Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 12/06/2016
Format: 12/06/2016
State of Tennessee v. Stanley Bernard Gibson
M2014-00598-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

The primary issue presented is whether the Drug-Free School Zone Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-432, applies when a defendant is convicted of facilitation of an offense listed in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-417. The defendant was convicted of facilitation of possession with intent to deliver .5 grams or more of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school. The trial court applied the Act to increase the defendant’s felony classification and to require service of the entire minimum sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence. State v. Gibson, No. M2014 00598-CCA-R3-CD, 2015 WL 3867567, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 23, 2015). We granted review to address whether the Act applies to a conviction for facilitation and whether the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction. The State concedes the trial court erred by applying the Act to require service of the entire minimum sentence but argues the Act is a separate criminal offense and supports the higher felony classification. Based on the clear language of the Drug-Free School Zone Act, we hold the Act does not apply to a conviction for facilitation. Therefore, the trial court erred by increasing the felony classification and by requiring service of the entire minimum sentence. Further, we hold the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for facilitation.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/16/16
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Whited
E2013-02523-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

A jury convicted the defendant on nine counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of attempt to commit that offense, thirteen counts of observation without consent, and one count of attempt to commit that offense. The convictions arose out of the defendant’s hidden-camera videotaping of his twelve-year-old daughter and her teenage friend while they were in various stages of undress. The trial court sentenced the defendant to an effective sentence of twenty-two years. In a divided opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentence. In determining that the hidden-camera videos constituted prohibited child pornography under the child sexual exploitation statutes, the Court of Criminal Appeals relied in part on the six specific factors set forth in United States v. Dost, 636 F. Supp. 828 (S.D. Cal. 1986), sometimes referred to as the “Dost factors.” The defendant now appeals his nine convictions for especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, and he also challenges his sentence. We hold that, under the three child sexual exploitation statutes, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-17-1003, -1004, and -1005 (2014), the content of the prohibited material is judged by the same standard, regardless of whether the accused produced it, distributed it, or merely possessed it. In assessing whether material is prohibited under these statutes, we reject the use of the Dost factors as a “test” or an analytical framework. The material at issue must be evaluated based on what is depicted, without reference to the defendant’s subjective intent, because the Tennessee statutes on the production of child pornography do not include the accused’s subjective intent or purpose of experiencing sexual arousal or gratification as an element of the offense. Assessing the surreptitious videos taken by the defendant in the instant case, we conclude that the videos do not depict a minor engaged in “sexual activity,” defined by statute as the lascivious exhibition of a minor’s private body areas. For this reason, the videos are insufficient to support the defendant’s convictions for especially aggravated child sexual exploitation. Accordingly, we reverse and dismiss the defendant’s convictions for especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. In light of this holding, we remand to the trial court for resentencing based on the convictions that were not challenged on appeal. On remand, the State may, if it so chooses, retry the defendant on the lesser-included offense of attempt.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/07/16
State of Tennessee v. Corrin Kathleen Reynolds - Dissenting
E2013-02309-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

I agree with the Court’s conclusion that the warrantless blood draw violated Ms. Reynolds’ right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution. I dissent from the Court’s decision to excuse these constitutional violations by adopting a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The adoption of this exception for a constitutional violation erodes our citizens’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as guaranteed by the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. Therefore, I would hold that the test results of Ms. Reynolds’ warrantless blood draw must be suppressed. Moreover, given the unusual facts of this case, the adoption of a good-faith exception for a constitutional violation based on an officer’s good-faith reliance on binding judicial precedent, as set forth in Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 241 (2011), is ill-conceived for many reasons. 

Knox County Supreme Court 11/03/16
State of Tennessee v. Corrin Kathleen Reynolds
E2013-02309-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

We granted this appeal to determine whether the warrantless blood draw violated the defendant’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution, and, if so, whether the exclusionary rule applies and requires suppression of the evidence. We conclude that the warrantless blood draw violated the defendant’s federal and state constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Nevertheless, we adopt the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229 (2011), and as a result, hold that any evidence derived from testing the defendant’s blood need not be suppressed because the warrantless blood draw was obtained in objectively reasonable good-faith reliance on binding precedent. On this basis, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/03/16
Edward Martin v. Gregory Powers, et al.
M2014-00647-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This case arises out of an incident in which the Defendant, Gregory Powers, drove a car he had rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car (“Enterprise”) into the Plaintiff, Edward Martin. The Plaintiff sued the Defendant, the Defendant’s automobile liability insurer, and Enterprise. Additionally, the Plaintiff provided notice of the lawsuit to his own automobile liability insurance carrier, IDS Property Casualty Insurance Company (“IDS”), in order to recover through the uninsured motorist coverage provision of the Plaintiff’s policy (“the Policy”). IDS denied coverage and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the rental car (“the Rental Car”) did not qualify as an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the Policy. The trial court granted IDS’s motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. We granted review to determine whether the Rental Car qualified as an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the Policy. We hold that the Rental Car was an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the Policy. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment to IDS and remand this matter for further proceedings.  

Williamson County Supreme Court 10/24/16
State of Tennessee v. Rhakim Martin
W2013-02013-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

A jury convicted the defendant of carjacking and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court imposed an effective sixteen-year sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. In this Court, the defendant presents the following issues: (1) whether the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the victim’s identification of him because the victim previously viewed his photograph on a county-operated “mug shot” website; (2) whether the trial court committed plain error in failing to instruct the jury on possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony as a lesser-included offense of employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony; (3) whether the failure to name the predicate felony of the firearm offense voids that count of the indictment; (4) whether the defendant’s conviction for the firearm offense violates the prohibitions against double jeopardy and the terms of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(c); and (5) whether the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. We hold that the victim’s prior viewing of the defendant’s booking photograph on the county-operated website did not constitute state action and that the trial court therefore properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the victim’s identification of him. We further hold that the defendant failed to establish that the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony affected a substantial right, so the defendant is not entitled to plain error relief. Based on our holding in State v. Duncan, No. W2013-02554-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL ____, at * _ (Tenn. ___ ___, 2016), released on the same date as this opinion, we conclude that the failure to name the predicate felony of the firearm offense does not void that count of the indictment. We hold that the defendant’s convictions for carjacking and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony did not violate either double jeopardy or Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(c). Finally, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/14/16
State of Tennessee v. Willie Duncan
W2013-02554-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

In this appeal, we consider the sufficiency of an indictment. The five-count indictment charged the defendant with several felonies and also with employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The count for the firearm charge recited the statute listing the offenses that can constitute a “dangerous felony” but did not designate one of the accompanying charges as the predicate dangerous felony. After a trial, a jury found the defendant guilty on all five counts. On appeal, the defendant argues that the indictment for the firearm charge must be dismissed because, by not designating the predicate felony for the firearm charge, it violated his constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. We hold that, considering the entire five-count indictment, the count of the indictment charging the defendant with employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony sufficiently apprised the defendant of the nature and cause of the accusation against him and enabled him to adequately prepare a defense to the charge, and therefore is sufficient to meet the constitutional requirement. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals on that issue. However, because the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the charge of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, we remand for a new trial on that charge.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/14/16
State of Tennessee v. Glen Howard
E2014-01510-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

We granted this appeal to consider whether our decision in State v. Burns, 6 S.W.3d 453 (Tenn. 1999), wherein we set forth the test for determining whether a criminal offense constitutes a lesser-included offense of a charged offense, remains viable following the 2009 amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-18-110, which codified Burns parts (a) and (c) but excluded part (b). Having determined that the statute did not abrogate part (b) of the Burns test, we reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ conclusion that aggravated sexual battery is not a lesser-included offense of rape of a child because the legislature did not include it in the 2009 amendments to the statute. Upon further consideration, we hold that aggravated sexual battery is, in fact, a lesser-included offense of rape of a child. Lesser-included offenses are to be determined by referring to the express provisions of the statute, and if not specifically mentioned therein, by further applying the guidance of Burns part (b). We also conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that defendant’s conviction for aggravated sexual battery as a lesser-included offense of rape of a child was supported by the evidence and should be reinstated. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals vacating this conviction is reversed and his conviction stands. The remaining issues decided by the Court of Criminal Appeals are affirmed.  

Hamilton County Supreme Court 10/12/16
Ms. Bowen Ex Rel. John Doe, "N" v. William E. Arnold, Jr. et al.
M2015-00762-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

The determinative question in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in ruling that a person convicted of rape and aggravated sexual battery is collaterally estopped in a subsequent civil lawsuit filed by the victim of the criminal offenses from relitigating the issue of whether he raped and sexually battered the victim. The trial court applied collateral estoppel, explaining that, although the victim was not a party to the criminal prosecution, the victim was in privity with the State, which satisfied the party mutuality requirement necessary for collateral estoppel to apply. The trial court therefore granted the plaintiffs partial summary judgment but permitted the defendant to seek an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 9. After the Court of Appeals declined to accept the interlocutory appeal, the defendant filed an application for permission to appeal in this Court, which we granted. We hereby abolish the strict party mutuality requirement for offensive and defensive collateral estoppel and adopt sections 29 and 85 of the Restatement (Second) of Judgments as the guidelines for courts to follow when determining whether nonmutual collateral estoppel applies. Having applied these guidelines to the undisputed facts in this appeal, we affirm the trial court’s decision granting partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/29/16
MLG Enterprises, LLC v. Richard Johnson
M2014-01205-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether the individual who signed a commercial lease agreement on behalf of the corporate tenant also agreed to be personally liable for the tenant’s obligations when he signed the agreement a second time. Over a dissenting opinion, the Court of Appeals held that the individual’s second signature did not personally bind him because he handwrote “for Mobile Master Mfg. LLC” after his name. We hold that the second signature, which followed a paragraph clearly indicating that the parties agreed that the individual would be personally responsible for the tenant’s obligations, was effective to bind the individual. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.   

Williamson County Supreme Court 09/02/16
State of Tennessee v. Gary Hamilton
E2014-01585-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bob R. McGee

This appeal is one of two similar appeals that were consolidated for oral argument because they involve related questions of law concerning Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-15-105 (2013) (“the pretrial diversion statute”), which allows a district attorney general to suspend prosecution of a qualified defendant for a period of up to two years. See State v. Stephens, No. M2014-01270-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 2016). We granted review in this case to emphasize once again the process the district attorney general, trial court, and appellate courts must follow when reviewing a prosecutor’s denial of pretrial diversion. The defendant was indicted for assault after he allegedly attacked a student at the school where he worked as a teacher’s assistant, and the prosecutor denied his application for pretrial diversion. After the trial court refused to overturn the prosecutor’s decision, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the defendant’s interlocutory appeal and held that the trial court failed to review properly the district attorney general’s decision. Conducting its own review, the intermediate court concluded that the record lacked substantial evidence supporting the denial of pretrial diversion and remanded with instructions that the defendant be granted pretrial diversion. We granted review and conclude that the district attorney general considered all relevant factors. Although the trial court improperly reviewed the district attorney general’s action, the trial court reached the correct result. Therefore, we vacate the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment and reinstate the trial court’s judgment affirming the denial of pretrial diversion.

Knox County Supreme Court 08/23/16
State of Tennessee v. Susan Gail Stephens
M2014-01270-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson

This appeal is one of two similar appeals that were consolidated for oral argument because they involve related questions of law involving Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-15-105 (2006) (“the pretrial diversion statute”), which allows a district attorney general to suspend prosecution of a qualified defendant for a period of up to two years. See State v. Hamilton, No. E2014-01585-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 2016). We granted this appeal to emphasize once again the process the district attorney general, trial court, and appellate courts must follow when reviewing a prosecutor’s denial of pretrial diversion. The defendant was indicted for two counts of statutory rape and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The defendant applied for pretrial diversion three times, and the district attorney general’s office denied her application each time. The trial court likewise denied each of the defendant’s three petitions for writ of certiorari. The defendant was granted permission to file an interlocutory appeal after each denial, and the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision in the first two appeals. After the district attorney general’s office denied the defendant’s application for a third time and the trial court denied the defendant’s petition, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the record does not contain substantial evidence to support the denial of pretrial diversion and remanded with instructions that the district attorney general’s office grant the defendant pretrial diversion. We granted review. We reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment, finding that the district attorney general acted properly and the trial court properly found no abuse of discretion, and we reinstate the trial court’s judgment affirming the denial of pretrial diversion.

Coffee County Supreme Court 08/23/16
Stephanie Keller, et al v. Estate of Edward Stephen McRedmond, et al
M2013-02582-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This case involves an internecine conflict among siblings who were shareholders in a closely-held family corporation. The dispute resulted in dissolution of the original family corporation, the formation of two new competing corporations, and a long-running lawsuit in which one group of shareholder siblings asserted claims against the other group of shareholder siblings. After a trial, the trial court awarded damages to the plaintiff shareholder siblings. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the plaintiff shareholder siblings did not have standing because their claims were derivative in nature and belonged to their new corporation. We granted permission to appeal to consider the standard for determing whether a shareholder’s claim is a direct claim or a derivative claim. In this Opinion, we set aside the approach for determining whether a shareholder claim is direct or derivative described by this Court in Hadden v. City of Gatlinburg, 746 S.W.2d 687, 689 (Tenn. 1988), and adopt in its stead the analytical framework enunciated by the Delaware Supreme Court in Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette, Inc., 845 A.2d 1031, 1039 (Del. 2004). Under the Tooley framework, the analysis of whether a shareholder claim is direct or derivative is based solely on who suffered the alleged harm—the corporation or the suing shareholder individually—and who would receive the benefit of the recovery or other remedy. In light of this holding, we affirm in part and reverse in part the decision of the Court of Appeals, and we remand to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 07/11/16
Clark D. Frazier v. State of Tennessee - Dissenting
M2014-02374-SC-R11-ECN
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

I respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision. In my view, this Court should apply the doctrine of stare decisis, adhere to its previous reasoning in Wlodarz v. State, 361 S.W.3d 490 (Tenn. 2012), and hold that the writ of error coram nobis under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40 26 105 (2014) may be used in a collateral attack on a guilty plea. 

Robertson County Supreme Court 07/07/16
Clark D. Frazier v. State of Tennessee
M2014-02374-SC-R11-ECN
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether a criminal defendant who pleads guilty may later seek to overturn his plea via a petition for writ of error coram nobis filed pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-26-105. Although this Court held in Wlodarz v. State, 361 S.W.3d 490 (Tenn. 2012), that guilty pleas may be subject to a collateral attack via a petition for writ of error coram nobis, we now overturn that decision. We hold that the statute setting forth the remedy of error coram nobis in criminal matters does not encompass its application to guilty pleas. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals on the separate grounds stated herein.

Robertson County Supreme Court 07/07/16
State of Tennessee v. Howard Hawk Willis - Concurring
E2012-01313-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

I concur fully with the Court’s opinion except for the analysis in Section II(E)(4) regarding the proportionality review. In 1997, this Court narrowed the scope of the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D) by limiting its consideration to only those cases in which the death penalty had been sought. State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 666 (Tenn. 1997). A majority of this Court reaffirmed this truncated approach in State v. Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d 180, 217 (Tenn. 2013). In Pruitt, I joined Justice William C. Koch, Jr. in dissenting from the Court’s decision to continue following the Bland approach, as it improperly narrows the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D). Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d at 230 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting). We determined that the Court should return to its pre-Bland proportionality analysis by considering “all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death has been imposed” and focusing on whether the case under review more closely resembles cases that have resulted in the imposition of the death penalty than those that have not. Id. at 230-31 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting).

Washington County Supreme Court 07/06/16
State of Tennessee v. Howard Hawk Willis
E2012-01313-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

This appeal arises from the murder of two teenagers, accompanied by the dismemberment of one of them. A jury convicted the defendant, Howard Hawk Willis, of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and one count of felony murder in the perpetration of a kidnapping. The jury sentenced the defendant to death on each conviction. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences. On appeal, the defendant contends, inter alia, that certain incriminating statements he made to his ex-wife should have been excluded because she was acting as an agent of the State at the time the statements were made. He asserts that the admission into evidence of the statements violated his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. For purposes of the right against self-incrimination, we hold that this is a case of “misplaced trust” in a confidant and there was no violation of the Fifth Amendment. The defendant also argues that the admission of the statements violated his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. The incriminating statements to the ex-wife were made during in-person meetings with her at the jail and during recorded telephone calls from jail. As to statements made to the ex-wife prior to indictment, we hold that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel had not attached, so there was no violation regardless of whether the ex-wife was acting as an agent of the State. As to statements made in person to the ex-wife after indictment, the evidence shows only that the State willingly accepted information from a cooperating witness. We hold that, for a cooperating witness or informant to be deemed a “government agent” for purposes of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, the defendant must show that the principal—the State, personified by law enforcement officers—manifested assent, either explicitly or implicitly, to have the cooperating witness act as a government agent, and that the State had some level of control over the witness’s actions with respect to the defendant. Agency cannot be proven based solely on the actions of the alleged agent, so proof that the ex-wife repeatedly contacted law enforcement is not sufficient in and of itself to show that the State assented to have her act as its agent. Therefore, the admission into evidence of the statements made in person to the ex-wife after indictment did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. As to the incriminating statements made by telephone, we hold that, by placing the telephone calls to his ex-wife from jail with full knowledge that all calls were subject to monitoring and recording, the defendant implicitly consented to the monitoring and recording of his conversations and waived his Sixth Amendment rights. After full review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the defendant’s two convictions of first degree murder, and we affirm the sentences of death.

Washington County Supreme Court 07/06/16
State of Tennessee v. Michael Smith
W2013-01190-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

A jury convicted Michael Smith (“the Defendant”) of aggravated assault, committed by violating a protective order, and evading arrest. The trial court imposed an effective sentence of ten years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days’ incarceration. The Defendant appealed his convictions and sentences, which the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. State v. Smith, No. W2013-01190-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 3954062, at *21 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 13, 2014). The Defendant then requested permission to appeal to this Court, alleging the following errors: (1) the trial court’s failure to require the State to make an election of offenses; (2) the insufficiency of the indictment; (3) the trial court’s refusal to allow the Defendant to sit at counsel table; (4) the trial court’s ruling that, should he elect to testify, the Defendant could be impeached with prior convictions; (5) the trial court’s denial of a mistrial after allowing a witness to testify about a different criminal proceeding against the Defendant; (6) the admission of the victim’s testimony about the Defendant’s prior bad acts; and (7) the trial court’s failure to confine the flight instruction to the aggravated assault charge. We granted the Defendant’s request for permission to appeal. Upon our review of the record and the applicable law, we hold that the State’s failure to elect an offense as to the aggravated assault charge resulted in plain error. Accordingly, we reverse the Defendant’s conviction for aggravated assault and remand the matter to the trial court for a new trial on that charge. We affirm the Defendant’s conviction for evading arrest.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/24/16
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth McCormick
M2013-02189-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson

We granted this appeal to reconsider our decision in State v. Moats, 403 S.W.3d 170 (Tenn. 2013), which held that the community caretaking doctrine is not an exception to the federal and state constitutional warrant requirements. Having concluded that Moats was wrongly decided, we overrule Moats and hold that the community caretaking doctrine is analytically distinct from consensual police-citizen encounters and is instead an exception to the state and federal constitutional warrant requirements which may be invoked to validate as reasonable a warrantless seizure of an automobile. To establish that the community caretaking exception applies, the State must show that (1) the officer possessed specific and articulable facts, which, viewed objectively and in the totality of the circumstances, reasonably warranted a conclusion that a community caretaking action was needed; and (2) the officer’s behavior and the scope of the intrusion were reasonably restrained and tailored to the community caretaking need. We conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that the community caretaking exception applies in this case. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court and Court of Criminal Appeals declining to grant the defendant’s motion to suppress are affirmed on the separate grounds stated herein.

White County Supreme Court 05/10/16
Starlink Logistics, Inc. v. ACC, LLC, et al
M2014-00368-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

After its closure, a Class II landfill continued to discharge contaminants into a creek that flowed into a lake located on adjoining property. Following years of investigations and multiple failed remedial measures, the landfill owner and the state agency with authority to direct landfill cleanup operations agreed that the most feasible, practical, and effective way to abate the discharge was for the landfill owner to divert water from entering the landfill and, over a four-year period, to remove and relocate the landfill waste. The neighboring landowner of the property on which the lake affected by the discharge was located objected to the plan, arguing that the landfill owner should also be required to treat or divert water leaving the landfill site. The Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Control Board (“the Board”) heard the case and approved the landowner’s plan of action and did not require diversion of the water leaving the landfill. The neighboring landowner appealed, and the trial court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Court of Appeals, dissatisfied with the ruling, remanded the case to the Board to take additional proof on whether the neighboring landowner was willing to pay for the costs of diverting the discharge, the costs of implementing the diversion option, and the landfill owner’s ability to pay for the diversion plan. We granted the Board’s application for permission to appeal. We hold that the Court of Appeals failed to properly apply the judicial review provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322(h) (2011) and substituted its judgment for that of the Board. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 05/09/16
American Heritage Apartments, Inc. v. The Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, Hamilton County, Tennessee
E2014-00302-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jacqueline Schulten Bolton

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether a customer who seeks to challenge monthly rates charged by its sewer service provider must exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit. The plaintiff apartment complex filed this action individually and as a class representative, arguing that the monthly charge assessed by the defendant water and wastewater treatment authority is unlawful. In response, the defendant asserted that a customer who seeks to dispute the rates charged must first follow the administrative procedures provided in the Utility District Law of 1937, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 7-82-101 to –804 (2015). On this basis, the water and wastewater treatment authority sought dismissal of the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the administrative procedures in Part 4 of the Utility District Law of 1937 do not apply to a rate challenge filed by an individual customer against a water and wastewater treatment authority, so we agree with the Court of Appeals that the trial court erred in dismissing the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. We affirm the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, except that we vacate the trial court’s alternative ruling on class certification and remand that issue to the trial court for reconsideration.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 04/08/16
Pervis Tyrone Payne v. State of Tennessee
W2013-01248-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether a capital defendant, via a petition for writ of error coram nobis, may obtain a hearing to determine whether he is ineligible to be executed because he is intellectually disabled. The Petitioner, Pervis Tyrone Payne, was convicted in 1988 of two first degree murders, and the jury imposed the death sentence for each murder. In 2001, this Court held that the federal and state constitutions prohibit the execution of individuals who are intellectually disabled. Van Tran v. State, 66 S.W.3d 790, 812 (Tenn. 2001). The Petitioner asserts that he meets the statutory definition of intellectually disabled, but he has not yet been afforded an evidentiary hearing on his claim. In this proceeding, he has sought to establish his right to such a hearing via a claim of error coram nobis. The trial court denied relief without a hearing, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed with one judge dissenting. We hold that the Petitioner is not entitled to relief under a claim of error coram nobis. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/07/16
Vodafone Americas Holdings, Inc. & Subsidiaries v. Richard H. Roberts, Commissioner of Revenue, State of Tennessee - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
M2013-00947-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell T. Perkins


I agree with much of the analysis in the majority opinion. Indeed, although in my mind it presents a close question, I can agree with the majority that the taxpayer’s calculation of franchise and excise taxes under the statutory apportionment formula does not “fairly represent the extent of the taxpayer’s business activity” in Tennessee. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-2014(a) (2015). However, where I must part company with the majority is on the issue of the Commissioner’s compliance with the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s (“Department”) own regulation applicable in this case. See Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1320-06-01-.35(1)(a)(4) (“the variance regulation”).

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/23/16
Vodafone Americas Holdings, Inc. & Subsidiaries v. Richard H. Roberts, Commissioner of Revenue, State of Tennessee
M2013-00947-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell T. Perkins


In this appeal, we review a tax variance. The Commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Revenue determined that, if the standard apportionment formula in Tennessee’s franchise and excise tax statutes were applied to the appellant taxpayer, a multistate wireless telecommunications company, nearly all of the taxpayer’s sales receipts for services to its Tennessee customers—over a billion dollars in receipts—would not be subject to Tennessee franchise and excise taxes.  Pursuant to his authority under Tennessee’s franchise and excise tax variance statutes, the Commissioner imposed on the taxpayer a variance that required the taxpayer to pay taxes on the receipts from its Tennessee customers. The taxpayer now argues that, by imposing the variance, the Commissioner has usurped the legislature’s prerogative to set tax policy.  After review of the legislative history, we find that Tennessee’s legislature intended for the Commissioner to have the authority to impose a variance where, as here, application of the statutory apportionment formula does not fairly represent the extent of the taxpayer’s business activity in Tennessee.  We decline to judicially abrogate the legislature’s express delegation of this authority to the Commissioner.  The variance in this case comports with Tennessee’s franchise and excise tax statutes, the implementing regulation, and the statutory purpose of imposing upon corporations a tax for the privilege of doing business in this State.  Finding no abuse of the Commissioner’s discretion, we affirm.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/23/16
The Tennessean, et al v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al - Dissenting
M2014-00524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

In the past, this Court has consistently refrained from creating public policy exceptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act (TPRA), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 10 7 101 to 702 (2012 & Supp. 2014), because the authority to enact such exceptions rests solely with the General Assembly. See, e.g., Schneider v. City of Jackson, 226 S.W.3d 332, 344 (Tenn. 2007) (“[T]he General Assembly, not this Court, establishes the public policy of Tennessee.”). Departing from this principle, the majority has concluded that Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 exempts all police records from public disclosure during the course of a criminal prosecution. The plain language of the rule, however, protects from disclosure only work product and witness statements. Moreover, I believe that the victim of the alleged rape is entitled to an adjudication of her claim that public disclosure of the police records would violate her statutory and constitutional rights. I must, therefore, respectfully dissent.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/17/16