Court Opinions

Format: 06/01/2020
Format: 06/01/2020
Melissa Martin et al v. Rolling Hills Hospital, LLC et al
M2016-02214-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

We granted permission to appeal to clarify the role of prejudice in a court’s determination of whether a plaintiff in a health care liability action substantially complied with the statutory pre-suit notice requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121 (Supp. 2019) (“Section 121”) and to clarify the burdens each party bears when seeking to establish, or to challenge, compliance with Section 121. We hold that prejudice is relevant to the determination of whether a plaintiff substantially complied with Section 121, but it is not a separate and independent analytical element. We also hold that a plaintiff bears the initial burden of either attaching documents to her health care liability complaint demonstrating compliance with Section 121 or of alleging facts in the complaint demonstrating extraordinary cause sufficient to excuse any noncompliance with Section 121. A defendant seeking to challenge a plaintiff’s compliance with Section 121 must file a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Myers v. AMISUB (SFH), Inc., 382 S.W.3d 300, 307 (Tenn. 2012). A defendant’s Rule 12.02(6) motion must include allegations that identify the plaintiff’s noncompliance and explain “the extent and significance of the plaintiff’s errors and omissions and whether the defendant was prejudiced by the plaintiff’s noncompliance.” Stevens ex rel. Stevens v. Hickman Cmty. Health Care Servs., Inc., 418 S.W.3d 547, 556 (Tenn. 2013). One means of satisfying this burden is to allege that a plaintiff’s Section 121(a)(2)(E) medical authorization lacks one or more of the six core elements federal law requires for compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”). See Pub. L. No. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936 (1996) (codified as amended in scattered sections of 18, 26, 29, and 42 of the United States Code). Once a defendant files a Rule 12.02 motion that satisfies this prima facie showing, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff either to establish substantial compliance with Section 121—which includes the burden of demonstrating that the noncompliance did not prejudice the defense—or to demonstrate extraordinary cause that excuses any noncompliance. In this case, the defendants met their burden by showing that the plaintiffs’ medical authorizations lacked three of the six core elements federal law requires for HIPAA compliance. This showing shifted the burden to the plaintiffs, and they failed to establish either substantial compliance or extraordinary cause to excuse their noncompliance. As a result of this noncompliance with Section 121(a)(2)(E), the plaintiffs were not entitled to the 120-day extension of the statute of limitations. Therefore, their first lawsuit, filed after the oneyear statute of limitations expired, was not “commenced within the time limited by a rule or statute of limitation,” Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 28-1-105(a) (2017), so the plaintiffs cannot rely on the one-year savings statute to establish the timeliness of this lawsuit. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s judgment dismissing the plaintiffs’ health care liability action as time-barred.

Williamson County Supreme Court 04/29/20
In Re Isabella W. - Concur and Dissent
E2019-01346-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

concur with the majority’s opinion except as to the holding that the ground as to the “failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody” was not satisfied. This Court is split on this issue, and I agree with the line of cases that hold that the parent has to be able and willing rather than just either of the two. See In re Amynn K., No. E2017-01866-COA-R3-PT, 2018 WL 3058280, at *12-14 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 20, 2018). I concur in all the rest of the majority’s opinion including termination of the father’s parental rights. Given this Court’s clear and irreconcilable split as to this question of statutory interpretation, I request the Tennessee Supreme Court accept and resolve this issue once it has the opportunity to do so.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/29/20
In Re Isabella W.
E2019-01346-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy E. Irwin

A father appeals the termination of his parental rights to his daughter, asserting that the evidence did not establish the three grounds upon which termination was based and that termination was in his child’s best interest. He also argues that he is entitled to a new trial due to ineffective assistance of his trial counsel, the denial of a continuance in order that he could represent himself, and that the court erred in not finding that he was competent to stand trial. Upon our thorough review, we conclude that the father received fundamentally fair procedures; that he waived the issues related to the continuance and his competence to participate in the trial; we reverse the court’s holding with respect to one ground, affirm the rest, and affirm the termination of his rights.

Knox County Court of Appeals 04/29/20
In Re Boston G.
M2019-00393-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge W. Neal McBrayer
Trial Court Judge: Judge William M. Locke

A mother and father appeal the termination of their parental rights to their child. The juvenile court determined that there was clear and convincing evidence of five grounds for terminating the father’s parental rights and seven grounds for terminating the mother’s parental rights. The court also determined that there was clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s and the father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. Upon our review, of the grounds actually alleged for terminating parental rights, only two against the father were supported by clear and convincing evidence. And five of the six grounds alleged for terminating the mother’s parental rights were supported by clear and convincing evidence. We also conclude that termination of both parent’s rights was in the child’s best interest. So we affirm the termination of the mother’s and the father’s parental rights.

Warren County Court of Appeals 04/29/20
Terry Townsend v. David W. Little Et Al.
E2019-00706-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

The plaintiff and another individual, as co-personal representatives of an estate, filed a probate action, seeking declaratory relief and recovery of personal property concerning a vehicle that allegedly belonged to the estate. This action was voluntarily nonsuited without prejudice in December 2016. In November 2017, the plaintiff, in his individual capacity only, filed a complaint for declaratory relief and recovery of personal property, requesting that the vehicle be returned not to the estate but instead to the plaintiff. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s 2017 complaint as being untimely. The Trial Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiff’s individual action was not saved by the Tennessee savings statute, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated
§ 28-1-105(a), and was, therefore, untimely. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Washington County Court of Appeals 04/29/20
In Re C.S.
E2019-01657-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Carma Dennis McGee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

This appeal involves the termination of a mother’s parental rights. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that two grounds for termination were proven and that termination was in the best interest of the child. Mother appeals. We affirm and remand for further proceedings.

Hawkins County Court of Appeals 04/29/20
Shelby K. Marsh v. Angela D. Lowe Et Al.
E2019-00697-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald R. Elledge

This is an appeal from the judgment in a personal injury action in which the plaintiff sought to recover damages incurred in a car accident. The trial court granted summary judgment on the issue of liability. Following a hearing on the measure of damages at which the only proof was the plaintiff’s testimony, the trial court entered a $5,000 judgment against the defendants. This appeal followed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Anderson County Court of Appeals 04/29/20
Walter Payne v. Kroger Limited Partnership I
W2019-00479-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Felicia Corbin Johnson

Pro se appellant appeals the trial court’s involuntary dismissal of his action pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41.02(2). The appellant’s brief significantly fails to comply with Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 27. Accordingly, we find that any issues on appeal are waived. We affirm the trial court’s dismissal.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 04/29/20
Christopher Adams v. Tiffany Adams
M201-00309-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Barry R. Tidwell

In this divorce action, the husband has appealed, raising issues concerning the trial court’s award to the wife of $300.00 in monthly rehabilitative alimony for four years, distribution of the parties’ marital debts, and allocation of co-parenting time with the parties’ child. The husband subsequently conceded during oral argument that the issue of co-parenting time is moot due to the child’s having reached the age of majority. Additionally, we determine that the husband has waived the issue of debt distribution through his failure to comply with Tennessee Court of Appeals Rule 7. Having further determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its award of rehabilitative alimony to the wife, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects.

Rutherford County Circuit, Criminal & Chancery Courts 04/29/20
State of Tennessee v. Lavonta Laver Churchwell
M2019-01673-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert L. Holloway, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jennifer Smith

The Appellant, Lavonta Laver Churchwell, is appealing the trial court’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence. The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20. Said motion is hereby granted.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/29/20
Wanda Tubbs v. Jeff Long, as Commissioner of Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
M2019-00627-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kelvin D. Jones

This case involves the seizure of a Michael Kors bag containing approximately $95,000 in United States currency by police officers who were executing a search warrant at the petitioner’s property during a criminal investigation in May 2017. The petitioner rented the home to her son and his girlfriend, but the petitioner did not reside there. In addition to the $95,000 at issue, officers also discovered at the residence other paraphernalia, including cocaine, marijuana, prescription drugs, several handguns, electronic scales, a money counter, and additional currency. The total amount of currency discovered by officers at the residence was $153,652. Officers seized all currency and sought a forfeiture warrant on the grounds that the money constituted proceeds considered traceable to a violation of the Tennessee Drug Control Act. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 53-11-451(a)(6)(A) (Supp. 2019). The petitioner’s son subsequently pled guilty to several counts of possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances and being a felon in possession of a firearm. The petitioner filed a petition with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (“the State”), requesting an administrative hearing regarding “the majority of” the amount of currency that was seized by law enforcement. Following a hearing, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) entered a final order, determining that the personal property in question was properly seized and thereby subject to forfeiture. The petitioner subsequently filed a petition for judicial review with the Circuit Court of Davidson County (“trial court”). Following a hearing, the trial court, employing a substantial and material evidence standard of review, affirmed the ALJ’s determination that the currency was subject to forfeiture. The petitioner has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/28/20
George H. Thompson, III v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2018-02216-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

This is an attorney discipline proceeding concerning attorney George H. Thompson, III, and his representation of a client in her personal injury action. After filing a nonsuit on his client’s behalf, the attorney failed to refile the case in a timely manner, which resulted in the client’s claim being barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The attorney later admitted his error and paid the client a sum of money to settle her potential claim against him; however, the attorney failed to advise the client in writing that she should seek independent legal counsel in reaching a settlement. The Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) filed a petition for discipline against the attorney, and a hearing panel (“Panel”) imposed a sanction of a one-year suspension with thirty days to be served as an active suspension and the remainder to be served on probation with conditions. The attorney sought review of the Panel’s decision in chancery court, and upon its review, the chancery court affirmed the Panel’s decision. The attorney has now filed a direct appeal to this Court. Following a thorough review of the record and applicable legal authorities, we affirm the judgment of the chancery court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/28/20
State of Tennessee v. Cortez Bennett
M2019-01034-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve Dozier

The Appellant, Cortez Bennett, is appealing the trial court’s denial of his motion to correct an illegal sentence. The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20. Said motion is hereby granted.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/28/20
Abraham A. Augustin v. State of Tennessee
E2019-01739-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge John Everett Williams
Trial Court Judge: Judge Andrew M. Freiberg

The Petitioner, Abraham A. Augustin appeals the post-conviction court’s summary dismissal of his pro se petition for post-conviction relief. The Petitioner maintains that the statute of limitations should be tolled based on newly discovered evidence. After a review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the post-conviction court’s summary dismissal of the petition.

McMinn County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/28/20
State of Tennessee v. Dennis Freeny
E2019-00207-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

Dennis Freeny, Defendant, claims that the trial court abused its discretion in revoking his probation and ordering him to serve the balance of his sentences in the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). Discerning no error, we affirm the trial court.

Knox County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/28/20
Diane Greer v. James Greer
M2020-00434-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

This is an appeal from a final decree of divorce entered on November 4, 2019, and an order denying a motion for a new trial entered on January 17, 2020. Because the husband did not file his notice of appeal within thirty days after entry of the order denying the motion for a new trial, we dismiss the appeal.

Putnam County Court of Appeals 04/28/20
In Re Dustin M.
M2019-01661-COA-R3-PT
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Tim Barnes

This is a termination of parental rights case. Appellants, mother and father, appeal the trial court’s termination of their parental rights on the grounds of: (1) abandonment; (2) failure to substantially comply with the requirements of the parenting plans; (3) persistence of the conditions that led to the child’s removal from their custody; and (4) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume custody. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 04/28/20
Charlie Clark v. State of Tennessee
M2019-01212-CCA-R3-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

In 2013, a Henderson County jury convicted the Petitioner, Charlie Clark, of rape. The Petitioner was sentenced to serve twenty-five years as a Range III, persistent offender in the Tennessee Department of Correction. See State v. Charles Anderson Clark, Jr., No. 2014-00445-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 7204525, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App., at Jackson, Dec. 17, 2014) no perm. app. filed. In November 2018, the Petitioner filed, pro se, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he was improperly sentenced as a Range III offender without proper notice in contravention of Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-202(a). The habeas corpus court denied the petition because the Petitioner’s claim, even if true, would make the judgment voidable and not void. On appeal, the Petitioner maintains that he was not provided with proper notice of the State’s intent to seek enhanced punishment before sentencing. After review, we affirm the habeas corpus court’s judgment.

Trousdale County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/28/20
State of Tennessee v. David Eric Lambert
E2018-02296-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin, Jr.

Defendant, David Eric Lambert, appeals his conviction for attempted unlawful photography in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-605. Following his conviction, the trial court sentenced Defendant to serve six months in confinement. In this appeal as of right, Defendant asserts that: 1) the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss because the unlawful photography statute is unconstitutionally vague and his conduct did not constitute a crime; 2) the admission of his statement violated Rule 404(b) of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence; 3) the trial court erred by denying Defendant’s requests for special jury instructions; 4) the trial court erred by instructing the jury on attempt as a lesser-included offense; and 5) the evidence was insufficient to support Defendant’s conviction. We conclude that the trial court erred by admitting Defendant’s statement to police, and the erroneous admission of the statement would entitle Defendant to a new trial. Because, however, the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to support Defendant’s conviction, the conviction is reversed and the case is dismissed with prejudice.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/28/20
State of Tennessee v. David Eric Lambert
E2018-02282-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge James Curwood Witt, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin, Jr.

The defendant, David Eric Lambert, appeals his Sullivan County Criminal Court jury conviction of unlawful photography, see T.C.A. § 39-13-605, arguing that (1) Code section 39-13-605 is unconstitutionally vague, (2) the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss on grounds that his conduct did not constitute a crime, (3) the admission of his statement at trial violated evidence rule 404(b), (4) the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, and (5) the trial court erred by ordering that the defendant serve the
11-month and 29-day sentence imposed in this case consecutively to the defendant’s sentence in another case. We conclude that the trial court erred by admitting the defendant’s statement to the police, and the erroneous admission of the statement would entitle the defendant to a new trial. Because, however, the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to support the defendant’s conviction, the conviction is reversed, and the case is dismissed.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/28/20
State of Tennessee v. David Eric Lambert
E2018-02298-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Kelly Thomas, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Goodwin, Jr.

The Defendant, David Eric Lambert, appeals his Sullivan County Criminal Court jury convictions for unlawful photography and attempted sexual battery. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-12-101, -13-505, -13-605. On appeal, the Defendant argues that (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss because then Code section 39-13-605 governing unlawful photography was unconstitutionally vague and because his conduct did not constitute a crime; (2) the admission of his statement at trial violated Rule 404(b) of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence; (3) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions; and (4) the trial court erred by ordering that he serve the eleven-month-andtwenty- nine-day sentences imposed in this case consecutively to each other and to the Defendant’s sentence in another case. Because the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to support the Defendant’s conviction for unlawful photography, that conviction is reversed and the charge is dismissed. However, the Defendant’s conviction for attempted sexual battery is affirmed, the evidence being sufficient to support that conviction.

Sullivan County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/28/20
Alfred Whitehead v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00790-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas T. Woodall
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

Alfred Whitehead, Petitioner, appeals from the post-conviction court’s order denying relief. On appeal, Petitioner claims that he received ineffective assistance of counsel as a result of trial counsel’s failure to object to “inflammatory and prejudicial statements” made by the State during opening statement and closing argument. We agree that the statements were improper and that trial counsel rendered deficient performance by failing to object, but we hold that Petitioner failed to “show that there [wa]s a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694 (1984). We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/27/20
Lascassas Land Company v. Jimmy E. Allen, ET Al.
M2019-00870-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

This is the second appeal of this case involving a dispute between two limited liability companies (and an individual with interest in both companies). In the first appeal, this Court remanded the case for the trial court to consider and make appropriate findings concerning the applicability of the doctrines of unjust enrichment and unclean hands. On remand, the trial court held that Appellee had met its burden to show that Appellant would be unjustly enriched if it were allowed to retain Appellee’s construction costs in addition to the stipulated value of the lots, and the profits from the sales of the homes constructed on those lots. The trial court further held that Appellee was not barred from recovery under the doctrine of unclean hands. The trial court also awarded Appellant a portion of its claimed attorney’s fees and costs. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 04/27/20
Eric Magness v. Edith G. Couser
M2019-01138-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This is a nuisance case. Appellant alleges that Appellee created a nuisance when he caused: (1) debris and gravel to drain onto her land; and (2) a foul sewage odor to permeate her land. The trial court dismissed her claim. Finding no error, we affirm.

Williamson County Circuit, Criminal & Chancery Courts 04/27/20
ANDREW HIRT, ET AL. v. METROPOLITAN BOARD OF ZONING APPEALS OF THE METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY
M2019-00775-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This is the second appeal of this case involving a local zoning board’s denial of Appellants’ permit to replace a static billboard with an LED digital billboard. The zoning board denied Appellants’ initial application for a permit, and the chancery court affirmed. In the first appeal, this Court vacated the chancery court’s order on its holding that the chancery court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. Our holding rendered the board’s decision a final judgment. The instant appeal arises from Appellants’ second application for an LED digital billboard on its property. The board again denied the application, and Appellants appealed to the chancery court. The chancery court held, inter alia, that Appellants’ second application was barred as res judicata. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 04/27/20