Michael Wayne Collins, 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.

 

Smith et al. v. White et al., No. M2023-00030-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2024). The appellees sold a portion of their property to the appellants. The appellees sued the appellants seeking an easement by necessity. The appellants maintained that Tenn. Code Ann § 54-14-102 and its associated statutes prohibited such an easement. The trial court granted a common law easement by necessity. We agree with the trial court’s determination that the 2020 amendments to Tenn. Code Ann § 54-14-102 and its associated statutes did not change the common law regarding easements by necessity. However, due to the lack of a hearing and the corresponding lack of evidence, the improper use of the trial judge’s visit to the property as a fact-finding mission, and the uncertain procedures used to decide the case, we vacate the trial court’s order and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

 

White v. Vantell, Warden, No. M2023-00967-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 21, 2024). A Marshall County jury convicted the Petitioner, Michael White, of five counts of rape in 2005, and the trial court sentenced him to an effective sentence of fifty-five years. Thereafter, the Petitioner filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus. He alleged that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear his case because, among other things, the original affidavit of complaint was invalid and that his charges were not supported by probable cause. The habeas corpus court summarily denied the application, finding that the Petitioner failed to state a colorable claim for relief and that he failed to comply with the statutory requirements for requesting the writ. Upon our review, we respectfully affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

 

Reese v. Strada, Warden, No. M2023-00961-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 30, 2024). Terrance Reese, Petitioner, appeals from the denial of his petition for habeas corpus relief, in which he alleged that he received an illegal sentence, that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and that one of his convictions was void. The habeas corpus court summarily dismissed the petition because the judgments were valid on their face and the trial court had jurisdiction over the offenses. Petitioner appeals the dismissal of the petition. We affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

 

State of Tennessee v. Haynes, No. M2022-00828-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 3, 2023). The Defendant, Donald Haynes, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted aggravated sexual battery in exchange for an effective sentence of eight years to be served on probation. At a subsequent restitution hearing, the trial court ordered the Defendant to pay $42,000 in restitution to the victim in monthly installments of $500. On appeal, the Defendant contends that there was insufficient evidence of pecuniary loss to support an order of restitution. After review, we reverse and remand the case for the trial court to determine the victim’s credibility, the victim’s pecuniary loss, if any, and to make adequate findings of fact, if any, to support the imposition of restitution based upon sufficient credible evidence of pecuniary loss.

 

Phillips v. Frink, Warden, No. M2022-01268-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Crim. App. June 23, 2023).  Jerry W. Phillips, Petitioner, appeals from the summary dismissal of his habeas corpus petition in which he claimed his convictions were void because there was a fatal variance between the proof at trial and the indictment and that the proof at trial, which differed from the proof at the preliminary hearing, constructively amended the indictment. After a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

 

Black v. State of Tennessee,  M2022-01274-CCA-R3-HC  (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 26, 2023) (memorandum opinion).  The Appellant, Christopher M. Black, appeals the trial court’s summary dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus relief. The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20. Said motion is hereby granted.

 

Carino v. State of Tennessee,  M2022-01036-CCA-R3-HC  (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 13, 2023). Petitioner, Alexander Carino, appeals from the Trousdale County Circuit Court’s dismissal of his second petition for writ of habeas corpus.  He alleges that the habeas corpus court erred by summarily denying his petition without advising him of his right to counsel or  appointing counsel and that his judgments for second-degree murder are void because the affidavits of complaint were not “properly authenticated” because they did not contain a court seal.  Petitioner further alleges for the first time on appeal that the affidavits of complaint contain an insufficient factual basis to support a finding of probable cause.  Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court. 

 

In Re Lorelai E.,  M2022-00173-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 29, 2022). The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services sought to intervene in a private-party termination of parental rights and adoption proceeding concerning a minor child. The trial court permitted the intervention. The child’s mother appealed. Because the trial court acted within its discretion in granting the Department of Children’s Services permissive intervention pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 24.02, we affirm.

 

White v. Frink, Warden, M2022-00429-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 29, 2022). In 2005, Petitioner, Michael White, was convicted of multiple counts of rape. He was sentenced to an effective sentence of 55 years. After several failed attempts, Petitioner again sought habeas corpus relief, which the habeas court denied. He appeals. Because Petitioner failed to follow the statutory procedure for filing a petition for habeas corpus relief, we affirm the summary dismissal of the petition.

 

Jefferson v. State of Tennessee,  M2022-00456-CCA-R3-HC  (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 29, 2022).  The Petitioner, Timothy L. Jefferson, appeals the Trousdale County Circuit Court’s dismissal of his pro se petition seeking habeas corpus relief from his conviction for second degree murder, for which he received an effective sentence of forty years in prison. On appeal, the Petitioner argues he is entitled to habeas corpus relief because he was illegally restrained as a result of a procedurally defective juvenile petition. After review, we affirm the judgment summarily dismissing the petition for writ of habeas corpus.

 

State of Tennessee v. Kolimlim, No. M2020-01363-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 7, 2022). Defendant, Espiridion Evangelista Kolimlim, III, appeals the criminal court’s dismissal of his general sessions appeal from payment of a traffic citation after he filed a motion to withdraw payment of the citation. Following our review of the entire record, oral arguments, and the parties’ briefs, we dismiss the appeal.

 

Collins v. Genesis Diamonds, LLC, M2021-00634-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 10, 2022).  This appeal involves an award of attorney’s fees pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-12-119(c).  The trial court dismissed two of the plaintiff’s three claims for relief pled in his amended complaint pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6), upon its finding that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted on the two claims.  The third claim also was included in the defendant’s motion to dismiss, as well as arguments for improper venue and lack of subject matter jurisdiction, all of which were denied by the trial court.  More than thirty days after a final judgment was entered, the defendant requested an award of attorney’s fees and discretionary costs.  In his supporting affidavit, the defendant’s counsel included attorney’s fees as relevant to the entire motion to dismiss instead of distinguishing the time spent regarding the claims that were dismissed pursuant to Rule 12.02(6).  The trial court awarded the defendant attorney’s fees in the amount of $10,000, which is the maximum amount of attorney’s fees a trial court can award under Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-12-119(c).  The trial court denied the defendant’s request for discretionary costs as untimely.  We affirm the trial court’s denial of discretionary costs, vacate the award of attorney’s fees, and remand for the Trial Court to reconsider the attorney’s fees award as consistent with this opinion and the Tennessee Supreme Court’s opinion in Donovan v. Hastings, No. M2019-01396-SC-R11-CV, — S.W.3d — , 2022 WL 2301177 (Tenn. June 27, 2022).

 

Johnson v. Upton, Warden, M2021-01164-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 9, 2022).  The Petitioner, David H. Johnson, appeals the denial of his petition for habeas corpus relief.  He maintains that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over his case because the superseding indictment was returned after the expiration of the statute of limitations for aggravated rape.  The habeas court summarily denied the petition because the record failed to establish that the judgment was void.  After review, we affirm the habeas court.

 

McCoy v. Conway, M2021-00921-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 5, 2022).  The plaintiff was injured when his car was hit by an uninsured driver. The plaintiff was initially paid $5,000.00 from the medical payments coverage of his automobile policy. A jury then found the plaintiff’s compensatory damages to total $80,000.00. The plaintiff’s uninsured motorist carrier then paid the plaintiff $45,000.00, representing the policy limit of $50,000.00 less the prior $5,000.00 payment. The plaintiff then sought to compel the uninsured motorist carrier to pay the additional $5,000.00 owed under the uninsured motorist policy. The trial court agreed and ordered the uninsured motorist carrier to pay the plaintiff an additional $5,000.00, resulting in total payment by the carrier to the plaintiff of $55,000.00. The uninsured motorist carrier appeals. We reverse the decision of the trial court.

 

Anthony v. State of Tennessee,  M2021-00665-CCA-R3-HC  (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 19, 2022).  The Petitioner, Andre Anthony, appeals the Trousdale County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus. After review, we affirm the judgment of the habeas corpus court.

 

Montgomery v. Montgomery, No. M2022-00663-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 6, 2022).  This is an appeal from a final order dismissing a post-divorce petition on the grounds of res judicata. Because the appellant did not file his notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the final order as required by Rule 4(a) of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, we dismiss the appeal.

 

Susan Greene Garamella v. City of Lebanon, Tennessee et al., No. M2021-00262-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 24, 2022). This is a negligence case arising out of an injury suffered by the plaintiff after she tripped over a sewer cleanout cap and fell on the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood.  She filed suit against the construction company that placed the cleanout cap and the City of Lebanon that assumed ownership of the sidewalk.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, holding, inter alia, that the applicable statute of repose barred the suit against the construction company and that the City was immune from liability.  The plaintiff appeals.  We affirm.

 

Timothy Lee Armstrong v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-00264-CCA-R3-HC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 5, 2022). Petitioner, Timothy Lee Armstrong, appeals from the Trousdale County Circuit Court’s dismissal of his fourth petition for writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner alleges the trial court lacked jurisdiction to convict and to sentence him because the indictment was not filed by the court clerk, that the judgments against him are void because they do not contain a filestamp date and that the trial court erred by dismissing his petition before he was allowed additional time to file a response to the State’s motion to dismiss. Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

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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