Robert E. Lee Davies, 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.

 

Cartwright v. Thomason Hendrix, P.C., et al., No. W2022-01627-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 15, 2024). Appellants, lawyers and their law firms, appeal the trial court’s denial of their petition to dismiss this lawsuit under the Tennessee Public Protection Act. On appeal, we conclude that the trial court erred in concluding that Appellants failed to establish that this claim relates to the protected right to petition. As such, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings.

 

Garner, et al. v. Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell, PLLC, et al., No. W2022-01636-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 15, 2024). In this case, the plaintiffs sued the former attorneys of her opponent in a multitude of unsuccessful actions involving family trusts. In their complaint, the plaintiffs argued that they were damaged by the tortious conduct of the attorneys under the tort of another doctrine. The defendant-attorneys filed a petition to dismiss under the Tennessee Public Protection Act. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss on the basis that the act was inapplicable. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

 

In Re James T., No. M2022-01666-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 31, 2023). A foster mother filed a petition to terminate parental rights and adopt a minor child. This appeal concerns the rights of a putative father who signed a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity asserting that he was the biological father of the minor child. We have determined that the foster mother had standing to challenge the VAP, and we affirm the trial court’s decision disestablishing the putative father’s status as legal father.

 

Jones v. Jones No. M2022-00624-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 17, 2023). This appeal arises from a divorce. Prior to the marriage, the parties signed an antenuptial agreement that included a provision whereby Husband’s son from a prior marriage would be entitled to one-fourth of the value of the marital property upon divorce. During proceedings in the trial court, Husband filed a petition to hold Wife in criminal contempt. The trial court dismissed Husband’s petition for contempt, granted Husband a divorce on the uncontested ground of adultery, found the provision regarding Husband’s son to be unenforceable, and equitably divided the parties’ marital property. The trial court also declined to award Husband his requested discretionary fees. Primarily based on Husband’s failure to follow briefing requirements, we affirm the trial court’s judgment on all issues.

 

Charter Communications Operating LLC v. Madison County, Tennessee, No. W2022-01025-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 26, 2023). This appeal involves a bid awarded by a county finance department and upheld by the county’s finance committee after a bid protest hearing. One of the service providers whose bid was not selected filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari in chancery court. After reviewing the administrative record, the chancery court concluded that the finance committee’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and unsupported by material evidence and remanded for the county to rebid the contract. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

 

Bolton v. Bolton, No. M2022-00627-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 8, 2023).  This is a criminal contempt case. Appellant/Father appeals the trial court’s finding that he is guilty of four counts of criminal contempt for violating the trial court’s orders regarding medical treatment for the minor child. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

Boren v. Hill Boren PC, No. W2021-00478-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 11, 2023).  This is an appeal arising from allegations of fraud and breach of contract in a dispute surrounding a stock transfer agreement that, among other things, provided for the transfer of controlling interest in a law firm from attorney Robert Hill to attorney Ricky Boren. Whereas many claims were resolved at summary judgment, others were tried before a jury and resolved in the Plaintiffs’ favor. The parties present a plethora of issues for our consideration, and for the reasons stated herein, we affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

 

Sutton v. The Westmoreland Law Firm, No. M2021-01209-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 21, 2023).  This action concerns the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims against his former attorney for breach of contract, malpractice, and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. We affirm.

 

Haiser v. McClung, No. E2021-00825-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 1, 2022). This appeal involves a long-running dispute between two groups of property owners in the real estate community development of Renegade Mountain over composition of the board of directors and resultant control of the community organization. Plaintiffs, members of the Renegade Mountain Community Club, Inc. (“RMCC”), a homeowner’s association, brought this action in 2011, seeking a declaratory judgment affirming their status as directors and officers of RMCC. The Defendants contested the validity of the election at which Plaintiffs were allegedly elected. Plaintiffs also sought a declaration of whether the purported developer possessed developer’s rights. After two prior appeals and a subsequent retrial, the trial court held that Defendant Moy Toy, Inc., a property owner, does not have developer’s rights. The trial court further ruled that Plaintiffs were properly elected as members of RMCC’s board and enforced an easement of enjoyment to use certain property in the development that was designated as “common areas,” in favor of Plaintiffs and all other members of RMCC. Defendants appeal. We vacate the trial court’s findings that the parties stipulated that the old golf course property was not “common property,” and that Plaintiffs “have no interest” in it because the parties agreed and stipulated only that the old golf course property was “not an issue” in this case. We affirm the judgment of the trial court in all other respects.

 

Coffey v. Coffey, No. E2021-00433-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 11, 2022). “This appeal involves the calculation of post-judgment interest applying Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-14-121. The trial court calculated post-judgment interest utilizing the statutory interest rate that was applicable when the judgment was entered without modifying the interest rate when the statutory rate subsequently changed. Discerning no error, we affirm. We also deny the plaintiffs request for attorney’s fees on appeal.”

 

State of Tennessee v. Noel Maltese, No. M2020-00518-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. March 7, 2022). The Appellant, Noel Maltese, was convicted in the Williamson County Circuit Court of conspiracy to commit theft of property valued $250,000 or more, a Class B felony, and criminal simulation, a Class E felony, and received an effective eight-year sentence to be served as forty-eight hours in jail followed by supervised probation.  On appeal, the Appellant contends that the evidence is insufficient to support the convictions and that the trial court erred by allowing the State to cross-examine her about a codefendant’s having to serve a lengthy prison sentence for similar conduct for which the Appellant was on trial.  Based upon the oral arguments, the record, and the parties’ briefs, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

 

Coffee County, Tennessee v. Carl Spining et al., No. M2020-01438-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. March 7, 2022). This appeal arises from a Rule 12.02(6) dismissal of a legal malpractice action as time-barred under the one-year statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated § 28-3-104(c)(1). In its September 17, 2019 Complaint, the plaintiff county alleged that its trial counsel in an underlying Public Employee Political Freedom Act (“PEPFA”) action committed malpractice by failing to object to the jury verdict form in conjunction with agreeing to bifurcate the issue of damage. The defendant attorney and his law firm moved to dismiss the complaint as time-barred under § 28-3-104(c)(1), asserting that the county’s claim accrued no later than July 7, 2017—the date on which the court entered the final judgment against the county in the underlying PEPFA case. The county opposed the Motion, asserting that its claim did not accrue until September 18, 2018—the date on which the Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the PEPFA case—because it was on that date the county first reasonably became aware of the alleged malpractice. The trial court granted the Motion to Dismiss on the ground the county knew it had been injured and had sufficient constructive knowledge to trigger accrual of the action more than one year prior to its commencement. This appeal followed. 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.

 

License

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