Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 10/31/2014
Format: 10/31/2014
Donna L. Singer v. Highway 46 Properties, LLC v. Dickson Title, LLC, et al.
M2013-02682-COA-R3-CV

Suit brought by judgment creditor to enforce judgment lien evolved into third-party complaint, whereby the party who had purchased real property from the judgment debtor sued the company that performed a pre-closing title search and the company which issued an owner’s title insurance policy for indemnification of any amounts it might be required to pay.  Both companies moved to dismiss the third-party for failure to state a claim for relief; the trial court granted both motions. The property owner appeals; finding no error, we affirm the judgment.

Dickson County Court of Appeals 09/23/14
Rebecca Lynn Willenberg v. Mark Edward Willenberg
M2013-02627-COA-R3-CV

In this divorce action, Husband appeals the trial court’s ruling that Wife was incapable of rehabilitation and the award of alimony in futuro. Wife also appeals contending that the award of alimony in futuro was too low; that the court failed to award her attorney fees; and that the court refused to designate her as the custodian for their son’s college account. We reverse the court’s ruling that Wife is incapable of rehabilitation and its award of alimony in futuro, and remand for further proceedings; in all other respects, we affirm the judgment.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 09/23/14
Bobby Murray, et al. v. Dennis Miracle, et al.
E2013-00498-COA-R3-CV

Bobby Murray and Loretta Murray (“Plaintiffs”) sued Dennis Miracle and Robert Daniel Smith (“Defendants”) with regard to a dispute involving real property located in Roane County, Tennessee. After a trial, the Chancery Court for Roane County (“Trial Court”) entered its judgment on February 11, 2013, finding, inter alia, that Defendants did not dispute that Plaintiffs had a right to improve the roadway at issue, but that the parties disagreed regarding the nature of the road work to be performed. In its judgment, the Trial Court, inter alia, appointed a Special Commissioner to supervise the proposed road work and detailed how the work should be implemented. Plaintiffs appeal the Trial Court’s judgment. We find and hold that Plaintiffs have significantly failed to comply with Tenn. R. App. P. 27 rendering this Court unable to address any of Plaintiffs’ potential issues. We, therefore, affirm the Trial Court’s judgment, find Plaintiffs’ appeal frivolous, and award Defendants damages for frivolous appeal. Defendants raise an issue on appeal regarding whether the Trial Court erred in reversing its order regarding discovery sanctions. We find and hold that the Trial Court erred in interpreting our previous Opinion to require reversal of the sanctions. We, therefore, vacate the Trial Court’s September 25, 2012 order, reinstate the Trial Court’s September 22, 2010 order awarding Defendants attorney’s fees against 1 Plaintiffs as discovery sanctions, and remand to the Trial Court to address Plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration of these sanctions.

Roane County Court of Appeals 09/23/14
State of Tennessee v. Brian Caswell McGrowder
M2013-01184-CCA-R3-CD

A Davidson County Criminal Court Jury convicted the appellant, Brian Caswell McGrowder, of statutory rape by an authority figure, a Class C felony, and aggravated statutory rape, a Class D felony.  The trial court merged the latter conviction into the former and sentenced him to three years in confinement.  On appeal, the appellant challenges (1) the trial court’s refusal to grant a fourteen-day continuance after the court granted the State’s motion to amend the superseding indictment, (2) the sufficiency of the evidence for statutory rape by an authority figure, (3) the trial court’s failure to define “position of trust” for the jury, and (4) the State’s commission of prosecutorial misconduct during its opening statement and closing arguments.  Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/23/14
State of Tennessee v. Jerry Brandon Phifer
M2013-01401-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Jerry Brandon Phifer, was convicted of one count of aggravated robbery, a Class B felony, and one count of aggravated burglary, a Class C felony.  On appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erred by: (1) denying his motion to suppress the results of a traffic stop that occurred two weeks prior to his arrest; (2) denying the motion to suppress evidence seized as a result of the warrantless installation of a GPS tracking device; (3) finding that the State had probable cause to arrest the defendant; (4) finding that the defendant’s waiver of his Miranda rights was knowing and voluntary; (5) declaring Jongho Lim an unavailable witness pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 804 and admitting his prior testimony as substantive evidence; (6) imposing consecutive sentences; and (7) violating the defendant’s due process rights based upon the cumulative effect of the errors.  After review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the trial court’s findings in issues 1, 4, 5, and 6.  We conclude that the warrantless use of the GPS tracking device constituted an illegal search, and the evidence obtained therefrom, including the defendant’s arrest and statements to police, must be suppressed.  We reverse the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress the evidence and remand the case for a new trial.      

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/23/14
Dannie Joyner v. Erachem Comilog, Inc. et al.
M2013-02646-SC-WCM-WC

The plaintiff sought workers’ compensation benefits, alleging thathe had developed diseases of the skin, lungs, and nervous system as a result of his exposure to nickel, cadmium, and manganese during his employment at a manufacturing facility owned by the defendant. The trial court found that the plaintiff had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his diseases were caused byexposure to these substances during his employment and entered judgment for the defendant. The plaintiff has appealed from the trial court’s decision. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, 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. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Humphreys County Workers Compensation Panel 09/22/14
Sandy Eugene Womack Et Al. v. Correction Corporation Of America D/B/A Whiteville Correctional Facility
M2012-00871-SC-R11-CV

This appeal involves whether the statute localizing venue for lawsuits filed by indigent inmates applies to lawsuits based on causes of action that accrue when an inmate is housed in a facility operated by a private corporation. An inmate housed at a correctional facility operated by a private entity filed suit in the Circuit Court for Davidson County, alleging that the corporation had failed to address his medical needs. The corporation moved to dismiss the suit or to transfer it to Hardeman County where the facility is located in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-803 (2014).  The Davidson County court granted the motion and transferred the case to Hardeman County but also gave the inmate permission to pursue an interlocutoryappeal. The Courtof Appeals granted the interlocutoryappeal and affirmed the trial court. Womack v. Corrections Corp. of Am., No. M2012-00871-COA-R10-CV, 2012 WL 6675094 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2012). We granted the inmate’s application for permission to appeal. We have determined that Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-803 does not apply to this inmate’s lawsuit because his cause of action did not accrue while he was housed in a facility operated by the Tennessee Department of Correction within the meaning of that statute. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/22/14
Jimmie Bradford, et al. v. State of Tennessee
W2014-01188-COA-R3-CV

Because the Notice of Appeal was not timely filed, we have no jurisdiction to consider this appeal. Consequently, this appeal is dismissed.

Court of Appeals 09/22/14
Kevin Mamon v. Geico Insurance, et al.
M2013-02114-COA-R3-CV

Inmate filed suit pro se against Geico Indemnity Company, Master Muffler, and Sam Owens for breach of contract, negligence, fraud, and conversion related to the repairs of his automobile. The suit was initially dismissed for Plaintiff’s failure to comply with T. C. A. §§ 41-21-805 and 41-21-807. Plaintiff filed a motion for relief, which the court granted. At the same time, Plaintiff moved to amend his complaint; he attached the amended complaint to the motion. Thereafter, one defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute, which the court granted. We reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 09/22/14
Terrance B. Burnett v. State of Tennessee
W2014-00314-CCA-R3-PC

The Petitioner, Terrance B. Burnett, appeals the Lauderdale County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his third petition for post-conviction relief. On appeal, the Petitioner asserts that the post-conviction court erred in dismissing his petition without appointing counsel and conducting an evidentiary hearing. Upon review, we affirm the judgment of the postconviction court.

Lauderdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 09/22/14
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. - Concur
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