Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 10/22/2014
Format: 10/22/2014
Mary C. Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc., et al.
W2011-02405-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kay S. Robilio

This appeal involves the manner in which a trial court granted motions for summary judgment in a proceeding involving the death of a patient whose treatment for viral encephalitis was delayed because he was also being assessed for involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital. The widow of the deceased patient filed suit against three health care providers in the Circuit Court for Shelby County. In her original complaint and four subsequent amended complaints, the widow asserted eight causes of action against one or more of the providers. The trial court eventually granted a series of summary judgments dismissing all the claims against one of the providers without explaining the grounds for its decisions and requested counsel for the provider to prepare appropriate orders “establish[ing] the rationale for the [c]ourt’s ruling in quite specific detail.” The provider’s counsel prepared detailed orders adopting all the arguments the provider had made in favor of its summary judgment motions, and the trial court signed these orders over the widow’s objections. The widow appealed, arguing that the trial court had failed to provide reasons for its decisions and that the orders did not accurately reflect what had occurred at the summary judgment hearings. The Court of Appeals vacated the disputed orders because the trial court had failed to state the legal grounds for its decisions as required by Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 and remanded the case to the trial court. Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc., No. W2011-02405-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 210250, at *12-13 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 18, 2013). We granted the provider’s application for permission to appeal. We have determined that the record establishes that the contested orders were not the product of the trial court’s independent judgment, and therefore, we hold that the trial court failed to comply with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04.

Shelby County Supreme Court 07/15/14
State of Tennessee v. Glover P. Smith
M2011-00440-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Don R. Ash

The defendant was indicted on two counts of fabricating evidence and on six counts of making a false report arising out of the disappearance of his wife. A jury convicted the defendant on all counts, and the trial court imposed a sentence of one year in the county jail followed by six years on probation. After a hearing on the defendant’s motion for new trial, the trial court affirmed the convictions for making a false report but dismissed the convictions for fabricating evidence after concluding that no investigation was “pending” when the defendant fabricated evidence. Both the State and the defendant appealed. The Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the defendant’s convictions for fabricating evidence, dismissed as multiplicitous two convictions for making a false report, and affirmed the remaining convictions and sentences. We granted the defendant permission to appeal. Although we affirm the Court of Criminal Appeals’ reinstatement of the defendant’s convictions for fabricating evidence, we conclude that two of the defendant’s convictions for making a false report should be dismissed because the evidence is insufficient to support these convictions. We also conclude that three of the defendant’s convictions for making a false report are multiplicitous and therefore dismiss two of those convictions. We affirm the Court of Criminal Appeals in all other respects.

Rutherford County Supreme Court 06/19/14
Fletcher Whaley Long v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2013-01042-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

A Hearing Panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that an attorney had violated multiple disciplinary rules and imposed a public censure. The attorney appealed, and the trial court affirmed the Hearing Panel’s decision. On appeal to this Court, the attorney raises a number of issues, including a facial constitutional challenge to Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9. After reviewing the evidence and the applicable law, we reject the attorney’s constitutional challenge to Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, and we conclude that his other issues are without merit. We therefore affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Montgomery County Supreme Court 06/04/14
Guadalupe Arroyo v. State of Tennessee - Dissent
E2012-02703-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee

In January of 2002, Guadalupe Arroyo (the “Petitioner”) pled guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide. The trial court imposed two twelve-year sentences to be served consecutively—an effective sentence of twenty-four years. The Petitioner successfully appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals on the basis that the trial court had imposed consecutive sentencing based upon the “dangerous offender” classification in Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-115(b)(4) (2010) without first addressing the requisite factors set forth in State v. Wilkerson, 905 S.W.2d 933 (Tenn. 1995). A second appeal on the same issue also resulted in a second remand to the trial court. In a third sentencing order, the trial court held that the sentences were reasonably related to the severity of the offenses and were necessary to protect the public, grounds essential for the imposition of consecutive sentences based upon the “dangerous offender” classification. Id. at 938; see also State v. Pollard, No. M2011-00332-SC-R11-CD, 2013 WL 6732667, at *9-10 (Tenn. Dec. 20, 2013). The reasons cited were as follows: [One,] during the prior sentencing hearing the [Petitioner] admitted to underage drinking on a daily basis, confirmed in the pre-sentence report; Two, the [Petitioner] admitted to driving without a license daily; and Three, the [Petitioner] has been illegally within this country since his arrival.

Knox County Supreme Court 05/21/14
Guadalupe Arroyo v. State of Tennessee
E2012-02703-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee

The defendant pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide. The trial court sentenced the defendant to two consecutive twelve-year terms for an effective sentence of twenty-four years. The defendant twice appealed the sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which twice remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing. Each time, the trial court imposed a twenty-four-year sentence. The defendant did not appeal the third sentencing order. Later, the defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief, alleging that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to appeal the third sentencing order. At the post-conviction hearing, trial counsel testified that he and the defendant discussed the futility of a third appeal and the defendant agreed that no appeal would be filed. The defendant denied that he and his trial counsel discussed a third appeal. Trial counsel did not file a Tenn. R. Crim. P. 37(d)(2) waiver of appeal. The post-conviction court found trial counsel to be more credible than the defendant. Based on that finding, the trial court dismissed the petition, ruling that the defendant knew of his right to appeal and waived that right. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We hold that the defendant had the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that he did not know of his right to appeal or that he otherwise did not waive that right. His trial counsel’s failure to file a written waiver of appeal was not per se deficient performance, but was a fact properly considered by the trial court on the issue of whether trial counsel rendered effective representation. Based on the credibility determinations made by the post-conviction court, we hold that the defendant failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence his allegations of ineffective
representation. The judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals are
affirmed.

Knox County Supreme Court 05/21/14
Richard Thurmond v. Mid-Cumberland Infectious Disease Consultants, PLC et al.
M2012-02270-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

Sixty days prior to filing his complaint, the plaintiff in this health care liability action sent written notice of his potential claim to each of the health care providers that would be named as defendants. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(1) (2012 & Supp. 2013). The plaintiff served the pre-suit notice by certified mail, return receipt requested, as permitted by statute.  Id. § 29-26-121(a)(3)(B). In his subsequent complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he had complied with the statutory requirement of pre-suit notice, id. § 29-26-121(b), but the plaintiff failed to file with the complaint “an affidavit of the party mailing the [pre-suit] notice establishing that the specified notice was timely mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested,” id. § 29-26-121(a)(4). The defendants moved for dismissal of the lawsuit, citing the plaintiff’s failure to file with the complaint an affidavit of the person who had sent the pre-suit notice by certified mail. The defendants did not allege that the lack of the affidavit resulted in prejudice. Instead, the defendants contended that the pre-suit notice statute demands strict compliance with all its requirements and that dismissal is the mandatory remedy for noncompliance. The trial court “reluctantly” agreed with the defendants and dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals affirmed but noted the “harsh results”  strict compliance produces in cases, such as this one, where no prejudice is alleged. We granted the plaintiff’s application for permission to appeal. We hold that the statutory requirement of an affidavit of the person who sent pre-suit notice by certified mail may be satisfied by substantial compliance. We also hold that the plaintiff substantially complied with the statute. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’sdismissal of the complaint is reversed; the complaint is reinstated; and this matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

Montgomery County Supreme Court 04/24/14
State of Tennessee v. Kiara Tashawn King
M2012-00236-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R.Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Crigler

The defendant pled guilty to aggravated burglary and theft of property over five hundred dollars. The trial court imposed concurrent, Range I sentences of five years and one year and six months, respectively, all to be served on probation. On appeal, the defendant contended that the trial court erred by imposing excessive sentences and by denying her application for judicial diversion. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We granted the application for permission to appeal in order to clarify the appropriate standard of appellate review for the grant or denial of judicial diversion. We hold that when the trial court places on the record its considerations for the grant or denial of judicial diversion, the determination should be given a presumption of reasonableness on appeal and reviewed for an abuse of discretion. In the absence of appropriate considerations on the record, the appellate court should either remand for reconsideration or perform a de novo review. After our own de novo review of this record, we hold that the defendant is not entitled to judicial diversion.

Marshall County Supreme Court 04/23/14
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