David Allen, 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.


State of Tennessee v. Berg, No. M2022-00233-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 29, 2022).  Pursuant to a plea agreement, the Defendant, James Berg, entered guilty pleas to aggravated sexual battery and two counts of rape of a child. The Defendant agreed to a concurrent term of twenty-five years for the rape of a child convictions and a term of fifteen years for the aggravated sexual battery conviction, with the alignment of these terms of imprisonment to be determined by the trial court. Following a sentencing hearing, the trial court ordered the terms to be served consecutively, for an effective sentence of forty years’ imprisonment. The sole issue presented on appeal is whether the trial court abused its discretion in ordering consecutive sentencing. Upon our review, we affirm.

Columbia Housing and Redevelopment Corp. v. Braden, No. M2021-00329-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 13, 2022).  This is a detainer action brought by a landlord to evict its tenant for possessing a firearm in his apartment in contravention of the lease agreement. The landlord, Columbia Housing & Redevelopment Corporation (“Columbia Housing”), provides subsidized housing for the City of Columbia pursuant to the Housing Authorities Law, Tennessee Code Annotated § 13-20-101 to -709, and operates Creekside Acres, a multifamily, low-income public housing complex in Columbia, Tennessee. The tenant voluntarily entered into a lease agreement with Columbia Housing that contained a prohibition against firearms on the premises; nevertheless, the tenant defended the detainer action, contending that the lease agreement violated his rights under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. The circuit court ruled in favor of the landlord on the ground that the lease agreement was a valid and enforceable contract, and the tenant voluntarily waived any rights he may have had to possess a firearm on the leased premises. This appeal followed. Significantly, the landlord is a governmental entity “acting as a landlord of property that it owns.” See Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev. v. Rucker, 535 U.S. 125, 135 (2002). As such, its actions must comply with the Constitution, see Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 930 (1982), and the unconstitutional conditions doctrine “prevent[s] the government from coercing people into giving” up constitutional rights. Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Mgmt. Dist., 570 U.S. 595, 604 (2013). Although laws “forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings” do not violate the Second Amendment, see D.C. v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 626 (2008), not “all places of public congregation” are “sensitive places.” See N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111, 2134 (2022). Moreover, although public housing is government-owned, the leased premises at issue is the tenant’s private home, which is not the kind of “sensitive place” where the government may categorically ban firearm possession. See id. at 2128. Further, complete prohibitions on possession of handguns in the home for self-defense are “historically unprecedented.” See id. Therefore, we hold that Columbia Housing’s prohibition against handguns in the tenant’s “home” is an unconstitutional lease condition. As a consequence, the tenant’s possession of a handgun in his apartment, his home, did not constitute a breach of the lease agreement. Accordingly, the judgment of the circuit court is reversed, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Blue v. Church of God Sanctified, Inc., No. M2021-00244-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 27, 2022).  This case involves a church property dispute. The plaintiffs are trustees of a local church congregation who were attempting to establish their congregation as separate from the church’s national governing body and from a local congregation, with which the plaintiffs had previously been joined, that desired to remain affiliated with the national church body. Naming as defendants the national body and trustees of the congregation desiring to remain with the national body, the plaintiffs sought, inter alia, declaratory judgment that real property upon which the local church building was located belonged to their congregation and was not held in trust for the national body as the national body’s written policy dictated. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, asserting in part that pursuant to our Supreme Court’s decision in Church of God in Christ, Inc. v. L.
M. Haley Ministries, Inc. 531 S.W.3d 146 (Tenn. 2017), the national body’s written policy governed ownership of the property, which had therefore been held in trust for the national body. Following a hearing, the trial court determined that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine precluded the court’s hearing any claims except the property dispute and that the defendants were entitled to summary judgment declaring the national body as the owner of the property and associated personalty and the congregation aligned with the national body as entitled to use and possession of the property and associated personalty. Upon the plaintiffs’ appeal to this Court and motion to the trial court for a stay, the trial court granted a stay of the judgment pending appeal and entered an order, inter alia, directing the plaintiffs to pay expenses related to the property while the stay remained in effect. The defendants filed a Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 7(a) motion seeking review of the trial court’s stay order, which this Court denied. The plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion to supplement the record with their response to the Rule 7(a) motion, which, upon limited remand, was granted by the trial court. The defendants then filed a motion requesting that this Court strike the references to the supplemented materials in the plaintiffs’ principal brief and disregard post-judgment facts in the supplemented materials. Discerning no reversible error in the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, we affirm the trial court’s summary judgment order in its entirety. However, because the supplemented materials included documents not reviewed by the trial court at the summary judgment stage, we grant the defendants’ motion to disregard the supplemental materials and strike the plaintiffs’ references to them. We deny the defendants’ request for attorney’s fees and costs incurred on appeal.


Robert K. Perry v. Thomas Brockway, Sr. et al., No. M2021-00532-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 16, 2022). Plaintiff appeals the dismissal of his action to set aside several alleged fraudulent conveyances. Because the orders appealed do not resolve all the claims between the parties, we dismiss the appeal for lack of a final judgment.


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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