Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 07/22/2014
Format: 07/22/2014
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
Christine Stevens ex rel. Mark Stevens v. Hickman Community Health Care Services, Inc. et al.
M2012-00582-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

More than sixty days before filing suit, the plaintiff gave written notice to the potential defendants of her healthcare liability claim against them. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) (2012) requires that a plaintiff’s pre-suit notice include a HIPAA compliant medical authorization that permits the healthcare provider receiving the notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider that is being sent a notice. Contrary to the statute, the plaintiff provided a non-HIPAA compliant medical authorization that only permitted the release of medical records to plaintiff’s counsel. After the plaintiff filed suit, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on noncompliance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). The trial court denied the motion, ruling that plaintiff’s noncompliance was excused by extraordinary cause. We hold that the plaintiff was required to substantially comply with Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) and failed to do so, and that her failure to comply is not excused by extraordinary cause. We dismiss the plaintiff’s case without prejudice.

Hickman County Supreme Court 11/25/13
Kenneth E. King v. Anderson County, Tennessee
E2012-00386-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald Ray Elledge

We granted permission to appeal in this case to decide whether, for the purpose of determining proximate cause, an assault on an inmate by another inmate is always reasonably foreseeable because penal institutions house dangerous individuals. The plaintiff sued for injuries allegedly suffered as a result of negligence on the part of the staff of the Anderson County Detention Facility in classifying and housing the plaintiff and in failing to release him in a timely manner. The County denied any negligence on its part. The trial court found that while the County was not negligent in its classification or housing of the plaintiff, it had a duty and breached that duty in failing to timely release him. The trial court awarded the plaintiff $170,000 in damages, excluding medical bills, and assessed 55% of the fault to the County and 45% to the plaintiff. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s actions, making an additional finding that proximate cause existed sufficient to link the plaintiff’s injuries to the County’s breach of its duty to timely release him. We reverse the Court of Appeals and trial court in part and hold that Anderson County is not liable for failing to release the plaintiff in a timely manner because the injuries Mr. King suffered as a result of the delay were not reasonably foreseeable. The award of damages is vacated, with the exception of the statutorily mandated payment of the plaintiff’s medical bills, and the case is reversed and remanded to the trial court for dismissal.

Anderson County Supreme Court 11/21/13
Kenneth E. King v. Anderson County, Tennessee - DISSENT
E2012-00386-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald Ray Elledge

I respectfully dissent.

Anderson County Supreme Court 11/21/13
Andrew K. Armbrister v. Melissa H. Armbrister
E2012-00018-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Thomas R. Frierson, II

The issue in this post-divorce proceeding is whether a parent seeking to modify a residential parenting schedule in a permanent parenting plan must prove that an alleged material change in circumstances could not reasonably have been anticipated when the residential parenting schedule was originally established. We hold that Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-101(a)(2)(C) (2010), enacted in 2004, abrogated any prior Tennessee decision that could have been read as requiring such proof. Accordingly, because the father who sought modification in this case was not required to prove that his remarriage, relocation, changed work schedule, and natural aging of his children were unanticipated, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment and reinstate the trial court’s judgment modifying the residential parenting schedule to give the mother 222 days and the father 143 days of residential parenting time with the two minor children.

Greene County Supreme Court 10/21/13
City of Memphis, Tennessee et al. v. Tre Hargett, Secretary of State et al.
M2012-02141-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

In May of 2011, the General Assembly enacted a law providing, with certain exceptions, that all citizens who appear in person to vote must present photographic proof of their identity. The statute authorized a variety of acceptable forms of identification, one of which was a valid photographic identification card issued by an entity of the State of Tennessee. Prior to the August 2012 primary election, the City of Memphis Public Library issued photographic identification cards to its patrons. When two Shelby County residents attempted to vote in the primary using photographic library cards as means of identification, however, election officials declined to accept the cards as the requisite proof. The two residents and the City of Memphis filed a declaratory judgment action against the Secretary of State, the State Coordinator of Elections, and the Attorney General, arguing that the photographic identification requirement violated constitutional protections and that the City of Memphis qualified as an entity of the state authorized to issue valid photographic identification cards through its public library. The trial court denied relief on all counts, ruling first that the plaintiffs lacked standing and holding in the alternative that the photographic identification requirement did not violate the state constitution and that the City of Memphis did not qualify as an entity of the state. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that each plaintiff had standing to sue and that photographic identification cards issued by a municipal library complied with the statute for voting purposes, but also concluding that the photographic identification requirement did not violate constitutional principles. Following the grant of an application for permission to appeal, briefing, and oral argument, the General Assembly enacted amendments to the statute which, among other things, precluded the use of photographic identification cards issued by municipalities or their libraries for voting purposes. In light of these recent amendments, we hold that each issue in this appeal that pertains to the validity of the Memphis Public Library cards as photographic identification is now moot. We further hold that the City of Memphis lacks standing, and, although the two residents of Shelby County have standing to file a declaratory judgment action, the photographic identification requirement, both on its face and as applied in this instance, meets constitutional scrutiny. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the issue of constitutionality.

Davidson County Supreme Court 10/17/13
City of Memphis, Tennessee et al. v. Tre Hargett et al. - CONCUR
M2012-02141-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

In 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly amended Tennessee’s voting procedures to provide for the use of photographic identification in elections. The General Assembly amended these procedures in 20122 and again in 2013.3 I concur with the Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of these procedures as they stood in 2012. I write separately, however, to address the threshold matter of the standard of review that should be used to address the constitutionality of these amendments.

Davidson County Supreme Court 10/17/13
State of Tennessee v. Corinio Pruitt
W209-01255-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris B. Craft

A jury convicted the defendant of first degree felony murder. The jury 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 knowingly committed while the defendant had a substantial role in committing a robbery; and (3) the victim was seventy years of age or older. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(2), (7), (14) (2010). The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. On automatic appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(a)(1) (2010), we designated the following issues for oral argument: (1) whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s finding of guilt of first degree felony murder beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) whether the trial court erred in determining that the defendant had failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was intellectually disabled and thereby ineligible for the death penalty; and (3) whether the sentence of death is disproportionate or invalid pursuant to the mandatory review of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1). On December 6, 2012, we ordered re-argument on the following issues: (1) whether the proportionality analysis adopted by the majority of the Court in State v. Bland, should be modified; (2) whether the absence of an intent to kill should render the death penalty disproportionate; and (3) whether the pool of cases considered in proportionality analysis should be broadened. Having carefully considered these issues and the other issues raised by the defendant, we find no merit to the defendant’s arguments. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/08/13
State of Tennessee v. Corinio Pruitt - Concur and Dissent
W2009-01255-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr. and Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris B. Craft

We concur fully with the Court’s decision to affirm Corinio Pruitt’s conviction for first-degree felony murder. However, we respectfully disagree with the manner in which the Court has carried out the proportionality analysis required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-206(c)(1)(D) (2010) because we believe that it is inconsistent with the plain requirements of the statute. After considering “both the nature of the crime and the defendant” in this case and in “similar cases” as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-206(c)(1)(D), we conclude that Mr. Pruitt should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/08/13