Carter Scott Moore, Judge


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.


Reagan v. Reagan, No. E2023-00499-COA-R3-CV(Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2023). The March 9, 2023 order from which the appellant has appealed was not effectively entered. Therefore, there is no final appealable judgment, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider this appeal.


Burkett v. Stevens, No. E2022-01186-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 28, 2023).  This appeal concerns the enforcement of a restrictive covenant. A number of property owners (“Plaintiffs”) in the German Creek Cabin Site Subdivision sued fellow property owner Julia Cris Stevens (“Defendant”) in the Circuit Court for Grainger County (“the Trial Court”) seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs sought to prevent Defendant from completing a 400 square foot structure on her lot as it would constitute a second dwelling on the original lot in contravention of a restrictive covenant. The Trial Court ruled in Plaintiffs’ favor, ordering Defendant to remove the structure and granting permanent injunctive relief. Defendant appeals. She argues, among other things that it is inequitable to require her to remove the structure. She also contends that it is not a dwelling. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.


State of Tennessee v. Phillips, No. E2021-01070-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 16, 2022). A Cocke County jury found Defendant, Richard William Phillips, guilty of aggravated statutory rape. On appeal, he contends that the trial court erroneously “set a one-hour deadline for the jury to continue deliberations” and gave supplemental jury instructions after the jury foreperson indicated that the jury was deadlocked. Defendant claims that the trial court’s remarks had a coercive effect on the jury’s decision-making. After a thorough review of the record, arguments of counsel, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Allstate Property & Casualty Ins. Co. v. Sevier County Elec. System,  E2021-01085-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug.23,2022). This appeal involves several consolidated actions that were filed by insurance companies concerning a wildfire that occurred in Sevier County on November 28, 2016. The insurance companies alleged that the fire was sparked by a decaying Northern Red Oak tree that fell on an electrical service conductor and that the fire quickly spread to neighboring properties, including properties owned by their insureds. The insurance companies urged that the vegetation management contractor should be held liable for the losses for failing to prune or remove the diseased tree before it fell on the conductor. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the vegetation management contractor, determining, inter alia, that the contractor owed no duty to prune trees located near service drops or to inspect or remove trees that were outside the right of way that the contractor had agreed to maintain. The insurance companies have appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the vegetation management contractor.


State of Tennessee v. Smith, No. E2019-01515-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 18, 2022).  Defendant, Franklin Sean Smith, was convicted of aggravated rape of a child, aggravated sexual battery, and incest. After a sentencing hearing, Defendant received a 60-year sentence. Defendant appeals, arguing that: (1) the trial court committed plain error in allowing the State’s “numerous instances of improper prosecutorial arguments”; (2) the trial court committed plain error in allowing the State to introduce into evidence Defendant’s letter to his wife; (3) the State withheld evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); (4) the trial court committed plain error in admitting the victim’s forensic interview; (5) his convictions violated the protections of double jeopardy; (6) he received the ineffective assistance of counsel; (7) his convictions should be overturned based on the cumulative error doctrine; and (8) the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. Following a thorough review of the record, we discern no error and affirm the judgments of the trial court.

State of Tennessee v. Ramsey, No. E2021-00266-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 4, 2022). In this delayed appeal, the Defendant, Randy Ray Ramsey, appeals his conviction for second degree murder and corresponding twenty-five-year sentence. The Defendant contends that his due process rights were violated when the jury venire saw him in shackles during jury selection, including one juror who served on the jury panel. After reviewing the record and the applicable authorities, we conclude that the error was harmless and affirm the Defendant’s conviction. NOTE:  Judge Moore was not the trial judge in this matter. Rather, he served only as trial judge beginning with the petition for delayed appeal.


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.



"The Book" - Information on Tennessee Trial Judges Copyright © 2023 by BirdDog Law, LLC. All Rights Reserved.