Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 04/17/2021
Format: 04/17/2021
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
State of Tennessee v. Trammel Williams

The Defendant, Trammel Williams, pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault, and he agreed to serve an effective sentence of eight years on probation. A violation of probation warrant was issued, and following a hearing, the trial court found that the Defendant violated the terms of his probation, revoked his probation, and ordered the Defendant to serve his sentence in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court lacked substantial evidence to find that he violated the terms of his probation and that the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him to confinement. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/04/21
Joseph Checkan v. Southern Towing Company, LLC, et al.

This is a defamation case that was dismissed by the trial court on a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff, a former riverboat captain, predicated his defamation claim on a letter sent by a lawyer for the owner of a drawbridge to the riverboat captain’s former employer. The purpose of the letter was to put the employer on notice that damage had been caused to the drawbridge by one of the employer’s towboats. In its oral ruling, which was incorporated into its dismissal order, the trial court identified several grounds which it concluded supported dismissal. Not addressed by the trial court were several procedural defenses raised by the defendant, including a defense based on an alleged lack of personal jurisdiction. Notably, the defendant has not waived its personal jurisdiction defense on appeal. Because jurisdiction is a prerequisite to an adjudication on the merits of the case, we vacate the trial court’s dismissal order and remand the matter for a consideration of the defendant’s personal jurisdiction defense.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/03/21
Tennessee Department Of Environment And Conservation v. Thomas Marlin Robert, Et Al.

This appeal concerns the authority of an administrative judge when sitting with the Tennessee Underground Storage Tanks and Solid Waste Disposal Control Board during its review of an initial order in a contested case. In 2016, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued an order pursuant to the Tennessee Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Act to recover funds spent for investigating and closing a petroleum site. The Department alleged that petroleum was released from three underground storage tanks on the respondents’ property. The respondents filed a petition for review and sought a contested case hearing. Following the hearing before an administrative judge sitting alone, the administrative judge issued an initial order that upheld the assessment. The judge concluded that the respondents were “responsible parties” because they owned the site in 2010 when the tanks were removed. The respondents then filed a petition for appeal, seeking a review hearing before the Board. A different administrative judge was assigned to sit with the Board for the hearing. After the parties submitted their briefs but prior to the hearing, the second administrative judge issued an order independent of the Board that reversed several substantive rulings in the initial order and prohibited the Department from making certain legal arguments to the Board. Instead of proceeding with the review hearing, the Department obtained a stay from the Board to file a petition for judicial review to challenge the intermediate order issued by the second administrative judge. The trial court reversed the intermediate order, finding that inter alia, the administrative judge’s decisions were “in excess of his authority and an abuse of discretion” because the statutory interpretation issue was a substantive matter for the Board to consider. The trial court also remanded the matter to the Board for a hearing with the burden of proof assigned to the respondents. This appeal followed. We respectfully disagree with the trial court’s ruling as to the burden of proof because it is the duty of an administrative judge who “sits with” a Board to advise the Board on the applicable law. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/03/21
In Re F.S. Et Al.

This case involves a petition to terminate the parental rights of the parents of two minor children. After a trial on the petition, the trial court granted the petition and terminated the parents’ parental rights. The trial court found that the ground of “severe child abuse” was proven by clear and convincing evidence and that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate the parents’ parental rights. Both of the parents appealed. We affirm the trial court’s decision and remand.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 02/02/21
Mount Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church v. Foundation Capital Resources, Inc

A church filed a complaint in 2019 against a lending institution asserting causes of action for fraud and breach of contract based on conduct that occurred in 2008 and 2009. An earlier complaint the church filed in 2009 was dismissed in 2017 for failure to prosecute, and the church voluntarily dismissed a second complaint it filed in 2018. The lending institution moved to dismiss the 2019 complaint based on the running of the statute of limitations. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, and the church appeals. We affirm the trial court’s judgment dismissing the complaint.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/02/21
Jefferson County, Tennessee v. Wilmoth Family Properties, LLC, Et Al.

This action concerns the trial court’s dismissal of a complaint for injunctive relief in which Jefferson County sought to enforce its zoning ordinance as applied to a commercial wedding event venue operated in a rural residential area. We affirm the trial court’s holding that the activities are immune from the County’s authority to enforce its zoning powers by virtue of the agricultural use of the property.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 02/01/21
In Re: Brandon H.

In this termination of parental rights case, Appellant/Father appeals the trial court’s termination of his parental rights to the minor child on the ground of failure to manifest an ability and willingness to parent the child, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14). While Appellant does not appeal the trial court’s finding that termination of his parental rights is in the child’s best interest, we are required to review that question. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 02/01/21
Rocky Joe Houston v. State of Tennessee

The Petitioner, Rocky Joe Houston, appeals from the Roane County Criminal Court’s dismissal of his petition for the writ of habeas corpus from his 2010 conviction of felony evading arrest, for which he served a one-year sentence. On appeal, he contends that the habeas corpus court erred in dismissing his petition. Because the Petitioner failed to state a cognizable basis for relief, we affirm.

Roane County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/29/21
State of Tennessee v. Bryant Lamont Thomas

Defendant, Bryant Lamont Thomas, was employed as a probation officer with the Tennessee Department of Correction. He pled guilty to Class E felony sexual contact with a probationer. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court denied Defendant judicial diversion and sentenced Defendant to two years to be served on supervised probation. Defendant claims the court abused its discretion by denying diversion. After a review of the record and applicable law, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/29/21
Antaveon Waller v. Varangon Corporation d/b/a Varangon Academy, et al.

This case stems from injuries suffered by a minor while he was a resident at a juvenile treatment facility. The plaintiff initially filed suit against the former owner and operator of the facility. Nearly a year later, the plaintiff amended his complaint to include the party that owned and operated the facility during the relevant time period. Both of the defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment for the original defendant, in part, because it found that the original defendant did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff at the time the alleged injuries occurred. The court granted summary judgment for the second defendant because the plaintiff failed to include the party in the suit within the applicable statute of limitations. After the trial court denied the plaintiff’s
post-judgment motion to set aside its ruling, the plaintiff appealed. We affirm the trial court’s ruling and remand.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/29/21
In Re Brianna B. Et Al.

In terminating a mother’s parental rights, the trial court concluded that there were two statutory grounds for termination: abandonment by willful failure to visit and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody and financial responsibility. The trial court also concluded that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. Because we conclude that the evidence of the grounds for terminating the mother’s parental rights was less than clear and convincing, we reverse.

Maury County Court of Appeals 01/29/21
Brianne Marie (Lane)Baker v. Kenneth Dean Baker

A father challenges the trial court’s child support determination, property division, and attorney fee award. In its calculation of gross income for child support purposes, the trial court properly declined to give the father credit for retirement benefits awarded as part of the property division. If the value of the father’s retirement benefits has significantly appreciated since the time of the divorce, the father may bring a petition to modify the child support award to reflect an increase in the mother’s gross income. We affirm the decision of the trial court in all respects.  

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 01/28/21

The Defendant, Ronald D. McCallum, Jr., was convicted by a Davidson County Criminal Court jury of two counts of aggravated robbery, a Class B felony, and vandalism, a Class A misdemeanor. See T.C.A. § 39-13-402 (2018) (aggravated robbery); § 39-14-408 (2018) (vandalism); § 39-14-105 (2018) (grading for vandalism). The trial court sentenced the Defendant as a Range I, standard offender to ten years’ confinement at 85% service for each aggravated robbery conviction and to eleven months, twenty-nine days for the vandalism conviction. The court imposed partial consecutive service, for an effective twenty-year sentence at 85% service. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during her closing argument. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/21

The Defendant, Ida Veronica Thomas, pleaded guilty to theft of property valued at $60,000 or more, but less than $250,000. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the trial court ordered the Defendant to serve twelve years on community corrections and scheduled a subsequent restitution hearing. At the restitution hearing, the trial court ordered restitution in the amount of $151,385 to be paid at a rate of $75 per month. On appeal, among other issues, the Petitioner challenges the trial court’s payment schedule for the restitution, $151,285 at $75 per month for twelve years, which cannot be completed during the length of the Defendant’s sentence. The State concedes this is error and agrees that a remand is the appropriate remedy as to this issue. After reviewing the record, we conclude that restitution is appropriate in this case, but we remand for the trial court: (1) to order a presentence report as required by statute in restitution cases; and (2) to consider the Defendant’s financial resources, future ability to pay, and length of her community corrections sentence as it relates to a payment schedule for restitution.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/21