Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 09/19/2014
Format: 09/19/2014
In Re: Shameel S., et al
E2014-00294-COA-R3-PT

Valerie S. (“Mother”) appeals the termination of her parental rights to her minor children Shameel S., born November 1996, and LaRiea S., born May 1998, (“the Children”). Acting upon a petition to terminate parental rights filed by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”), the Juvenile Court for Anderson County (“the Juvenile Court”) terminated Mother’s parental rights to the Children on the ground of severe abuse pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-102. Mother argues on appeal that DCS did not exercise reasonable efforts to reunify Mother and the Children in the period before a finding of severe abuse. We find and hold that clear and convincing evidence was shown that the ground existed to terminate Mother’s parental rights to the Children for severe child abuse, that clear and convincing evidence was shown that termination was in the Children’s best interest, and that DCS exercised reasonable efforts. We affirm the Juvenile Court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 09/19/14
State of Tennessee v. Frank Kendale Sparkman, Jr.
M2012-02381-CCA-R3-CD

The appellant, Frank Kendale Sparkman, Jr., pled guilty in the Lewis County Circuit Court to selling one-half gram or more of cocaine, a Class B felony, and possession of less than one-half gram of cocaine, a Class C felony, and received an effective eleven-year sentence to be served on supervised probation.  On appeal, the appellant contends that the trial court erred by revoking his probation and ordering that he serve his effective sentence in confinement.  Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Lewis County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/19/14
Jo Dean Nuchols v. Blount County, Tennessee
E2013-00574-SC-WCM-WC

An employee alleged that she sustained a mental injury as a result of a confrontation with her supervisor, the Sheriff of Blount County. The trial court found that she had failed to provide notice of her injury as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-201 (Supp. 2001) and dismissed her complaint. The trial court made an alternative finding that she was permanently and totally disabled as a result of the incident. The employee has appealed, contending that the evidence preponderates against the trial court’s finding on the notice issue. 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 judgment of the trial court dismissing the employee’s claim.

Blount County Workers Compensation Panel 09/19/14
State of Tennessee v. Andre Wilson
W2013-02012-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Andre Wilson, was convicted by a Shelby County jury of aggravated robbery and felony reckless endangerment, for which he received an effective sentence of twelve years’ incarceration. The sole issue presented for our review is whether the evidence is sufficient to support the conviction of felony reckless endangerment. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/19/14
In Re Baby Et Al.
M2012-01040-SC-R11-JV

A man and woman who were unable to have children together entered into a contract with a woman who consented to act as a surrogate. The surrogate’s husband was also a party to the contract. The parties contracted for a “traditional surrogacy,” which involves the artificial insemination of the surrogate, who, after giving birth, is meant to relinquish the child to the biological father and the intended mother. Prior to the birth of the child, all parties filed a joint petition asking the juvenile court to declare the paternity of the child, grant custody to the intended parents, and terminate the parental rights of the surrogate. A magistrate for the juvenile court granted the petition. Less than a month later, the surrogate gave birth, and, following the advice of medical personnel, the parties agreed that the surrogate should breastfeed the child for a short period of time in the interest of providing the best possible nutrition. When the child was almost one week old, the surrogate filed a series of motions asking the magistrate to vacate the prior order, set aside the surrogacy contract, and award her custody. The magistrate denied the motions, the juvenile court judge upheld the ruling, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. This Court granted the surrogate’s application for permission to appeal to consider issues of public policy, subject matter jurisdiction, paternity, custody, and the termination of parental rights.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/18/14
In Re Baby Et Al. - Concurring
M2012-01040-SC-R11-JV

This case of first impression regarding the enforceability of an international traditional surrogacy contract will have far-reaching ramifications both in Tennessee and beyond. While I concur, in general terms, with the Court’s disposition of this particular case, I have chosen to write separately because I cannot concur with the Court’s conclusion that “traditional surrogacy contracts do not violate public policy as a general rule.” While the surrogate in this case may not have succeeded in demonstrating that this particular traditional surrogacy contract is unenforceable as against public policy, this case is not an appropriate vehicle for this Court to broadly declare that traditional surrogacy agreements, or any other surrogacy agreement for that matter, are consistent with Tennessee’s public policy.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/18/14
State of Tennessee v. Bill Shannon Wilson
E2013-02551-CCA-R3-CD

A Campbell County jury found the Defendant, Bill Shannon Wilson, guilty of two counts of rape of a child. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to concurrent twenty-year sentences for the convictions. The Defendant asserts that the trial court erred when it: (1) denied the Defendant’s motion for judgment of acquittal because the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions; (2) denied the Defendant’s motion for new trial in light of newly discovered evidence; (3) denied the Defendant’s motion for new trial based upon an “insufficient” indictment; and (4) allowed the State to call a rebuttal witness for the sole purpose of proving collateral matters by extrinsic evidence. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/18/14
State of Tennessee v. John T. Freeland, Jr.
W2011-01828-SC-DDT-DD

Following a bench trial, the defendant was convicted of first degree premeditated murder,
first degree felony murder, especially aggravated kidnapping, and tampering with evidence.
The trial court imposed a sentence of death based on three aggravating circumstances: (1) the defendant had previously been convicted of one or more felonies involving the use of
violence; (2) the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with, or
preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution of the defendant; and (3) the murder was knowingly
committed while the defendant had a substantial role in committing a robbery. See Tenn.
Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(2), (6), (7) (2010 & Supp. 2013). The Court of Criminal Appeals
affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence. On automatic appeal to this Court, we
designated the following issues for oral argument: (1) whether the Court of Criminal Appeals
committed error by affirming the trial court’s determination that the defendant’s confessions
were freely and voluntarily made; and (2) whether under our mandatory review required by
Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1), the sentence of death is disproportionate or invalid. Having carefully considered the issues raised by the 2 defendant and the mandatory review provisions, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals. We remand the case to the trial court, however, for the entry of a corrected judgment reflecting the trial court’s merger of the defendant’s convictions for first degree murder into a single conviction.

Madison County Supreme Court 09/17/14
State of Tennessee v. John T. Freeland, Jr. - Concur
W2011-01828-SC-DDT-DD

We concur fully with all of the Court’s opinion except for Section II(B)(iv) containing
the proportionality analysis. After conducting our own independent proportionality analysis,
we concur with the majority’s conclusion that Mr. Freeland’s sentence of death is not
disproportionate to the sentences imposed on other similar offenders who have committed
similar crimes.

Madison County Supreme Court 09/17/14
Blain Steven Covert v. State of Tennessee
E2013-02531-CCA-R3-PC

The State appeals the Campbell County Circuit Court’s grant of post-conviction relief from the Petitioner’s convictions for aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor and his effective ten-year sentence. The State contends that the trial court erred by granting the Petitioner relief because he failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. We have reviewed the trial court’s decision granting post-conviction relief and conclude that the Petitioner failed to show that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Blain Steven Covert v. State of Tennessee - separate dissenting opinion
E2013-02531-CCA-R3-PC

I would affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court and therefore respectfully
dissent from the majority opinion.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Christopher M. Collin v. James M. Holloway, Warden
M2014-00176-CCA-R3-HC

The Petitioner, Christopher M. Collin, appeals as of right from the Davidson County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Petitioner contends that his judgments of conviction were void because they improperly subjected him to community supervision for life. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
State of Tennessee v. Ricky Allen Hickman
M2013-02390-CCA-R3-CD

A Marshall County jury convicted the Defendant, Ricky Allen Hickman, of one count of rape of a child and three counts of aggravated sexual battery.  The trial court sentenced the Defendant to serve thirty-five years for the rape of a child conviction and twelve years for each of the aggravated sexual battery convictions.  The trial court ordered partial consecutive sentencing, for a total effective sentence of forty-seven years in the Tennessee Department of Correction.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that: (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction for rape of a child; and (2) his sentence is excessive and contrary to law.  After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Marshall County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Tyree Robinson v. State of Tennessee
W2013-00848-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner was convicted of first degree premeditated murder, felony murder, and especially aggravated robbery, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment and twenty years, to be served consecutively. He filed a timely petition for post-conviction relief, asserting that trial counsel was ineffective in dealing with a State’s witness; in not objecting to certain parts of the State’s closing argument; and in failing to conduct a proper investigation. The post-conviction court found that each claim was without merit, and, following our review, we conclude that the record supports that determination. Accordingly, we affirm the order of the post-conviction court denying relief.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Devaron Taylor v. State of Tennessee
W2013-01588-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Devaron Taylor, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that the post-conviction court erred in finding that he received effective assistance of counsel. Following our review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Michael John Stitts v. State of Tennessee
W2013-02550-CCA-R3-PC

A Madison County jury convicted the Petitioner, Michael John Stitts, of theft of property valued between $1,000 and $10,000. The trial court sentenced the Petitioner to serve six years in confinement. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed the Petitioner’s conviction and sentence. State v. Michael John Stitts, W2011-02673-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 257069, at *8 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Jan. 23, 2013), no Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application filed. The Petitioner filed a petition seeking post-conviction relief, claiming that he had received the ineffective assistance of counsel. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the Petitioner relief. The Petitioner appeals this denial, maintaining that his attorney was ineffective. After a thorough review of the record, the briefs, and relevant authorities, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Sonny Lyles v. Jerry Lester, Warden
W2014-00392-CCA-R3-HC

In 2011, the Petitioner, Sonny Lyles, pleaded guilty to multiple charges and received an effective sentence of twelve years and six months at 100%. In accordance with the plea agreement, this sentence was ordered to be served concurrently with a sentence in Arkansas. On February 18, 2014, the Petitioner filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in which he alleged that the 2011 judgments were void. He argued that because the state of Arkansas granted him an early release and he was transferred to Tennessee, his Tennessee sentence was now “consecutive” to his Arkansas sentence, which was not contemplated by the plea agreement. The habeas corpus court summarily dismissed the Petitioner’s petition. We affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
Gary Lilley v. State of Tennessee
W2013-02779-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Gary Lilley, pleaded guilty to first degree premeditated murder, and the trial court imposed a life sentence. The Petitioner filed a petition seeking post-conviction relief almost two years after pleading guilty, which the post-conviction court summarily dismissed. After a thorough review of the record, the briefs, and relevant authorities, we affirm the postconviction court’s judgment.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/16/14
In Re Ayden J.C.
E2013-02644-COA-R3-PT

This is a termination of parental rights case in which the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate Parents’ parental rights to the Child. The trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed to support the termination on the statutory grounds of abandonment for failure to remit support, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, and the persistence of conditions which led to removal. The court further found that termination of each parent’s parental rights was in the best interest of the Child. Parents appeal. We reverse the court’s termination of Father’s parental rights for failure to remit child support. We affirm the court’s termination of parental rights in all other respects.

Union County Court of Appeals 09/15/14
DENNIS CEDRIC WOODARD, JR. v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
M2013-01857-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Dennis Cedric Woodard, Jr., appeals the summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief and/or petition for writ of error coram nobis as untimely.  He asserts that the statute of limitations should be tolled in the interest of justice because he did not learn until well after its expiration that his trial counsel simultaneously represented one of the witnesses against him, Henry Young, without his knowledge.  After review, we reverse the summary dismissal and remand for an evidentiary hearing.   
 

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/15/14
Donna Leigh Pearson v. State of Tennessee
M2013-02539-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Donna Leigh Pearson, appeals the summary dismissal of her amended petition for post-conviction relief.  Because the post-conviction court erred by summarily dismissing the amended petition as conceded by the State, the case is remanded to that court for an evidentiary hearing solely on the issue of counsel’s handling of the delayed direct appeal.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/15/14
William Gregory Hall, Jr. v. Hillary Hudgens Hall
E2013-02227-COA-R3-CV

This is an appeal of the trial court’s grant of a one-year extension of an order of protection. The petitioner/father had initially obtained an ex parte order of protection against the respondent/mother in August 2005. Subsequent to the expiration of that ex parte order, the parties were divorced in January 2007, with the trial court incorporating into the final decree of divorce an agreed permanent parenting plan awarding the parents equal co-parenting time with their two minor children. Five years later under the docket number of the previous order of protection, the father initiated the instant action by filing an ex parte petition for a new order of protection against the mother. The trial court granted an ex parte order and subsequently entered a one-year order of protection to which the parties agreed on August 30, 2012. This order of protection, inter alia, allowed the mother three telephone calls per week with the children but no in-person contact. On October 1, 2012, the father filed a petition to modify the permanent parenting plan, utilizing the docket number of the original divorce action. In July 2013, the father filed, again within the divorce action, a motion to consolidate the order of protection and permanent parenting plan proceedings, requesting that the order of protection be extended indefinitely. Following a bench hearing, the trial court granted a one-year extension of the order of protection. The mother appeals. Because we determine that the preponderance of the evidence does not support a finding that the father proved the allegation of domestic abuse at the time the extension was granted, we vacate the trial court’s extension of the order.

Knox County Court of Appeals 09/15/14
Mark Coffey v. City of Oak Ridge, Tennessee
E2013-02200-COA-R3-CV

This is a retaliatory discharge case in which a former police officer filed suit against his department for back pay, front pay, and other compensatory damages. The trial court found that the police officer did not establish the elements of retaliatory discharge under the Tennessee Public Protection Act and dismissed his suit. The police officer appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 09/12/14
Greg Parker, Et Al. v. Holiday Hospitality Franchising, Incorporated, Et Al.
E2013-00727-SC-R11-CV

We granted permission to appeal in this premises liability action to address two issues: (1) whether the undisputed facts establish either the accepted work doctrine exception or the nondelegable duty to the public exception to the general rule that property owners are not vicariously liable for the negligence of independent contractors; and (2) whether disputes of material fact remain concerning the property owner’s actual or constructive notice of the defective condition created by the independent contractor’s negligence. We hold that the undisputed facts do not establish either exception to the general rule of non-liability and that the undisputed facts establish that the property owner had neither actual nor constructive notice of the defective condition created by the independent contractor’s negligence. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part. The judgment of the trial court granting the property owner summary judgment is reinstated.

Roane County Supreme Court 09/12/14
State of Tennessee v. Letalvis Darnell Cobbins
E2013-00476-CCA-R3-CD

For his involvement in the January 2007 murders of the victims C.N. and C.C.,1 appellant, Letalvis Darnell Cobbins, was found guilty of multiple counts of first degree murder, facilitation of first degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, facilitation of especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated rape, for which he received an effective sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole plus one hundred years. He appeals his convictions and sentences on the following grounds: (1) whether misconduct of the trial judge constituted structural constitutional error; (2) whether the trial court erred in denying appellant’s motion for change of venue; (3) whether the trial court erred in admitting certain photographs; (4) whether the trial court erred in denying appellant’s motion to continue; (5) whether the trial court erred in allowing testimony concerning a firearm that appellant had possessed prior to the offense date; (6) whether the trial court erred in allowing family members to wear buttons with the victims’ likenesses; and (7) whether the trial court erred in imposing an effective sentence of one hundred years to be served consecutively to his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. We have thoroughly reviewed the record in this case and discern no error. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/12/14