Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 04/16/2014
Format: 04/16/2014
Larry O. Evans v. Fidelity & Guaranty Insurance Company
M2013-00763-WC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Craig Johnson

An employee sustained a compensable injury. The trial court ruled that the employee’s
partial disability award should be apportioned to the arm. The employee has appealed,
asserting that the award should have been apportioned to his thumb. The appeal has been
referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of
findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule
51. We affirm the judgment.

Coffee County Supreme Court 04/16/14
Jose Rodriguez a.k.a. Alex Lopez v. State of Tennessee
M2011-01485-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Seth Norman

The petitioner, a Mexican citizen, entered a guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge of patronizing prostitution and was granted judicial diversion. After successfully completing his diversion, the petitioner’s criminal record was expunged. More than three years after the entry of his plea, the petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief alleging that trial counsel failed to advise him of the potential immigration consequences of his guilty plea as required by Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010). The trial court dismissed the petition as time-barred. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that a petitioner whose record has been expunged may not obtain post-conviction relief and affirmed the trial court’s summary dismissal of the petition. We granted the petitioner permission to appeal. Following our review, we conclude that a guilty plea expunged after successful completion of judicial diversion is not a conviction subject to collateral review under the Post-Conviction Procedure Act. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/04/14
Roger David Hyman v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
E2012-02091-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that a Knoxville attorney violated a number of the Rules of Professional Conduct and recommended his suspension from the practice of law for six months and his attendance at six hours of ethics and professionalism coursesin addition to those mandatedby Tennessee Supreme CourtRule 21, section 3.01. The attorney timely filed a petition for certiorari in the Circuit Court for Knox County under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 1.3. In his petition, the attorneyalleged thatthe hearing panel improperlyconsidered his disciplinaryhistoryand that his six-month suspension was excessive. The circuit court affirmed the judgment of the hearing panel. After a thorough review of the record, we affirm.
 

Knox County Supreme Court 03/31/14
John Jay Hooker et al. v. Governor Bill Haslam et al.
M2012-01299-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Special Chief Justice Andree S. Blumstein
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether certain provisions of the Tennessee Plan, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 17-4-101 through 17-4-109 (2009), which governs the way in which Tennessee appellate judges are initially selected and thereafter stand for reelection, violate the Tennessee Constitution. We hold that the issue of the constitutional validity of the Judicial Nominating Commission/gubernatorial appointment process under the Tennessee Plan is moot, and we decline to rule on this issue. We further hold that the retention election portion of the Tennessee Plan satisfies the constitutional requirement that the judges of the appellate courts be elected by the qualified voters of the State and does not violate the Tennessee Constitution. We likewise hold that the election of judges to the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee on a statewide basis does not violate the Tennessee Constitution. Accordingly, the portion of the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to the issue of the constitutional validity of the Judicial Nominating Commission/gubernatorial appointment process under the Tennessee Plan is vacated and that claim is dismissed. We affirm the portions of the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to the constitutional validity of the retention election portion of the Tennessee Plan and the constitutional validity of the election of Tennessee intermediate appellate court judges on a statewide basis.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/17/14
Michael S. Becker et al. v. Ford Motor Company
M2013-02546-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee

This appeal involves a question of law concerning the interpretation and application of Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 (2009) certified by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Based on the undisputed facts, the District Court has asked this Court to determine whether, after a defendant asserts a comparative fault claim against a non-party tortfeasor who was known to the plaintiff when the original suit was filed, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 permits the plaintiff to amend its complaint to assert a claim directly against the tortfeasor named by the defendant, even though the statute of limitations on that claim has expired. We hold that the application of Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 is not restricted to tortfeasors who were unknown to the plaintiff when its original complaint was filed. Therefore, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119 permits a plaintiff to file an amended complaint against the tortfeasor named by the defendant within ninety days after the filing of the answer or amended answer in which the defendant first asserts a comparative fault claim against the tortfeasor.

Supreme Court 03/07/14
State of Tennessee v. Courtney Bishop
W2010-01207-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

This appeal involves questions regarding when the police may legally arrest a suspect based on information provided by an accomplice and the amount of corroboration required to convict a person who has confessed to a crime. A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant of attempted aggravated robbery and first-degree felony murder. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed both convictions after deciding (1) that the defendant’s confession should have been suppressed because it was the result of an illegal arrest and detention and (2) that the evidence was insufficient to support either conviction because the State did not introduce sufficient evidence, independent of the defendant’s confession, to corroborate the commission of the attempted robbery. State v. Bishop, No. W2010-01207-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 938969 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 14, 2012). We have determined that the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant. We have also determined that the defendant’s in court confession did not require corroboration but that, had his extrajudicial confession required corroboration, the State presented ample evidence that this confession was trustworthy. Therefore, we reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the defendant’s convictions and sentences.

Shelby County Supreme Court 03/06/14
George Ernest Skouteris, Jr. v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
W2013-01254-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell

This is a direct appeal of an attorney disciplinary proceeding involving six complaints of professional misconduct. The trial court affirmed the hearing panel’s decision that the attorney had violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct and should be disbarred from the practice of law. After review of the evidence presented and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/21/14
State of Tennessee v. David Dwayne Bell
E2011-01241-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex Henry Ogle

This appeal involves the weight that should be given to a motorist’s performance on field sobrietytests in determining whether probable cause existed to arrest the motorist for driving under the influence of an intoxicant (“DUI”). A law enforcement officer stopped a motorist who was driving in the wrong direction on a divided highway in Sevier County. Another officer administered several field sobriety tests, and arrested the motorist for DUI because the motorist had been driving in the wrong direction on a divided highway, smelled of alcohol, and admitted that he had been drinking. When the grand juryreturned a presentment charging the motorist with DUI and DUI per se, he filed a motion in the Circuit Court for Sevier County to suppress the evidence and to dismiss the charges. The trial court dismissed the charges on the ground that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest the motorist in light of his performance on the field sobriety tests. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. State v. Bell, No. E2011-01241-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 3776695 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 31, 2012). We granted the State’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application for permission to appeal and now hold that the officer had probable cause to arrest the motorist for DUI without a warrant. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and the trial court, reinstate the charges, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings

Sevier County Supreme Court 02/20/14
Doris Cannon ex rel. Juanita E. Good v. Bhaskar Reddy, M.D.
M2012-01332-SC-S10-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jim T. Hamilton

The plaintiff filed a health care liability action against the defendant. During the pendency of her action, the General Assembly enacted the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-121 and -122. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her original action. The plaintiff then filed two successive actions. First, the plaintiff filed a second action that did not comply with the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith statutes. The plaintiff then filed a third action that complied with Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-121 and -122. The plaintiff moved to consolidate her second and third actions, and the defendant moved to dismiss. The defendant contended that the plaintiff’s second action should be dismissed for failure to comply with the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements and that her third action should be dismissed based on the doctrine of prior suit pending. The trial court consolidated the lawsuits and denied the defendant’s motions to dismiss. The defendant moved for permission to file an interlocutory appeal, which the trial court denied. We granted the defendant’s application for extraordinary appeal pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. During the pendency of the appeal, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her second action. As a result of the plaintiff’s voluntary dismissal and our recent holding in Rajvongs v. Wright, ___ S.W.3d ___, 2013 WL 6504425 (Tenn. Dec. 12, 2013), we hold that the plaintiff, who properly provided pre-suit notice of her claim prior to filing her third action, was entitled to a 120-day extension in which to refile her complaint pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c). The plaintiff’s third complaint was therefore timely filed. We affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for further proceedings.

Maury County Supreme Court 01/29/14
Derrick Brandon Bush v. State of Tennessee
M2011-02133-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

This appeal concerns the retroactive application of Ward v. State, 315 S.W.3d 461 (Tenn. 2010), in which this Court held that trial courts have an affirmative duty, before accepting a guilty plea to a crime carrying a mandatory sentence of community supervision for life, to inform the defendant desiring to plead guilty of the consequence of lifetime supervision. In April 2011, a prisoner, who pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted rape in December 2000, filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Criminal Court for Sumner County alleging that his guilty pleas were not knowingly or intelligently entered because he had not been informed that he would be subject to lifetime community supervision following his release from prison. The trial court decided that the Post-Conviction Procedure Act’s statute of limitations should be tolled on due process grounds and that the prisoner was entitled to post-conviction relief because Ward v. State should be applied retroactively. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, finding no grounds for due process tolling and that Ward v. State did not announce a new rule of constitutional law requiring retroactive application. Bush v. State, No. M2011-02133-CCA-R3-PC, 2012 WL 2308280 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 15, 2012). We granted the prisoner’s appeal to clarify the standards governing retroactive application of this Court’s authoritative interpretations of the Tennessee Constitution and to resolve related issues in the interpretation of the Post-Conviction Procedure Act. In accordance with the retroactivity framework for post-conviction proceedings the Tennessee General Assembly codified in Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-122 (2012), we have determined that our holding in Ward v. State does not require retroactive application and, therefore, that the prisoner is not entitled to tolling under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-102(b)(1) (2012). We also hold that the prisoner’s case does not warrant due process tolling. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Sumner County Supreme Court 01/28/14
E. Ron Pickard et al. v. Tennessee Water Quality Control Board et al. - REHEAR
M2011-02600-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

E. Ron Pickard and Linda Pickard have filed a timely Tenn. R. App. P. 39 petition requesting this Court to revisit its opinion filed in this case on December 17, 2013. This petition is premised on the Pickards’ erroneous conclusion that the focal point of the Court’s analysis was their April 6, 2009 petition for a declaratory order, to the exclusion of their January 16, 2009 petition for a declaratory order.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/06/14
State of Tennessee v. Marcus Pope
W2012-00033-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge John T. Fowlkes, Jr.

The defendant, convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary, and sentenced to concurrent terms of ten and six years respectively, appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences, holding that the evidence of identification was sufficient as to both convictions and, as to the aggravated burglary, holding that the victim had not given his “effective consent” to the entry of the residence. We granted the application for permission to appeal to determine whether the evidence, circumstantial or direct, was sufficient to establish both convictions. Because the jury had the prerogative to reject the alibi testimony offered by the defendant, the identification evidence was sufficient as to both offenses. The aggravated robbery conviction is, therefore, affirmed. As to the aggravated burglary, however, the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to support the conviction because there was no evidence that the Defendant engaged in an act of “deception,” as defined by statute, in the context of “effective consent.” The aggravated burglary conviction is, therefore, reversed and the charge dismissed. We remand for a new trial on the lesser included offenses of aggravated criminal trespass and criminal trespass.

Shelby County Supreme Court 12/30/13
Westgate Smoky Mountains at Gatlinburg v. Burns Phillips, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development et al.
E2011-02538-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety

The claimant is a licensed time-share salesperson who sold time-share interests at a resort owned by Westgate in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. When resort management terminated the business relationship, the claimant filed for state unemployment benefits with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The initial agency decision, the Appeals Tribunal, and the Board of Review affirmed an award of benefits to the claimant, concluding that a time-share salesperson is not a licensed real estate agent and therefore is not subject to the Tennessee Employment Security Law’s exclusion for services performed by a “qualified real estate agent.” Westgate sought judicial review of the Board’s decision. The chancery court reversed, finding that a time-share salesperson is a “licensed real estate agent” and that the claimant was ineligible for unemployment benefits as a “qualified real estate agent.” The Court of Appeals reversed the chancery court’s findings, and Westgate appealed. We reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the chancery court.

Sevier County Supreme Court 12/23/13