Sheila Calloway, 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.

 

In Re Neveah W., No. M2023-00944-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 25, 2024). In this case involving termination of the mother’s parental rights to her child, the trial court found that eight statutory grounds for termination had been proven by clear and convincing evidence. The trial court further found that clear and convincing evidence demonstrated that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. The mother has appealed.1 Having determined that the petitioner did not prove the statutory ground of abandonment through failure to visit the child prior to the mother’s incarceration by clear and convincing evidence, we reverse the trial court’s finding as to that ground. Additionally, because the trial court made insufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning a separate statutory ground it termed, “abandonment by an incarcerated parent/wanton disregard,” we reverse the trial court’s determination as to that ground as well. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of the mother’s parental rights to the child.

 

Collins v. Harrison, No. M2023-00248-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 24, 2024). This is a modification of child support case. Mother appeals the trial court’s: (1) discovery rulings regarding Father’s inheritance, banking, and trading accounts; (2) findings with respect to Father’s income; (3) denial of an upward deviation from the Child Support Guidelines; and (4) assignment of the Guardian ad Litem costs to Mother. We reverse the trial court’s order denying Mother’s discovery requests and the assignment of the Guardian ad Litem costs to Mother. We vacate the order establishing Father’s child support obligation and denying Mother’s request for an upward deviation. All other issues are pretermitted, and we remand the case for further proceedings.

 

In Re Dakari M., No. M2022-00365-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 26, 2024). A mother and a father appeal the termination of their parental rights. The juvenile court found clear and convincing evidence of four statutory grounds for termination of the mother’s parental rights and five statutory grounds for termination of the father’s parental rights. The court also determined termination was in the child’s best interest. After a thorough review, we vacate and remand for further proceedings.

 

In Re Pandora G., No. M2023-01223-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2024). This is a termination of parental rights case. The trial court terminated Appellant/Father’s parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by failure to support, substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody, and on its finding that termination of parental rights was in the child’s best interest. Father appeals. Because Appellee abandoned the ground of substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan, we reverse the trial court’s termination of Appellant’s parental rights on that ground. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Appellant’s parental rights on all remaining grounds and on its finding that termination of Appellant’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

 

In Re Cartier H., No. M2022-01576-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 31, 2023). Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on four grounds. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services does not defend two of the four grounds, so we reverse as to those grounds. We affirm the ground that Mother is unable to parent the children due to her present mental condition. Because the trial court’s order does not contain sufficient findings of fact, we vacate the trial court’s findings that the mother failed to manifest a willingness and ability to parent and that termination is in the children’s best interests.

 

In re Alliyah P.,  No. M2022-01645-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 23, 2023).  A mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by failure to support; abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home; substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans; persistent conditions; and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of the children. The mother also appeals the trial court’s finding that termination of her parental rights was in the best interest of the children. We reverse the trial court’s finding on the ground of substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans because the initial permanency plan does not appear in the record, but we affirm the trial court in all other respects.

 

In re Amayzha,  No. M2023-00044-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 19, 2023).  This is an appeal of the termination of a father’s parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Davidson County (“Juvenile Court”) seeking the termination of the parental rights of Horace L. (“Father”) to his minor daughter Amayzha L. (“the Child”). The Juvenile Court found that DCS had established by clear and convincing evidence the following statutory grounds: (1) abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home, (2) persistence of conditions, and (3) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of or financial responsibility for the Child. Determining that DCS presented insufficient evidence to establish that the Child was removed from Father’s home or physical or legal custody, we reverse the grounds of abandonment by failure to provide a suitable home and persistence of conditions. We affirm the Juvenile Court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of Father’s parental rights.

 

Barrett v. Killings, No. M2022-00946-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 24, 2023). A mother relocated less than fifty radial miles, but more than fifty driving miles, from the father. The trial court held that the parental relocation statute applied because the mother relocated more than fifty miles away and, even if she had not, she moved close enough to fifty miles that application of the relocation statute was appropriate. We find that the radial distance should be used to determine whether the relocation statute is triggered. By that standard, the mother did not move more than fifty miles away, and the relocation statute does not apply. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s decision.

 

In Re A’Ziya G., No. M2022-01282-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 19, 2023).  This is a termination of parental rights case. The trial court terminated Mother’s parental rights to her two children on the grounds of abandonment under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-113-(g)(1); substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans under section 36-1-113(g)(2); persistence of conditions under section 36-1-113(g)(3); and the failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody under section 36-1- 113(g)(14). The trial court also determined that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the best interests of the children. Discerning no error, we affirm.

 

In Re Avery W., No. M2022-01057-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 30, 2023).  A mother and father appeal the termination of their parental rights to two children. The trial court concluded that the petitioner proved five statutory grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence. The court also concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the children’s best interest. After a thorough review, we agree that clear and convincing evidence supports three grounds for termination and that termination was in the children’s best interest. So we affirm.

 

In Re Korey L., No. M2022-00487-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 23, 2023).  Appellant/Father appeals the trial court’s termination of his parental rights to the minor child on the grounds of: (1) failure to establish a suitable home; (2) abandonment by wanton disregard; (3) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal; (4) incarceration for a 10-year sentence; and (5) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the child. The trial court failed to make sufficient findings to support the grounds of: (1) failure to establish a suitable home; (2) abandonment by wanton disregard; and (3) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the child. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(k). Accordingly, we reverse the termination of Father’s parental rights on those grounds. We affirm the trial court’s termination of Father’s parental rights on the remaining grounds and on its finding that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest.

 

In Re Melvin M., No. M2021-01319-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2022).  A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his two children. The juvenile court concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence of five statutory grounds for terminating his parental rights. The court also concluded that there was clear and convincing evidence that termination of the father’s parental rights was in the children’s best interest. On appeal, although we conclude that there is not clear and convincing evidence to support three of the grounds, clear and convincing evidence supports the remaining grounds for termination and the best interest determination. So we affirm.

 

In Re Elijah F., No. M2022-00191-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 10, 2022). In this case involving termination of the mother’s parental rights to her child, the Davidson County Juvenile Court (“trial court”) determined that several statutory grounds for termination had been proven by clear and convincing evidence. The trial court further determined that clear and convincing evidence established that termination of the mother’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. The mother has appealed. Having determined that three of the statutory grounds were not supported by sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law, we reverse the trial court’s judgment with respect to the grounds of abandonment by an incarcerated parent by failure to support, abandonment by exhibiting wanton disregard for the child’s welfare prior to incarceration, and failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody of or financial responsibility for the child. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects, including the termination of the mother’s parental rights.

 

Nance v. Franklin, M2021-00161-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 15, 2022).  This appeal concerns the trial court’s denial of the mother’s petition to relocate with her minor child.  We affirm the trial court’s decision.

 

In Re. Jonathan S., M2021-00370-COA-R3-JV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 26, 2022).  In this post-divorce case, Mother appeals the trial court’s grant of Father’s petition to modify the permanent parenting plan and its modification of her child support obligation.  Mother also appeals the denial of her petition to be named the Child’s primary residential parent.  Father requests attorney’s fees incurred on appeal.  Because the income the trial court imputed to Mother is not supported by the evidence in the record, and because the trial court failed to find a significant variance before modifying Mother’s child support obligation, we vacate the trial court’s order modifying Mother’s child support.  The trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed, and Father’s request for appellate attorney’s fees is denied.

In Re Damium F., M2021-01301-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 4, 2022).  A mother appeals a trial court’s decision to terminate her parental rights to six of her children based on five statutory grounds. She also challenges the trial court’s finding by clear and convincing evidence that termination of her parental rights was in the best interest of the children. Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court’s termination of the mother’s parental rights.

 

In Re Ellie G.,  No. M2021-00982-COA-R3-PT, p. 7 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 7, 2022).  In this termination of parental rights case, Appellants, the children’s biological mother and father, appeal the trial court’s termination of their respective parental rights to the two children on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by an incarcerated parent by wanton disregard, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(iv); and (2) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14). Mother appeals the termination of her parental rights on the additional ground of persistence of the conditions that led to the children’s removal, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1- 113(g)(3)(A). Appellants also appeal the trial court’s determination that termination of their respective parental rights is in the children’s best interest. Discerning no error, we affirm.

In Re Khalil J., No. M2021-00908-COA-R3-PT (Tenn. Ct. App. May 16, 2022).  This appeal involves a petition to terminate parental rights. The juvenile court found by clear and convincing evidence that three grounds for termination as to both mother and father were proven: (1) persistent conditions; (2) mental incompetence; and (3) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody or financial responsibility. The juvenile court also found that termination was in the best interests of the child. Both the mother and the father appeal. We reverse the juvenile court’s finding of persistent conditions as to the mother and the father, but otherwise affirm the termination of parental rights.

 

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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