M. Wyatt Burk, Judge

Biography

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.

 

Coblentz et al. v. Tractor Supply Company, No. M2023-00249-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 26, 2024) (dissenting opinion). A sales representative for a product vendor was injured while in a Tractor Supply store performing his job. The sales representative received workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, a hardware product company, and then proceeded with a tort case against Tractor Supply. We agree with the trial court’s conclusion that Tractor Supply was the sales representative’s statutory employer within the meaning of Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6- 113(a) and, therefore, his recovery from his employer was his exclusive remedy. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Tractor Supply.

 

In re Anthony K., No. M2022-01360-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 21., 2023). A juvenile appeals the decision to re-commit him to DCS custody for treatment and services. We conclude that this appeal is moot in light of post-judgment facts.

 

Taylor v. Taylor, No. M2022-00140-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 2, 2023).  This is a divorce action filed by Meredith Lee Taylor (“Mother”) against Christopher Bryan Taylor (“Father”). The trial court divided the marital estate nearly equally and granted Mother primary residential custody of the parties’ child. Father was granted 130 days per year of parenting time. Father appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in its valuation of several marital assets. He also asserts that the trial court should have awarded him more parenting time. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

Flade v. City of Shelbyville, Tennessee, No. M2022-00553-COA-R3-CV  (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 24, 2023).  This appeal involves application of the Tennessee Public Participation Act (TPPA). Plaintiff filed multiple causes of action against the City of Shelbyville, the Bedford County Listening Project, and several individuals – one of whom is a member of the Shelbyville City Council. Defendants filed motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 12.06, and two of the non-governmental Defendants also filed petitions for dismissal and relief under the TPPA. The non-governmental Defendants also moved the trial court to stay its discovery order with respect to Plaintiff’s action against the City. The trial court denied the motion. The non-governmental Defendants filed applications for permission for extraordinary appeal to this Court and to the Tennessee Supreme Court; those applications were denied. Upon remand to the trial court, Plaintiff voluntarily non-suited his action pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.01. The non-governmental Defendants filed motions to hear their TPPA petitions notwithstanding Plaintiff’s nonsuit. The trial court determined that Defendants’ TPPA petitions to dismiss were not justiciable following Plaintiff’s nonsuit under Rule 41.01. The Bedford County Listening Project and one individual Defendant, who is also a member of the Shelbyville City Council, appeal. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee. v. Stinnett, No. M2021-01122-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 15, 2022).  A Marshall County Circuit Court jury convicted the Defendant-Appellant, Kevin Dewayne Stinnett, of possession of heroin with the intent to sell or deliver, possession of .5 grams or more of cocaine with the intent to sell or deliver, simple possession of methamphetamine, simple possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia, and the trial court imposed an effective sentence of eighteen years’ incarceration. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-17-417(a)(4), -418(a), -425(a)(1). On appeal, Stinnett argues: (1) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions; (2) the trial court erred in denying his motion to continue his trial; and (3) the trial court erred in imposing partially consecutive sentences and in denying an alternative sentence. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee. v. Parrish, No. M2021-01122-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 11, 2022).  Tyler Keith Parrish, Defendant, was convicted by a jury of two counts of aggravated sexual battery. The trial court affirmed the jury verdict, merged the two convictions, and sentenced Defendant to a within-range sentence of 12 years as a Range I, standard offender. On appeal, Defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and his sentence as excessive. After review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

State of Tennessee. v. Daniel, No. M2021-01122-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Oct. 11, 2022). Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court found that Phillip David Daniel, Defendant, violated the terms of his probation by incurring new criminal charges and ordered the execution of the sentence as originally entered. On appeal, Defendant concedes that he violated his probation but claims that the trial court erred by ordering him to serve the balance of his sentence. Following a de novo review of the record, we affirm the sentence imposed by the trial court. 

 

Leonard v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-00535-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. May 25, 2022).  The Petitioner, Johnathan Robert Leonard, sought post-conviction relief from his convictions of three counts of rape of a child, two counts of soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor, and one count of aggravated sexual battery, for which he received an effective ninety-six-year sentence. Relevant to this appeal, he alleged that counsel was ineffective because counsel failed to adequately meet and confer with him, preserve for appeal several issues related to prosecutorial misconduct during trial proceedings, and appeal his sentence. See Johnathan Robert Leonard v. State, No. M2018-01737-CCA-R3-PC, 2019 WL 5885085, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 12, 2019), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Mar. 26, 2020). Following a hearing, the post-conviction court granted the Petitioner relief in the form of a delayed appeal regarding his claim that counsel was ineffective in failing to appeal his sentence, but this court reversed and remanded for adjudication of the Petitioner’s remaining allegations. Id. at *9. On remand, the post-conviction court denied the Petitioner’s remaining claims after a second evidentiary hearing. The Petitioner appeals, maintaining that counsel failed to adequately meet and confer with him and to preserve for appeal claims related to prosecutorial misconduct. We affirm the post-conviction court’s judgment. [Footnote omitted.]

 

Savely v. State of Tennessee, No. M2021-00746-CCA-R3-PC (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 25, 2022).  Petitioner, Antywan Eugene Savely, appeals the denial of his post-conviction petition, arguing the post-conviction court erred in finding that he received the effective assistance of counsel at trial. More specifically, Petitioner asserts that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present any proof on his behalf. Following our review of the entire record and the briefs of the parties, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

 

State of Tennessee. v. Montella, No. M2020-00016-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Apr. 7, 2022).  The Defendant, Christopher Scott Montella, was convicted by a Marshall County Circuit Court jury of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony. See T.C.A. § 39-13-504 (2018). He received a sentence of eleven years. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the Defendant’s conviction, (2) the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s motion to sever, (3) the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during a search, (4) the Defendant suffered a violation of Brady v. Maryland 373 U.S. 83 (1963) when the State failed to inform the Defendant the victim’s trial testimony would be different than the victim’s previous testimony, (5) the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s motion for a mistrial based on juror misconduct, and (6) the trial court erred by sentencing the Defendant to eleven years. We conclude that the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s motion to sever; however, the error was harmless. We reverse the Defendant’s conviction based on juror misconduct and remand the case for a new trial.

 

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.

 

License

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