Michael Binkley, Judge (Service Ended September 29, 2023)


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.


Adkins v. Adkins, No. M2022-00986-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 24, 2023) (memorandum opinion). This is an appeal from a divorce decree that was initially entered in 2017, but the divorce action was not finalized until 2022. In this appeal, Wife argues that the trial court should not have divorced the parties because there were no valid grounds for divorce. Because the parties executed a valid marital dissolution agreement agreeing to be divorced on the ground of irreconcilable differences, we affirm the trial court’s decision to declare the parties divorced. We modify the divorce decree, however, to provide that Wife is awarded the divorce on that ground, consistent with the parties’ agreement. We further award Husband his attorney’s fees as required under the marital dissolution agreement.


Cherry v. Del Frisco’s Grill of Tennessee, LLC,  No. M2022-00969-COA-R10-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 28, 2023).  In this premises liability case concerning a customer’s fall inside of a restaurant, video surveillance footage from a security camera in the restaurant was not preserved, precipitating the filing of a sanctions motion by the Plaintiffs for spoliation. Although several sources of evidence existed pertaining to the condition of the restaurant flooring where the customer fell, and although the trial court concluded that the Plaintiffs were not prevented from proving fault in this case in the absence of the video evidence, the trial court ultimately entered significant sanctions against the Defendants, including holding that it was conclusively established for purposes of trial that the Defendants had actual or constructive notice that the floor where the fall occurred was “slick” because of a substance or because of a general and continuing condition, as well as striking the Defendants’ affirmative defenses of comparative fault. Upon the filing of an application by the Defendants, we granted an extraordinary appeal under Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. For the reasons stated herein, we vacate the trial court’s sanctions order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.


State of Tennessee v. Murphy, No. M2022-00396-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. July 21, 2023). The Defendant, Randall Murphy, appeals his convictions by a Williamson County Circuit Court jury of aggravated kidnapping, reckless aggravated assault, aggravated assault, criminal impersonation of law enforcement, and domestic assault. The Defendant argues: (1) the trial court committed reversible error when it misstated the law and provided its personal opinion on the determinate element of the kidnapping offense; (2) the trial court expressed its personal opinion regarding the testimony of one of the State’s key eyewitnesses; (3) the trial court improperly excluded evidence that the victim had consumed alcohol with her prescription medications at the time of the alleged offenses; (4) the trial court failed to give any weight to the applicable mitigating factors before imposing the maximum sentence for the aggravated kidnapping conviction; and (5) the cumulative effect of the trial court’s errors entitles him to a new trial on all counts. 1 After review, we reverse and remand this case for a new trial on the aggravated kidnapping charge in Count 1 and affirm the remaining counts.


Estrada v. DJ Exteriors, Inc., No. M2022-01052-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 10, 2023).  This is an appeal from the granting of a directed verdict on limited issues in a jury trial. At the conclusion of the plaintiff’s proof, the defendant moved for and was granted a directed verdict as to the issues of piercing the corporate veil, fraudulent conveyance, and punitive damages. The trial then continued as to a breach of contract claim asserted by the plaintiff, and the jury ultimately returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor. The plaintiff now appeals, arguing that the trial court’s ruling on the motion for directed verdict was in error. Having reviewed the record transmitted to us on appeal, we reverse the trial court’s grant of a directed verdict as to the issues of piercing the corporate veil and fraudulent conveyance, but we affirm as to the issue of punitive damages.  Editor’s Note:  This is the concurring opinion:  I concur in the majority’s opinion regarding piercing the corporate veil and fraudulent conveyance. I disagree with the majority’s opinion regarding punitive damages. The plaintiff’s argument on this issue is certainly not robust, but I think the intention was simply to rely primarily on the argument regarding fraudulent conveyance to also support the claim for punitive damages. In other words, I read the plaintiff’s brief as arguing that the evidence of an intentional transfer of money to the individual defendants supports both the claim of fraudulent conveyance and punitive damages. Regarding questions of waiver, we should not “exalt form over substance.” Powell v. Cmty. Health Sys., Inc., 312 S.W.3d 496, 511 (Tenn. 2010). Moreover, “the doctrine of waiver generally exists to prevent litigants from raising issues to which their opponents have no opportunity to respond.” Jackson v. Burrell, No. W2018-00057-COA-R3-CV, 2019 WL 237347, at *7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 16, 2019) (Stafford, J., dissenting). Here, the defendants have been on notice for the entirety of this case that plaintiff seeks punitive damages. For these reasons, I would not consider the issue waived.


Trentham v. Mid-America Apartments, M2021-01511-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan 12, 2023). This appeal concerns premises liability. The plaintiff slipped and fell on a pedestrian bridge on the defendants’ property. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The defendants appeal. We affirm.


Charles v. McQueen, M2021-00878-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2022).  This case involves a lawsuit alleging claims of defamation and false light arising from an online review.  In response to the lawsuit, the defendant filed a petition under the Tennessee Public Participation Act to dismiss the lawsuit.  The trial court ultimately granted the petition and dismissed the case.  For the reasons stated herein, we affirm in part and reverse in part.   


Rose v. Malone,  M2021-00569-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 25, 2022).  This appeal involves a petition for grandparent visitation filed by the maternal grandparents. The trial court granted the petition and the father appeals. We affirm.


State of Tenn. Ex Rel. Shaw Enterprises, LLC v. Town of Thompson’s Station, No. M2021-00439-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 7, 2022). This is a declaratory judgment action in which the plaintiff developer objected to the defendant town’s enforcement of a new energy code after the developer received preliminary plat approval. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant town. We affirm.


HCTEC Partners, LLC v. James Prescott Crawford et al., No. M2020-01373-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 24, 2022). In 2012, plaintiff HCTec Partners, LLC (“HCTec”) and James Prescott Crawford (“Crawford”) entered into an employment agreement under which Crawford was prohibited from disclosing any of HCTec’s confidential information and competing with HCTec for one year after Crawford’s employment with HCTec ended. When Crawford left HCTec to work for a competitor in 2019, HCTec sought to enforce the agreement. HCTec sued Crawford for breach of contract and sued Crawford’s new employer, The Rezult Group, Inc. (“Rezult”), for inducement of breach pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 47-50-109. After extensive discovery, HCTec moved for summary judgment as to both claims, which the trial court granted. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court’s decision in all respects.


State of Tennessee v. Steve Leslie Smith, No. M2020-01263-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Feb. 10, 2022). A Williamson County jury convicted the Defendant, Steve Leslie Smith, of public intoxication.  The trial court imposed a thirty-day sentence in the county workhouse to be suspended to supervised probation after five days of service.  On appeal, the Defendant argues that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction, that the trial court erred when it admitted evidence about a substance abuse and psychiatric facility near where the Defendant was arrested, and that the trial court committed plain error when it rejected his challenge for cause of three prospective jurors.  After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, 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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