J. Weber McCraw, Judge

Biography

Reports of Cases Reviewed by Appellate Courts – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Text is the appellate court’s summary of the opinion.

Scroll down for important information.

 

Kelly v. Root, No. W2022-01625-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 29, 2024). The mother of a high school student involved in an altercation with the opposing basketball team’s coach appeals the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the coach and the county board of education. Because the video footage of the altercation is open to more than one interpretation, a genuine dispute of material fact remains as to the intention behind the coach’s contact with the student and summary judgment is reversed as to the state law assault and battery claims against the coach. The grant of summary judgment as to the remaining claims against both the coach and the board is affirmed.

 

King v. Town of Selmer, Tennessee, No. W2023-00390-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 8, 2024).  In this Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 9 interlocutory appeal, we address whether the trial court erred in denying Appellant Town’s motion for summary judgment on Appellees’ negligence and joint-venture claims. We conclude that the public-duty doctrine shields the Town from liability, and the special-duty exception does not apply. Furthermore, Appellees’ “joint venture” claims are simply additional negligence claims seeking to hold Appellant Town liable for the alleged negligence of other defendants. Because the Tennessee Legislature has not waived governmental immunity under such circumstances, Appellant Town’s immunity was never removed as to the “joint venture” claims. As such, the trial court erred in denying Appellant Town’s motion for summary judgment as to Appellees’ negligence and “joint venture” claims.

Griggs v. State of Tennessee, W2023-00100-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov.  14, 2023).  The Petitioner, Joseph Jerome Griggs, appeals from the Hardeman County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his aggravated rape conviction, for which he is serving a twenty-year sentence. On appeal, he contends that the postconviction court erred in denying relief on his ineffective assistance of counsel claims. We affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee v. $133,429 In U.S. Currency Seized From Joni Assefa Kilenton,  No. W2022-01075-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 17, 2023). This appeal arises from a forfeiture action regarding funds seized during a traffic stop. In a prior appeal, this Court vacated and remanded for entry of an order that complied with Rule 58 and Rule 52.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The trial court entered an additional order on remand, and the appellant has again appealed. Due to deficiencies in the appellant’s brief on appeal, we conclude that he waived consideration of his issue on appeal and hereby dismiss the appeal.

State of Tennessee v Dickerson, No. W2022-00431-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 19, 2023).  The Appellant, Nicholas Kentrell Dickerson, appeals the Fayette County Circuit Court’s orders revoking his probation and imposing his original sentences for various drug convictions and a felony evading arrest. The Appellant contends the trial court abused its discretion in revoking his probation because (1) the alleged violations were based on new charges that were subsequently dismissed, and (2) the remaining violations were technical in nature and not a valid basis for full revocation under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-311(e)(1)(A) (2022). Upon our review, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v Meeks, No. W2022-01327-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 15, 2023).  A Fayette County jury convicted the Defendant, Archie Lee Meeks, of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, assault by offensive touching, and aggravated criminal trespass, and the trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of ten years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

 

Short v. Alston, No. W2022-00666-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 17, 2023).  The appeal is dismissed due to the fact that Appellant’s brief wholly fails to comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27(a). In addition, there is no transcript or Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24(c) statement of the evidence, thus negating this Court’s ability to review the trial court’s substantive findings.

 

Lagharb v. State of Tennessee, W2022-00736-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 19, 2023).  The Petitioner, Said Laghrab, pled guilty in the Fayette County Circuit Court to aggravated assault and received a four-year sentence. Seven years later, he filed a petition for postconviction relief, and the post-conviction court summarily dismissed the petition as untimely. Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we conclude that the Petitioner has not shown he is entitled to due process tolling of the statute of limitations and affirm the post-conviction court’s dismissal of the petition.

 

State of Tennessee v Towles, No. W2022-01589-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 8, 2023). The Defendant, Jasmin Lawan Towles, was convicted by a Fayette County Circuit Court jury of theft of property valued at $1000 or less and sentenced by the trial court to 11 months, twenty-nine days at 75% in the county jail, with the sentence suspended after service of 100 days and the Defendant placed on probation supervised by community corrections. The sole issue he raises in this appeal is whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain his conviction. Based on our review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee v Jones, No. W2022-01270-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May. 15, 2023).  The Defendant, Demario Antijuan Jones, pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of an automobile and three counts of driving while license was cancelled, suspended, or revoked, and received an effective sentence of eleven months and twenty-nine days at seventy-five percent service. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred by imposing the maximum sentences and by denying him an alternative sentence. We affirm the trialcourt’s judgments.

 

State of Tennessee v  Harrison, No. W2021-01390-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Mar. 13, 2023). The Defendant, Harrison Alexander Mason, was convicted in the Fayette County Circuit Court of three counts of rape of a child, three counts of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of solicitation of a minor and received an effective sentence of fifty-seven years in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court committed plain error by failing to exclude statements made by the victim during her forensic interviews pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b); that the trial court committed plain error by giving a “vague” curative instruction and waiting until the final jury charge to give the instruction; and that the trial court’s errors require reversal of the convictions under the cumulative doctrine. Based upon the oral arguments,  the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Manley v. State of Tennessee, W2022-00966-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 18, 2022). The Petitioner, Joe G. Manley, appeals from the Fayette County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief challenging his guilty-pleaded convictions for aggravated domestic assault, domestic assault, and false imprisonment. The Petitioner contends that the post-conviction court erred by finding that he received effective assistance of counsel and that his guilty pleas were knowingly and voluntarily entered. Specifically, the Petitioner asserts that trial counsel was ineffective based upon trial counsel’s failing to (1) communicate and maintain contact with the Petitioner; (2) thoroughly investigate the case and speak with the victims prior to entry of the Petitioner’s plea; (3) request a remand to general sessions court for a preliminary hearing; and (4) explain that Corrections Management Corporation would supervise the Petitioner’s release. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of post-conviction court denying relief.

 

Henson v. State of Tennessee, W2021-01432-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Sept. 9, 2022).  A McNairy County jury convicted the Petitioner, Terry Wayne Henson, of two counts of rape of a child, one count of incest, and one count of violating the sex offender registry requirements. The trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of thirty-five years of incarceration. This court affirmed the Petitioner’s convictions on direct appeal. State v. Terry Wayne Henson, No. W2019-00462-SC-R11-CD, 2020 WL 6317113 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Oct. 28, 2020), Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application denied (Tenn. Mar. 23, 2021). The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in which he alleged that his trial counsel was ineffective in several regards. The post-conviction court held a hearing, after which it denied the petition. After review, we affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment.

 

Gray v. State of Tennessee,  W2021-01533-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 21, 2022).  Petitioner, Robert Glen Gray, appeals as of right from the McNairy County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, wherein he challenged his convictions for two counts of delivery of more than 0.5 grams of methamphetamine. On appeal, Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because counsel (1) told Petitioner that he could “beat the charges” and obtain convictions for simple possession/casual exchange of methamphetamine; (2) failed to file a motion to sever; (3) failed to review the entirety of the discovery materials with Petitioner, specifically the laboratory report on the methamphetamine and photographs of Petitioner exchanging money and drugs; and (4) failed to explain the State’s plea offer “in its entirety.” Following our review, we affirm.

 

State of Tennessee v .Knight, No. W2021-00159-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 18, 2022).  A Fayette County jury convicted the Defendant, Devin Royce Knight, of attempt to commit first degree premeditated murder, aggravated domestic assault by strangulation, kidnapping, and vandalism under $1000, and the trial court imposed an effective twenty-two year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions for attempt to commit first degree murder and kidnapping. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

 

State of Tennessee v. $133,429 in U.S. Currency Seized From Joni Assefa Kilenton, No. W2021-01005-COA-R3-CV  (Tenn. Ct. App. May 10, 2022).  In this seizure and forfeiture action, we do not reach the substantive issues because the order granting the forfeiture does not comply with the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 58 for entry of judgments. Nonetheless, we exercise our discretion under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 2 to take jurisdiction of the appeal for the limited purpose of instructing the trial court to enter an order on remand that not only complies with Rule 58, but also makes sufficient findings to enable this Court to make a meaningful review as required under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01. Vacated and remanded.

 

State of Tennessee v, Ciaramitaro, No. W2021-00046-CCA-R3-CD  (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 9, 2022).  A Fayette County jury convicted the Defendant, James R. Ciaramitaro, of one count of rape of a child and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, and the trial court sentenced him to a total effective sentence of forty-four years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that the trial court erred when it admitted the victim’s forensic interview. The Defendant also contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions and that the trial court erred when it sentenced him. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgments.

 

State of Tennessee v. Sherman Lee Harris, No. W2021-00229-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 22, 2022). Defendant, Sherman Lee Harris, pleaded guilty to delivery of a Schedule II controlled substance and received a suspended sentence of twelve years on supervised probation in 2011. In 2013, Defendant pleaded guilty to facilitation of delivery of a Schedule II controlled substance and received a suspended sentence of 10 years on supervised probation, to be served consecutively to his 12-year sentence. On January 29, 2021, after only hearing from Defendant’s probation officer regarding new charges in Shelby County, the trial court revoked Defendant’s probation in both cases and ordered he serve the balance of his sentences. Defendant appeals, contending that the trial court erroneously admitted hearsay evidence without determining that it was reliable or that there was good cause to admit the evidence. After our review, we reverse and remand the judgments of the trial court because the State only produced unreliable hearsay evidence and thus failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant had violated the law. On remand, the trial court should hold another hearing to determine if Defendant violated his probation.

 

Understanding the Limitations and Use of the Information Found in This Book

Tennessee’s trial judges resolve hundreds of thousands of legal and factual issues in tens of thousands of cases every single year.  No appeal is filed in the vast percentage of those cases, indicating that while the “losing” party may not like a ruling on a particular issue, that party understands there was an appropriate reason for the judge’s decision or, at a minimum, the judge was acting within his or her discretion.

 

Of course, a small number of decisions of trial judges do result in an appeal. Experienced trial lawyers know that the number of cases appealed out of a particular trial judge’s court does not, in and of itself, reveal much about the trial judge. For example, some judges hear more complex cases than others, and those cases are more likely to be appealed. Convictions in child sex abuse cases are frequently appealed, as are many criminal cases resulting in long sentences. There are a large number of parental rights termination cases that find their way to the appellate courts.  Judges who routinely try those types of cases will, other things being equal, see more of their cases reviewed by appellate courts than judges who do not see such cases.

 

Second, certain litigants (and certain lawyers) are more likely to appeal a case than others.  Thus, judges who have those litigants or lawyers regularly appear in their courtrooms will find more cases reviewed by the appellate courts.

 

For these and other reasons, the reader is cautioned not to read too much into the number of cases appealed from a court.  Stated differently, there is no reason to believe that a judge who has ten cases reviewed by an appellate court in a single year is a “worse” judge than one who has one case appealed, or that a judge who has three cases appealed is a “better” judge than one who has nine cases appealed.

 

Next, the number of times a judge’s ruling is reversed by an appellate court is not necessarily indicative of the quality of his or her work. For example, experienced lawyers know that there are “holes in the law,” i.e., cases where there is no law directly on point and the judge is forced to predict what an appellate court would rule on the issue. The fact that a judge decided an open legal issue one way and an appellate court decided it another way does not mean that the trial judge was “wrong” or does not understand the law. It simply means that the trial judge had a different view of what the law should be than the appellate court that decided the issue. A trial judge is not blessed with a crystal ball that can with 100 percent accuracy forecast how an appellate court will rule on an undecided legal issue.

 

In addition, the trial court is sometimes not provided with the same in-depth legal arguments and law that is supplied to the appellate court by the parties, or which is provided by law clerks at the appellate level (many trial courts do not have law clerks). The trial judge may have reached the same conclusion as the appellate court if he or she had been supplied with additional law or argument.

 

Finally, the law changes constantly, and the trial judge may rule on a case based on today’s law, which may evolve between the time of that ruling and the issuance of an opinion of the appellate court. In such cases, the reversal of the case by the appellate court is a question of timing of the original court decision as compared to changes in the law, not one of error by the trial court.

 

So, what is the value of this book?  How can the trial lawyer use it to help his or her clients given the limitations expressed above? Permit me to digress slightly.

 

You have seen the coffee cups or t-shirts that proclaim, “A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge.”

 

Some read this phrase as suggesting that the “great lawyer” is one who has an improper relationship with the judge – that he or she can use a personal relationship to improperly influence the judge.  But most lawyers know better.  Most lawyers understand that “knowing the judge” means knowing the judge’s background, preferences concerning the presentation of evidence (including exhibits), arguments of motions, drafting of proposed orders, and given that experience, how he or she is likely to rule on a particular issue.  “Knowing the judge” also means knowing the local rules, local forms, local customs, and what things irritate the judge (and every judge is irritated by at least one thing that lawyers or litigants may do).

 

Many lawyers, particularly those in more rural areas of the state or who limit their practice to one area of law, understand the personality and preferences of the judges they see on a regular basis. Many of these lawyers may have a fair advantage appearing before that judge. (The advantage is “fair” because it results from experience and knowledge.)  That advantage – knowing how the judge thinks and his or her preferences – is not outcome-determinative, but it still may be an advantage, similar to a sports team playing on their home field.

 

Why did I say it “may” be an advantage, given what I said earlier about the benefits of “knowing the judge?”  Because simply knowing the judge’s thought processes and preferences is not enough. You still need to have the law and the facts on your client’s side.  And you need to be prepared to be able to give the judge what he or she needs to know to make a ruling.

 

So, the purpose of “The Book” is to give Tennessee lawyers case-related information to help them understand the trial judge who will rule on their client’s case or preside over a jury trial. By looking at past appellate court rulings arising from cases decided by the trial judge, anyone unfamiliar with a judge can get a “feel” for the judge. The case data contained herein does not compare with daily or weekly appearances in front of the judge on issues like a given case, but it is readily available information that give you an idea of how the judge has ruled in the past on a variety of matters.

 

The cases included are those originally decided by the trial judge that were in appellate court opinions released on or after January 1, 2022.  Note that there are a substantial number of judges who first took office in 2022 and thus it is reasonable to assume that there will be no appellate decisions for such judges until late 2023 or 2024.

 

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