Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 09/16/2014
Format: 09/16/2014
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
Zoyle Jones v. State of Tennessee
M2012-02546-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Robert Hibbett

The issue presented in this case is one of first impression: whether cabinet-level state executive officials are absolutely immune from defamation claims arising out of statements made while performing their official duties. An employee of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) was disciplined for double-billing claims for his job-related travel expenses to both the state and a private organization. After the TDOC Commissioner responded to media inquiries about the employee’s demotion for violating the state’s travel billing policy, the employee sued the State of Tennessee and the TDOC for defamation. The State moved for summaryjudgment, asserting that the TDOC Commissioner had an absolute privilege to make the allegedly defamatory statements to the media. The Tennessee Claims Commission denied the State’s motion. Upon review, we hold that the State is absolutely immune from the employee’s defamation claims that relate to the TDOC Commissioner’s statements in response to media inquiries about the employee’s demotion. This ruling allows cabinet-level officials to perform their governmental duties free from legal harassment and uninhibited by the fear of potential lawsuits arising out of their job-related speech. It also furthers the vital free-expression principle that the public has a right to receive critical information from the government and its public officials, who must be free to speak with complete candor about matters of public importance. The judgment of the Claims Commission is reversed.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/23/13
Juan Alberto Blanco Garcia v. State of Tennessee
M2012-01058-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley

In this post-conviction proceeding the petitioner alleged ineffective assistance of counsel based upon trial counsel’s failure to advise him of the immigration consequences of his plea as required by Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010). The petitioner also alleged that his plea was involuntary and unknowing because the trial court failed to comply with Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1)(J). The post-conviction trial court denied post-conviction relief, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We conclude that the record fully supports the post-conviction court’s findings that trial counsel advised the petitioner he would be deported upon pleading guilty and that his guilty plea could have an adverse effect upon his ability to return legally to the United States. We also agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals that the trial court’s failure to comply with Rule 11(b)(1)(J) was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the proof shows that the petitioner was aware his guilty plea would result in his deportation and could adversely affect his ability to return legally to the United States. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the post-conviction court’s denial of post-conviction relief.

Warren County Supreme Court 12/23/13
State of Tennessee v. James Allen Pollard
M2011-00332-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

The defendant was convicted of felony murder, first degree premeditated murder, and especially aggravated robbery. After merging the murder convictions, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences of life for the murder and eighteen years for the especially aggravated robbery. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions but remanded to the trial court for a proper determination of whether the sentences should be served consecutively or concurrently. We hold that, when a trial court places findings on the record to support its sentencing decision, the applicable standard of appellate review for a challenge to the imposition of consecutive sentences is abuse of discretion with a presumption of reasonableness. Because, however, the trial court failed to address the factors required to impose consecutive sentences based on the dangerous offender classification, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/20/13
Erik Hood v. Casey Jenkins et al.
E2011-02749-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

The minor beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy filed suit against his financial guardian and the insurance company after the guardian misappropriated the insurance proceeds. The trial court entered judgments in favor of the minor against both the guardian and the insurance company. On appeal by the insurance company, the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the insurance company breached its contractual duties by entrusting the proceeds to the guardian. The insurance company then applied for permission to appeal to this Court, contending that it could not be held liable for the loss to the minor because it had relied upon the validity of a juvenile court order of guardianship. Because the insurance company acted in good faith when it relied upon a facially valid court order establishing a financial guardianship in making payment of the life insurance proceeds, it is not liable for breach of contract. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is, therefore, reversed, and the claim against the insurance company is dismissed.

Grainger County Supreme Court 12/19/13
Edith Johnson et al. v. Mark C. Hopkins et al.
M2012-02468-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether a provision of the unlawful detainer statute, which requires that a tenant appealing to the circuit court from a general sessions court’s judgment in favor of a landlord must post a bond equal to one year’s rent of the premises, applies regardless of whether the tenant has surrendered possession of the property prior to the appeal. We hold that the plain language of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-18-130(b)(2) (2012) does not require that a tenant appealing to the circuit court from an adverse general sessions court judgment in an unlawful detainer action post a bond corresponding to one year’s rent of the premises if the tenant has surrendered possession of the premises prior to the appeal. Accordingly, the cost bond that the tenants have already posted pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-5-103(a) (2000) is sufficient to perfect their appeal and confer subject matter jurisdiction on the Circuit Court. We affirm the Circuit Court’s judgment denying the landlords’ motion to dismiss and remand the case to the Circuit Court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/19/13
Jolyn Cullum et al. v. Jan McCool et al. - Concur / Dissent
E2012-00991-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

I fully concur in the majority’s conclusion that Wal-Mart owed a duty of reasonable care to its customers to prevent them from suffering harm and that the trial court erred in granting Wal-Mart’s motion to dismiss. I write separately, however, to reaffirm my view that “any discussion of foreseeability in the context of duty encroaches upon the role of the finder of fact.” Giggers v. Memphis Hous. Auth., 277 S.W.3d 359, 372 (Tenn. 2009) (Holder, J., concurring and dissenting) (quoting Satterfield v. Breeding Insulation Co., 266 S.W.3d 347, 375 (Tenn. 2008) (Holder, J., concurring and dissenting)). See also Hale v. Ostrow, 166 S.W.3d 713, 720 (Tenn. 2005) (Holder, J., concurring and dissenting); Burroughs v. Magee, 118 S.W.3d 323, 338 (Tenn. 2003) (Holder, J., concurring and dissenting); Staples v. CBL & Assocs., Inc., 15 S.W.3d 83, 92 (Tenn. 2000) (Holder, J., concurring).

Hamilton County Supreme Court 12/18/13
Jolyn Cullum et al. v. Jan McCool et al.
E2012-00991-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

The issue presented in this premises liability case is whether a store owes a duty to protect its customer from a visibly intoxicated customer who was ordered to leave the store by store employees. A store patron sued a store for negligence after she was struck and injured in the store’s parking lot by a vehicle driven by another store patron. Store employees had refused to fill the other patron’s medical prescriptions because they believed she was intoxicated; she became belligerent, and store employees ordered her to leave the store knowing that she was alone and would be driving her vehicle. In response to the lawsuit, the store filed a motion to dismiss, contending that it did not have a legal duty to control the intoxicated patron after she left the store. The trial judge granted the store’s motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the store owed the injured patron a duty of care to protect her from the intoxicated patron. Taking the plaintiffs’ allegations as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, we hold that the foreseeability of harm and the gravity of harm to the injured patron outweighed the burden placed on the store to protect the patron against that harm. Therefore, the store patron’s complaint contains sufficient allegations which, taken as true, establish that the store owed a duty of care to the injured patron. The trial court erred by granting the motion to dismiss.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 12/18/13
E. Ron Pickard et al. v. Tennessee Water Quality Control Board et al.
M2011-02600-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This appeal involves the proper procedure for persons desiring to obtain administrative and judicial review of a decision by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (“TDEC”) regarding the issuance or denial of a waste water and storm water discharge permit. After TDEC issued a final permit allowing the operator of a limestone quarry to discharge water into Horse Creek, the owners and managers of a neighboring wildlife sanctuary filed a petition with the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board (“Board”) seeking to appeal TDEC’s decision to issue the permit and also requesting the Board to issue a declaratory order regarding the proper interpretation of the Antidegradation Rule, Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1200-04-03-.06. After the Board scheduled a contested case hearing, an administrative law judge dismissed the request for a declaratory order on the ground that Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-3-105(i) (2012) provides the exclusive procedure to obtain administrative review of TDEC’s decision to issue the discharge permit. Rather than pursuing the permit appeal already pending before the Board, the wildlife sanctuary filed a petition in the Chancery Court for Davidson County seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the proper interpretation of the Antidegradation Rule. The trial court granted the wildlife sanctuary’s motion for summary judgment and issued a declaratory judgment regarding the interpretation and application of the Antidegradation Rule to the permit at issue in this case. TDEC and the Board appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment on the ground that the trial court had failed to give “any deference to TDEC’s interpretation of the Antidegradation rule” and remanded the case to the trial court to conduct a trial “to determine the proper interpretation of the Antidegradation rule.” Pickard v. Tennessee Dep’t of Env’t and Conservation, No. M2011-02600-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 3834777, at *24-25 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 4, 2012). We granted the Board’s and TDEC’s joint application for permission to appeal. We conclude that Tenn. Code Ann. § 69-3-105(i) disallows parties challenging the issuance of a discharge permit from seeking a declaratory order from the Board regarding matters involved in the issuance of the permit and requires that parties desiring to seek judicial review of a decision to issue a discharge permit must first exhaust their administrative remedies before seeking judicial review of TDEC’s decision. Because the wildlife sanctuary’s appeal from TDEC’s issuance of the discharge permit was still pending before the Board, the trial court should have declined to adjudicate the wildlife sanctuary’s petition for a declaratory judgment. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the case is remanded to the trial court with directions to dismiss the petition because the wildlife sanctuary failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before the Board.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/17/13
Hong Samouth (Sam) Rajvongs v. Dr. Anthony Wright
M2011-01889-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

The plaintiff filed his initial health care liability action against the defendant prior to the enactment of the pre-suit notice requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his original action. More than one year later, the plaintiff refiled his action after the effective date of section 29-26-121. The defendant moved for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiff’s second action was barred by the statute of limitations. The plaintiff countered that his pre-suit notice commenced his new action prior to the expiration of the one-year saving statute. Alternatively, the plaintiff argued that Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121 extended the saving statute by 120 days. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for  summary judgment but granted permission to file an interlocutory appeal under Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Court of Appeals granted the application for permission to appeal and affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion for summary judgment. We hold that the plaintiff’s action was commenced by the filing of a second health care liability complaint rather than by providing pre-suit notice. We further hold that a plaintiff who files his initialaction prior to the effective date of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121, dismisses his original action, properly provides pre-suit notice, and refiles his action after the effective date of the statute, is entitled to the 120-day extension. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Rutherford County Supreme Court 12/12/13
Jeffrey R. Cooper v. Phillip Glasser et al.
M2012-00344-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendants in California state court, alleging a number of business-related torts. After one of the defendants moved to dismiss based on a forum selection clause contained in the parties’ contract, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his California complaint and refiled his action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.  In his federal court complaint, the plaintiff invoked federal-question jurisdiction by pleading a number of federal securities law violations. In its discretion, the federal district court exercised supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s state-law claims. One of the defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, arguing that the statute of limitations applicable to the plaintiff’s federal securities law claims had expired. Before the federal court could dispose of the motion, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his complaint without court approval pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a).  The plaintiff later filed the present action in the Circuit Court for Davidson County, Tennessee, pleading only three of the state-law claims that formed the basis for his two previously dismissed lawsuits. The defendants moved for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the plaintiff’s second voluntary dismissal in federal court. The trial court granted summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. We granted the plaintiff permission to appeal. We conclude that a plaintiff’s second voluntary dismissal of supplemental state-law claims filed in federal court does not, under Tennessee law,preclude the plaintiff from later refiling an action based on the same claims in Tennessee state court. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/26/13
Christine Stevens ex rel. Mark Stevens v. Hickman Community Health Care Services, Inc. et al. - CONCUR AND DISSENT
M2012-00582-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

On April 11, 2011, Christine Stevens (the “Plaintiff”) provided written notice to Hickman Community Health Care Services, Inc., Elite Emergency Services, LLC, and Halford Whitaker, M.D. (collectively, the “Defendants”), advising each of them of her potential health care liability claim based upon their negligent treatment of her late husband, Mark Stevens. As required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(A)–(D) (Supp. 2011), the Plaintiff’s notice included the full name and date of birth of the Plaintiff’s late husband; the contact information for the Plaintiff; the name and address of the Plaintiff’s counsel; and a list of the names and addresses of all providers being sent a notice. The notice also included a medical authorization form intended to allow each of the Defendants to access the medical records in the possession of the other Defendants, as is required under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). The medical authorization form, however, was not fully compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”), Pub. L. No. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 18, 26, 29, and 42 U.S.C.).

Hickman County Supreme Court 11/25/13