Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

Workers' Compensation Opinions

Format: 12/11/2019
Format: 12/11/2019
Jeffery Todd Burke v. Sparta Newspapers, Inc.
M2016-01065-SC-R11-CV

This appeal requires us to determine whether the fair report privilege applies to a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation between a newspaper reporter and a detective of a county sheriff’s department, who also served as the public information officer for the sheriff’s department. The plaintiff sued the newspaper alleging that it had published defamatory statements the detective made about the plaintiff during the nonpublic, one-on-one conversation with the reporter. The newspaper moved for summary judgment based on the fair report privilege. The trial court granted the newspaper summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the fair report privilege applies only to public proceedings or official actions of government that have been made public and does not apply to the nonpublic, one-on-one conversation at issue here. On this basis alone we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals reversing the trial court’s decision granting the defendant summary judgment and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.  

Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Originating Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars
White County Supreme Court 12/05/19
State of Tennessee v. Michael Eugene Tolle
E2017-00571-SC-R11-CD

This is the third in a succession of three cases concerning Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016, which took effect on January 1, 2017, and amended Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses.  In 2012, before the amended version of the statute took effect, Michael Eugene Tolle, the defendant, pleaded guilty to theft of property in the amount of more than $500 but less than $1,000, a Class E felony at the time of the offense, and he was sentenced accordingly.  In 2017, following the revocation of his probation, the trial court applied the amended version of the statute, which graded theft in the amount of $1,000 or less as a Class A misdemeanor, and imposed a Class A misdemeanor sentence.  The State appealed.  The Court of Criminal Appeals, after determining that it had authority to consider the issue raised by the State, vacated the sentence and remanded for entry of a sentence reflecting his conviction for a Class E felony.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case in order to consider (1) whether the State had the right to appeal the trial court’s revocation order, and (2) whether the defendant, who was originally sentenced under the prior version of the statute, may benefit from the lesser punishment under the amended version of the theft grading statute following the revocation of his probation.  We conclude that, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 35, the intermediate appellate court acquired jurisdiction of the State’s claim when the defendant, in effect, filed a Rule 35 motion for reduction of sentence.  In addition, while we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ determination that the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, we also agree with its ultimate conclusion that the trial court exceeded its authority in modifying the offense class and sentence pursuant to the amended version of the statute following the revocation of his probation.  We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand to the trial court for the entry of a modified judgment consistent with this opinion.

Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Originating Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee
Knox County Supreme Court 11/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Ashley N. Menke
M2017-00597-SC-R11-CD

This appeal concerns Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016, which took effect on January 1, 2017, and amended Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses.  In 2016, before the amended statute took effect, Ashley N. Menke, the defendant, entered a guilty plea without a recommended sentence for, among other things, theft of property in the amount of $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, a Class D felony at the time of the offense.  In sentencing the defendant after the amendment’s effective date, the trial court applied the amended version of the statute, which graded theft in the amount of $1,000 or less as a Class A misdemeanor, and sentenced the defendant accordingly for her theft of exactly $1,000.  The State appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the sentence and remanded to the trial court for resentencing within the applicable range for a Class D felony and consecutive alignment with the sentences for some of the defendant’s other charges.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case with direction to the parties to particularly address the following issues: (1) whether the State was entitled to pursue an appeal as of right from the trial court’s decision, and (2) whether the Criminal Savings Statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-112, should apply to the amendments of the theft grading statute.  We conclude that the State had a statutory right to appeal the sentence pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-402(b)(1).  We further conclude, unlike the Court of Criminal Appeals, that the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105.  Thus, the amended theft grading statute was appropriately applied by the trial court even though the offense occurred before the amendment’s effective date.  Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Originating Judge: Judge Joe H. Thompson
Sumner County Supreme Court 11/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Charles Keese
E2016-02020-SC-R11-CD

This is the second in a succession of three cases concerning Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016, which took effect on January 1, 2017, and amended Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses.  In 2016, before the amended version of the statute took effect, Charles Keese, the defendant, was convicted of theft of property in the amount of $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, a Class D felony at the time of the offense.  In sentencing the defendant before the amendment’s effective date, the trial court applied the amended version of the statute, which graded theft of more than $1,000 but less than $2,500 as a Class E felony, and sentenced the defendant accordingly.  Both the State and the defendant filed notices of appeal.  The Court of Criminal Appeals, after determining that appellate jurisdiction over the sentencing issue raised by the State was proper, vacated the sentence and remanded for entry of a sentence reflecting a conviction of a Class D felony.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case in order to consider (1) whether the State had the right to appeal the trial court’s sentencing decision, and (2) whether the Criminal Savings Statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-112, should apply to the amendments of the theft grading statute where, as here, the offense occurred and the defendant was sentenced before the statute’s effective date.  We conclude that the State had a statutory right to appeal the sentence pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-402(b)(1).  In addition, we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ determination that the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105.  We also agree with its ultimate conclusion that the trial court erred in sentencing the defendant under the amended version of the statute prior to its effective date.  We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand to the trial court for the entry of a modified judgment consistent with this opinion.

Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Originating Judge: Judge G. Scott Green
Knox County Supreme Court 11/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Angela Carrie Payton Hamm and David Lee Hamm
W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD

The Obion County Drug Task Force conducted a warrantless search of the residence of probationer Angela Hamm and her husband, David Hamm, which yielded illegal drugs and drug-related contraband.  Defendant Angela Hamm had agreed, pursuant to probation conditions imposed in a prior case, to a warrantless search of her person, property, or vehicle at any time.  We granted the State’s appeal in this case to consider whether the warrantless search of a probationer’s residence who is subject to a search condition requires officers to have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity prior to conducting the search.  We conclude that it does not and therefore reverse the trial court’s judgment and the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision affirming the same.

Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Originating Judge: Judge Jeff Parham
Obion County Supreme Court 11/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Angela Carrie Payton Hamm and David Lee Hamm - Dissenting
W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the warrantless and suspicionless search of Angela Payton Hamm’s home. In so holding, the majority erroneously equates the privacy interests of probationers and parolees despite statements by the United States Supreme Court and this Court that probationers have greater expectations of privacy than parolees. Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 850 (2006); State v. Stanfield, 554 S.W.3d 1, 10 (Tenn. 2018); State v. Turner, 297 S.W.3d 155, 162 (Tenn. 2009). I would hold that the state and federal constitutional safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures require law enforcement officers to establish reasonable suspicion for a warrantless search of a probationer. Here, as the courts below concluded, the State failed to establish reasonable suspicion for the search. Accordingly, I would hold that the search violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution and affirm the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment upholding the trial court’s decisions granting the defendant’s motion to suppress and dismissing the indictments.  

Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Originating Judge: Judge Jeff Parham
Obion County Supreme Court 11/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Angela Carrie Payton Hamm and David Lee Hamm - Dissenting
W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD

One afternoon in November 2015, while David and Angela Hamm were not at home, four law enforcement officers entered and conducted a search of their home. The officers had neither a warrant nor reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Ms. Hamm was on probation; the officers used her probationary status to justify the intrusive home search. The majority’s decision to uphold this unreasonable search deprives Ms. Hamm and her husband of their rights to be free from unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution. The majority’s decision also casts a cloud over the lives of more than 65,000 Tennessee probationers and thousands of citizens living with probationers, all of whom are at risk of having their homes searched by law enforcement lacking reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. 

Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Originating Judge: Judge Jeff Parham
Obion County Supreme Court 11/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Denton Jones
E2017-00535-SC-R11-CD

The State charged the Defendant, Denton Jones, with five separate misdemeanor thefts aggregated into a single felony count pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105(b)(1) (2014) which provides that “[i]n a prosecution for theft of property, . . . the state may charge multiple criminal acts committed against one (1) or more victims as a single count if the criminal acts arise from a common scheme, purpose, intent or enterprise.”  The Defendant proceeded to trial, and the jury convicted him as charged.  The jury aggregated the values of the separate misdemeanor thefts as totaling more than $1,000 but less than $10,000.  Accordingly, the Defendant was convicted of a Class D felony.[1]  The Defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.  We granted the Defendant’s application for permission to appeal in order to determine whether the separate misdemeanor thefts were properly aggregated into a single felony charge and whether the evidence sufficiently established that the separate thefts arose from a common scheme, purpose, intent, or enterprise.  Answering both of these questions in the affirmative, we affirm the Defendant’s conviction.

Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Originating Judge: Judge G. Scott Green
Knox County Supreme Court 11/13/19
State of Tennessee v. Brandon Cole-Pugh
W2017-00469-SC-R11-CD

The defendant, Brandon Cole-Pugh, was convicted of being a felon in possession of a handgun, in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1307(b)(1).  The evidence presented at trial suggested that the defendant obtained a handgun during a physical altercation, during which the handgun became loose, fell from another individual’s possession, and dropped to the floor.  Prior to the trial court’s instructions to the jury, defense counsel orally requested an instruction on the defense of necessity.  The trial court denied the request.  Based upon the evidence presented at trial, the briefs of the parties, the arguments of counsel, and the applicable law, we hold that the defense of necessity was fairly raised by the evidence and that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury accordingly.  We further hold that Tennessee law does not preclude plenary review of a claim of error based on a trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on a general defense when the request was not made in writing.  We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Originating Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen
Madison County Supreme Court 10/25/19
Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. Brandon Debruce
E2017-02078-SC-R11-CV

We granted review to determine whether a trial court had authority in a declaratory judgment action to resolve coverage issues between an insurance company and its insured when a claimant, who had sued the insured but did not have a judgment against him, was not a party to the action. Here, the claimant sued the insured for damages arising from an automobile accident. The insured did not cooperate with his insurance company. The insurance company sued its insured, seeking a declaratory judgment that the company did not have to provide liability coverage based on the insured’s lack of cooperation. The trial court awarded the insurance company a default judgment, holding that the company did not have to provide coverage under the policy. Nearly two years later, the claimant moved the trial court to set aside the default judgment and allow her to intervene, asserting that she was a necessary party. The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the declaratory judgment action because the claimant was a necessary party, and the insurance company had not joined the claimant in the action. We hold that the insurance company and its insured—not the claimant—were necessary parties to the declaratory judgment action. The trial court could decide the coverage dispute between the insurance company and its insured with finality and certainty without the claimant’s participation in the action. The claimant, who had no judgment against the insured and could not bring a direct action against the insurance company to collect any damages caused by the insured, had no interest affected by the dispute between the company and its insured. The trial court had authority to grant declaratory relief because all necessary parties were before the court. 

Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Originating Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant
Bradley County Supreme Court 10/16/19
Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2018-01561-SC-R3-BP

A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel found that an attorney should be disbarred after she was convicted of bank fraud. On appeal, the circuit court held that the hearing panel’s decision was arbitrary and imposed a five-year suspension. We reverse. The hearing panel’s decision was supported by substantial and material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor an abuse of discretion.

Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Originating Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies
Davidson County Supreme Court 09/20/19
Polly Spann Kershaw v. Jeffrey L. Levy
M2017-01129-SC-R11-CV

We granted permission to appeal in this case to clarify application of the doctrine of judicial estoppel. The plaintiff filed this legal malpractice action against an attorney who represented her in her divorce. She asserts that the attorney’s actions so compromised her position in the divorce proceedings that she was forced to settle on unfavorable terms. After the attorney filed a motion for summary judgment, the trial court applied the doctrine of judicial estoppel. Citing the plaintiff’s sworn acknowledgment in her marital dissolution agreement that the divorce settlement was “fair and equitable,” the trial court held that the plaintiff was estopped from asserting in the legal malpractice action that the divorce settlement terms were unfavorable. On this basis, the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant attorney. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that the trial court should not have applied the doctrine of judicial estoppel to the statements at issue because they are not directly contradictory statements of fact. The plaintiff’s sworn acknowledgment in her marital dissolution agreement is instead a context-related legal conclusion, and the plaintiff offers a reasonable explanation for any apparent discrepancy between her sworn acknowledgment in the divorce and her assertions in this legal malpractice action. As a result, we hold that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the basis of judicial estoppel. We reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Originating Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree
Davidson County Supreme Court 09/18/19
In Re: Petition To Stay The Effectiveness of Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163
M2018-01932-SC-BAR-BP

The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference (“TNDAGC”) filed with this Court a petition to vacate Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163 (“Opinion”) issued by the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) regarding ethical considerations for prosecutors under Rule 3.8(d) of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct. The TNDAGC also requested that the Court stay the effectiveness of the Opinion pending review. This Court determined that a full and deliberate review of the issues was necessary and granted a stay of the effectiveness of the Opinion. Based on our review, we decline to interpret a prosecutor’s ethical duty under Rule 3.8(d) as being more expansive than one’s legal obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S. Ct. 1194, 10 L. Ed. 2d 215 (1963), and its progeny, or that “timely” disclosure of the material should be interpreted as “as soon as reasonably practicable.” Accordingly, we vacate Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163 of the Board of Professional Responsibility. We also take this opportunity to interpret Rule 3.8(d) as coextensive in scope with a prosecutor’s legal obligations under Brady and its progeny, as explained in this opinion.

Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Originating Judge:
Supreme Court 08/23/19
State of Tennessee v. Quintis McCaleb
E2017-01381-SC-R11-CD

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeals misapplied the standard of review applicable to trial court decisions to admit or exclude evidence. In this case, the trial court determined that the defendant’s statements during a post-polygraph interview were inadmissible pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 403. On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding the statements. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the matter for further proceedings. We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal. We now hold that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred when it concluded that the trial court abused its discretion. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Originating Judge: Judge Barry Steelman
Hamilton County Supreme Court 08/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Hassan Falah Al Mutory - Concurring in part and Dissenting in part
M2017-00346-SC-R11-CD

I agree that this Court should do away with the doctrine of abatement ab initio. It is an outdated concept. That said, I cannot go along with the Court’s decision to dismiss Mr. Mutory’s appeal. The Court should adopt a procedure for appellate review of a deceased defendant’s conviction and then remand the case so the parties can present evidence based on the new procedure. We have a duty to change the law when it no longer serves the interests of justice—but in doing so, we should not do an injustice to a party. 

Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Originating Judge: Judge Seth W. Norman
Davidson County Supreme Court 08/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Hassan Falah Al Mutory
M2017-00346-SC-R11-CD

We granted this appeal to determine whether, after the death of a defendant during an appeal as of right from a conviction, the Court of Criminal Appeals should follow our holding in Carver v. State, 398 S.W.2d 719 (Tenn. 1966). We conclude that, due to changes in Tennessee’s public policy in the arena of victims’ rights, the doctrine of abatement ab initio must be abandoned. Because there is no evidence before the Court that any interest would benefit from allowing the deceased defendant’s appeal to continue, we hold that, in this case, the deceased defendant’s appeal as of right from his conviction should be dismissed.

Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Originating Judge: Judge Seth W. Norman
Davidson County Supreme Court 08/07/19
State of Tennessee v. Leroy Myers, Jr.
M2015-01855-SC-R11-CD

The defendant, Leroy Myers, Jr., was indicted for the aggravated assault of Sandra Custode, an inspector with the Department of Codes and Public Safety (“Metro Codes Department”), by intentionally or knowingly causing her to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury by use or display of a deadly weapon.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-102(a)(1)(A)(iii).  Following a bench trial, he was convicted of felony reckless endangerment, which is not a lesser-included offense of aggravated assault as indicted in this case.  Both the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the defendant, through the actions of counsel, caused an effective amendment of the indictment.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal pursuant to Rule 11 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure to consider whether and under what circumstances the actions of counsel can rise to the level of causing an effective amendment to an indictment absent the clear consent of the defendant.  Upon our review, we hold:  (1) Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 7(b)(1) sets forth the procedure for amending an indictment with a defendant’s consent, and these mandates were not followed in this case; and (2) the actions of counsel amounted, at most, to mere acquiescence rather than an affirmative request for the trial court to consider felony reckless endangerment as a lesser offense.  We reverse the judgment of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, vacate the judgment of conviction, and dismiss the case.

Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Originating Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier
Davidson County Supreme Court 08/05/19
State of Tennessee v. A.B. Price, Jr. and Victor Sims
W2017-00677-SC-R11-CD

In early January 2017, Defendant A. B. Price, Jr., attempted to plead nolo contendere to two counts of sexual battery, and Defendant Victor Sims attempted to plead guilty to three counts of aggravated assault. Both Defendants had reached plea bargains with the State, and each of the pleas included a term of probation. The trial court declined to accept the pleas and requested the parties to return for a later hearing to present proof and argument regarding the constitutionality of certain portions of the Public Safety Act of 2016 (“the PSA”), which has the practical effect of authorizing the Tennessee Department of Correction (“DOC”) to address at least some probation violations, a role up to this point reserved exclusively to trial courts. After the hearing, the trial court ruled portions of the PSA facially unconstitutional on grounds of separation of powers, due process, and equal protection. The trial court subsequently accepted the Defendants’ pleas and inserted in each judgment the following special condition: “The probated portion of the Defendant’s sentence is not subject to the Public Safety Act; rather, the Defendant shall be subject to the rules and regulations governing probation applicable through pre-existing law (law in effect prior to January 1, 2017).” The State appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgments. We granted the State’s application for permission to appeal. We hold that the constitutionality of the PSA provisions at issue was not ripe for consideration by the trial court. Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals. We remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

  

Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Originating Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish
Supreme Court 07/22/19
TWB Architects, Inc. v. The Braxton, LLC Et Al.
M2017-00423-SC-R11-CV

We granted review to determine whether summary judgment was properly granted to an architect firm seeking to recover its design fees from a development company. The architect firm designed a condominium project for the development company. The development company ran short of funds and was not able to pay the architect firm under their design contract. As a result, the architect firm’s president agreed to accept a condominium in the project instead of the fee. But the development company did not fulfill that agreement because the development company had pledged the condominium as collateral for a construction loan. The architect firm filed a mechanic’s lien for its unpaid fee under the parties’ design contract, and then filed this suit to enforce the lien. The trial court granted summary judgment to the architect firm, holding that the firm was entitled to its fee under the design contract, and there was insufficient evidence that the parties intended a novation by substituting the agreement to convey a condominium for the design contract. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We find that disputed questions of material fact exist about whether the architect firm and the development company intended a novation when they entered into the agreement for the condominium. Thus, the trial court should not have granted summary judgment to the architect firm. We reverse and remand to the trial court. 

Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Originating Judge: Judge David D. Wolfe
Cheatham County Supreme Court 07/22/19
Board of Professional Responsibility of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Loring Edwin Justice
E2017-01334-SC-R3-BP

This lawyer-disciplinary proceeding stems from a Knoxville attorney’s conduct in a federal personal injury lawsuit where the attorney represented the plaintiff. The federal district court imposed a discovery sanction against the corporate defendant and ordered it to pay the attorney’s fees and costs the plaintiff had incurred in locating and deposing a witness the corporate defendant failed to disclose. When the plaintiff’s lawyer submitted an itemization of fees and costs to the federal district court, the lawyer falsely claimed as his own work the work that a paralegal had performed. The lawyer also submitted a written declaration along with the itemization falsely claiming that he had kept contemporaneous records of his time in the case and attesting to the truth and accuracy of the itemization. The lawyer also requested in the itemization “grossly exaggerated and unreasonable” attorney’s fees of more than $103,000 for work beyond the scope of the federal district court’s order. Later, the lawyer testified falsely in a hearing before the federal district court by reaffirming the truth and accuracy of the itemization and the written declaration. A Hearing Panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Hearing Panel”) determined that the lawyer had violated four provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”)—RPC 1.5(a) (Fees); RPC 3.3(a) (Candor Toward the Tribunal); RPC 3.4(b) (Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel); and RPC 8.4(a) and (c) (Misconduct). The Hearing Panel found six aggravating and two mitigating factors and sanctioned the lawyer with a one-year active suspension and twelve additional hours of ethics continuing legal education. The Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) and the lawyer appealed to the Chancery Court for Knox County. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 1.3. The trial court affirmed the Hearing Panel’s findings of fact and conclusions of law but modified the sanction to disbarment. The trial court concluded that Standard 5.11 of the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (“ABA Standards”), which identifies disbarment as the presumptive sanction, applies and that the aggravating and mitigating factors do not warrant a lesser sanction than disbarment. The lawyer appealed, and after carefully reviewing the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects, including its modification of the sanction to disbarment. 

Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Originating Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies
Knox County Supreme Court 07/02/19
Benjamin Shea Cotten, As Personal Representative For The Estate Of Christina Marie Cotten, Deceased, Et Al. v. Jerry Scott Wilson
M2016-02402-SC-R11-CV

In this wrongful death action, the plaintiff estate seeks to hold the defendant liable for negligently facilitating the decedent’s suicide. While staying alone in the defendant’s home, the adult decedent committed suicide by shooting herself with a gun that was unsecured in the defendant’s home. The decedent’s estate sued the defendant, alleging that he should have known the decedent was potentially suicidal and that he negligently facilitated the suicide by failing to secure the gun while the decedent was in his home. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the evidence is insufficient for a trier of fact to find that the decedent’s suicide was a reasonably foreseeable probability; consequently, the decedent’s suicide constitutes a superseding intervening event that breaks the chain of proximate causation. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Originating Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley
Williamson County Supreme Court 06/19/19
Benjamin Shea Cotten, As Personal Representative For The Estate Of Christina Marie Cotten, Deceased, Et Al. v. Jerry Scott Wilson - Dissenting
M2016-02402-SC-R11-CV

The Estate of Christina Marie Cotten should have its day in court. Summary judgment for Dr. Jerry Wilson is not appropriate because the issue of whether Christina Marie Cotten’s suicide was a reasonably foreseeable result of Dr. Wilson’s negligent conduct involves disputed questions of material fact. The majority, in lengthy footnotes, attempts to defend its decision in favor of Dr. Wilson. The reasoning in this dissent is clearly stated. I decline the invitation to debate in a series of footnotes. See Borne v. Celadon Trucking Servs., Inc., 532 S.W.3d 274, 319 (Tenn. 2017) (Lee, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Originating Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley
Williamson County Supreme Court 06/19/19
Bradley James Cox v. Laura Nicole Lucas
E2017-02264-SC-R11-CV

We granted this appeal to consider whether a circuit court loses continuing, exclusive subject matter jurisdiction if a post-divorce petition seeking modification of a parenting plan adopted in a final divorce decree alleges facts that are tantamount to claims of dependency and neglect, over which juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 37-1-103. After we granted this appeal, the General Assembly amended section 37-1-103 to expressly provide that a circuit court retains subject matter jurisdiction in these circumstances until and unless a pleading is filed or relief is sought in juvenile court and the juvenile court’s exclusive original jurisdiction is invoked. Act of April 18, 2019, 2019 Tenn. Pub. Acts ch. 167. The General Assembly applied this amendment to all cases pending on its April 18, 2019 effective date, including this appeal. Id. § 2. Because no pleading was filed in juvenile court nor was the juvenile court’s exclusive jurisdiction invoked in any other manner in this case, the circuit court retained subject matter jurisdiction of the post-divorce petition. Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the circuit court is reinstated.

Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Originating Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan
Knox County Supreme Court 05/29/19
Lewis Alvin Minyard v. Laura Nicole Lucas
E2017-02261-SC-R11-CV

We granted this appeal to consider whether a circuit court loses continuing, exclusive subject matter jurisdiction if a post-divorce petition seeking modification of a parenting plan adopted in a final divorce decree alleges facts that are tantamount to an unruly child claim, over which juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 37-1-103. After we granted this appeal, the General Assembly amended section 37-1-103 to expressly provide that a circuit court retains subject matter jurisdiction in these circumstances until and unless a pleading is filed or relief is sought in juvenile court and the juvenile court’s exclusive original jurisdiction is invoked. Act of April 18, 2019, 2019 Tenn. Pub. Acts ch. 167. The General Assembly applied this amendment to all cases pending on its April 18, 2019 effective date, including this appeal. Id. § 2. Because no pleading was filed in juvenile court nor was the juvenile court’s exclusive jurisdiction invoked in any other manner in this case, the circuit court retained subject matter jurisdiction of the post-divorce petition. Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the circuit court is reinstated.

Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Originating Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan
Knox County Supreme Court 05/29/19
State of Tennessee v. Anthony Jerome Miller
E2016-01779-SC-R11-CD

We granted permission to appeal in this case in order to determine whether Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1007, which provides that “[n]o process, except as otherwise provided, shall be issued for the violation of [the statutes proscribing the offenses of sexual exploitation of a minor] unless it is issued upon the application of the district attorney general of the district,” applies to search warrants sought and obtained prior to the commencement of a prosecution for sexual exploitation of a minor. In this case, a police officer applied for and obtained the search warrant by which pornographic images of minors were recovered from the Defendant’s computer. The Defendant sought to suppress the evidence on the basis that the search warrant was not applied for by the district attorney general. The trial court denied the Defendant’s motion to suppress, and the Defendant subsequently pled guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a minor, reserving as a certified question the efficacy of the search warrant. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling and the Defendant’s conviction. We hold that Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1007 does not require search warrants to be applied for by the office of the district attorney general. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment below.

Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Originating Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson
Greene County Supreme Court 05/22/19