Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 12/19/2014
Format: 12/19/2014
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
In Re Estate of Ina Ruth Brown - Concur
E2011-00179-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

I concur in the majority opinion but write separately to comment upon the specific question presented in this appeal and the effect of our decision on prior Tennessee case law.

Knox County Supreme Court 03/22/13
In Re Estate of Ina Ruth Brown
E2011-00179-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

This appeal involves the validity of a will executed in contravention of an earlier contract to make mutual wills. A husband and wife signed a contract to make mutual wills and then executed those wills. Soon after the husband’s death, the wife executed a new will that was inconsistent with her previous will. Following the wife’s death, her son of an earlier marriage sought to probate his mother’s last will in the Chancery Court for Knox County. In response, the children of the husband’s earlier marriage filed an action in the Chancery Court for Knox County asserting (1) that their stepmother’s last will had been procured by undue influence, (2) that this will was invalid because it breached the contract to prepare mutual wills, and (3) that the will prepared by their stepmother pursuant to the contract to make mutual wills should be admitted to probate. The wife’s son asserted that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate his stepfather’s children’s claims and that the contract to make mutual wills was void for lack of consideration. Following a hearing on the parties’ cross-motions for a summary judgment, the trial court determined (1) that the husband’s children had failed to prove that their stepmother’s will had been procured through undue influence, (2) that it had subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claims asserted by the husband’s children, (3) that the contract to make mutual wills was supported by adequate consideration, and, (4) that the wife’s last will, therefore, was null and void. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. In re Estate of Brown, No. E2011-00179-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 4552281 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 4, 2011). We affirm.

Knox County Supreme Court 03/22/13
Artis Whitehead v. State of Tennessee
W2010-00784-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

Tennessee prisoners whose convictions and sentences are upheld on appeal have one year to file a petition for post-conviction relief to challenge their convictions and sentences. This appeal involves the narrow circumstances in which fundamental fairness demands the tolling of this deadline. A prisoner filed his petition for post-conviction relief after the statutory deadline had passed because his former attorney provided him the wrong deadline date and failed to give the prisoner his legal files until after the actual deadline had passed. Following a hearing, the Criminal Court for Shelby County dismissed the petition as untimely. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Whitehead v. State, No. W2010-00784-CCA-R3-PC, 2011 WL 3912856 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 7, 2011). We granted the prisoner’s application for permission to appeal. We find that the facts of this case reflect that the prisoner was effectively abandoned by his appellate attorney after his petition for writ of certiorari was filed in the United States Supreme Court. This abandonment impeded the prisoner’s otherwise diligent efforts to file a timely post-conviction petition. Therefore, the statute of limitations should be tolled. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and remand the prisoner’s case to the trial court so the prisoner may pursue his petition for post-conviction relief.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 03/21/13
Artis Whitehead v. State of Tennessee - Dissent
W2010-00784-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge James C. Beasley, Jr.

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that due process requires tolling of Mr. Whitehead’s post-conviction statute of limitations based on attorney abandonment.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 03/21/13
In Re: The Adoption of Angela E. et al.
W2011-01588-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

In a prior appeal in this case, we reversed the termination of Father’s parental rights and remanded to the trial court for a new hearing on Mother and Stepfather’s amended petition. Following the hearing on remand, the trial court declined to terminate Father’s parental rights, finding that Mother and Stepfather had not proven either proffered ground for abandonment by clear and convincing evidence. Mother and Stepfather appealed. In a divided opinion, a majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence clearly and convincingly established abandonment by both willful failure to visit and willful failure to support. We hold that Mother and Stepfather established by clear and convincing evidence abandonment by willful failure to visit but failed to establish willful failure to support. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals. Because Mother and Stepfather have demonstrated one ground for termination of Father’s parental rights, we remand the case to the trial court to consider whether termination is in the best interests of the children.
 

Madison County Supreme Court 03/13/13
In Re: Estate of Raymond L. Smallman - Concur and Dissent
E2010-02344-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Thomas R. Frierson, II

I concur with the Court’s decision to remand this case for a new trial because the trial court erred by admitting into evidence testimony regarding Ms. Caraway’s real estate holdings and regarding the execution and substance of Ms. Caraway’s late mother’s will. However, I disagree with the Court’s refusal to address Ms. Caraway’s challenge to the standing of Mr. Smallman’s sons to contest the validity of her marriage to their father and with the Court’s decision that Ms. Caraway may not raise the standing issue on remand.
 

Hamblen County Supreme Court 02/26/13
In Re: Estate of Raymond L. Smallman
E2010-02344-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Thomas R. Frierson, II

The primary issue we address in this appeal is whether certain evidence was erroneously admitted at trial and if so, whether it more probably than not affected the jury’s verdict. This case arose out of the death of Raymond Smallman and the ensuing dispute between his two sons from a previous marriage and Linda Caraway, whom he married two weeks before his death. Mr. Smallman’s sons challenged the validity of their father’s marriage to Ms. Caraway and the validity of the lost will that Ms. Caraway sought to have established. Ms. Caraway claimed to be Mr. Smallman’s surviving spouse and the sole beneficiary of his estate pursuant to the terms of his will. The case went to trial, and the jury was allowed to hear evidence about Ms. Caraway’s real estate holdings and her late mother’s will. The jury found in favor of Mr. Smallman’s sons. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We granted Ms. Caraway permission to appeal to address whether Mr. Smallman’s sons had standing to contest the validity of their father’s second marriage and whether the introduction of evidence regarding Ms. Caraway’s late mother’s will and her real estate holdings was error and if so, whether it more probably than not affected the jury’s verdict. We hold that Ms. Caraway waived her argument that Mr. Smallman’s sons lacked standing to contest the validity of her marriage to their father. We further hold that the trial court erred in allowing into evidence testimony regarding Ms. Caraway’s real property holdings and her late mother’s will. Because this evidence more probably than not affected the jury’s verdict, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for a new trial.

Hamblen County Supreme Court 02/26/13
Rheaetta F. Wilson et al. v. Americare Systems, Inc. et al.
M2011-00240-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge F. Lee Russell

The issue presented is whether the jury verdict against the management company of an assisted living facility for negligence based on understaffing is supported by material evidence. Mable Farrar’s physician prescribed Ms.Farrara daily dose of an over-the-counter medicine for constipation. The nursing staff at the assisted living facility where Ms. Farrar lived did not give the medicine to her as often as prescribed. As a result, Ms. Farrar became constipated and returned to see her doctor. Ms. Farrar’s doctor notified the nursing staff at the assisted living facility to give Ms. Farrar three to four enemas each day beginning on May 27, 2004. A facility nurse gave Ms. Farrar one enema on the evening of May 27, none on May 28, and one enema on the evening of May 29. Very soon after receiving the last enema on May 29, Ms. Farrar died from a perforated colon. Her daughters filed a wrongful death action against the nurse who gave the enema, the director of nursing at the assisted living facility, the owner of the facility, and its management company. The suit alleged that the negligence of the staff, the owner, and its management company caused Ms. Farrar’s death. The jury returned a verdict finding the nurse thirty percent at fault, the director of nursing twenty percent at fault, and the management company fifty percent at fault based on its failure to provide sufficient personnel at the facility. The management company appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict against the management company, finding that there was no material evidence that staffing deficiencies proximately caused Ms. Farrar’s death. We hold that the jury’s verdict was supported by material evidence. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the Court of Appeals for review of the award of punitive damages.

Bedford County Supreme Court 02/25/13
Christopher Furlough v. Spherion Atlantic Workforce, LLC
M2011-00187-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe P. Binkley, Jr.

We accepted review of this appeal to determine whether, when a workers’ compensation settlement involving an employee represented by counsel is approved by the Department of Labor and the SD-1 form is submitted contemporaneously with the settlement agreement, a court may set the settlement aside as non-final based on the court’s determination that the SD-1 form was not “fully completed.” We hold that when the Department of Labor approves a settlement, it implicitly approves the accompanying SD-1 form, and a court has no authority to set the settlement aside based on its independent finding that the SD-1 form was not “fully completed.”  We therefore reverse the judgments of the Panel and of the trial court and dismiss the employee’s petition.

Davidson County Supreme Court 02/22/13