Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 01/23/2017
Format: 01/23/2017
In Re: Maddox P.
M2016-00569-COA-R3-JV

This appeal arises from a dispute over a residential parenting schedule. Joshua Parker (“Father”) filed a petition against Anna Marsh (“Mother”) in the Juvenile Court for Sumner County (“the Juvenile Court”) seeking to modify the parenting plan regarding their minor child, Maddox (“the Child”). Mother filed a counter-petition. After a hearing, the Juvenile Court made certain modifications to the existing parenting plan but otherwise left it in place. Mother appeals to this Court, arguing in part that the Juvenile Court should have established specific days each month that Father may exercise visitation with the Child. Father, an airline pilot, has a shifting work schedule. We hold that Mother’s requested schedule would have the practical effect of unduly limiting the Child’s time with Father and that the Juvenile Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother’s requested modification. We affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court in its entirety.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/17/17
State of Tennessee v. Barry Lamont Price
W2016-00896-CCA-R3-CD

The Petitioner, Barry Lamont Price, appeals the Circuit Court of Madison County's summary denial of his motion to correct illegal sentence pursuant to Rule 36.1. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court pursuant to Rule 20 of the Rules of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/17/17
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Jones
W2015-01028-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Christopher Jones, was convicted of the first degree premeditated murder of his estranged wife, Heather Palumbo-Jones, and the abuse of her corpse, for which he was sentenced, respectively, to life imprisonment and two years to be served concurrently. On appeal, he argues that the trial court erred by allowing statements made by his wife as an exception to the hearsay rule, by allowing evidence of his prior abuse of the victim, and by admitting into evidence photographs of his wife’s charred body. Additionally, he argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction for first degree murder. Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/17/17
State of Tennessee v. Bryan Cannady
W2016-00494-CCA-R3-CD

Bryan Cannady (“the Defendant”) pled guilty to one count of theft of property valued at $60,000 or more, three counts of burglary, and one count of vandalism in the amount of $60,000 or more in Case 13-02653 and vandalism in the amount of $1,000 or more in Case 14-06122 and received an effective sentence of ten years in the Department of Corrections. On appeal, the Defendant claims that the trial court erred in denying probation or an alternative sentence. Discerning no error, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/17/17
Mario Johnson v. State of Tennessee
W2015-02498-CCA-R3-PC

Mario Johnson (“the Petitioner”) entered an open guilty plea to five counts of aggravated assault. The trial court sentenced the Petitioner to an effective sentence of thirty years in the Department of Correction. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that he entered his guilty plea unknowingly and involuntarily. The post-conviction court denied relief after a hearing. On appeal, we affirm the post-conviction court’s denial of relief.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/17/17
State of Tennessee v. Byron J. Walker
W2016-00076-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Byron J. Walker, entered guilty pleas in 1998 in case numbers 98-01078, 98-01079, and 98-01252 to two counts of possession with the intent to sell cocaine and to one count of possession of marijuana. Pursuant to the negotiated plea agreement, the Defendant received concurrent sentences of three years for each possession with the intent to sell cocaine conviction and sixty days’ confinement for the possession of marijuana conviction, for an effective three-year sentence. On January 26, 2015, the Defendant filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Criminal Procedure Rule 36.1 requesting that the trial court correct illegal sentences. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied relief for failure to state a colorable claim. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the trial court erred by denying relief, (2) the trial court erred in its application of the habeas corpus statute, (3) the trial court’s application of State v. Brown, 479 S.W.3d 200 (Tenn. 2015), as the basis for denying relief violated procedural due process, and (4) this court should overturn our supreme court’s holding in Brown. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/17/17
State of Tennessee v. William Henry Smith, Jr.
M2016-01475-CCA-R3-CD

A Bedford County jury convicted the Defendant, William Henry Smith, Jr., of conspiracy to sell and deliver a Schedule II drug, and the trial court sentenced him to fifteen years of confinement.  On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the evidence against him is insufficient to support his conviction.  After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.    

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/13/17
In re Cameron H.
E2016-01002-COA-R3-PT

The Final Order of Parentage and Adoption in this case reserved the issue of attorney’s fees for further hearing. As such, it is clear that the order appealed from does not resolve all of the issues raised in the proceedings below. As a result, we lack jurisdiction to consider this appeal. 

Polk County Court of Appeals 01/13/17
State of Tennessee v. Jeffery Gordon Layhew
M2016-00725-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Jeffrey Gordon Layhew, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”), offenses which took place on different dates.  For the leaving the scene of an accident conviction, the trial court sentenced him to eleven months and twenty-nine days, to be served at 100%.  For the DUI conviction, the trial court sentenced the Defendant to eleven months and twenty-nine days, to be served at 100%.  The trial court ordered that the sentences be served consecutively for a total effective sentence of two years, at 100%.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it sentenced him to serve maximum consecutive misdemeanor sentences and when it failed to set a specific amount for his restitution.  The State agrees and asks this Court to remand the case to the trial court for resentencing.  After review, we agree with the parties that the trial court erred when it failed to make findings to support consecutive sentences and when it did not set a specific amount for restitution.  Accordingly, we vacate the Defendant’s sentences and remand the case to the trial court for resentencing.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/13/17
Rogelynn Emory v. Memphis City Schools Board of Education, Now Known As Shelby County Board Of Education
W2014-01293-SC-R11-CV

This case arises out of the termination of a tenured teacher. After a three-day hearing, the school board concluded that there was ample evidence of the teacher’s unsatisfactory job performance, so it terminated her employment. In the trial court review of the school board’s decision, the teacher argued that she should be reinstated with back pay because her school board hearing occurred well beyond the thirty-day period set forth in the Teachers’ Tenure Act. The trial court affirmed the termination and the teacher appealed. The Court of Appeals declined to reinstate the teacher based on the untimeliness of the school board hearing but it awarded her partial back pay. On appeal, we first clarify the standard of judicial review for the termination of a tenured teacher under the Tenure Act. Second, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ award of partial back pay to the teacher because the relief ordered is without basis in the Tenure Act. Finally, because the teacher failed to raise to the school board any objection as to the timeliness of her hearing, we hold that the issue is not properly before this Court. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision to uphold the termination of the teacher’s employment.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/13/17
Jerry Holmes v. City of Memphis Civil Service Commission
W2016-00590-COA-R3-CV

An employee of the Memphis Fire Department was terminated following his involvement in a physical altercation in which he struck a business associate in the face with a hammer. The City of Memphis Civil Service Commission upheld the termination, and the employee filed a petition for judicial review. The chancery court reversed the termination, holding that the Civil Service Commission erred in not allowing the employee the benefit of Tennessee’s self-defense statute, in excluding certain evidence of disparate treatment, and in entering a decision not supported by substantial and material evidence. Having reviewed the record, we reverse the judgment of the chancery court in all respects and remand the case for such further proceedings as are necessary and consistent with this opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/13/17
Hobbs Purnell Oil Company, Inc., et al v. Thomas Butler, et al
M2016-00289-COA-R3-CV

This contract action was initiated by the plaintiff oil company, Hobbs Purnell Oil Company, Inc. (“Hobbs Purnell”), alleging that the defendants, Gedith Butler and Thomas Butler, individually and d/b/a GG’s Market (collectively, “the Butlers”), breached their contract with Hobbs Purnell by failing to pay three invoices for fuel, which had been provided to the Butlers on a consignment basis. The Butlers filed a counterclaim against Hobbs Purnell and a third-party complaint against the president of the oil company, Tommy Porter. Prior to trial, the trial court granted Hobbs Purnell’s motion in limine and excluded all invoices that were not listed in the Butlers’ discovery response. At trial, the Butlers chose to proceed in the action pro se following the trial court’s grant of their previous counsel’s motion for withdrawal. During a bench trial, the trial court excluded the testimony of the Butlers’ expert witness upon finding that they had failed to qualify him as an expert. Ultimately, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of Hobbs Purnell and against the Butlers in the amount of $46,135.93, which included $27,059.10 for the three unpaid invoices plus prejudgment interest in the amount of $19,076.83. The trial court dismissed the Butlers’ counterclaim and third-party complaint. The Butlers thereafter filed two pleadings that were treated collectively by the trial court as a motion for new trial, alleging that the trial judge had violated the Code of Judicial Conduct. The trial court denied the motion for new trial. The Butlers have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Lawrence County Court of Appeals 01/12/17
State of Tennessee v. Jimmy Heard
M2016-00622-CCA-R3-CD

The Appellant, Jimmy Heard, is appealing the trial court’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence filed pursuant to Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 36.1  The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20.  Said motion is hereby granted.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. James E. Ferrell
M2016-01157-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, James E. Ferrell, was issued a citation for operating a vehicle while unrestrained by a safety belt, a Class C misdemeanor.  He was found guilty and assessed a fine for the violation in General Sessions Court, and he appealed to the Circuit Court, which imposed a judgment of conviction and a fine.  The Defendant alleges in this appeal that the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction over the offense because there was no warrant issued in the case.  We conclude that the Circuit Court had jurisdiction based upon the issued citation and affirm the conviction.

Warren County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
In re A.B. et al.
E2016-00504-COA-R3-PT

This is a termination of parental rights case. On December 17, 2014, the Department of Children’s Services filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of M.L.F. (Mother) and H.W.B. (Father) with respect to their two children, A.M.B. (Child 1) and O.R.F. (Child 2) (collectively the Children). As to Mother, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence of three grounds supporting termination – abandonment by failure to establish a suitable home, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, and persistence of conditions. By the same quantum of proof, the trial court found that termination of Mother’s rights is in the best interest of the Children. As to Father, the trial court held that DCS had failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, the alleged grounds of abandonment by wanton disregard, substantial noncompliance with permanency plans, and grounds applicable to a putative father. Consequently, the court declined to terminate Father’s parental rights. Mother and DCS appeal. We reverse the trial court’s holding as to Father and affirm the court’s termination of Mother’s rights.

Cumberland County Court of Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. William Rolandus Keel
M2016-00354-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Williams Rolandus Keel, appeals his Davidson County Criminal Court jury convictions of rape of a child, claiming that the trial court erred by denying his motion to compel production of certain documents, that the trial court erred by excluding the testimony of his expert witness, and that the sentence imposed was excessive.  Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. William Rolandus Keel - Concurring
M2016-00354-CCA-R3-CD

Although I concur with lead opinion’s conclusion that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing the Defendant, I write separately to express my opinion that the imposition of consecutive, 30-year sentences to be served at 100% pushes the limit of the presumption of reasonableness under State v. Pollard, 432 S.W.3d 851 (Tenn. 2013) and State v. Bise, 380 S.W.3d 682 (Tenn. 2012).  Without intending to diminish the reprehensibility of the offense of rape of a child, I would note that the effective 60-year sentence in this case is the same length as a life sentence for first degree murder, but with a life sentence, a defendant may be awarded up to 15% sentence reduction credits and be released after serving 51 years, whereas the Defendant’s 60-year sentence is to be served pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-523 “undiminished by any sentence reduction credits.”

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
Josephine Phelps, et al v. Vern Benke, Jr.
M2015-02212-COA-R3-CV

The appellants Josephine Phelps and Roy Smith (the “Appellants”) filed suit to assert rights to a tract of real property by adverse possession. On appeal, they claim that the trial court erred in concluding that they have no possessory rights to the land at issue. In part, they argue that the appellee’s counterclaim for ejectment was untimely because it was not filed within seven years of the beginning of their adverse possession. We disagree and conclude that the trial court was correct in ordering the Appellants to vacate the disputed property. The Appellants’ petition for adverse possession was filed before they had adversely possessed the property for a total of seven years. Moreover, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-1-114, the appellee’s counterclaim for ejectment related back to the filing of the Appellants’ original petition. We accordingly affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. Gary Allen Taylor
E2016-00977-CCA-R3-CD
The Defendant, Gary Allen Taylor, entered a guilty plea to aggravated assault, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and failure to appear in court, with sentencing to be determined by the trial court. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court found that the Defendant was a Range I standard offender and imposed a three-year prison sentence. The Defendant appeals the trial court’s denial of alternative sentencing. We conclude that the trial court did not err in sentencing the Defendant to a term of imprisonment. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.
 
Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
State of Tennessee v. Adolphus L. Hollingsworth
E2015-01463-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Adolphus L. Hollingsworth, was convicted by a Hamilton County jury of second degree murder and was sentenced to twenty-two years' incarceration. On appeal, the Defendant argues: (1) the trial court erred in allowing the State to amend the indictment; (2) the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss based on the State's failure to preserve evidence; (3) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the evidence discovered during the search of his property; (4) the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to exclude evidence from forensic testing; (5) the trial court erred in admitting Rule 404(b) testimony; (6) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction; (7) the trial court erred in failing to provide a female bailiff to supervise the sequestered jury; and (8) the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal or, in the alternative, motion for new trial. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Hamilton County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/11/17
Randall Coleman v. State of Tennessee
M2015-01174-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Randall Coleman, appeals the Davidson County Criminal Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his convictions of one count of rape of a child and five counts of aggravated sexual battery and resulting effective sentence of fifty-five years. On appeal, the Petitioner contends that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. Based upon the record and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Robert G. Thornton, Jr.
M2015-01555-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant entered a plea of nolo contendere to eleven counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a Class D felony, with an agreed-upon sentence of two years for each count, all to be served concurrently. The Defendant reserved a certified question of law challenging the search of his vehicle and its contents, including a laptop computer which was the source of the images which serve as the basis of the convictions.  After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that there was probable cause to search the Defendant’s vehicle, and we accordingly affirm the convictions.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Robert G. Thornton, Jr. - Dissenting
M2015-01555-CCA-R3-CD

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that the police had probable cause to search the Defendant’s vehicle.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/10/17
Joseph Brennan, et al v. Board of Parole For The State of Tennessee
M2014-01591-SC-R11-CV

The Tennessee Board of Parole denied parole to a prisoner who was serving a twenty year sentence for convictions of attempted rape of a child. The Board determined that the prisoner’s release from custody would depreciate the seriousness of the crime for which he was convicted or promote disrespect for the law. The prisoner filed a petition of certiorari challenging the Board’s decision. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision, and the prisoner appealed. The Court of Appeals did not review the issues raised on appeal. Instead, it calculated the date the prisoner should have been considered for parole and concluded that the Board acted arbitrarily by conducting a parole hearing prematurely. The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded with instructions for the Board to give the prisoner an immediate parole hearing. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to calculate the date the prisoner could be considered for parole and did so incorrectly. The Tennessee Department of Correction has the statutory authority to determine the date a prisoner may be considered for parole by the Board. On review, we affirm the trial court’s decision. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/10/17
Bettina Luise Lippert Engh v. Daniel James Engh
M2016-00595-COA-R3-CV

Father appeals the trial court’s designation of Mother as the primary residential parent for their daughter. Applying the factors in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-106(a) to the testimony, the trial court determined, inter alia, that Mother acted as the primary caregiver, formed a stronger emotional bond with the child, and showed a greater willingness to foster a relationship between the child and Father. Following a thorough review of the record, we have determined that the trial court correctly identified and properly applied the relevant legal principles and that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s findings of fact. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision to make Mother the primary residential parent. 

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/10/17