Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 09/17/2014
Format: 09/17/2014
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
State of Tennessee v. Kevin Anthony Dickson, Jr.
E2010-01781-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Richard R. Vance

The defendant, angry about the quality of the cocaine that he had purchased, procured weapons and ammunition and enlisted the assistance of two other men to help him confront the drug dealers and obtain a refund. After forcing his way into a cabin where the drug dealers were located, one of his compatriots—-whom the defendant had armed with a .45 pistol—shot and seriously wounded two unarmed victims. Following a bench trial, the trial judge ruled that the defendant was criminally responsible for the actions of the shooter and found the defendant guilty of two counts of attempted first degree murder, and one count each of especially aggravated burglary, attempted aggravated robbery, and aggravated assault. The trial judge sentenced the defendant on these convictions, including consecutive twenty-five year sentences for each attempted first degree murder conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals reduced one count of attempted first degree murder to attempted second degree murder, finding insufficient evidence of premeditation with respect to the shooting of one of the unarmed victims, and modified the conviction of especially aggravated burglary to aggravated burglary. The court affirmed the other convictions and remanded the case to the trial court for re-sentencing on attempted second degree murder and aggravated burglary. We accepted this case to review the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the convictions of attempted first degree murder and the propriety of the consecutive sentences for the attempted first degree murder convictions. We affirm both convictions for attempted first degree murder and the consecutive sentences.
 

Sevier County Supreme Court 10/08/13
Cristy Irene Fair v. Stephen Lynn Cochran - Concur
E2011-00831-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dale C. Workman

I concur in the majority’s conclusion that failure to return proof of service does not render commencement ineffective to toll the statute of limitations under Rule 3. I write separately, however, to address the majority’s failure to construe Rule 4.03(1), which states that a plaintiff “shall promptly make proof of service.” See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 4.03(1) (2012). Although the majority provides a brief historical perspective of companion Rules 3 and 4.03, including significant changes in the return of proof of service requirements of both rules, the majority relies almost entirely on Rule 3 to conclude that Ms. Fair’s failure to promptly return proof of service did not affect the commencement of her action.

Knox County Supreme Court 09/12/13
Cristy Irene Fair v. Stephen Lynn Cochran
E2011-00831-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dale C. Workman

We granted this appeal to determine whether the return of proof of service of process 412 days after issuance of a summons precludes a plaintiff from relying upon the original commencement of the lawsuit to toll the running of the statute of limitations. We hold that the plain language of Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 3 and 4.03 does not condition the effectiveness of the original commencement to toll the statute of limitations upon the prompt return of proof of service. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit. We remand this case to the trial court to determine whether service of process occurred within ninety days of issuance of the summons. If so, the plaintiff may rely upon the original commencement of the lawsuit to toll the statute of limitations.

Knox County Supreme Court 09/12/13
State of Tennessee v. William Darelle Smith
M2010-01384-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Seth Norman

This appeal concerns the appropriate response when a trial court learns during a jury’s deliberations that a juror exchanged Facebook messages with one of the State’s witnesses during the trial. A criminal court in Davidson County declined the defendant’s request to hold a hearing to question the juror and the witness to ascertain whether the communications required a new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the trial court had not erred by declining the defendant’s request for a hearing. State v. Smith, No. M2010-01384-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 8502564 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 2, 2012). We disagree and, therefore, vacate the judgment and remand the case for a hearing consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/10/13
Neal Lovlace et al. v. Timothy Kevin Copley et al.
M2011-00170-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

In this grandparent visitation case, we must determine, in the absence of a controlling statutory provision, the appropriate burdens of proof and standards courts should apply where a grandparent and a parent seek to modify and terminate, respectively, court-ordered grandparent visitation. We hold that when a grandparent or a parent initiates a proceeding to modify or terminate court-ordered grandparent visitation, courts should apply the burdens of proof and standards typically applied in parent-vs-parent visitation modification cases. Thus, the burden of proof is upon the grandparent or parent seeking modification or termination to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence both that a material change in circumstances has occurred and that the change in circumstances makes the requested modification or termination of grandparent visitation in the child’s best interests. Applying this holding, we conclude that the record in this case supports the trial court’s judgment modifying grandparent visitation. However, we conclude that the trial court failed to make sufficiently specific findings of fact to support its judgment finding the mother in contempt of the order granting grandparent visitation. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment, reinstate that portion of the trial court’s judgment which modified the grandparent visitation arrangement, and vacate those portions of the trial court’s judgment finding the mother in contempt and ordering her to pay a portion of the grandparents’ attorney’s fees.

Hickman County Supreme Court 09/06/13