Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Appellate Court Opinions

Format: 03/30/2015
Format: 03/30/2015
Frances Rodgers, et al. v. Yarboro A. Sallee
E2013-02067-COA-R3-CV

The plaintiffs sued the defendant, their former attorney, to recover fees the plaintiffs had paid to the defendant, as well as punitive damages for alleged misrepresentations made by the defendant. The trial court granted a default judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. The defendant thereafter filed a motion seeking to set aside the default judgment, alleging that she was not properly served with process. Before the trial court entered a written order regarding the defendant’s motion to set aside the default judgment, the defendant filed a motion seeking recusal of the trial judge. The trial court subsequently entered an order denying the defendant’s motion to set aside the default judgment, as well as an order dismissing various motions for sanctions, while the recusal motion was pending. The court thereafter entered an order granting the defendant’s motion for recusal. The defendant has appealed. We determine that the trial court erred in entering orders regarding contested matters while the motion seeking recusal was pending. We therefore vacate the trial court’s orders and remand the case for further proceedings regarding the defendant’s motion to set aside the default judgment.

Knox County Court of Appeals 02/13/15
Preston McNees Specialty Woodworking, Inc., et al. v. The Daniel Co. (Danco), Inc.
E2014-01004-COA-R3-CV

This case involves the proper interpretation of a contract between a general contractor and a subcontractor. The trial court determined that the subcontractor was entitled to recover additional sums above the original contract price based on the doctrine of equitable estoppel. The general contractor timely appealed. Having determined that the scope of the parties’ contract covered the work in question and that the doctrine of equitable estoppel does not apply in this matter, we vacate the trial court’s judgment.

Washington County Court of Appeals 02/13/15
In Re Estate of Dorothy Jean McMillin
E2014-01199-COA-R3-CV

This is an estate case. Appellant was the executor of his mother’s estate. Appellant’s siblings, Appellees herein, brought suit against the Appellant in the Knox County Chancery Court for depletion of the estate alleging he exercised undue influence over the decedent to obtain certain funds for himself and his wife. A jury awarded the estate $284,800, and that award is on appeal. While that appeal was pending, the Probate Division of the Knox County Chancery Court heard Appellees’ motion filed in the estate case to have the Appellant removed as executor of the estate. The Probate Division of Knox County Chancery Court granted the Appellees’ motion removing the Appellant. Appellant appeals, arguing that because the depletion case was on appeal, the Probate Division of the Knox County Chancery Court lacked jurisdiction to remove him as executor of the estate. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Knox County Court of Appeals 02/12/15
Sharon L. Allen v. Anderson County, Tennessee
E2014-00930-COA-R3-CV

This action concerns the sale of three properties Plaintiff purchased at a tax sale held by Anderson County. Plaintiff alleged that Anderson County breached its contract with her by failing to convey marketable title to the properties when the owners of the subject properties had not received proper notice of the tax sale. Anderson County filed a motion to dismiss, asserting, in pertinent part, that the statute of limitations had passed for filing such actions and that it had not breached a contract with Plaintiff. The court dismissed the action, finding that Plaintiff failed to establish that it had entered into a contract with Anderson County, that the statute of limitations for such actions had passed, and that Plaintiff lacked standing to attack the alleged insufficient notice provided to the original property owners. Plaintiff
appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 02/12/15
In Re Dorothy Elizabeth Sprinkle McSpadden
E2013-02024-COA-R3-CV

Lloyde Susanne McSpadden Marcum (“Daughter”) appealed the judgment of the Chancery Court for Knox County (“the Trial Court”) appointing Katie Loftin and Emily McSpadden (“Granddaughters”) as co-conservators of Dorothy Elizabeth Sprinkle McSpadden (“Mother”). Mother died during the pendency of this appeal. We find and hold that Mother’s death rendered this appeal moot. We, therefore, dismiss the appeal, decline to address whether the appeal is frivolous, and decline to award either party attorney’s fees on appeal.

Knox County Court of Appeals 02/12/15
Keith Edward Clements v. State of Tennessee
M2014-00751-CCA-R3-PC

The petitioner, Keith Edward Clements, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his four aggravated burglary guilty plea convictions.  On appeal, he argues that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, but for which he would have elected to take his case to trial.  After review, we affirm the denial of the petition.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/12/15
State of Tennessee v. Thearon Antonio Grambling
E2014-00248-CCA-R3-CD

A Blount County Circuit Court Jury convicted the appellant, Thearon Antonio Grambling, of statutory rape by an authority figure and incest; the victim of both offenses was his fifteenyear- old daughter. The trial court imposed concurrent sentences of four years and six months in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the appellant contends that the evidence is not sufficient to sustain his convictions. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/12/15
Laney T. Efferson, et al v. Barbara R. Stephens
M2014-00326-COA-R3-CV

Plaintiffs,  two  grandchildren of the  decedent  who  are  executors of their  deceased mother‟s estate, brought this action on behalf of the decedent contending that Barbara Stephens, one of the decedent‟s three daughters, unduly influenced the decedent to name Ms. Stephens as the sole beneficiary of her estate, to the exclusion of her other children and grandchildren. The decedent died in 2009, this action was commenced in August 2012, and the decedent‟s will was admitted to probate in January 2013, without contest.  Thereafter, Ms. Stephens filed a motion for summary judgment for lack of standing and two motions to dismiss under Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6) for lack of standing and lapse of  the three-year statute of limitations. The trial court granted all three motions. Plaintiffs appeal contending, inter alia, they have standing because their mother‟s estate suffered a financial loss when Ms. Stephens deprived their mother, and her estate, of the substantial economic interests (her inheritance), and their claims are not time-barred, because the statute of limitations was tolled due to the decedent‟s incompetence under Tenn. Code  Ann. § 28-1-106. Because the decedent‟s will was admitted to probate and Plaintiffs did  not attempt to contest the validity of the decedent‟s will until after summary judgment was granted, it was undisputed, when the trial court ruled on this matter, that the decedent  died  testate, and  Ms.  Stephens  was  the  sole  beneficiary of the decedent‟s  estate. Therefore, neither Plaintiffs, individually, nor their mother‟s estate suffered a “distinct and palpable injury” for which the court could grant relief; as a consequence, they do not have standing. See Lynch v. City of Jellico, 205 S.W.3d 384, 395 (Tenn. 2006). We, therefore, affirm the summary dismissal of this action.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 02/11/15
State of Tennessee v. Latonya Shanta Bowman
E2014-01153-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Latonya Shanta Bowman, appeals as of right from the Knox County Criminal Court’s order revoking her probation and ordering that she serve the remainder of her sentence in confinement. The Defendant contends that the trial court erred by revoking her probation “without considering alternative sentencing options.” Discerning no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/10/15
State of Tennessee v. Bradley Douglas Parker
M2013-02620-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Bradley Douglas Parker, was indicted by the Hickman County Grand Jury for one count of aggravated child abuse, a Class A felony, and one count of aggravated child neglect, also a Class A felony.  Both charges involved the same incident and victim.  Subsequently, the State announced that it was unable to prove serious bodily injury of the victim and moved the trial court to dismiss the count of aggravated child abuse and to amend the count charging aggravated child neglect to charge the Class D felony offense of child neglect of a child less than eight years of age.  Immediately, Defendant pled guilty to the Class D felony offense of child neglect.  The parties agreed Defendant would be sentenced as a Range I standard offender, with the length and manner of service of the sentence to be determined by the trial court following a sentencing hearing.  The trial court imposed a sentence of three years to be served by split confinement comprised of thirty days’ incarceration in the county jail followed by three years’ probation.  Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court should have granted judicial diversion or in the alternative imposed a three-year sentence totally suspended to be served on probation.  After a thorough review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Hickman County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/10/15
State of Tennessee v. Marisa Shrum
E2014-00954-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Marisa Ann Shrum, appeals the sentencing decision of the trial court following the revocation of her probationary sentence. The defendant pled guilty to two counts of prescription drug fraud and one count of failure to appear. Pursuant to the plea agreement, she received an effective sentence of five years, with sixty days to be served in confinement, sixty days to be served on consecutive weekends, and the balance on supervised probation. A violation report was subsequently filed and, following a hearing, the trial court revoked the defendant’s probation and ordered that the balance of the sentence be served in confinement. On appeal, the defendant does not contest the revocation of her probation, but she argues that the trial court erred in ordering total confinement. Following review of the record, we conclude no error occurred and affirm the decision of the trial court.

Blount County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/10/15
In Re Malaysia C.
M2014-01019-COA-R3-PT

This is a termination of parental rights case brought by Appellees, who are the prospective adoptive parents. Although Mother/Appellant initially joined in the petition to terminate her parental rights and for adoption, she later withdrew her consent. Appellees moved forward with the termination of Mother’s parental rights on their own petition, which the trial court granted. Mother now appeals the trial court’s termination of her parental rights on the ground of abandonment by willful failure to support the child. Mother also appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of her parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because there is clear and convincing evidence in the record to support both the ground for termination of Mother’s parental rights and the trial court’s finding that termination is in the child’s best interest, we affirm and remand.

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/10/15
In Re Estate of William Daniel Oakley
M2014-00341-COA-R3-CV

This appeal arises from the denial of a petition to establish a lost will. Following a bench trial in which the opportunity and motive of key witnesses to destroy the original will were at issue, the trial court failed to “find the facts specially” as mandated by Rule 52.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The only findings of fact made by the trial court read: “The evidence in the case was relatively undisputed so this court will not reiterate a lot of the facts. The dispute between the parties is over how the evidence is to be interpreted.” Whether or not the evidence was “relatively undisputed” is debatable; nevertheless, we have concluded thatconflictinginferencescan be drawn from undisputed evidence concerning the dispositive issue, that being whether persons who had access to the original will had the motivation to destroy the original will. Therefore, it was incumbent upon the trial court to make findings, even on stipulated or undisputed facts. See Lovelace v. Copley, 418 S.W.3d 1, 35 (Tenn. 2013). Because the trial court did not make sufficient findings of fact to afford this court a clear understanding of the basis of its decision, and realizing that the credibility of two key witnesses who may have had the opportunity and motive to destroy the original will was at issue at trial, we are unable to conduct an effective de novo review. Under these circumstances, we would generally remand a case such as this to afford the trial court the opportunity to state its findings of fact and conclusions of law and enter judgment accordingly; however, the judge who tried this case retired in August of 2014. Therefore, we have no choice but to vacate the judgment and remand for a new trial.

Cheatham County Court of Appeals 02/10/15
State of Tennessee v. Norman McDowell
W2014-00301-CCA-R3-CD

Appellant, Norman McDowell, was convicted of aggravated robbery, a Class B felony; two counts of aggravated rape, Class A felonies; and aggravated statutory rape, a Class D felony. The trial court merged appellant’s aggravated rape convictions and sentenced appellant to an effective twenty-two-year sentence. On appeal, appellant argues that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his aggravated rape and aggravated robbery convictions. Following our review of the briefs, the record, and the applicable law, we reduce one of appellant’s merged aggravated rape convictions to rape, affirm the trial court’s judgments as modified, and remand to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/10/15
State of Tennessee v. Rhakim Martin
W2013-02013-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Rhakim Martin, was convicted by a Shelby County Criminal Court jury of carjacking, a Class B felony, and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, a Class C felony, and was sentenced to an effective term of sixteen years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, he argues that: (1) his conviction for employing a firearm during a dangerous felony violates the terms of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(c) and the prohibitions against double jeopardy; (2) the failure to name the predicate felony in the indictment for employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony voids the conviction; (3) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the victim’s identification of him; (4) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions; and (5) the trial court committed plain error by failing to charge the jury on possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony as a lesserincluded offense of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/10/15
Eastman Credit Union v. Chadwick D. Hodges
E2013-02039-COA-R3-CV

On November 19, 2012, Eastman Credit Union (“Eastman”) filed suit against Chadwick D. Hodges (“Hodges”) seeking recovery for indebtedness owed by Hodges pursuant to two separate credit agreements. Eastman’s complaint noted that it had declared all amounts owed under the agreements to be due and payable and prayed that a judgment be entered in its favor for all monetary advances made under the agreements.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 02/10/15
State of Tennessee v. Kerry Randall Meadows
M2013-01650-CCA-R3-CD

Defendant, Kerry Randall Meadows, entered a guilty plea to driving while being an habitual motor vehicle offender pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement and properly reserved a certified question of law for appeal.  The precise issue, as reserved, is “[w]hether reasonable suspicion or probable caused existed to stop and seize [Defendant’s] vehicle based on incorrect information contained in the police database?”  After thorough review we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/10/15
State of Tennessee v. Jay Herman Sanders
M2014-00346-CCA-R3-CD

The Defendant, Jay Herman Sanders, appeals from the trial court’s denial of an alternative sentence and order to pay $250,000 in restitution.  He argues that the trial court abused its discretion when it sentenced him to 10 years in the Department of Correction and claims that the trial court failed to consider his future ability to pay restitution.  After a review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Marion County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/09/15
Jason Shawn Cunningham v. State of Tennessee
M2014-00380-CCA-R3-PC

On June 29, 2011, the petitioner entered guilty pleas to several offenses, including one count of the possession of 300 grams or more of cocaine, a Class A felony, and two counts of money laundering, Class B felonies.  The petitioner received an effective twenty-year sentence for these crimes.  The petitioner’s total effective sentence was forty-one years, twenty-one of which were for crimes not at issue in this appeal.  The petitioner filed a timely post-conviction petition, challenging his convictions for possession of over 300 grams of cocaine and two counts of money laundering on the basis that his trial counsel was deficient for failing to investigate these cases and that his trial counsel was operating under a conflict of interest when he represented the petitioner in the pleas.  The post-conviction court denied relief.  Because we conclude that trial counsel did not have an actual conflict of interest, that trial counsel’s performance was not deficient, that there was no showing of prejudice, and that the pleas were knowing and voluntary, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/09/15
State of Tennessee v. Ashley Bradshaw
W2014-00175-CCA-R3-CD

Appellant, Ashley Bradshaw, was convicted by a jury of three counts of aggravated child abuse, three counts of aggravated child neglect, and three counts of aggravated child endangerment. The trial court merged the convictions into one count of aggravated child abuse and sentenced appellant to twenty years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, appellant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court but remand for the trial court to clarify on the judgment sheets that the judgments have been merged into the first count.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/09/15
State of Tennessee v. Ashley Bradshaw-Concurring
W2014-00175-CCA-R3-CD

I concur in the excellent opinion presented by the majority. I write separately to express a view concerning the effectuation of mergers of verdicts. The theory of merger in cases in which multiple verdicts of guilty reflect alternative theories of offending is predicated upon the distinction between a verdict of guilty, on the one hand, and a conviction, on the other.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/09/15
State of Tennessee v. Derick D. Armstrong
E2014-00888-CCA-R3-CD

The defendant, Derick D. Armstrong, was convicted of one count of attempted voluntary manslaughter, a Class D felony, and one count of employment of a firearm during the attempted commission of a felony, a Class C felony. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions. After thoroughly reviewing the record, the briefs of the parties, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/09/15
Michael Savage v. City of Memphis
W2014-01067-COA-R3-CV

In this appeal, we are asked to determine whether an Assistant City Attorney of the City of Memphis was an agent properly authorized to settle a dispute with a former employee. The former employee sued the City to enforce a settlement agreement he purportedly reached with the Assistant City Attorney for an amount in excess of $500.00. His complaint alleged that although he was never informed that the agreement was contingent on the Mayor’s approval, the Mayor subsequently rejected the agreement, and the City, based on the Mayor’s rejection, refused to honor it. The Memphis City Charter provides that the City Attorney has independent authority to settle claims against the City for amounts less than $500.00, but settlements for amounts exceeding $500.00 must be entered “by and with the approval of the Mayor.” After a period of discovery, the City filed a motion for summary judgment contending that the former employee’s evidence was insufficient to establish that the Assistant City Attorney acted with authority to bind the City to the settlement agreement. The former employee opposed the City’s motion and filed his own motion for summary judgment, in which he argued that evidence established the Mayor either actually or apparently authorized the Assistant City Attorney to enter the settlement agreement. The trial court granted the former employee’s motion for summary judgment after finding that the Assistant City Attorney acted with apparent authority to enter the settlement agreement. On appeal, we find that the record does not contain evidence sufficient to establish that the Assistant City Attorney acted with either actual or implied authority to bind the City. In light of our findings, we reverse the trial court and hold that summary judgment should be granted in favor of the City.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/09/15
State of Tennessee v. Ephraim J. Nielsen
E2014-00038-CCA-R3-CD

After entering a conditional guilty plea to robbery pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-313, Ephraim J. Nielsen (“the defendant”) was arrested on charges of burglary, vandalism over $1,000, and theft of property valued over $1,000 but less than $10,000. Based upon the new charges, his probation officer filed a probation violation warrant against him. After a hearing, the trial court revoked the Defendant’s probation and ordered him to serve the balance of his sentence. In this appeal, the Defendant argues that his probation should not have been revoked because the State did not offer proof of every element of the new charges against him. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Sevier County Court of Criminal Appeals 02/09/15
In Re Estate of Bill Morris
M2014-00874-COA-R3-CV

This is a will contest. Appellants, Bill Morris, Jr., and Cheryl Morris, appeal the trial court‟s determination that their Father‟s will was properly executed pursuant  to the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated Section 32-1-104.  We conclude that the witnesses to the will only signed the affidavit of attesting witnesses and  not the will itself.  Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

Franklin County Court of Appeals 02/09/15