Supreme Court Videos

Video recordings of oral arguments heard in Nashville before the Tennessee Supreme Court  beginning October 3, 2018 are available to view approximately 21 days after the oral argument.  You may access the video by clicking on the case number listed below. When the window opens, click on the Play icon on the lower left corner (it will say Opening, but click on the Play icon and the video will begin).

Thursday, October 3, 2019

James A. Dunlap, Jr. v. Tennessee Board of Professional ResponsibilityM2018-01919-SC-R3-BP

Mr. Dunlap, a licensed attorney in the state of Georgia, was granted pro hac vice status to represent his client, a health care company, in its efforts to establish opiate treatment centers in Tennessee.  This matter was referred to the Board of Professional Responsibility after Administrative Law Judge Kim Summers (“the ALJ”) revoked Mr. Dunlap’s permission to appear pro hac vice in Tennessee.  The hearing panel of the Board determined that Mr. Dunlap violated his duty of candor and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty when he intentionally misled the ALJ by misrepresenting the status of his client’s federal case.  Further, the hearing panel determined that Mr. Dunlap attempted to improperly influence the ALJ by threatening to sue the ALJ in federal court for not complying with his requests.  Finally, the hearing panel determined that Mr. Dunlap’s actions, which it described as “duplicitous and bullying,” were prejudicial to the administration of justice.  As a result of its findings, the hearing panel suspended Mr. Dunlap from the practice of law in Tennessee for twelve months.  On appeal, the chancery court affirmed the hearing panel’s determinations as to Mr. Dunlap’s ethical violations and the imposition of suspension as the appropriate disciplinary sanction.  On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Dunlap challenges the hearing panel’s factual findings underlying its determinations as to his ethical violations.  Mr. Dunlap also contends that there was no material harm as a result of his actions, and, therefore, a one-year suspension is unfair and disproportionate to any purported violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

·       Jeffery Todd Burke v. Sparta Newspapers, Inc. M2016-01065-SC-R11-CV

In this case, Jeffrey Burke sued Sparta Newspapers, Inc., (“Sparta”) for alleged defamatory statements published in an article in The Expositor regarding Mr. Burke’s indictment and arrest.  The trial court granted Sparta’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case, concluding that the article was based on an interview that constituted an official action of the government, so any alleged defamatory statements therein were protected by the fair report privilege.  Additionally, the trial court determined, as it related to the fair report privilege, that Mr. Burke failed to demonstrate actual malice on the part of Sparta.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and held that the fair report privilege did not apply to this case because Tennessee courts have not extended the privilege to one-on-one interviews as constituting “an official action, official proceeding, or public meeting within the scope of the fair report privilege.”  Further, the Court of Appeals explained that even if it were to extend the fair report privilege to the type of one-on-one interview that occurred in this case, the article still would not be protected because it failed to convey to readers that the content was based on the detective’s statements as the public information officer in his official capacity.  Finally, the Court of Appeals held that Sparta waived any claim to its alternative ground that actual malice was required to prove defamation because Mr. Burke was a public figure or a limited purpose public figure.  The Supreme Court granted Sparta’s petition to determine three issues: (1) whether the Court of Appeals’ holding in the opinion that a fair and accurate report of on-the-record statements made by a sheriff’s department public information officer about a pending criminal case during an interview with a newspaper reporter does not qualify for protection under Tennessee’s fair report privilege is contrary to Tennessee law; (2) whether the Court of Appeals’ analysis of the supposed “distinction between reports of official actions or proceedings on the one hand and sources within the government on the other” is contrary to Tennessee law; and (3) whether the Court of Appeals’ requirement imposed by the opinion that, “[t]o rely on the fair report privilege, that article should be written in such a manner that an average reader can ‘understand the article (or the pertinent section thereof) to be a report on or summary of an official document or proceeding,’” is contrary to Tennessee law.

·       State of Tennessee v. Alexander R. Vance and Damonta Meneese - M2017-01037-SC-R11-CD

A jury convicted Defendant Alexander Vance and his co-defendant Damonta Meneese of second degree murder, first degree felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, and three counts of aggravated assault.  The trial court merged the second degree murder conviction into the felony murder conviction and imposed an effective sentence for all offenses of life imprisonment plus 21 years for each defendant.  Defendant Vance was the sole party to appeal.  Before Mr. Vance’s trial, an additional co-defendant was severed from the case due to issues regarding competency to stand trial.  This third party made previous statements to a detective that identified Mr. Vance and Mr. Meneese as participants in the alleged crime.  Mr. Vance’s counsel submitted a motion to exclude any statements made by the third party due to questions of his ability to provide “competent testimony.”  The trial court granted the motion.  During the trial, the State asked the trial court for permission to question the detective about the third party’s testimony, despite the trial court’s grant of the motion, because defense counsel opened the door on cross-examination by implying only one witness had provided information regarding the defendants’ involvement in the alleged crime.  Over both defendants’ objections, the trial court allowed the State to ask a limited question, specifically tailored toward informing the jury that there was another party who identified the defendants as participants without sharing the third party’s identity or the specific content of the statement.  The third party never was called as a witness in the trial.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the decision, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the defendants “had opened the door to the use of [the third party’s] statement to prevent the impression only a single witness identified the two [d]efendants as participants in the crime.”  On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Vance argues that his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him was violated when the trial court allowed the State to admit inculpatory statements by a non-testifying witness under the doctrine of curative admissibility.  In addition, Mr. Vance argues that the trial court’s decision was contrary to its prior grant of motion related to this issue.  The Supreme Court has requested that two additional issues be addressed by both parties: (1) whether plenary or plain error review applies to the constitutional ground, when Mr. Vance included it in his motion for new trial but contemporaneously objected on other grounds; and (2) whether the admissibility of the evidence is controlled by the doctrine of curative admissibility.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Bonnie Harmon, et al. v. Hickman Community Healthcare Services, Inc. M2016-02374-SC-R11-CV

In this case, the children of a female inmate brought suit under the Health Care Liability Act when their mother died after receiving medical treatment for symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal while incarcerated at the Hickman County Jail. The plaintiffs claim negligence, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision against the defendant contractor that provides medical services at the jail. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the trial court, holding that summary judgment was not appropriate in this case. As provided in the defendant’s application for permission to appeal, the issues before the Supreme Court are whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying the plaintiffs’ motion to revise its summary judgment decision and whether the plaintiffs’ level of diligence and reasons for submitting new evidence in response to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment were sufficient to require the trial court to consider this late-filed evidence.

Board of Professional Responsibility v. Loring Edwin JusticeE2017-01334-SC-R3-BP

This attorney-discipline matter stems from claims by the Board that Mr. Justice, upon an award for discovery sanctions and attorney’s fees and expenses, submitted a false itemized accounting of services and a false declaration in support of that accounting, and that he testified falsely as to that accounting. Furthermore, the Board alleged that the amount requested was “grossly exaggerated and unreasonable.” The hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that Mr. Justice violated various rules of professional conduct and imposed as his sanction a one-year suspension and twelve additional hours of continuing legal education on the subject of ethics. Both parties appealed to the Chancery Court for Knox County, which modified Mr. Justice’s sanction to disbarment. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice argues, among several other issues, that issues with the trial court record deprive Mr. Justice of his right to appeal and to due process, that substantial and material evidence does not support the hearing panel’s determination that Mr. Justice violated several Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct, that the hearing panel and trial court violated Mr. Justice’s right against self-incrimination, and that the trial court erred in modifying Mr. Justice’s sanction to disbarment.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

In Re: Petition to Stay Effectiveness of Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163M2018-01932-SC-BAR-BP

On March 15, 2018, the Board of Professional Responsibility issued a formal ethics opinion, Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163, which pertains to the ethical responsibilities of prosecutors. The two main conclusions of the opinion were that a prosecutor’s ethical duties extend beyond his or her legal duties under current federal case law and that the timing for fulfilling the disclosure requirement under Tennessee Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8(d) is “as soon as reasonably practicable.” The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference filed a petition to vacate the formal ethics opinion with the Tennessee Supreme Court and requested the Court stay the effectiveness of the opinion pending adjudication of the petition. The Court granted the stay, ordered briefing, and set the matter for oral argument. In addition to hearing oral argument by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference and the Board of Professional Responsibility, the Court also will hear oral arguments from amici curiae the United States of America, for the petitioner, and the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the three Federal Public Defenders for the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts of Tennessee, for the respondent.

Melissa Martin, et al. v. Rolling Hills Hospital, LLC, et al. M2016-02214-SC-R11-CV

In this healthcare liability case, the plaintiff appealed from the trial court’s dismissal of the case for the plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tennessee statute by failing to provide the defendants with HIPAA-compliant authorizations for release of medical records.Accordingly, the trial court barred the action because it held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to an extension of the statute of limitations.The Court of Appeals determined that the plaintiff substantially complied with Tennessee law and that the defendants failed to establish that they were prejudiced by any deficiencies.The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the defendants’ applications for permission to appeal and ordered the parties to address, in addition to the issues raised in their applications, the following: the proper role of prejudice in the substantial compliance analysis and determination; and the proper burden of production and/or proof with respect to the presence or absence of prejudice for purposes of the substantial compliance analysis and determination, including whether the Court should consider the adoption of a rebuttable presumption of prejudice when the pre-suit notice is not accompanied by a medical authorization which is facially compliant with HIPAA.

Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of TennesseeM2018-01561-SC-R3-BP

This case involves an attorney, Ms. Jennifer Meehan, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud. As a result, the Tennessee Supreme Court summarily suspended Ms. Meehan and referred the matter to the Board of Professional Responsibility to appoint a hearing panel to determine the extent of final discipline. Following a final hearing on the matter, the Hearing Panel in this case determined that disbarment was the appropriate discipline. Ms. Meehan appealed to the Circuit Court for Davidson County which modified Ms. Meehan’s sanction, instead imposing a five-year suspension. The Board now appeals the trial court’s decision, arguing that the trial court substituted its judgment for that of the Hearing Panel and erred in modifying the sanction. Furthermore, the Board also argues that the trial court should not have ordered the suspension to be imposed retroactively to the date of Ms. Meehan’s summary suspension.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

TWB Architects, Inc. v. The Braxton, LLC, et al. - M2017-00423-SC-R11-CV

This case stems from a contractual dispute related to architectural design services.  The trial court originally granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, but the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision.  On remand, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff architect, which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.  The defendants ask the Supreme Court to decide whether the trial court properly entered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.  Specifically, the defendants argue that the parties’ intent was a factual inquiry that must be resolved by a jury and that the trial court failed to consider the defendants’ evidence provided to contradict and challenge the credibility of the testimony presented by the plaintiff.  

State of Tennessee v. Leroy Myers, Jr. - M2015-01855-SC-R11-CD

This appeal arises from the defendant’s conviction of reckless endangerment following a bench trial.  The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that reckless endangerment is not a lesser-included offense of aggravated assault, the charged offense for which he was tried.  Additionally, the defendant argued that there was no amendment to the indictment to include reckless endangerment.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, and the Supreme Court granted and remanded the case to the Court of Criminal Appeals for the purpose of supplementing the record.  The Court of Criminal Appeals, upon remand and after supplementation of the record, again affirmed the judgment of the trial court.  The defendant appeals again to the Supreme Court.  The defendant contends that no effective amendment to the indictment occurred before the trial court.  The State counters that the defendant actively sought consideration of the offense of reckless endangerment.

Polly Spann Kershaw v. Jeffrey L. Levy - M2017-01129-SC-R11-CV

This case is a legal malpractice lawsuit in which the plaintiff claims she suffered financial harm and was convicted of criminal contempt as a result of the defendant’s negligent representation of the plaintiff in her divorce case.  The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s claims were barred under the judicial estoppel doctrine.  The trial court granted summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.  The plaintiff argues before the Supreme Court that the doctrine of judicial estoppel should not apply when the defendant’s own negligence caused the plaintiff to “settle in a compromised position.”

State of Tennessee v.Hassan Falah Al Mutory - M2017-00346-SC-R11-CD

In this case, the defendant was convicted by a jury of reckless homicide, for which he received a three-year sentence.  The defendant appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, and oral argument was scheduled for November 14, 2017.  On November 6, 2017, counsel for the defendant filed a motion for abatement ab initio based on the defendant’s death.  The doctrine of abatement ab initio provides that a defendant’s conviction will be set aside if the defendant dies while a direct appeal is pending.  The State opposed the motion, arguing that the abatement doctrine is no longer viable in current Tennessee jurisprudence.  Following oral arguments on the motion, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the defendant’s motion, and the Supreme Court granted the State’s application for permission to appeal.  The issue raised by the State before the Court is whether Tennessee should abandon the abatement ab initio doctrine. 

Rhonda Willeford, et al. v. Timothy P. Klepper, MD, et al. v. State of Tennessee - M2016-01491-SC-R11-CV

This is the second time the Court will hear oral arguments on this particular case.  The case originally was heard January 10, 2018.  On August 15, 2018, the Court ordered additional briefing on two issues.  Following the additional briefing on these issues by both parties, the Court determined additional oral argument also was required and docketed the case once more. The first issue the parties will address is, if the Court invalidates Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(f), as the plaintiffs advocate, whether the Court should narrow its prior holding in Alsip v. Johnson City Medical Center, 197 S.W.3d 722, 723-24 (Tenn. 2006), to prohibit ex parte interviews with treating healthcare providers only where such an interview would risk disclosure of private healthcare information not subject to discovery.  Second, the Court requested the parties to address what procedure the Court should adopt for trial courts to utilize in the event the Court does invalidate Section 29-26-121(f) and narrow the holding in Alsip as described in the first issue, to allow such ex parte interviews in appropriate circumstances while also safeguarding patients’ private nondiscoverable health information.

Marcus Deangelo Lee v. State of Tennessee - W2015-02143-SC-WRM-CO

In this matter, the Court, based upon its supervisory authority, has ordered the Shelby County General Sessions Court Clerk and other personnel to appear before the Court to explain the Clerk’s handling of the filings in the underlying case, as well as the Clerk’s practices and procedures for accepting pro se filings generally.  The Court previously had issued writs of mandamus requiring the Clerk to accept motions for filing from Mr. Lee.  On January 17, 2019, the Court issued two additional writs of mandamus.  One of the writs requires the Clerk to provide Mr. Lee with proof of an expunction, and the other requires the Clerk to accept a motion from Mr. Lee for filing.  On the same day that the Court issued these latest writs of mandamus, the Court also entered the order requiring the attendance of these individuals before the Court.


October 4, 2018

Glenn R. Funk v. Scripps Media, Inc., at al M2017-00256-SC-R11-CV -

This appeal stems from a defamation lawsuit brought by the District Attorney General for Davidson County against the owner of a television news station and one of its investigative reporters.   The plaintiff filed a motion to compel discovery, and the defendants argued that some of the information was privileged. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel discovery, concluding that actual malice is an element of the fair report privilege and that the Tennessee Shield Law was not applicable because the defendants had asserted a defense based upon the source of the information. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court as to these two determinations.  Before this Court, the plaintiff argues that the Tennessee fair report privilege may be defeated upon proof of actual malice and that the Tennessee Shield Law does not afford the defendants any relief based on the defense they raised. 


Gregory J. Lammert, et al. v. Auto-Owners (Mutual) Insurance Company  M2017-02546-SC-R23-CV -

This case is before the Court because the Court accepted a certified question from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.  The certified question is: “Under Tennessee law, may an insurer in making an actual cash value payment withhold a portion of repair labor as depreciation when the policy (1) defines actual cash value as ‘the cost to replace damaged property with new property of similar quality and features reduced by the amount of depreciation applicable to the damaged property immediately prior to the loss,’ or (2) states that ‘actual cash value includes a deduction for depreciation’?”  The plaintiff argues that the “actual cash value” is determined by accounting for depreciation of materials but not labor.  The defendant, on the other hand, argues that labor is included in the replacement-less-depreciation methodology for determining “actual case value.”


Christopher Batey v. Deliver This, Inc., et al M2018-00419-SC-WCO-WC 

In this workers’ compensation case, the employee was awarded 275 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits based on the trial court’s finding that he was entitled to increased benefits under workers’ compensation law. The particular statute at issue, Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-207(3)(B), considers a meaningful return to work analysis to determine whether an employee should receive an additional award of workers’ compensation.  The employer now appeals that award, arguing that the employee’s case is not extraordinary and that he has failed to actively seek employment as required by Tennessee statute.  The employee argues that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s award of permanent partial disability based on Employee’s extraordinary case.  The employee also argues that the trial court properly conducted the meaningful return to work analysis in determining that he was entitled to additional workers’ compensation benefits.

Coffee County Board of Education v. City of Tullahoma; Washington County School System, et al. v. The City of Johnson City, Tennessee; Sullivan County, Tennessee, et al. v. The City of Bristol, Tennessee, et al.; Bradley County School System, et al. v. The City of Cleveland, Tennessee; and Blount County Board of Education, et al. v. City of Maryville, Tennessee, et al.    M2017-00935-SC-R11-CV E2016-02583-SC-R11-CV E2016-02109-SC-R11-CVE2016-01030-SC-R11-CV E2017-00047-SC-R11-CV 

This set of cases has been consolidated for oral argument purposes only.  Generally, the issue before the Court in these cases is whether tax proceeds prior to July 2014 from liquor-by-the-drink taxes designated for “local schools” should be required to go to both the county and city schools when the taxes were passed only by a city referendum.  (Effective July 2014, the General Assembly amended the applicable statute to state that the tax is specifically for the benefit of the city schools if the city operates its own school system.) The County parties in these cases argue that they are entitled to a portion of the pre-July 2014 tax proceeds.  The City parties, on the other hand, argue that they are not required to share a distribution of the tax proceeds with the County parties.


New Rule Regarding Collaborative Family Law   IN RE: PETITION TO ADOPT A NEW RULE OF THE TENNESSEE SUPREME COURT CONCERNING THE PRACTICE OF COLLABORATIVE FAMILY LAW  ADM2017-01195

On June 13, 2017, the Tennessee Bar Association filed a petition with the Tennessee Supreme Court, asking the Court to create a new Supreme Court rule that would address the practice of “Collaborative Family Law.”  After soliciting and receiving written public comments, the Court determined that it would helpful to hear oral argument regarding the proposed new rule.  As a result, the Tennessee Bar Association will be provide a presenter at oral argument to address the proposed rule as well as the following three topics: “1) the general necessity for the proposed rule; 2) the appropriate regulation of compliance with the rule; and 3) the necessity of a training requirement, and if imposed, the administration of such a requirement.”

October 3, 2018
 

Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman, et al. v. Tony Parker, et al  M2018-01385-SC-RDO-CV -

This case comes to the Court by way of the Court reaching down on its own initiative to expedite the appeal in this case.  The case involves a challenge by death row inmates to the State of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol.  In January 2018, the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) adopted a three-drug protocol as an alternative method of execution to the existing single-drug lethal injection protocol.  The TDOC subsequently eliminated the single-drug protocol, rendering the three-drug protocol the only available lethal injection method in Tennessee. The plaintiffs argue that the three-drug lethal injection protocol violates the prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment in the United States Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.


Dialysis Clinic, Inc. v. Kevin Medley, et al M2017-01352-SC-R11-CV

This case considers whether the attorney-client privilege applies to communications between an attorney and a corporate client’s third-party agent.  The trial court in this case denied the defendant’s motion to compel the production of roughly 200 emails based on attorney-client privilege.  The defendants argue that the trial court denied them their procedural due process rights and that there is an absence of law regarding the standards for determining third-party agency privilege in Tennessee.  In response, the plaintiff argues that the trial court properly held that communications by and between plaintiff’s counsel and the third party were protected by the attorney-client privilege.  The plaintiff also argues that the Tennessee Supreme Court already has determined attorney-client privilege as it pertains to a third-party agent.