Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 11/21/2014
Format: 11/21/2014
Jerry Ray Davidson v. State of Tennessee - Concuring in Part and Dissenting in Part
M2010-02663-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Burch

Initially, no words adequately describe the horrible nature of this murder.  Nevertheless, I concur with the majority that a new sentencing hearing is warranted based upon the ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty stage of the trial. Moreover, I believe that the deficiency in counsel's performance was such that an entirely new trial should be granted. In that regard, I dissent.

Supreme Court 11/17/14
Jerry Ray Davidson v. State of Tennessee
M2010-02663-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Burch

This post-conviction appeal addresses the extent of defense counsel’s duty to present mitigation evidence during the penalty phase of a capital murder trial. Defense counsel in a capital case possessed evidence that their client suffered from severe lifelong cognitive impairments and personality disorders and that he was predisposed to sexual violence. However, during the defendant’s trial, defense counsel presented the jury with no psychological mitigation evidence and only cursory social history mitigation evidence. A Dickson County jury convicted the defendant of premeditated first degree murder and imposed the death penalty. The juryalso convicted the defendant of aggravated kidnapping, for which the defendant received a twenty-year sentence. Following unsuccessful direct appeals, State v. Davidson, 121 S.W.3d 600 (Tenn. 2003), the defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court for Dickson County. Following a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the post-conviction court’s decision. Davidson v. State, No. M2010-02663-CCA-R3-PD, 2013 WL 485222 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 7, 2013). We find that, under the circumstances of this case, defense counsels’ failure to develop and present psychological mitigation evidence deprived their client of his right to effective assistance of counsel. While we uphold the client’s convictions, we vacate his death sentence and remand for a new capital sentencing hearing.

Dickson County Supreme Court 11/17/14
Clarence Nesbit v. State of Tennessee
W2009-02101-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

The issue presented is whether the defendant is entitled to a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant of first degree premeditated murder and sentenced him to death. Following unsuccessful appeals, the defendant filed for post-conviction relief on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. The post-conviction court granted the defendant a new sentencing hearing, but denied him a new trial on the murder conviction. A majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, holding that any deficiency in trial counsel’s performance at the guilt phase did not result in prejudice. We hold that the defendant has not proven by clear and convincing evidence a reasonable probability that, but for the deficient performance of his trial counsel, the result would have been different.  We affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand the case to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/14/14
State of Tennessee v. Henry Floyd Sanders
M2011-00962-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl Blackburn

This appeal concerns the admissibility of incriminating statements made by a defendant to the mother of a sexually abused child while the mother was secretly cooperating with the police in their investigation of the abuse. After a grand jury indicted him on six counts of aggravated sexual batteryand four counts of rape of a child, the defendant moved to suppress his recorded statements. The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and a jury convicted the defendant of five counts of aggravated sexual battery and four counts of rape of a child. The trial court imposed an effective forty-year sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentence. State v. Sanders, No. M2011-00962-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 4841545 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 9, 2012). We granted the defendant’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application to address the legal standard courts should use to determine the admissibility of incriminating statements obtained by the parent of a victim of sexual abuse who is secretly cooperating with law enforcement officials investigating the child abuse charges. We find no violation of the defendant’s constitutional right against compelled selfincrimination because the defendant merely misplaced his trust in a confidante to whom he voluntarily confessed. Therefore, we find that the recording of these statements was admissible.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/10/14
State of Tennessee v. Fred Chad Clark, II
M2010-00570-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

This case involves the prosecution of a father in the Criminal Court for Davidson County for the sexual abuse of his children. After a jury found him guilty of seven counts of rape of a child and two counts of aggravated sexual battery, the trial court imposed an effective thirtyfour-year sentence. On appeal, the defendant took issue with (1) the admissibility of recordings of his confession to his wife, (2) the adequacy of the corroboration of his confession, (3) the admissibility of evidence of his predilection for adult pornography, and (4) the propriety of a jury instruction that the mental state of “recklessness” could support a conviction for both rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery. After upholding the admission of the defendant’s confession to his wife and the jury instructions, the Court of Criminal Appeals decided that the admission of the evidence of the defendant’s predilection for adult pornography, while erroneous, was harmless. The Court of Criminal Appeals also determined that the record contained sufficient evidence to uphold three counts of rape of a child and the two counts of aggravated sexual battery. State v. Clark, No. M2010-00570-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 3861242 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 6, 2012). We granted the defendant’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application for permission to appeal and now affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/10/14
Jim Ferguson v. Middle Tennessee State University
M2012-00890-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

A jury found that an employer retaliated against an employee in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”) and awarded the employee compensatory damages. The Court of Appeals reversed the award, holding that the employee had failed to prove that his supervisor had knowledge of his protected activity when she took adverse action against him. We hold that the jury’s verdict is supported by material evidence from which the jury could infer that the supervisor knew that the employee had filed a lawsuit for discrimination when she engaged in retaliatory conduct. We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, reinstate the jury verdict, and remand to the Court of Appeals for a review of the award of damages.

Rutherford County Supreme Court 10/29/14
State of Tennessee v. Broderick Devonte Fayne
W2012-01488-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

The defendant and an accomplice were indicted for aggravated burglary and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. At the trial of the defendant, the court denied a request by the defense for a special jury instruction on the definition of actual and constructive possession as an element of employment of a firearm.  The jury convicted the defendant on both charges, and the trial court imposed an effective nine-year sentence. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying his request for the special jury instruction and by failing to instruct the jury on the crime of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felonyas a lesser included offense. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court. We hold that possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony qualifies as a lesser included offense of employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. In this instance, however, the defendant waived the issue, and he is not entitled to relief under the plain error doctrine. We further hold that the trial court did not err by refusing the defendant’s request for a special instruction on the definition of possession. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed.
 

Tipton County Supreme Court 10/27/14
State of Tennessee v. Jessie Dotson - CONCUR
W2011-00815-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr. and Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

We concur fully with all of the Court’s opinion except for Section II(E)(4) containing
the proportionality analysis. After conducting our own independent proportionality analysis,
we concur with the majority’s conclusion that Mr. Dotson’s death sentences are not
disproportionate to the sentences imposed on other similar offenders who have committed
similar crimes.

Shelby County Supreme Court 09/30/14
State of Tennessee v. Jessie Dotson - APPENDIX
W2011-00815-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

Appendix
(Excerpts from the Decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals)

Shelby County Supreme Court 09/30/14
State of Tennessee v. Jessie Dotson
W2011-00815-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

A jury convicted the defendant, Jessie Dotson, of six counts of premeditated first degree murder for killing his brother, three other adults, and two of his brother’s minor sons at their Memphis, Tennessee home. The jury also convicted the defendant of three counts of attempted first degree murder for attacking with kitchen knives and wooden boards three more of his brother’s minor children who were also present in the home. At the  conclusion of the penalty phase of the trial, the jury imposed death sentences for the six first degree murder convictions, finding that the multiple aggravating circumstances applicable to each conviction outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. At a separate sentencing hearing on the attempted first degree murder convictions, the trial court classified the defendant as a Range II multiple offender, imposed a forty-year sentence for each conviction, and ordered these sentences served consecutively to each other and to the death sentences. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences. After the case was docketed in this Court, we entered an order identifying five issues for oral argument, in addition to the mandatory 1 review Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1) (2014) requires this Court to perform. We now hold that: (1) admission of the defendant’s custodial statements does not constitute plain error; (2) admission of testimony regarding the defendant’s invocation of his right to counsel did not deprive the defendant of a fair trial or violate his right to due process; (3) admission of testimony about a surviving victim’s statements to third parties did not violate the defendant’s state and federal constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him; (4) admission of testimony regarding the defendant’s history of imprisonment did not violate his right to a fair trial; and (5) admission of the pathologist’s testimony about autopsies another pathologist performed did not violate the defendant’s federal and state constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him. We also hold, in accordance with section 39-13-206(c)(1), that: (1) the sentences of death were not imposed in any arbitrary fashion; (2) the evidence supports the jury’s findings that the aggravating circumstances were proven beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the evidence supports the jury’s findings that as to each first degree murder conviction the aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt; and (4) the sentences of death are neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the nature of the crimes and the defendant. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the defendant’s convictions of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder and sentences of death and forty years are affirmed. With respect to issues not specifically addressed herein, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and include relevant portions thereof in an appendix to this opinion.

Shelby County Supreme Court 09/30/14
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones
W2009-01655-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge John P. Colton, Jr.

The defendant was indicted for two first degree murders in Shelby County. During the trial, the court allowed the jury to hear evidence of a third murder allegedly committed by the defendant in a different state, ruling that the out-of-state murder qualified as a “signature crime” and was relevant to the issue of identity. The defendant was convicted as charged and received a sentence of death for each offense. In a divided opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Because the out-of-state murder did not qualify as a signature crime and, under these circumstances, the danger of unfair prejudice outweighed the probative value of the evidence, the trial court erred by allowing the proof of the third murder. Because the error does not qualify as harmless, the convictions must be reversed and a new trial must be granted. On remand, the State may again seek the death penalty for each offense.

Shelby County Supreme Court 09/25/14
State of Tennessee v. Barry H. Hogg
M2012-00303-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Earl Durham

The defendant was convicted of multiple counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation
of a minor, criminal exposure of another to the human immunodeficiency virus (“HIV”), and
aggravated statutory rape. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions. Based
on our review, we hold (1) there is sufficient evidence to support the separate convictions of
especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and aggravated statutory rape; (2) there
is sufficient evidence to support the convictions for four counts of criminal exposure to HIV
but insufficient evidence to support the convictions for three of the counts; and (3) the
defendant’s sentence, as modified, is not excessive.

Wilson County Supreme Court 09/25/14
Sandy Eugene Womack Et Al. v. Correction Corporation Of America D/B/A Whiteville Correctional Facility
M2012-00871-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

This appeal involves whether the statute localizing venue for lawsuits filed by indigent inmates applies to lawsuits based on causes of action that accrue when an inmate is housed in a facility operated by a private corporation. An inmate housed at a correctional facility operated by a private entity filed suit in the Circuit Court for Davidson County, alleging that the corporation had failed to address his medical needs. The corporation moved to dismiss the suit or to transfer it to Hardeman County where the facility is located in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-803 (2014).  The Davidson County court granted the motion and transferred the case to Hardeman County but also gave the inmate permission to pursue an interlocutoryappeal. The Courtof Appeals granted the interlocutoryappeal and affirmed the trial court. Womack v. Corrections Corp. of Am., No. M2012-00871-COA-R10-CV, 2012 WL 6675094 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2012). We granted the inmate’s application for permission to appeal. We have determined that Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-21-803 does not apply to this inmate’s lawsuit because his cause of action did not accrue while he was housed in a facility operated by the Tennessee Department of Correction within the meaning of that statute. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/22/14
In Re Baby et al. - Concur
M2012-01040-SC-R11-JV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Betty K. Adams Green

This case of first impression regarding the enforceability of an international traditional surrogacy contract will have far-reaching ramifications both in Tennessee and beyond. While I concur, in general terms, with the Court’s disposition of this particular case, I have chosen to write separately because I cannot concur with the Court’s conclusion that “traditional surrogacy contracts do not violate public policy as a general rule.” While the surrogate in this case may not have succeeded in demonstrating that this particular traditional surrogacy contract is unenforceable as against public policy, this case is not an appropriate vehicle for this Court to broadly declare that traditional surrogacy agreements, or any other surrogacy agreement for that matter, are consistent with Tennessee’s public policy.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/18/14
In Re Baby Et Al.
M2012-01040-SC-R11-JV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Betty K. Adams Green

A man and woman who were unable to have children together entered into a contract with a woman who consented to act as a surrogate. The surrogate’s husband was also a party to the contract. The parties contracted for a “traditional surrogacy,” which involves the artificial insemination of the surrogate, who, after giving birth, is meant to relinquish the child to the biological father and the intended mother. Prior to the birth of the child, all parties filed a joint petition asking the juvenile court to declare the paternity of the child, grant custody to the intended parents, and terminate the parental rights of the surrogate. A magistrate for the juvenile court granted the petition. Less than a month later, the surrogate gave birth, and, following the advice of medical personnel, the parties agreed that the surrogate should breastfeed the child for a short period of time in the interest of providing the best possible nutrition. When the child was almost one week old, the surrogate filed a series of motions asking the magistrate to vacate the prior order, set aside the surrogacy contract, and award her custody. The magistrate denied the motions, the juvenile court judge upheld the ruling, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. This Court granted the surrogate’s application for permission to appeal to consider issues of public policy, subject matter jurisdiction, paternity, custody, and the termination of parental rights.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/18/14
State of Tennessee v. John T. Freeland, Jr. - Concur
W2011-01828-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch and Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

We concur fully with all of the Court’s opinion except for Section II(B)(iv) containing the proportionality analysis. After conducting our own independent proportionality analysis, we concur with the majority’s conclusion that Mr. Freeland’s sentence of death is not disproportionate to the sentences imposed on other similar offenders who have committed similar crimes.

Madison County Supreme Court 09/17/14
State of Tennessee v. John T. Freeland, Jr.
W2011-01828-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan

Following a bench trial, the defendant was convicted of first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, especially aggravated kidnapping, and tampering with evidence. The trial court imposed a sentence of death based on three aggravating circumstances: (1) the defendant had previously been convicted of one or more felonies involving the use of violence; (2) the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with, or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution of the defendant; and (3) the murder was knowingly committed while the defendant had a substantial role in committing a robbery. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(2), (6), (7) (2010 & Supp. 2013). The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence. On automatic appeal to this Court, we designated the following issues for oral argument: (1) whether the Court of Criminal Appeals committed error by affirming the trial court’s determination that the defendant’s confessions were freely and voluntarily made; and (2) whether under our mandatory review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1), the sentence of death is disproportionate or invalid. Having carefully considered the issues raised by the 2 defendant and the mandatory review provisions, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals. We remand the case to the trial court, however, for the entry of a corrected judgment reflecting the trial court’s merger of the defendant’s convictions for first degree murder into a single conviction.

Madison County Supreme Court 09/17/14
Greg Parker, Et Al. v. Holiday Hospitality Franchising, Incorporated, Et Al.
E2013-00727-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell E. Simmons

We granted permission to appeal in this premises liability action to address two issues: (1) whether the undisputed facts establish either the accepted work doctrine exception or the nondelegable duty to the public exception to the general rule that property owners are not vicariously liable for the negligence of independent contractors; and (2) whether disputes of material fact remain concerning the property owner’s actual or constructive notice of the defective condition created by the independent contractor’s negligence. We hold that the undisputed facts do not establish either exception to the general rule of non-liability and that the undisputed facts establish that the property owner had neither actual nor constructive notice of the defective condition created by the independent contractor’s negligence. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part. The judgment of the trial court granting the property owner summary judgment is reinstated.

Roane County Supreme Court 09/12/14
Terri Ann Kelly v. Willard Reed Kelly
E2012-02219-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jacqueline S. Bolton

This appeal involves the standard that appellate courts should use to review a trial court’s decision regarding the credibility of a witness who testifies by telephone.  A mother of two children filed for divorce in the Circuit Court for Hamilton County. When the suit was filed, the parties’ daughter was living with her mother, and the parties’ son was living in Middle Tennessee with his father. Both parents sought custody of their son. When the case was tried, the mother’s first witness testified by telephone without objection from the father. The trial court designated the mother as the primary residential parent for both children, and the father appealed. The Court of Appeals declined to defer to the trial court’s decision to accredit the testimony of the witness who testified by telephone, and a majority of the panel then reversed the trial court’s custodyruling. Kellyv.Kelly,No.E2012-02219-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 4007832 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 6, 2013). We find that the testimony of a witness who testified by telephone should be reviewed using the same deferential standard as a live witness. Accordingly, we reinstate the trial court’s custody decision.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 09/10/14
William Caldwell Hancock v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee - Concur
M2012-02596-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Donald P. Harris

I concur in the lead opinion’s conclusions that (1) Mr. Hancock violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 3.5(b); (2) the disciplinary authority of this Court is not preempted by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure; (3) discipline imposed pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 8.2 requires that the false statement about a judicial or legal official be communicated to a third party; and (4) the chancery court erred by modifying the judgment of the hearing panel to include violations of Rules of Professional Conduct 3.2, 3.4(c), 8.4(a), and 8.4(d). I disagree, however, with the conclusion that Mr. Hancock violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 3.5(e), and the imposition of a thirty-day suspension. Because I cannot find a basis to suspend Mr. Hancock for his offensive misbehavior, I would hold that a public reprimand is the appropriate sanction in this case.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/03/14
William Caldwell Hancock v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee - Concur
M2012-02596-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Donald P. Harris

I concur in the lead opinion’s conclusions that Mr. Hancock violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 3.5(b) and 3.5(e) and that “an attorney may be disciplined pursuant to [RPC]8.2 only if the false statement is communicated to a third party.” I disagree, however, with the lead opinion’s conclusion that “the record lacks any indication that Mr. Hancock sent the email to anyone other than Judge Paine.” I would instead hold that the record contains substantial and material evidence establishing that Mr. Hancock sent an email to third parties. As a result, I would affirm the hearing panel’s judgment that Mr. Hancock violated RPC 8.2(a)(1). In all other respects, I concur in the lead opinion’s decision affirming Mr. Hancock’s thirty-day suspension from the practice of law.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/03/14
William Caldwell Hancock v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2012-02596-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Donald P. Harris

A federal bankruptcy court entered judgment denying a Nashville attorney’s application for approximately $372,000 in attorney’s fees and expenses. Nine months later, the attorney emailed the bankruptcy judge who denied his fee application, calling the judge a “bully and clown” and demanding that he provide a written apology for denying the fee application. The Board of Professional Responsibility instituted a disciplinary action against the attorney, and a hearing panel of the Board found that the attorney violated several Rules of Professional Conduct by sending the email and recommended that the attorney be suspended from the practice of law for thirty days. The chancery court modified the hearing panel’s judgment to include additional violations for misconduct associated with the attorney’s briefs filed in the district court but affirmed the remainder of the hearing panel’s judgment. The attorney timely appealed to this Court. We affirm the hearing panel’s conclusion that the attorney’s email violated the rule against ex parte communications and was also sanctionable as “conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal.” We conclude, however, that the hearing panel erred by finding the attorney in violation of the ethical rule that prohibits attorneys from making false statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge. We also reverse the chancery court’s modification of the hearing panel’s judgment. We affirm the attorney’s thirty-day suspension from the practice of law.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/03/14
Andrew Spencer v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company
E2012-01204-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

The plaintiff, who was injured while pulling a switch for his employer, Norfolk Southern Railway, filed suit for negligence under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant railroad.  The Court of Appeals, ruling that the trial court had provided an erroneous jury instruction, reversed the jury verdict and granted the plaintiff a new trial. Because we find that the instruction qualifies as “substantially accurate” in the context of the entire charge, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the verdict of the jury.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 08/29/14
Dennis Michael Harris et al. v. Mickey Deanne Haynes et al.
E2012-02213-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether a governmental fund established in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-20-401 to -408 (2012), which allows governmental entities to pool resources in order to address liabilities created under the Governmental Tort Liability Act, is subject to the uninsured motorist coverage requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated sections 56-7-1201 to -1206 (2008). We hold that such funds are statutorily exempt from the insurance statutes and therefore the requirements of the uninsured motorist statute do not apply. Accordingly, we affirm the Court of Appeals’ judgment upholding the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to Tennessee Risk Management Trust and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

Anderson County Supreme Court 08/26/14
State of Tennessee v. Noura Jackson
W2009-01709-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

The defendant was charged with the June 2005 first degree premeditated murder of her mother. The jury convicted her of second degree murder after a trial in which the evidence was entirely circumstantial. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed her conviction and sentence, although the judges on the Panel were not unanimous as to the rationale for the decision. We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal. We hold that the lead prosecutor’s remark during final closing argument at trial amounted to a constitutionally impermissible comment upon the defendant’s exercise of her state and federal constitutional right to remain silent and not testify. We also hold that the prosecution violated the defendant’s constitutional right to due process by failing to turn over until after trial the third statement a key witness gave to law enforcement officers investigating the murder. The State has failed to establish that these constitutional errors were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, we vacate the defendant’s conviction and sentence and remand for a new trial.

Shelby County Supreme Court 08/22/14