Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 10/30/2014
Format: 10/30/2014
Glassman, Edwards, Wyatt, Tuttle & Cox, P.C. v. B. J. Wade et al.
W2012-00321-SC-S10-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

A law firm filed suit against a former partner and a former paralegal. Both former employees filed motions to compel arbitration. The trial court consolidated the cases and stayed discovery except as to the issue of whether the cases were subject to arbitration. Subsequently, the trial court ordered the parties to engage in mediation and to disclose “all necessary documents to conduct a meaningful attempt at resolution” despite the prior order limiting discovery. After the trial court denied their motion to vacate the order, the former partner and paralegal sought an extraordinary appeal to the Court of Appeals under Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, which was denied. We granted extraordinary appeal. We hold that the trial court erred in ordering discovery without limiting the scope of discovery to the issue of arbitrability, in contravention of the unambiguous language of the Tennessee Uniform Arbitration Act, and erred in referring the parties to mediation in an effort to resolve all issues. We vacate the order of the trial court, and we remand the case to the trial court for a determination on the motions to compel arbitration.

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/30/13
Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc. v. William Hamilton Smythe, III et al.
W2010-01339-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

This case requires us to decide whether Tennessee’s appellate courts possess subject matter jurisdiction to review a trial court’s order that vacates an arbitration award and remands the dispute to a new arbitration panel without expressly declining to confirm the award. An investor pursued a claim against an investment company over losses he incurred due to the failure of some of the company’s bond funds. After a Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitration panel ruled in the investor’s favor, the investment company petitioned the Chancery Court for Shelby County to vacate the award based on its belief that two members of the arbitration panel were biased. The trial court, without expressly declining to confirm the award, vacated the award and remanded the case for a second arbitration before a new panel. The investor appealed. The Court of Appeals, on its own motion, dismissed the appeal on the ground that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Morgan Keegan & Co. v. Smythe, No.W2010-01339-COA-R3-CV,2011 WL 5517036, at *8 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 14, 2011). We granted the investor’s application for permission to appeal and now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals because the trial court’s order is, in fact, an appealable order “denying confirmation of an award” under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-5319(a)(3) (2012).

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/25/13
Marta Vandall v. Aurora Healthcare, LLC - Dissent
W2011-02042-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

I respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision to affirm the trial court’s conclusion that Marta Vandall sustained a compensable work-related injury.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/24/13
Marta Vandall v. Aurora Healthcare, LLC d/b/a Allenbrooke Nursing & Rehab
W2011-02042-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

An employee fell while working for her employer and sustained a shoulder fracture. The employer contends that the injury did not arise out of her employment and was an idiopathic fall. The trial court held that the employee sustained the burden of proving that her injury arose out of her employment. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/24/13
State of Tennessee v. Nickolus L. Johnson
E2010-00172-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge R. Jerry Beck

A jury convicted the defendant of premeditated first degree murder for shooting and killing a police officer. As the penalty phase of the trial began, the defendant refused to allow his lawyers to present mental health mitigation evidence. After questioning the defendant about his decision, the trial court directed two mental health experts to evaluate the defendant’s mental competency. After the evaluation, the mental health experts testified that they could not render an opinion as to the defendant’s competency because the defendant had refused to cooperate. The trial court ruled that the defendant had failed to overcome the presumption of competency and was therefore competent to waive the presentation of expert mental health testimony. The State proved the existence of two aggravating circumstances pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-13-204 (i)(2) and (9) (2006). The defendant presented testimony from family and  friends. The jury sentenced the defendant to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence. State v. Johnson, No. E2010-00172-CCA-R3-DD, 2012 WL 690218 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 5, 2012). We hold that a mentally competent defendant may waive the presentation of mitigation evidence during the penalty phase of a capital trial. We further hold that (1) the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s ruling that the defendant was mentally competent to waive the presentation of mitigation evidence; (2) the trial court did not err in overruling the defendant’s motion for a mistrial based on the State’s improper reference to abortion during its closing argument; (3) the defendant’s challenge to the constitutionality of Tennessee’s death penalty is without merit; and (4) based on our review of the death sentence, as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c) (2010), the death sentence was not imposed in an arbitrary fashion; the evidence supports the jury’s finding of statutory aggravating circumstances; the evidence supports the jury’s finding that the aggravating circumstances outweigh any mitigating circumstances; and the sentence of death is not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. We affirm the defendant’s first degree murder conviction and sentence of death.

Sullivan County Supreme Court 04/19/13
State of Tennessee v. Bobby Lee Robinson et al.
M2009-02450-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

Police utilized a confidential informant to arrange a drug buy from a co-defendant. At the scheduled time and location, the co-defendant arrived in his truck with the defendant and another passenger. A police takedown resulted in the arrest of the three men. A consensual search of the truck yielded approximately 153 grams of cocaine and 8.6 grams of marijuana in close proximity to where the defendant had been seated. A subsequent consensual search of the co-defendant’s residence, located several miles away, yielded an additional 293.5 grams of cocaine and various items of drug paraphernalia. The State consolidated the weight of the cocaine and charged the defendant with possession with intent to sell 300 grams or more of cocaine, a Class A felony; possession of marijuana; and possession of drug paraphernalia. The jury convicted the defendant of possession with intent to sell 300 grams or more of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia. We hold that although the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that the defendant constructively possessed the cocaine in the co-defendant’s truck, the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that he constructively possessed either the cocaine or the drug paraphernalia in the co-defendant’s residence. Accordingly, we reduce the conviction for possession with intent to sell 300 grams or more of cocaine to possession with intent to sell 26 to 299 grams of cocaine, a Class B felony, and we vacate the conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia. The case is remanded to the trial court for re-sentencing on the reduced offense.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/19/13
State of Tennessee v. David Hooper Climer, Jr.
W2010-01667-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

We granted this appeal to determine whether the trial court erred by denying the defendant’s motion to suppress his statements to the police on the grounds that they were elicited in violation of his constitutional right to counsel and were involuntary. We have determined that the defendant did not unequivocally request counsel and therefore did not invoke his constitutional right to counsel. Nevertheless, we have also determined that the State failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant waived the rights enumerated in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Thus, we hold that the defendant’s statements were erroneously admitted into evidence, but the physical evidence discovered as a result of his statements was properly admitted because the totality of the circumstances shows that the defendant’s statements were voluntary and not coerced. We also hold that the State failed to establish that the erroneous admission of the defendant’s statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the defendant’s convictions of second degree murder and abuse of a corpse are vacated, and this case is remanded for further proceedings.

Gibson County Supreme Court 04/19/13
State of Tennessee v. NV Sumatra Tobacco Trading Company - Dissent
M2010-01955-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

In November of 1998, a number of American tobacco manufacturers and a majority of the states and territories of the United States, including Tennessee, reached a settlement in litigation over tobacco-related healthcare costs. The terms of the settlement permit the tobacco manufacturers that were involved in the litigation to withhold a portion of their liability under the settlement terms based upon loss of market share in a participating state, unless the state enacts a “qualifying statute” requiring manufacturers not party to the litigation to either participate in the settlement or pay an amount into a designated escrow fund based upon annual cigarette sales. The underlying purpose of requiring non-participating manufacturers to either join in the settlement or pay into the escrow fund is to assure “a level playing field” for all manufacturers selling cigarettes in the participating states and territories. In consequence, Tennessee adopted a qualifying statute, the Tennessee Tobacco Manufacturers’ Escrow Fund Act of 1999 (“Escrow Fund Act”), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 47-31-101 to -103 (2001 & Supp. 2012), which requires “[a]ny tobacco product manufacturer selling cigarettes to consumers within the state of Tennessee” after May 26, 1999, to either become a party to the existing settlement agreement or make specified payments into a “qualified escrow fund.” Id. § 47-31-103(a).
 

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/28/13
State of Tennessee v. NV Sumatra Tobacco Trading Company
M2010-01955-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

This appeal concerns whether Tennessee courts may exercise personal jurisdiction over an Indonesian cigarette manufacturer whose cigarettes were sold in Tennessee through the marketing efforts of a Florida entrepreneur who purchased the cigarettes from an independent foreign distributor. From 2000 to 2002, over eleven million of the Indonesian manufacturer’s cigarettes were sold in Tennessee. After the manufacturer withdrew its cigarettes from the United States market, the State of Tennessee filed suit against the manufacturer in the Chancery Court for Davidson County,alleging that the manufacturer had failed to pay into the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Escrow Fund as required by Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 47-31-101 to -103 (2001 & Supp. 2012). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the trial court dismissed the suit for lack of personal jurisdiction over the Indonesian manufacturer. The Court of Appeals reversed, granted the State’s motion for summary judgment, and remanded the case to the trial court to determine the applicable fines. State ex rel. Cooper v. NV Sumatra Tobacco Trading Co., No. M2010-01955-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 2571851 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 28, 2011). We find that, under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Tennessee courts lack personal jurisdiction over the Indonesian manufacturer. We therefore reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(2).

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/28/13
State of Tennessee v. Kimberly Mangrum
M2009-01810-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge George C. Sexton

A Dickson County grand jury returned an indictment charging the defendant with especially aggravated burglary, especially aggravated kidnapping, first degree premeditated murder, and first degree felony murder. Later the same day, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment re-charging the defendant and her husband with the same offenses, but adding a charge of criminal conspiracy as to each. The prosecution subsequently granted immunity to the defendant’s step-daughter and issued a subpoena for her appearance, and the grand jury reconvened to hear her testimony. The defendant filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that the purpose of the testimony was to improperly acquire evidence to support the pending charges against her. The trial court denied the motion to quash. After the defendant’s step-daughter testified before the grand jury, a second superseding indictment was issued charging all offenses in the first indictment and adding a charge of accessory after the fact against the defendant’s husband. The defendant then filed motions to suppress any testimony by the defendant’s step-daughter at trial and to dismiss all pending indictments. The trial court denied each motion. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated kidnapping, attempted first degree premeditated murder, and first degree felony murder. After merging the convictions for attempted premeditated murder and felony murder, the trial court imposed a life sentence for the murder and concurrent sentences of twenty-five and six years, respectively, for the especially aggravated kidnapping and the aggravated burglary. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court should have dismissed the charges because of prosecutorial abuse of the grand jury process. The Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. We affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Dickson County Supreme Court 03/27/13
State of Tennessee v. Jereme Dannuel Little
E2009-01796-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rebecca J. Stern

The defendant was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of especially aggravated kidnapping. At the conclusion of the proof, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal on the robbery charges. The jury found the defendant guilty of especially aggravated kidnapping, for which he received an eighteen-year sentence. On appeal, the defendant alleged that the trial court erred by failing to inform the jury that he had been acquitted of the robbery charges, by prohibiting defense counsel from mentioning the acquittals in closing argument, and by allowing the State to refer to the robbery during its closing argument. The defendant also alleged that the trial court committed error during jury instructions and that the cumulative errors denied him a fair trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction. We affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 03/22/13
State of Tennessee v. James David Moats - Dissent
E2010-02013-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark and Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carroll L. Ross

We respectfully dissent. We would reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court, which denied the defendant’s motion to suppress because Officer Bige initially “ approached [Mr. Moats’s] vehicle in her community caretaking function.” We are convinced that prior Tennessee decisions have erroneously limited the community caretaking doctrine to consensual police–citizen encounters. We believe the Court should acknowledge this error, overrule the errant precedents, and recognize that the community caretaking doctrine functions as an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant and probable cause requirements. We would then conclude that, in this case, the seizure of Mr. Moats was justified under the community caretaking exception. We would not reach the additional question of whether the seizure was supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

McMinn County Supreme Court 03/22/13
State of Tennessee v. James David Moats
E2010-02013-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carroll L. Ross

While on routine patrol in the early hours of the morning, a police officer observed a pick-up truck parked in a shopping center lot. Because the truck’s headlights were turned on, the officer drove into the lot, stopped her patrol car directly behind the truck, and activated her blue lights. Although the officer had seen no indication of criminal activity or distress, she approached the truck, observed a beer can in a cup holder inside, and found the defendant in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition. When she determined that the defendant had been drinking, he was arrested and later convicted for his fourth offense of driving under the influence. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction, holding that the defendant was seized without either probable cause or reasonable suspicion. While we acknowledge that the activation of blue lights will not always qualify as a seizure, the totality of the circumstances in this instance establishes that the officer seized the defendant absent probable cause or reasonable suspicion and was not otherwise acting in a community caretaking role. The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed, the conviction is reversed, and the cause dismissed.

McMinn County Supreme Court 03/22/13