David R. Duggan, 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.


Driftwood Estates Property Owners Association Inc. Et Al. v. Sweeney Et Al., No. E2023-00463-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2024). This case concerns whether a parcel of real property is subject to certain restrictions contained in a previously recorded declaration of restrictive covenants. In the proceedings below, the trial court dismissed a homeowner’s association’s lawsuit which sought to enforce the declaration’s architectural review restrictions against the owners of the property. Upon review, we determine that the declaration did not expressly include the property at issue, nor was the property validly made subject to the restrictions within the declaration. Additionally, we reject the homeowner’s association’s arguments that the property was restricted to the terms of the declaration by way of an implied negative reciprocal easement or by waiver. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s dismissal.


Boesch v. Hall, No. E2023-00935-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 6, 2024). The Circuit Court for Sevier County (“the Trial Court”) dismissed the motion for summary judgment filed by Stephen Boesch (“Plaintiff”) due to his failure to file a separate statement of undisputed material facts in accordance with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.03. The Trial Court additionally denied Plaintiff’s oral motion for default judgment against Scott D. Hall (“Defendant”) and granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff has appealed. Upon our review, we affirm the Trial Court’s judgment.


Reed Et Al. v. Town of Louisville, Tennessee Et Al., No. E2023-00438-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 20, 2024). This appeal involves a decision by the Town of Louisville Board of Zoning Appeals (“BZA”) that was upheld on review by the Blount County Circuit Court (“trial court”). At its May 5, 2020 hearing, the BZA granted appellee William Mattison’s request for a variance to allow him to construct an accessory, non-attached garage on his improved real property, which structure would purportedly exceed the height limit set by town ordinance. The appellants, Frank and Tina Reed, who own property adjacent to Mr. Mattison’s property and who had opposed Mr. Mattison’s request for a variance, filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the trial court on July 5, 2022, seeking review of the BZA’s decision. The trial court conducted hearings on the Reeds’ petition in January and February 2023. On February 27, 2023, the trial court entered a final order affirming the BZA’s decision to grant a variance to Mr. Mattison. The trial court found that there was a rational basis for the BZA’s decision, which was supported by material evidence, and that the BZA had acted within its scope of authority and discretion. The Reeds timely appealed. Determining that there existed no material evidence of any particular characteristic of the real property warranting the grant of a variance, we reverse the trial court’s judgment affirming the BZA’s decision and vacate the BZA’s grant of a variance to Mr. Mattison as illegal and outside the BZA’s authority.


State of Tennessee v. Raines, Jr.,  E2022-01045-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. June 12, 2023). Frank Delmar Raines, Jr., Defendant, was indicted for rape, aggravated kidnapping, and violating the sex offender registry. The third count of the indictment, charging Defendant for violating the sex offender registry was severed prior to trial. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of attempted rape and attempted aggravated kidnapping. The trial court sentenced Defendant to 15 years on each offense and ordered the sentences to be served consecutively. Defendant’s motion for new trial was denied and this appeal followed. On appeal, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and his sentence. Because we determine that the evidence was sufficient and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing Defendant to an effective sentence of 30 years, we affirm the judgments of the trial court. However, because there is no judgment form in the record for the charge for violation of the sex offender registry, we remand to the trial court for entry of the same.


Mani Associates v. Appalachian Associates, Inc.No. E2023-00382-COA-T10B-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 5, 2023).  This accelerated interlocutory appeal is taken from the trial court’s order denying appellants’ motion for recusal. After considering the trial court’s ruling under the Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B de novo standard of review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court denying recusal.


State of Tennessee v. Light,  E2022-00402-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 6, 2022). The Defendant, Tony Lee Light, was convicted in the Blount County Circuit Court of first degree felony murder committed during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse and second degree murder. The trial court merged the conviction of second degree murder into the conviction of first degree murder, and the jury chose to sentence him to life without parole. On appeal, the Defendant claims that the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions and that the trial court committed reversible error by allowing the State to impeach his character. Based on our review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.


McNeil v. Blount Memorial Hospital Incorporated, No. E2022-00209-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 16, 2022). The pro se plaintiff appeals the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of his action against the defendant hospital and its Chief Executive Officer. The trial court also granted the hospital CEO’s motion for a reasonable award of attorney fees and costs in defending against the lawsuit in his personal capacity pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 29- 20-113. We affirm.


State of Tennessee v. Everett,  E2022-00189-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 3, 2022).  Following a conviction for theft of property, the Defendant, Tanya Dawn Everett, was sentenced to a term of four years and placed on probation. Thereafter, the Blount County Circuit Court found that the Defendant violated the terms of her probation by failing to report and by committing new criminal offenses. As a consequence, the trial court revoked the suspended sentence and ordered the Defendant to serve the balance of her original sentence in custody. On appeal, the Defendant argues that the trial court abused its discretion by ordering her to serve the balance of her sentence in confinement. We respectfully affirm the judgment of the trial court.


State of Tennessee v. Strickland,  E2021-01280-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Nov. 2, 2022).  The Defendant-Appellant, William Lester Strickland, appeals from the revocation of his probationary sentence for aggravated burglary. The sole issue presented for review is whether the trial court erred in fully revoking the Defendant’s probation and ordering him to serve the remainder of his sentence in confinement. Upon review, we affirm. 


State of Tennessee v. Lankey,  E2021-01161-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Aug. 12, 2022).  The Defendant, Raymond Paul Lankey, appeals the trial court’s order imposing confinement after finding that the Defendant violated his probation. The Defendant’s probation began in December 2019, when he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in exchange for an effective three-year sentence, with two years, eleven months and eight days to be served on supervised probation. In July 2021, a probation violation warrant was issued, the Defendant’s second, alleging multiple violations. After a hearing, the trial court revoked the Defendant’s probation, ordering him to serve the remainder of his sentence in confinement. On appeal, the Defendant asserts that the trial court abused its discretion when it revoked his probation and when it ordered him to confinement. After review, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.


Costner v. Maryville-Alcoa-Blount County Parks Recreation Commission, E2021-00189-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 3, 2022).  In this premises liability action, the plaintiffs sued three local governments and a parks and recreation commission, jointly created by the local governments, to recover for injuries suffered by one of the plaintiffs when she stepped into a hole while attending a concert at a park maintained by the commission. The trial court dismissed the action as to the three local governments, concluding that they were immune under the state’s Governmental Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”). Later, the trial court granted the commission’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the commission enjoyed immunity under both the GTLA and the state statutes known as the Recreational Use Statutes. We dismiss the appeal as to the three local governments, concluding we lack subject matter jurisdiction because plaintiffs failed to timely initiate an appeal against them. We affirm the trial court’s holding that the commission retained immunity under both the GTLA and the Recreational Use Statutes.


Vanquish Worldwide, LLC. v. Sentinel Ins. Co., LTD, E2020-01650-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 21, 2022).  Vanquish Worldwide, LLC, a Tennessee company that services contracts with the United States government, procured business insurance from Sentinel Insurance Company, Ltd., d/b/a The Hartford (“Sentinel”) and American National Property and Casualty Company (“ANPAC”) through insurance agent Steve Hardin. Vanquish later sought coverage for its payment of an arbitrated settlement with a subcontractor. Despite Mr. Hardin’s assurance that Vanquish would have coverage for the dispute, Vanquish’s claim was denied because it was outside the stated coverage of its insurance policies. Vanquish brought negligent misrepresentation and negligence claims against Mr. Hardin and against Sentinel and ANPAC on the basis of vicarious liability. The trial court granted summary judgment to Mr. Hardin, Sentinel, and ANPAC. Vanquish appeals. Because the unrebutted statutory presumptions of Tennessee Code Annotated § 56-7-135 effectively negate elements of each cause of action, we affirm the trial court’s 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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