Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 10/21/2014
Format: 10/21/2014
Chris Eric Strickland v. Pennye Danielle Strickland
M2013-02657-COA-R3-CV

In the first appeal in this divorce action, the case was remanded for the trial court to adopt a parenting plan that increased Mother’s parenting time and to adjust her child support obligation accordingly. Mother appeals the order entered on remand,contending that the trial court failed to give her meaningful parenting time as directed and by imputing income to her based on a finding that she is voluntarily underemployed. Finding no error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 09/09/14
State of Tennessee v. Gary Brian Berry
M2014-00043-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Gary Brian Berry, appeals his Hickman County Circuit Court guilty-pleaded convictions of manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell, and four counts of promoting the manufacture of methamphetamine, claiming that the 12-year sentence imposed by the trial court is excessive.  We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/08/14
State of Tennessee v. Stephano L. Weilacker
M2013-01532-CCA-R3-CD

The appellant, Stephano L. Weilacker, was convicted in the Montgomery County Criminal Court of especially aggravated kidnapping, a Class A felony, and aggravated robbery, a Class B felony, and received an effective twenty-year sentence to be served consecutively to a previous sentence.  In this delayed appeal, the appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions, that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence, that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments, that the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury as provided by State v. White, 362 S.W.3d 559 (Tenn. 2012), and that consecutive sentencing was improper. However, because no timely motion for new trial was filed in this case, we can only review sufficiency of the evidence and sentencing and the other issues for plain error.  Moreover, because this court addressed sufficiency and sentencing in the appellant’s first direct appeal of his convictions, they cannot be reconsidered.  Finding no plain error in the remaining issues, the appellant’s convictions are affirmed.

Montgomery County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/08/14
Roger Byrge v. Stacey Campfield, et al.
E2013-01223-COA-R3-CV

This is a defamation case. Based on information that he received from a political source, then State Representative Stacey Campfield (“Campfield”) posted remarks on his blog alleging that candidate for State House Roger Byrge (“Byrge”) had been arrested on drugrelated charges. The information, however, turned out to be false. Byrge lost the election and sued Campfield for defamation in the Circuit Court for Campbell County (“the Trial Court”). Campfield, asserting that at the time of the posting he had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the information, moved for summary judgment. The Trial Court granted Campfield’s motion. Byrge appealed. We hold that the record before us in this case concerning the alleged defamation of a public figure contains evidence that is clear and convincing from which a trier of fact could find actual malice in Campfield’s publication of false statements about Byrge. We reverse the Trial Court and remand this case for further proceedings on Byrge’s claims against Campfield for defamation and false light invasion of privacy.

Campbell County Court of Appeals 09/08/14
Franklin D. Fish v. State of Tennessee
M2014-00385-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Franklin D. Fish, pro se, appeals the Wilson County Criminal Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for post-conviction relief for failure to state a colorable claim.  The State concedes that summary dismissal was erroneous.  Upon our review, we reverse the decision of the post-conviction court and remand for proceedings consistent with the Post-Conviction Procedure Act.

Wilson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/08/14
State of Tennessee v. Michael L. Hufford
E2012-02162-CCA-R3-CD

In his first trial, appellant, Michael L. Hufford, was convicted of eleven counts of harassment involving two victims. He was convicted in a second trial of driving with a suspended or revoked license, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Appellant represented himself during the first trial. However, on the morning of the second trial, he indicated a desire to have the trial continued so he could retain counsel. The trial court assented but conditioned the continuance upon raising appellant’s bond. Appellant withdrew his request for a continuance, proceeded to trial, and was found guilty on all counts. The trial court imposed an effective sentence of seven consecutive terms of eleven months, twentynine days at seventy-five percent release eligibility with three terms to serve and four to be suspended to probation. Appellant raises the following issues in this direct appeal: (1) whether appellant’s waiver of his right to counsel was valid; (2) whether the trial court prohibited appellant from presenting legal issues to the jury; (3) whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain appellant’s convictions for harassment; and (4) whether the trial court erred in sentencing him. Following our review, we affirm the judgments and sentences for the eleven counts of harassment for which he is incarcerated. However, because appellant’s right to counsel was violated in the second trial, we must reverse appellant’s convictions for driving with a suspended or revoked license, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/08/14
In Re: Estate of Lois Whitten
W2013-02579-COA-R3-CV

Creditor filed a claim against deceased debtor’s estate. Administrator of the estate filed an exception to the claim, alleging that it was not filed within the four-month period following publication of the Notice to Creditors. The Chancery Court, Gibson County, George R. Ellis, J. allowed the claim after finding that the notice provided to Creditor was insufficient to constitute “actual notice” of the probate proceedings, and thus the one-year limitation period for filing claims applied. Administrator appealed. We affirm the judgment of the Chancery Court.

Gibson County Court of Appeals 09/08/14
State of Tennessee v. Joseph Anthony Saitta, Jr.
M2013-01947-CCA-R3-CD

Warren County Circuit Court Jury convicted the appellant, Joseph Anthony Saitta, Jr., of rape of a child, and the trial court sentenced him to fifty-eight years in confinement to be served at 100%.  On appeal, the appellant claims that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress evidence when an investigator from the Our Kids Center had been improperly informed that the appellant had a prior juvenile adjudication for a sexual offense and that the evidence is insufficient to support the conviction.  Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Warren County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/05/14
State of Tennessee v. Mark Elihu Cooper
W2013-02530-CCA-R3-CD

Pursuant to a plea agreement, the Defendant, Mark Elihu Cooper, pled guilty to sexual battery by an authority figure, statutory rape by an authority figure, incest, and rape, and the trial court imposed an effective eighteen-year sentence for those convictions. In this appeal as of right, he contends that the trial court erred by enhancing his sentences above the range minimums “without the support of a single enhancement factor.” He also argues that consecutive sentencing was improper due to the absence of proof of “residual[] physical and mental damage” to the victim presented at the sentencing hearing. Finally, he submits that the trial court used an “inappropriate consideration[,]” specifically, an ex parte communication with the police chief, in rendering its decisions in both of these regards. Following our review, we affirm the trial court’s imposition of an eighteen-year sentence.

Weakley County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/05/14
State of Tennessee v. Dominique Davon Holmes
W2013-01878-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant-Appellant, Dominique Davon Holmes, entered guilty pleas to aggravated burglary, robbery, aggravated criminal trespass, and two counts of assault. Pursuant to the plea agreement, he received an effective five-year sentence with the manner of service to be determined by the trial court. After the sentencing hearing, the trial court ordered the Defendant to serve his five-year sentence in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues that the trial court abused its discretion in denying him an alternative sentence. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/05/14
State of Tennessee v. Steven Davis
W2013-01486-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Steven Davis, was convicted of especially aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary. He is currently serving an effective twenty-six year sentence in the Department of Correction. On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court erred by failing to suppress statements he made to police while in custody. Following review of the record, we conclude that the defendant has waived review of that issue by failing to provide an adequate record to establish that he adequately raised the issue before the trial court. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/05/14
State of Tennessee V. Jose Lemanuel Hall, Jr.
M2013-02090-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Jose Lemanual Hall, Jr., was convicted of first degree murder and especially aggravated robbery.  He received an effective sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.  On appeal, he challenges the sufficiency of the convicting evidence.  Within that general challenge, he specifically contends that he was convicted solely on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice and an uncorroborated confession he made to a fellow inmate.  Following review, we conclude that both were sufficiently corroborated and properly considered in the sufficiency determination.  We further conclude that the evidence presented at trial was more than sufficient to support the conviction.  As such, we affirm.  However, we remand for entry of corrected judgments of conviction reflecting the appropriate merger of the two murder convictions.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/05/14
Barry L. Price v. State of Tennessee
W2013-02547-CCA-R3-ECN

The petitioner, Barry L. Price, appeals the denial of his petition for the writ of error coram nobis. In 1991, the petitioner pled guilty to three counts of the sale of cocaine, one count of driving on a revoked license, and one count of obtaining money by false pretenses. Adopting the State’s recommendation, the trial court imposed an effective ten-year sentence. In 2013, the petitioner filed a petition for the writ of error coram nobis alleging that his sentence was unlawfully imposed because the trial court did not engage in the appropriate sentencing colloquy or make appropriate sentencing findings. The coram nobis court denied the petition finding that it was time-barred and failed to raise issues cognizable in a coram nobis petition. The petitioner contends that the denial was error. Following review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the coram nobis court.

Madison County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/05/14
State of Tennessee v. Devon Brown
W2013-00182-CCA-R3-CD

A Shelby County Jury returned an indictment against Defendant, Devon Brown, Defendant’s brother, Kenneth Brown, and David Richardson, charging them with first degree premeditated murder, thirteen counts of attempted first degree murder, thirteen counts of aggravated assault, one count of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and one count of reckless endangerment. Orders of dismissal were entered as to one count of attempted first degree murder and one count of aggravated assault. He was convicted of the lesser-included offense of facilitation of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. He was convicted as charged of the remaining offenses. The trial court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment for first degree murder and imposed a mid-range sentence for each of the remaining convictions. The court merged the convictions for aggravated assault into the convictions for attempted first degree murder. The trial court further found Defendant to be a dangerous offender and ordered all sentences to run consecutively for an effective sentence of life plus two-hundred and forty-four years in confinement. On appeal, Defendant argues: (1) that the trial court erred in denying the motion to suppress his statement; (2) that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for first degree murder and the attempted first degree murder and aggravated assault of Kenneth Baker and Chymia Baker; and (3) that the trial court improperly sentenced him by ordering his sentences to be served consecutively. After a thorough review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/05/14
In Re Ra'niyah T.
W2014-00680-COA-R3-JV

This is a child custody and visitation case. After protracted litigation, and the entry of several temporary orders on visitation, the trial court implemented a permanent custody and visitation schedule. Appellant/Mother appeals the trial court’s designation of Appellee/Father as the child’s primary residential parent, and also appeals the trial court’s award of Father’s attorney fees. Discerning no error, we affirm. Affirmed and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/05/14
In Re Ra'niyah T.
W2014-00680-COA-R3-JV

This is a child custody and visitation case. After protracted litigation, and the entry of several temporary orders on visitation, the trial court implemented a permanent custody and visitation schedule. Appellant/Mother appeals the trial court’s designation of Appellee/Father as the child’s primary residential parent, and also appeals the trial court’s award of Father’s attorney fees. Discerning no error, we affirm. Affirmed and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 09/05/14
Jennifer Scarlett Robbins Goodman v. Temitope "Michael" Bamiji Ogunmola
E2014-00045-COA-R3-CV

This appeal involves Defendant’s motion to set aside a default judgment entered against him in a divorce action. The trial court denied the motion. Defendant appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Scott County Court of Appeals 09/04/14
State of Tennessee v. Morris Marsh
E2013-01343-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Morris Marsh, was convicted by a jury of first degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202. In this appeal as of right, the Defendant contends (1) that the trial court erred in denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress his statement given to an investigator; (2) that the trial court erred in denying the Defendant’s motion to dismiss the presentment against him; (3) that the trial court erred in denying the Defendant’s pro se motion to remove his appointed trial counsel; (4) that the State failed to disclose an incriminating statement made by the Defendant to a witness; (5) that the trial court erred in admitting audio recordings of prison phone calls made by the Defendant; (6) that the trial court erred in admitting an autopsy photograph of the victim; (7) that the trial court erred in determining that a witness was unavailable and allowing the witness’s preliminary hearing testimony to be presented at trial; (8) that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the Defendant’s conviction; and (9) that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct during its closing argument. 1 Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Johnson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/04/14
State of Tennessee v. Mark Lipton
E2012-02197-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Mark Lipton, was convicted by a Sevier County jury of aggravated assault and received a five-year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant raises the following issues for our review: (1) whether the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction, citing to the inconsistencies in witnesses’ testimony and to the “physical facts rule”; (2) whether the trial court erred in the admission of improper character evidence, alleging both procedural and substantive errors in that ruling; and (3) whether the trial court properly denied his petition for error coram nobis relief by concluding that the new witness’s testimony was not credible.1 After reviewing the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sevier County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/04/14
James Alfred Reed, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
E2014--00227-CCA-R3-PC

A Monroe County jury convicted the Petitioner, James Alfred Reed, Jr., of one count of the sale of one-half gram or more of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school and one count of the sale of less than one-half gram of cocaine within 1000 feet of a school. The trial court sentenced him as a Range II, multiple offender and ordered the Petitioner to serve an effective sentence of forty years. The Petitioner appealed, and this Court affirmed the judgments of the trial court. State v. James Alfred Reed, Jr., No. E2010-01138-CCA-R3-CD, 2011 WL 2766766, at *5 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Knoxville, July 18, 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 13, 2011). The Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to compel the State to disclose its confidential informant at trial and that his Momon hearing was improperly conducted. The post-conviction court dismissed the petition after a hearing. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

Monroe County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/04/14
William Caldwell Hancock v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2012-02596-SC-R3-BP

A federal bankruptcy court entered judgment denying a Nashville attorney’s application for approximately $372,000 in attorney’s fees and expenses. Nine months later, the attorney emailed the bankruptcy judge who denied his fee application, calling the judge a “bully and clown” and demanding that he provide a written apology for denying the fee application. The Board of Professional Responsibility instituted a disciplinary action against the attorney, and a hearing panel of the Board found that the attorney violated several Rules of Professional Conduct by sending the email and recommended that the attorney be suspended from the practice of law for thirty days. The chancery court modified the hearing panel’s judgment to include additional violations for misconduct associated with the attorney’s briefs filed in the district court but affirmed the remainder of the hearing panel’s judgment. The attorney timely appealed to this Court. We affirm the hearing panel’s conclusion that the attorney’s email violated the rule against ex parte communications and was also sanctionable as “conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal.” We conclude, however, that the hearing panel erred by finding the attorney in violation of the ethical rule that prohibits attorneys from making false statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge. We also reverse the chancery court’s modification of the hearing panel’s judgment. We affirm the attorney’s thirty-day suspension from the practice of law.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/03/14
William Caldwell Hancock v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee - Concur
M2012-02596-SC-R3-BP

I concur in the lead opinion’s conclusions that Mr. Hancock violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 3.5(b) and 3.5(e) and that “an attorney may be disciplined pursuant to [RPC]8.2 only if the false statement is communicated to a third party.” I disagree, however, with the lead opinion’s conclusion that “the record lacks any indication that Mr. Hancock sent the email to anyone other than Judge Paine.” I would instead hold that the record contains substantial and material evidence establishing that Mr. Hancock sent an email to third parties. As a result, I would affirm the hearing panel’s judgment that Mr. Hancock violated RPC 8.2(a)(1). In all other respects, I concur in the lead opinion’s decision affirming Mr. Hancock’s thirty-day suspension from the practice of law.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/03/14
William Caldwell Hancock v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee - Concur
M2012-02596-SC-R3-BP

I concur in the lead opinion’s conclusions that (1) Mr. Hancock violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 3.5(b); (2) the disciplinary authority of this Court is not preempted by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure; (3) discipline imposed pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 8.2 requires that the false statement about a judicial or legal official be communicated to a third party; and (4) the chancery court erred by modifying the judgment of the hearing panel to include violations of Rules of Professional Conduct 3.2, 3.4(c), 8.4(a), and 8.4(d). I disagree, however, with the conclusion that Mr. Hancock violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 3.5(e), and the imposition of a thirty-day suspension. Because I cannot find a basis to suspend Mr. Hancock for his offensive misbehavior, I would hold that a public reprimand is the appropriate sanction in this case.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/03/14
State of Tennessee v. James Cody Burnett
E2013-01369-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, James Cody Burnett, pleaded guilty to one count of vehicular homicide by intoxication with an agreed sentence of eight years and the manner of the service of the sentence to be determined by the trial court. After a hearing, the trial court ordered the Defendant to serve his sentence in confinement. The Defendant filed a Rule 35 motion to reduce his sentence, which the trial court denied. The Defendant filed an appeal of both the trial court’s sentence of confinement and its denial of his Rule 35 motion to reduce his sentence. We consolidated those two appeals. After a thorough review of the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the trial court’s sentencing of the Defendant and its denial of his motion to reduce his sentence.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/03/14
The Metropolitan Government of Nashville-Davidson County, TN v. The Board of Zoning Appeals of Nashville and Davidson County, TN, et al
M2013-01283-COA-R3-CV

Company which builds and manages billboards applied to the Metropolitan Department of Codes and Building Safety for permits to convert two static billboards to digital billboards. When the applications were denied by the Zoning Administrator, the company appealed to the Metropolitan Board of Zoning Appeals, which reversed the administrator’s decision and granted the permits. The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari seeking review of the Board’s decision; the trial court dismissed the petition on the ground that the Metropolitan Government did not have standing to bring the proceeding. We reverse the decision and remand for further proceedings

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/03/14