Don R. Ash, Senior 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. Byrer, No. W2023-00483-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 18, 2024). The Defendant, Benjamin Cloe Byrer, was convicted by a Gibson County Circuit Court jury of second degree murder, a Class A felony. See T.C.A. § 39-13-210 (2018). The Defendant was sentenced to nineteen years’ incarceration. On appeal, he contends that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Burks v. Burks, No. E2022-00776-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 7, 2024). This is a divorce proceeding in which the wife filed a divorce complaint against the husband on the grounds of adultery and inappropriate marital conduct. While the action was pending, Husband drafted a handwritten reconciliation document in which he promised that the marital residence would become the wife’s separate property if he ever “cheated” on her again, “in consideration of her reconciling with [him] (also dropping the divorce lawsuit currently filed).” Although the wife took no action to “drop” or dismiss the divorce complaint, the trial court, sua sponte, dismissed the complaint for failure to prosecute. Upon learning that the husband’s infidelity had resumed, the wife successfully motioned to set aside the order of dismissal, and the case went to trial. In its final order, the trial court granted the wife a divorce on grounds of inappropriate marital conduct due to the husband’s infidelity. Because the wife took no action to enforce the purported reconciliation agreement, the court classified the marital residence as marital property, not the wife’s separate property. The court awarded the wife approximately $3.9 million in marital assets, of which $1.3 million was liquid assets, representing 60% of the marital estate. The court further awarded the wife $13,000 per month in transitional alimony for eight years and $229,000 in alimony in solido, but declined to award her alimony in futuro. The court also denied the wife’s request to recover her attorney’s fees and expenses. The wife appeals, contending that the trial court erred in failing to classify the marital residence as her separate property and in failing to award her alimony in futuro as well as her attorney’s fees. We affirm.


Hutchins v. Cardinal Glass IndustriesNo. E2023-00587-SC-R3-WC (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 12, 2023). Appellant David Hutchins challenges the trial court‘s denial of his Motion to continue a summary judgment hearing and its denial of his Motion to Alter or Amend the Court‘s summary judgment. The appeal was referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm.

Vazeen v. Sir,  No. M2022-00273-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 21, 2023).  Former client sued his former attorney for legal malpractice and fraud. The trial court initially dismissed all claims, but was reversed on appeal as to the fraud claims. The trial court then held a bench trial and found in favor of the defendant attorney. In a second appeal, this Court affirmed the dismissal of all fraud claims except a fraud claim related to the hourly rate charged under the parties’ written contract. That claim was remanded to the trial court for purposes of consideration of the factors outlined in in Alexander v. Inman, 974 S.W.2d 689 (Tenn. 1998). On remand, the trial judge denied the plaintiff’s efforts to disqualify him from the case and to enlarge the scope of the trial. A bench trial was eventually held, despite the plaintiff’s multiple efforts to postpone. After a late motion to continue was denied, the plaintiff did not attend trial. Following the bench trial, the trial court once again ruled in favor of the defendant attorney, resulting in the dismissal of all claims against him. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.


Billy Joe Nelson v. State of Tennessee, M2022-00375-CCA-R3-PC  (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 21, 2023). Petitioner, Billy Joe Nelson, appeals as of right from the Coffee County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, wherein he challenged his convictions for aggravated kidnapping, carjacking, robbery, and aggravated rape. On appeal, Petitioner asserts that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel based upon counsel’s failure to (1) move to suppress the evidence obtained by Petitioner’s arrest, the search of his girlfriend’s mother’s home, and the search of a cell phone he shared with his girlfriend; (2) move to suppress the victim’s identification of Petitioner on a surveillance recording as impermissibly suggestive; (3) investigate DNA evidence or contest the chain of custody of the victim’s rape kit and the DNA standards for the victim and Petitioner; (4) introduce a voice exemplar of Petitioner to prove that the perpetrator’s voice in the background of the victim’s 911 call was not his; and (5) use telephone records to cast doubt on the State’s timeline of events and establish that a witness had reason to lie about Petitioner’s involvement in the offenses. Petitioner also alleges that the State withheld exculpatory evidence relative to the victim’s rape kit and DNA standards for the victim and Petitioner. Following our review, we affirm.


Morton v. Davidson County Government, No. M2022-01572-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 8, 2023).  The plaintiff made a claim for the return of bond money he paid to a private bonding company to secure his release from jail for charges that were pending and then nolled nearly 22 years before the filing of the present cause of action. The trial court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12.02(6) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure. The trial court held that the complaint, giving it the benefit of all reasonable inferences, fails to articulate any facts or legal authority showing a right to relief against the defendant. Further, the court determined that if the gravamen of the claim is a tort action for conversion, the claim was also properly dismissed because it would have accrued long ago and is therefore barred under the applicable one-year statute of limitations. The plaintiff appeals. We affirm.


State of Tennessee ex rel. Herbert H. Slatery, III v. HRC Medical Centers, Inc., No. M2021-00488-COA-R3-CV  (Tenn. Ct App. June 10, 2022).  The State appeals the trial court’s holding that Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-8-101(1) applied to the State’s attempt to have the Defendants’ real estate sold in order to collect on its judgment, such that the statutory right of redemption could not be barred. Because we conclude that the sale sought by the State could proceed under subsection (2) of that statute,
we vacate the court’s order and remand for further proceedings.


Bailey v. FirstBank, No. M2020-00837-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct App. May 27, 2022).  Consumers discovered negative information on their credit reports. Believing that the information was false, the consumers filed a Fair Credit Reporting Act claim against the bank that furnished the information. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681n, 1681o. On the bank’s motion, the court summarily dismissed the action because the consumers were unable to prove an essential element of a Fair Credit Reporting Act claim. The court also denied the bank’s request for an award of attorney’s fees. Both sides appealed. Based on the undisputed facts, we conclude that the bank was entitled to a judgment as a matter of law on the Fair Credit Reporting Act claim. We also conclude that the bank did not prove that it was entitled to an award of attorney’s fees. So we affirm.


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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