affirm the trial court's judgment that Ms. Cummings is permanently and totally disabled as a result of an injury to the body and that Employer is entitled to a social security offset. We modify the judgment by requiring Zurich to reimburse Hartford for the payment of temporary total disability benefits.
Hamilton County Workers Compensation Panel 02/17/21
Latoya Paris v. McKee Foods Corp.
E2020-00358-SC-R3-WC

The employee in this workers’ compensation case appeals the trial court’s ruling that the independent intervening cause principle applies to relieve her former employer of liability for continued benefits under the parties’ settlement of the employee’s prior claim. After the employee’s original compensable injury while working for the defendant employer, the parties settled the claim. The employee was placed on lifting restrictions. The trial court held the employee negligently exceeded those lifting restrictions and this conduct constituted an independent intervening cause that relieved the original employer from liability for continued workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court also held, however, that the employee’s negligent conduct did not result in a new injury. On appeal, we hold that, if the employee’s activity results in only an increase in pain but there is no new injury or aggravation of the original injury, the independent intervening cause principle is not applicable to relieve the original employer of liability. We reverse the trial court’s holding that the independent intervening cause principle relieves the defendant employer of liability for workers’ compensation benefits. We affirm the trial court’s holding that there was not a new injury or an aggravation of the employee’s condition and hold that the employee is entitled to statutory medical benefits, attorney fees, and costs.

Hamilton County Workers Compensation Panel 02/16/21
State of Tennessee v. Frederick John Schmitz, Jr.
M2019-01254-CCA-R3-CD

A Hickman County jury convicted the Defendant, Frederick John Schmitz, Jr., of evading arrest while operating a motor vehicle, reckless driving, and speeding. The trial court sentenced him to an effective eighteen-month sentence, suspended to supervised probation. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his convictions for evading arrest and reckless driving. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/12/21
State of Tennessee v. William Eugene Moone
M2019-01865-CCA-R3-CD

A Coffee County jury convicted William Eugene Moon, Defendant, of attempted second degree murder and unlawful employment of a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony. On appeal, Defendant argues that the trial court erred by allowing the improper impeachment of a defense witness, that there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions, and that he was denied the right to a speedy trial. After a thorough review of the record and applicable case law, the judgments of the circuit court are affirmed.

Coffee County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/12/21
Donald R. Ferguson v. Sarah K. Ferguson
M2019-01630-COA-R3-CV

In this divorce action, Sarah K. Ferguson (“Mother”) appeals the trial court’s decisions to grant Donald R. Ferguson (“Father”) an absolute divorce and designate him as the primary residential parent for their two minor children. She also challenges the trial court’s award of alimony. Finding no error, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 02/12/21
David Manor v. Brett Woodroof
M2020-00585-COA-R3-CV

Following a dispute that spanned several years, the parties, David Manor and Brett Woodroof, filed countervailing petitions for orders of protection in the Metropolitan General Sessions Court for Nashville and Davidson County (“general sessions court”). After separate hearings, the general sessions court granted each petitioner an order of protection. In turn, each party appealed the order of protection entered against him to the Davidson County Circuit Court (“trial court”). Following a hearing with a special master presiding, the trial court entered orders continuing the cases. During a subsequent hearing, the special master announced from the bench that both petitions were being dismissed and that each party would be responsible for his respective attorney’s fees. The trial court entered separate written orders dismissing each petition. Mr. Manor subsequently filed an objection to the dismissal of his petition, averring that the trial court had made an oral finding that Mr. Woodroof had stalked Mr. Manor, which, according to Mr. Manor, led to the continuation of his order of protection against Mr. Woodroof. Mr. Manor argued that the court’s action constituted an “extension” of the order of protection, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-3-617 (2017), thereby entitling him to an award of attorney’s fees. Thereafter, the trial court confirmed the findings of the special master and declined to award attorney’s fees. Upon its consideration of several motions, the trial court conducted a hearing and remanded the matter to the special master for “a finding and Order” concerning the issue of attorney’s fees. Upon remand, the special master denied an award of attorney’s fees to Mr. Manor, and the trial court subsequently confirmed the order. Mr. Manor timely appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/12/21
In Re: Tiffany B.
E2020-00854-COA-R3-PT

The trial court terminated a father’s parental rights to his daughter based upon two statutory grounds: persistence of conditions and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to assume custody of the child. We reverse the trial court’s decision as to the first ground, but affirm as to the second. We also affirm the trial court’s finding that termination of the father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interests.

Washington County Court of Appeals 02/11/21
Tawana S. Wilson v. Timothy L. Wilson
M2019-01275-COA-R3-CV

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
M2019-01926-COA-R3-CV

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
E2020-00049-CCA-R3-PC

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
M2019-02261-COA-R3-CV

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
W2020-00312-COA-R3-CV

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.
W2020-00087-COA-R3-CV

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
E2020-01020-COA-R3-CV

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.
M2020-00029-COA-R3-CV

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
W2020-00169-COA-R3-CV

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
W2019-02081-CCA-R3-CD

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
W2020-00667-CCA-R3-PC

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)
M2019-01412-CCA-R3-CO

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.
M2020-01127-COA-R3-PT

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
M2020-00109-CCA-R3-CD

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