Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 10/20/2014
Format: 10/20/2014
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
Brandon Mobley v. State of Tennessee
E2010-00379-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bob R. McGee

This appeal involves a petition for post-conviction relief based on multiple ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The petitioner was convicted in the Criminal Court for Knox County of two counts of premeditated firstdegree murder, one count of especially aggravated robbery, and one count of setting fire to personal property. His convictions were affirmed and his sentences were modified on direct appeal. State v. Mobley, No. E2006-00469-CCAR3-CD, 2007 WL 1670195 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 11, 2007), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 24, 2007). Thereafter, the petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief based on numerous instances of his trial counsel’s alleged ineffective assistance and on several instances of alleged trial court errors. Following a two-day hearing, the post-conviction court dismissed the petition. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the petitioner’s convictions and remanded the case for a new trial after determining that the petitioner’s trial counsel had been ineffective with regard to limitations placed on the ability of a defense expert to testify that the petitioner’s mental condition rendered him unable to premeditate. Mobley v. State, No. E2010-00379-CCA-R3-PC, 2011 WL 3652535 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 18, 2011). We granted the State’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application for permission to appeal. We have determined that the petitioner is not entitled to post-conviction relief based on the manner in which his trial counsel dealt with the limitations placed on the defense’s expert witness. However, we have also determined that the record does not permit the reviewing courts to determine whether the performance of the petitioner’s trial counsel was deficient with regard to the requirement that the petitioner wear a stun belt during the trial. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the lower courts denying post-conviction relief based on the alleged errors of the trial court and on all the ineffective assistance of counsel claims except the claims based on the testimony of the defense’s mental health expert and the use of the stun belt during the trial. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court with regard to the ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on trial counsel’s failure to elicit a specific opinion from the defense’s mental health expert. We also reverse the judgment of the lower courts denying the ineffective assistance of counsel claim relating to trial counsel’s failure to object to the use of a stun belt during the trial and remand that issue alone to the post-conviction court for a new hearing.
 

Knox County Supreme Court 02/21/13
In Re: Taylor B. W. et al.
E2011-00352-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri Saunders Bryant

Mother and Father entered into a marital dissolution agreement and a parenting plan for their two minor children. Mother subsequently injected Father with a chemical used to euthanize animals. She pleaded guilty to the attempted second degree murder of Father and was sentenced to twelve years incarceration. Mother and Father entered into an amended parenting plan that provided for the children’s visitation with their maternal grandmother and with Mother in prison. The amended parenting plan also provided for the resumption of the original parenting plan after Mother’s release from prison. Father remarried while Mother was incarcerated. Father and Stepmother filed a petition for termination of Mother’s parental rights and a petition for adoption by Stepmother. The trial court found that there was a statutory ground for termination of Mother’s parental rights and that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interests of the children. The trial court subsequently amended its order, concluding that termination of Mother’s parental rights was not in the best interests of the children and denying the petition for termination of Mother’s parental rights. Father and Stepmother appealed, and the Court of Appeals reinstated the original order. We conclude that Father and Stepmother failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights is in the best interests of the children. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstate the amended order of the trial court.

McMinn County Supreme Court 02/21/13
Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
M2009-01557-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl Blackburn

This appeal raises the question of whether a prisoner facing the death penalty has the mental capacity to abandon the pursuit of post-conviction relief in his three murder cases. After the prisoner decided not to seek a new trial in any of these cases, one of his sisters, in cooperation with the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender, filed a “next friend” petition in each of the prisoner’s three murder cases, requesting the courts to declare the prisoner incompetent, thereby enabling her to pursue post-conviction relief on his behalf. The Criminal Court for Davidson County and the Circuit Court for Montgomery County conducted separate hearings in 2008. Each court denied the petitions after determining that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed both of these judgments. Reid v. State, Nos. M2009-00128-CCA-R3-PD, M200900360-CCA-R3-PD, M2009-01557-CCA-R3-PD, 2011 WL 3444171 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 8, 2011). We granted the prisoner’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application. We have determined that both trial courts employed the correct legal standard for determining whether the prisoner possessed the mental capacity to rationally forego seeking post-conviction relief and also that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. For the sake of consistency, we further hold that, in all future cases, Tennessee’s courts should employ the mental competency standard of Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 28, § 11(B) whenever the issue of a prisoner’s competency to pursue post-conviction relief is properly raised.
 

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/24/13
Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
M2009-00360-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl Blackburn

This appeal raises the question of whether a prisoner facing the death penalty has the mental capacity to abandon the pursuit of post-conviction relief in his three murder cases. After the prisoner decided not to seek a new trial in any of these cases, one of his sisters, in cooperation with the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender, filed a “next friend” petition in each of the prisoner’s three murder cases, requesting the courts to declare the prisoner incompetent, thereby enabling her to pursue post-conviction relief on his behalf. The Criminal Court for Davidson County and the Circuit Court for Montgomery County conducted separate hearings in 2008. Each court denied the petitions after determining that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed both of these judgments. Reid v. State, Nos. M2009-00128-CCA-R3-PD, M200900360-CCA-R3-PD, M2009-01557-CCA-R3-PD, 2011 WL 3444171 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 8, 2011). We granted the prisoner’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application. We have determined that both trial courts employed the correct legal standard for determining whether the prisoner possessed the mental capacity to rationally forego seeking post-conviction relief and also that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. For the sake of consistency, we further hold that, in all future cases, Tennessee’s courts should employ the mental competency standard of Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 28, § 11(B) whenever the issue of a prisoner’s competency to pursue post-conviction relief is properly raised.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/24/13
Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. ex rel. Linda Martiniano v. State of Tennessee
M2009-00128-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

This appeal raises the question of whether a prisoner facing the death penalty has the mental capacity to abandon the pursuit of post-conviction relief in his three murder cases. After the prisoner decided not to seek a new trial in any of these cases, one of his sisters, in cooperation with the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender, filed a “next friend” petition in each of the prisoner’s three murder cases, requesting the courts to declare the prisoner incompetent, thereby enabling her to pursue post-conviction relief on his behalf. The Criminal Court for Davidson County and the Circuit Court for Montgomery County conducted separate hearings in 2008. Each court denied the petitions after determining that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed both of these judgments. Reid v. State, Nos. M2009-00128-CCA-R3-PD, M200900360-CCA-R3-PD, M2009-01557-CCA-R3-PD, 2011 WL 3444171 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 8, 2011). We granted the prisoner’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application. We have determined that both trial courts employed the correct legal standard for determining whether the prisoner possessed the mental capacity to rationally forego seeking post-conviction relief and also that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. For the sake of consistency, we further hold that, in all future cases, Tennessee’s courts should employ the mental competency standard of Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 28, § 11(B) whenever the issue of a prisoner’s competency to pursue post-conviction relief is properly raised.
 

Montgomery County Supreme Court 01/24/13