Court Opinions

Format: 05/22/2020
Format: 05/22/2020
Roy Franks et al. v. Tiffany Sykes et al.
W2018-00654-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle Atkins

A person who is injured because of an unfair or deceptive act or practice that affects the conduct of any trade or commerce has a cause of action under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977 (“the Act”), Tennessee Code Annotated sections 47- 18-101 to -132 (2013 & Supp. 2019). We granted review to determine whether the Act applies to the business aspects of a health care provider’s practice. The plaintiffs were injured in car accidents and received hospital medical services. The hospitals did not bill the plaintiffs’ health insurance companies but filed hospital liens against the plaintiffs’ claims for damages arising from the accidents. The hospital liens were for the full amount of the hospital bills with no reduction for the plaintiffs’ health insurance benefits. The plaintiffs sued the hospitals, asserting the filing of undiscounted hospital liens was an unlawful practice under the Act. The trial court dismissed the case, ruling that the plaintiffs had failed to state a cause of action. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the Act did not apply to a claim in which the underlying transactions involved medical treatment. We hold that the Act applies to health care providers when they are acting in their business capacities. The plaintiffs, who were consumers of medical services, may state a claim under the Act against the hospitals for conduct arising out of the hospitals’ business practices. We reverse and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Madison County Supreme Court 05/01/20
Tammy Combs Et Al. v. Leslie Milligan, M.D. Et Al.
E2019-00485-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex H. Ogle

This appeal concerns healthcare liability. A husband and wife filed an action against six medical care providers alleging negligence in the medical treatment of the wife. The defendants moved to dismiss the suit on the basis of noncompliance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E), which requires that pre-suit notice include a HIPAA1 compliant medical authorization allowing a healthcare provider receiving a notice to obtain complete medical records from every other provider that is sent a notice. The plaintiffs’ authorization allowed each provider to disclose complete medical records to each named provider but did not state specifically that each provider could obtain records from each other. The trial court held that the authorization failed to substantially comply with the statute’s requirements. The plaintiffs appealed. We hold that Plaintiffs’ method of permitting Defendants access to Mrs. Combs’s medical records substantially complied with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)E). We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 05/01/20
Anton Carlton v. State of Tennessee
M2019-00711-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

The Appellant, Anton Carlton, is appealing the trial court’s summary dismissal of his third post-conviction petition. The State has filed a motion asking this Court to affirm pursuant to Court of Criminal Appeals Rule 20. Said motion is hereby granted.

Rutherford County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/01/20
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Caldwell
M2019-01250-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert W. Wedemeyer
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl Blackburn

On April 21, 2016, the Defendant, Christopher Caldwell, was convicted of three felony offenses in Davidson County and sentenced to fifteen years in Community Corrections. On October 20, 2016, he was convicted in Sumner County of two felony offenses and sentenced to twelve years in Community Corrections, consecutive to the Davidson County sentences. The Defendant violated the terms of his Davidson County sentence and was ordered to serve one year and then return to Community Corrections. More than eight months later, after learning that the Defendant had also violated the terms of his Sumner County sentence and had been ordered to serve that sentence in the Tennessee Department of Correction, the Davidson County trial court ordered the Defendant to serve his Davidson County sentences in the Tennessee Department of Correction. Because the Davidson County trial court’s original disposition of the Community Corrections violation was final, and no additional warrant alleging a new violation of Community Corrections had been filed, the Davidson County trial court lacked jurisdiction to order the service of the Davidson County sentences in the Tennessee Department of Correction. The State concedes this point. Accordingly, we reverse and vacate the Davidson County trial court’s June 21, 2019 order requiring service of the Defendant’s Davidson County sentences in the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Davidson County Court of Criminal Appeals 05/01/20
State of Tennessee v. Antonio Benson
W2017-01119-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The defendant, Antonio Benson, was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, the defendant contended that the proof at trial fairly raised the issue of whether or not he killed the victim in self-defense and that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that self-defense should have been charged and concluded that the error was not harmless. The intermediate court therefore reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. We granted this appeal to clarify the gatekeeping function of a trial court when assessing whether self-defense has been fairly raised by the proof and to consider the quantum of proof necessary for a court to charge a jury on selfdefense. We hold that self-defense was not fairly raised by the proof in this case because the defendant was not lawfully defending himself when he killed the victim. We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/30/20
Daniel Eric Cobble v. Erlanger Hospital
E2019-00417-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

This pro se appellant appeals the trial court’s dismissal of his lawsuit. We affirm.

Hamilton County Court of Appeals 04/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Jawara Jones
M2017-01666-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Norma McGee Ogle
Trial Court Judge: Judge David L. Allen

A jury convicted the Appellant, Jawara Jones, of possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana, driving on a revoked license, and tampering with evidence. He received a total effective sentence of fifteen years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days. On appeal, he contends (1) that the trial court erred by allowing the State to introduce proof of a prior unindicted sale of cocaine, (2) that the trial court erred by allowing a police officer to testify as an expert witness, and (3) that the trial court erred in sentencing the Appellant. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Maury County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Jemel Johnson
M2018-01346-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

The Defendant, Jemel Johnson, was convicted by a Sumner County Criminal Court jury of two counts of attempted sexual battery by an authority figure, a Class D felony, two counts of aggravated rape, a Class A felony, and assault by extremely offensive or provocative conduct, a Class B misdemeanor, for acts involving two foster children. See T.C.A. §§ 39-12-101 (2018) (attempt); -13-101(A)(3) (2010) (subsequently amended) (assault); -13-502 (2018) (aggravated rape); -13-527 (2018) (attempted sexual battery by an authority figure). He received a sentence of twenty-five years’ confinement. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the trial court violated his constitutional right to due process by failing to produce a trial transcript sufficient to provide appellate review; (2) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for aggravated rape; (3) the trial court erred by admitting the victims’ hearsay statements; (4) the trial court erred by allowing the State to cross-examination the Defendant’s wife about her blaming the victims; (5) the trial court erred by not allowing the victims’ school principal to testify about specific instances of conduct by one of the victims; (6) the trial court erred by questioning the Defendant’s wife in an argumentative manner, resulting in prejudice to the Defendant; and (7) the trial court erred by failing to instruct the jury on sexual battery by an authority figure as a lesser included offense of aggravated rape. We affirm the judgments of the trial court and remand for entry of corrected judgments in Counts One and Two.

Sumner County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/30/20
In Re Conservatorship of Daniel Allen
M2019-00469-COA-R3-CV
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Randy Kennedy

This appeal arises from a conservatorship action in which an attorney ad litem was appointed to represent the respondent. The dispositive issue is whether the trial court had the discretion to assess all or any portion of the fees of the attorney ad litem to a party other than the respondent when Tenn. Code. Ann. § 34-1-125(b) states “[t]he cost of the attorney ad litem shall be charged against the assets of the respondent.” The trial court ruled that it did not have the discretion to deviate from the clear mandate in the statute. We affirm.

Davidson County Circuit, Criminal & Chancery Courts 04/30/20
Larry E. Rathbone v. State of Tennessee
E2019-00447-CCA-R3-PC
Authoring Judge: Judge Robert H. Montgomery Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

The State appeals from the post-conviction court’s order granting post-conviction relief to the Petitioner, Larry E. Rathbone, from his convictions for two counts of rape of a child, one count of attempted rape of a child, and one count of aggravated sexual battery, for which he is serving an effective fifty-six-year sentence. On appeal, the State contends that the post-conviction court erred in granting relief on the Petitioner’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim related to his trial attorney’s dual representation of him and the codefendant at their joint trial and related to counsel’s failure to obtain a severance. In cross-appeal issues, the Petitioner contends that the court erred in failing to grant relief on his claim that he received the ineffective assistance of counsel because trial counsel did not challenge the competency of the child victim who testified at the trial and that he is entitled to plain error relief based upon ineffective assistance of counsel due to counsel’s lack of objection to the introduction of evidence of uncharged criminal conduct. We conclude that the post-conviction court erred in granting relief and reverse its judgment.

Campbell County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Quintavious Hill
W2019-01041-CCA-R3-CD
Authoring Judge: Judge Camille R. McMullen
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant, Quintavious Hill, as charged of attempted second degree murder, aggravated assault, and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and the trial court imposed an effective eleven-year sentence. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 39-12-101, 39-13-210, 39-13-102(a)(1)(A)(iii), 39-17-1324(b). On appeal, the defendant argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his convictions. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Criminal Appeals 04/30/20
Melissa Martin et al v. Rolling Hills Hospital, LLC et al (Concur in Part;Dissent in Part)
M2016-02214-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

I agree with the majority’s clarification of the role of prejudice in the substantial compliance analysis required when a defendant challenges the plaintiff’s adherence to subsection (a)(2) of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121 (Supp. 2019) (“Section 121”).

Williamson County Supreme Court 04/29/20
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