Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 03/06/2015
Format: 03/06/2015
Travelers Casualty And Surety Company of America v. City of South Pittsburg,Tennessee
M2014-00269-COA-R9-CV

In a suit arising out of a construction project at a wastewater treatment facility, the City of South Pittsburg brought an action against an engineering firm and a construction firm for breach of contract, negligence and professional negligence. The insurance company which issued a performance bond covering the project was added as a partyand moved for summary judgment on the ground that the City had not instituted a proceeding to recover under the bond within the two year period specified in the bond for doing so. The insurance company appeals the denial of its motion. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Marion County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
Patrick Richard Moorcroft v. Flora Templeton Stuart v. Natalie Talmage Moorcroft
M2013-02295-COA-R3-CV

This case began as an action for legal separation between a husband and wife. The two quickly entered into an agreed temporary parenting plan providing for the custody of their children. However, the children’s maternal grandmother intervened, seeking registration and enforcement under the Tennessee Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act of a Kentucky grandparent visitation order. The circuit court granted registration and enforcement of the order. The parents appealed. Because we conclude that the grandmother was required to seek visitation under the Tennessee Grandparent Visitation Statute, we reverse the trial court’s decision.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
Leon Williams v. Jannie Williams
M2013-01910-COA-R3-CV

In this post-divorce proceeding, Wife filed a petition for civil contempt to compel Husband to comply with the parties’ marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”) by either refinancing, paying in full, or selling real property mortgaged in her name in order to remove her from any liability on the indebtedness. Husband responded by filing a series of petitions for contempt, contending, inter alia, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, unclean hands, breach of contract, and abuse of process for Wife’s alleged failure under the MDA to execute certain documents which would have facilitated Husband’s “assumption” of the existing mortgage. On the eve of the evidentiary hearing on Wife’s petition for contempt, Husband paid off the indebtedness. At the hearing that followed, the trial court ruled that the issue of Husband’s civilcontempt was moot due to the fact that he belatedlycomplied with the MDA; nevertheless, the court also ruled that Wife was entitled to recover her reasonable attorney’s fees, pursuant to the enforcement provision of the MDA, because she was the prevailing party. The enforcement provision of the MDA states: “In the event it becomes reasonably necessary for either party to institute legal proceedings to procure the enforcement of any provision of this Agreement, the prevailing party shall also be entitled to a judgment for reasonable expenses, including attorney’s fees, incurred in prosecuting the action.” Husband appeals contending Wife was not the prevailing party because there was never a ruling on the merits of her claim, and, therefore, she is not entitled to recover any of her attorney’s fees; he also challenges numerous other rulings by the trial court. For her part, Wife seeks all of her attorney’s fees incurred in the trial court, as well as attorney’s fees related to this appeal. We affirm the trial court’s determination that Wife was the prevailing party because, as the trial court correctlyfound,it was reasonablynecessaryfor Wife to institute legal proceedings to enforce Husband’s compliance with the MDA, and even though there was no hearing or ruling on the merits of her enforcement claim, “but for” Wife’s petition, Husband would not have fulfilled his obligation under the MDA to remove Wife from all liability on the mortgage debt. See Fannon v. City of LaFollette, 329 S.W.3d 418 (Tenn. 2010). We also affirm the trial court’s discretionary decision to award Wife a portion of her attorney’s fees. As for Husband’s remaining issues, we find that these are moot or they have been waived. Finally, we have determined that Wife is entitled to her attorney’s fees on appeal because she is the prevailing party on appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
Leon Williams v. Jannie Williams - Dissent
M2013-01910-COA-R3-CV

Because I disagree with the Court’s interpretation of the term “prevailing party” as used in the parties’ Martial Dissolution Agreement (“MDA”), I respectfully dissent. Citing Fannon v. City of LaFollette, 329 S.W.3d 418 (Tenn. 2010), the majority concludes “a party may be recognized as the prevailing party if that party achieves the primary benefit sought in instituting the legal proceeding and/or if the action modifies the opposing party’s behavior in a way that provides a direct benefit, regardless of the fact there was no hearing or judgment on the merits.” In my view, Fannon does not stand for such a proposition, and Fannon does not represent a departure from the interpretations of the term “prevailing party” by the United States Supreme Court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 01/30/15
State of Tennessee v. David Wortman
E2014-00913-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, David Wortman, pled guilty to two counts of aggravated assault and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in exchange for an effective sentence of four years and six months, with the manner of service of the sentence to be determined by the trial court at a sentencing hearing. After the sentencing hearing, the trial court denied alternative sentencing, ordering Defendant to serve his sentence in incarceration. Defendant appeals the denial of alternative sentencing. Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying alternative sentencing, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/29/15
William Charles Angel, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
M2013-02659-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, William Charles Angel, Jr., appeals the Giles County Circuit Court’s denial of post-conviction relief from his guilty plea to three counts of first degree premeditated murder (counts 1, 2, and 3), three counts of first degree felony murder (counts 4, 5, and 6), one count of aggravated arson, one count of setting fire to personal property, one count of aggravated burglary, one count of theft under $500, and one count of aggravated cruelty to an animal, for which he received an effective sentence of life imprisonment without parole.  He argues that his convictions were based upon a coerced confession to law enforcement and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, which rendered his guilty plea involuntary.  Upon review, we affirm the judgment denying post-conviction relief.  However, because the judgments of conviction in this case fail to reflect the merger of the first degree premeditated convictions with the surviving first degree felony murder convictions, we vacate the judgments in counts 1 through 6 and remand the case for entry of three judgments of conviction showing that count 1 was merged with count 4, count 2 was merged with count 5, and count 3 was merged with count 6.

Giles County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/29/15
State Ex Rel Commissioner, Department of Transportation v. Ilya Dyskin et al.
E2013-02286-COA-R3-CV

The question presented on this appeal is whether a covenant, i.e., a promise, by a grantor to pay – in a deed conveying an undivided one-third interest in a piece of property – all property taxes and other expenses associated with the 100% interest in the property is binding on successor grantees of her remaining two-thirds interest. Sonja Taylor conveyed an undivided one-third interest in the property to Fred T. Hanzelik. Taylor agreed to pay “all taxes, expenses and obligations regarding” the property, including those on Hanzelik’s portion. Taylor later conveyed her remaining two-thirds interest to Shane Coughlin, who later conveyed it to Fifth Project, LLC, which later conveyed it to defendants Ilya Dyskin and Tatiana Dyskin. Hanzelik argues that Taylor’s covenant to pay property taxes for the entire ownership interest, including Hanzelik’s one-third interest, is binding on the Dyskins. The trial court agreed and ordered the Dyskins to pay the entire property tax bill. After examining the deeds in the chain of title, we find no evidence of an intention that Taylor’s covenant would run with the land and bind successor grantees of the two-thirds interest. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
In Re R.L.M.
E2013-02723-COA-R3-PT

This is a parental termination case regarding R.L.M., the daughter of unmarried parents, V.R.G. (Mother) and J.M. (Father). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of (1) a failure to provide a suitable home and (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal. The court also found, again by clear and convincing evidence, that termination is in the child’s best interest. Father appeals. He contends 1 generally that the evidence does not clearly and convincingly establish the grounds for termination and best interest. The Department of Children Services (DCS) takes a different approach. It concedes that an essential element of its case was not established by the proof. It contends that, as a consequence, the judgment of the trial court must be reversed. Because we agree with the State, we (1) reverse the judgment of the trial court terminating Father’s rights and (2) dismiss the petition in this case.

Sullivan County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
Trails End Campground, LLC v. Brimstone Recreation, LLC et al.
E2014-00336-COA-R3-CV

The plaintiff, Trails End Campground, LLC (Trails End) and the defendant Brimstone Recreation, LLC (Brimstone) are competitors in an outdoor recreation-oriented market in and around Scott County. In 2012, the defendant Town of Huntsville executed a lease with Brimstone giving it “the exclusive use, control and enjoyment” of a centrally-located open area in the town, sometimes referred to as Town Square, during the weeks prior to and including Memorial Day and Labor Day. Trails End brought this action alleging (1) that the Town acted without authority under its charter to execute such a lease; (2) that it created a perpetuity and monopoly in violation of the state constitution; and (3) that it violated the Tennessee Trade Practices Act (TTPA), Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-25-101 to -112 (2013). The trial court granted the defendants summary judgment. We hold (1) that, under its charter, the Town had authority to enter into the lease, (2) that the lease does not create an unlawful monopoly or perpetuity, and (3) that the TTPA is not implicated by the facts of this case. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Scott County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
In Re Juanita W.
E2013-02861-COA-R3-JV

Juanita W. (“the Juvenile”) appeals an order of the Criminal Court for Knox County (“the Criminal Court”) finding her delinquent by committing the act of aggravated assault pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-102(a)(1)(B). We find and hold that the required element of bodily injury was not proven, and we, therefore, reverse the Criminal Court’s order finding the Juvenile delinquent and dismiss the case.

Knox County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
Orville Lambdin v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company
W2013-01597-SC-WCO-WC

During his thirty-seven years working for the employer, the employee suffered a gradual loss of hearing, especially at frequency levels of sound above 3000 hertz. Shortly after his retirement, he made a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. After hearing the proof, the trial court ultimately found that the AMA Guides did not cover hearing losses at the higher frequencies and awarded a 30% vocational disability,notonlyfor the anatomical impairment between 2000 and 3000 hertz but also for the impairment between 3000 and 4000 hertz. The employer appealed, asserting that the AMA Guides did not consider as an impairment hearing losses at levels higher than 3000 hertz and objecting to the method used by the employee’s physician to ascertain anatomical impairment above that level. Because the evidence clearly established a hearing impairment above 3000 hertz and there was evidentiary support for the trial court’s determination that expert testimony established an “appropriate” method for rating the impairment in a manner “used and accepted by the medical community,” the judgment is affirmed.

Obion County Supreme Court 01/29/15
In Re Guardianship of Taylour L., et al.
W2013-01296-COA-R3-CV

This appeal concerns a guardianship proceeding for four children. The mother of the children (“Mother”) was killed while on duty as a police officer. The children’s maternal grandmother and the father (“Father”) of three of the children sought custody of all four children. The trial court ultimately awarded custody to the children’s maternal grandfather “Grandfather”), although Grandfather was not a party to the proceedings and did not request guardianship of the four children. Father appeals, asserting that the trial court erred in not awarding custody to him. We have determined that the trial court erred in awarding Grandfather guardianship of Father’s three biological children without first determining that there would be a substantial risk of harm to the children should Father be appointed guardian. Furthermore, we find that the trial court erred in awarding Grandfather guardianship of Mother’s fourth child without conducting a thorough best interest analysis. Therefore, we vacate the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 01/29/15
State of Tennessee v. Bobby Daniel Pettie
M2014-00113-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Bobby Daniel Pettie, was found guilty by a Bedford County Circuit Court jury of initiating the manufacture of methamphetamine, a Class B felony, promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, a Class D felony, possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, a Class D felony, and possession of methamphetamine, a Class A misdemeanor.  See T.C.A. §§ 39-17-435 (2014), 39-17-433 (2014), 39-17-1324 (2014), 39-17-418 (2014).  The trial court sentenced the Defendant to sixteen years for initiating the manufacture of methamphetamine, six years for promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, six years for possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and eleven months, twenty-nine days for possession of methamphetamine.  The court ordered the initiating the manufacture of methamphetamine and the promotion of methamphetamine manufacture sentences be served concurrently with each other and consecutively to the possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony and to the possession of methamphetamine sentences, for an effective sentence of twenty-two years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days.  On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions, (2) the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress, and (3) his sentence is excessive.  We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Bedford County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/15
State of Tennessee v. Timothy Roy Bozza
M2013-02537-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Timothy Roy Bozza, was convicted of first degree murder by a Davidson County Criminal Court Jury.  See T.C.A. § 39-13-202 (2014). He was sentenced to life in prison.  On appeal, he contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction and that the trial court erred in denying him counsel of his choice.  We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/15
State of Tennessee v. Richard Barefoot
M2014-01028-CCA-R3-CD

In 2014 the Defendant, Richard Barefoot, pleaded guilty to identity theft, fraudulent use of a credit card, and theft of property.  The trial court sentenced him to fifteen years in the Tennessee Department of Correction.  The Defendant reserved a certified question of law pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 37(b)(2) about whether the trial court improperly denied his motion to dismiss by holding that the time limitation for prisoner transfer as proscribed by the Interstate Compact on Detainers was not applicable.  After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

Sumner County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/15
Dale Wayne Wilbanks v. State of Tennessee
E2013-00229-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Dale Wayne Wilbanks, entered a best interest plea with an agreed upon sentence of twenty years for second degree murder and a concurrent twenty-five years for attempted first degree murder. The Petitioner filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and a petition seeking post-conviction relief. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the Petitioner relief. The Petitioner now appeals, maintaining that his guilty plea was involuntary and that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm the postconviction court’s judgments.

Hawkins County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/15
State of Tennessee v. William Jernigan
W2013-01011-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, William Jernigan, entered into a negotiated plea agreement and pled guilty as charged in a two-count criminal information to the Class D felony offense of possession with intent to sell Alprazolam and to the Class E felony offense of possession with intent to sell one-half ounce or more of marijuana. The agreed sentences were thirty months for the Class D felony and two years for the Class E felony, to be served concurrently. Reserved for determination by the trial court was what amount, if any, of the effective sentence of thirty months would be served on probation. At the sentencing hearing, Defendant sought full probation. The State requested that Defendant be incarcerated “at least for a time” because Defendant was “not worthy of complete probation.” From the bench at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing the trial court ordered the sentence to be served by split confinement as follows: sixty days’ incarceration in the Shelby County workhouse followed by thirty months’ probation. Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court should have granted full probation. We affirm the judgments of conviction and sentence of the trial court but reverse the trial court’s order of stay of incarceration which was filed after the notice of appeal conferred jurisdiction with this Court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/15
State of Tennessee v. Elke Babette Paster
W2014-00606-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Elke Babette Paster, was charged with multiple Tennessee Code Annotated traffic offenses. These charges were initially set for adjudication in Somerville City Court but were later transferred to Fayette County General Sessions Court, where that court found the Defendant guilty of speeding. Upon her appeal to the Fayette County Circuit Court from the General Sessions Court’s judgment, the Circuit Court granted the Defendant’s motion to dismiss, declaring the General Sessions Court order void and reinstating the City Court’s adjudication of her charges. She now appeals challenging the jurisdiction of the City Court, the authority of that court to transfer the case to the General Sessions Court, and the Circuit Court’s reinstatement of the City Court’s adjudication. Following our review, we reverse the order of the Circuit Court dismissing the case and remand to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Fayette County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/28/15
State of Tennessee v. Richard Alan Hatchel
W2014-00486-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Richard Alan Hatchel, was indicted by the Tipton County Grand Jury for first degree premeditated murder and felony reckless endangerment under T.C.A. § 39-13- 103(b)(3). Defendant was convicted as charged by a jury. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment for his first degree murder conviction and three years for his reckless endangerment conviction, with the sentences to be served concurrently. In this appeal as of right, Defendant asserts and the State concedes that the evidence is insufficient to support Defendant’s conviction for reckless endangerment because the proof at trial showed that Defendant was inside the house, and an element of the offense for which Defendant was charged is that he discharged a firearm from outside of the house. Defendant also asserts that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his conviction for first degree premeditated murder. After a careful review of the record before us, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction for first degree premeditated murder, but the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant’s conviction for felony reckless endangerment as charged. Accordingly, the judgment of conviction for first degree murder is affirmed. The judgment of conviction for felony reckless endangerment is reversed and the charge of felony reckless endangerment is dismissed with prejudice.

Tipton County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Benjamin Lepard aka Benjamine Lepard
W2014-00170-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Benjamin Lepard, a/k/a Benjamine Lepard, appeals from the trial court’s order revoking his probation as to all four convictions he received in 2010 as a result of negotiated guilty pleas entered on July 27, 2010. He received sentences of three years in each of three of the convictions and a sentence of eight years in the fourth conviction. The three-year sentences were ordered to be served concurrently with each other but consecutively to the eight-year sentence, for an effective sentence of eleven years. The order of probation reflects that Defendant would stay in custody for an additional eight months and be released to probation “for a period of 11 years.” Defendant was also ordered to “go to inpatient rehab on release” on March 25, 2011. A violation of probation warrant was filed on November 15, 2013. After a hearing, the trial court revoked probation on all convictions and ordered Defendant to serve the entire effective sentence of eleven years by incarceration. After a thorough review of the appellate record and the arguments of the parties, we affirm the trial court’s judgment insofar as it rules that Defendant violated a condition of probation and that the suspended sentence should be revoked. However, under the particular circumstances of this case, we reverse the trial court’s judgment insofar as it ordered the entire effective sentence of eleven years to be served. Under rather peculiar and disturbing circumstances, the judgments were altered without the trial court’s direction, and we are unable to conclude whether the effective three-year sentence was to be served prior to the eight-year sentence. Accordingly, we remand for the trial court to enter amended judgments setting forth the details of the manner of service of the effective eleven-year sentence, specifically whether the three-year sentence was to be served prior to the eight-year sentence.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/27/15
State of Tennessee v. Don Arturo Hyler
M2014-00221-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Don Arturo Hyler, was convicted of the sale of 26 grams or more of cocaine and possession of 300 grams or more of cocaine with intent to sell in a drug-free school zone and received a total effective sentence of fifteen years at 100%.  On appeal, he argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions; that the court should have instructed the jury as to the lesser-included offense of facilitation; that the State made an improper reference in the opening statement regarding prior bad acts of the defendant; and for failing to grant a severance of charges for trial.  Following our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/27/15
Cathy C. Phipps v. William Phipps
E2014-00922-COA-R3-CV

In this post-divorce appeal, the husband seeks reversal of the trial court’s classification of a certificate of deposit as marital property and the grant of alimony. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 01/27/15
David Lee Leggs v. State of Tennessee
M2014-00866-CCA-R3-PC

Petitioner, David Lee Leggs, appeals the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief. He claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during trial and on appeal. After thorough review, we affirm the decision of the post-conviction court.

 

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 01/27/15
Samuel E. Foster, et al v. Walter William Chiles, III, M.D.
E2012-01780-SC-R11-CV

This appeal presents two issues for review: 1) whether a person asserting a health  care  liability claim must  give  written  notice  of  the claim to  all  potential  health  care defendants before re-filing a complaint, or whether notice given before filing the first complaint is  sufficient  notice for  a  subsequently filed  complaint against the same defendants; and 2) if pre-suit notice is required for each complaint, whether the sanction for noncompliance is a dismissal with or without prejudice.  The plaintiffs, before filing their health care liability complaint, gave the defendants written notice under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(1).  Thereafter, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their complaint.   The plaintiffs  re-filed their complaint but  did  not provide  the  defendants  with  notice before the re-filing.  The trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice for failure to comply with the notice requirement of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(1).  The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the plaintiffs had to give pre-suit notice only once and that  pre-suit notice for the first complaint was sufficient for any subsequently filed complaints asserting the same claims against the same defendants. We hold that Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(1) requires that plaintiffs notify prospective defendants of a forthcoming health care liability lawsuit before the filing of each complaint.  The sanction for failure to comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(1) is a dismissal without prejudice. 

Knox County Supreme Court 01/27/15
Samuel E. Foster, et al v. Walter William Chiles, III, M.D. - Dissent
E2012-01780-SC-R11-CV

Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1)provides thatanyperson who has a potential claim for health care liability must serve written notice on each defendant at least sixty days before filing a complaint.  In this case, the Court of Appeals held that Samuel E. Foster and his wife, Mary Foster (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”), complied with the plain language of this statute by sending notices of their potential claims well over sixty days prior to filing their complaint. Because I believe that the Court of Appeals properly interpreted the statute, I respectfully disagree with the conclusion reached by my colleagues and would remand this action for a trial on the merits rather than dismiss without prejudice to the filing of a third complaint.

Knox County Supreme Court 01/27/15