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).
Cases were live-streamed to the TNCourts YouTube page.
November 5, 2020
In Re: Mattie L. - W2018-02287-SC-R11-PT
In this parental termination case, the biological mother (“Mother”) and her husband (“Stepfather”) filed a petition to terminate the biological father’s (“Father”) parental rights and for Stepfather to legally adopt Mother and Father’s biological child. The trial court held a five-day bench trial at which Father’s attorney was present but Father was not in the courtroom because he was incarcerated. The trial court applied the missing witness rule when Father failed to testify, which permitted the court to draw an adverse inference that Father’s testimony would have been unfavorable to him. The trial court also concluded that Father had provided false statements in various court documents and that the doctrine of unclean hands prohibited him from receiving any relief from the trial court. Ultimately, the trial court terminated Father’s rights on the basis of abandonment by willful failure to visit and abandonment by willful failure to support. Father appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed. The court determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove the grounds for termination and it was a violation of Father’s due process rights to apply the missing witness rule and the doctrine of unclean hands in the context of this case. The court reasoned that the missing witness rule did not apply because this was a bench trial and not a jury trial. Additionally, while the court questioned the applicability of the doctrine of unclean hands to parental termination proceedings in general, it ultimately concluded that, to the extent that the doctrine was applicable, it would not apply to Father because he was the respondent in the case. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Mother and Stepfather ask the Court to address an apparent split in authority among the intermediate appellate courts regarding whether the missing witness rule applies solely in the context of jury trials. Additionally, Mother and Stepfather argue that the doctrine of unclean hands was applicable because Father requested relief through attorney’s fees and the trial court’s application of the doctrine did not prevent Father from presenting evidence or witnesses at trial through his attorney. Mother and Stepfather also argue that there was sufficient evidence to support terminating Father’s parental rights on the basis of abandonment. In response, Father argues that the missing witness rule and the doctrine of unclean hands should not apply to parental termination proceedings at all, regardless of the type of trial. Further, Father contends that even if the missing witness rule applies, the trial court erred in its application. Additionally, Father argues that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that he willfully failed to support and to visit the child.
November 4, 2020
State of Tennessee v. Michael Rimmer - W2017-00504-SC-DDT-DD
In this appeal, defendant Michael Rimmer challenges his convictions and death sentence arising from the murder of a Memphis motel clerk, Ricci Ellsworth. Following the grant of a new trial from the defendant’s convictions for first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, and theft, a new jury convicted Mr. Rimmer of first-degree murder, felony murder, and aggravated robbery. The trial court then merged the convictions for first-degree murder and felony murder. The jury sentenced Mr. Rimmer to death for the murder conviction, and the trial court sentenced him to eighteen years for the aggravated robbery conviction to be served concurrently with the death sentence. The defendant appealed and raised numerous issues to the Court of Criminal Appeals, including whether his conviction for felony murder violated double jeopardy principles and whether the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence and testimony at trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the conviction for felony murder did not violate double jeopardy principles because Mr. Rimmer was not acquitted of felony murder in his original trial due to the type of jury instructions given by the trial judge. The court also held that the trial court had not committed reversible error related to any evidentiary issues raised. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Mr. Rimmer renews each claim raised before the Court of Criminal Appeals and focuses his argument on three primary issues that challenge the trial court’s decisions to admit certain witness testimony at trial. The Tennessee Supreme Court has asked the parties to address four main issues at oral argument: (1) the statutorily mandated death penalty review factors; (2) whether the trial court erred in admitting prior bad acts of the defendant into evidence (3) whether the defendant’s conviction for felony murder violated double jeopardy principles; and (4) whether the trial court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress certain DNA evidence after the State failed to preserve the vehicle from which the evidence was taken. Additionally, Amnesty International of Nashville will argue on behalf of Mr. Rimmer as amicus curiae regarding alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the case and the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy.
Milan Supply Chain Solutions Inc. f/k/a Milan Express Inc. v. Navistar Inc., et al. - W2018-00084-SC-R11-CV
This commercial dispute arose after the plaintiff, Milan Supply Chain Solutions Inc. (“Milan”), purchased more than two hundred trucks that were manufactured and sold by the defendants, Navistar, Inc. (“Navistar”) and Volunteer International, Inc. (“Volunteer”), respectively. In November of 2014, Milan filed a complaint against the defendants, claiming that the trucks were defective and alleging that the defendants made misrepresentations about the trucks and their quality. In an amended complaint, Milan asserted claims for breach of contract, breach of express and implied warranties, fraud, and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Milan’s fraud and TCPA claims proceeded to a jury trial. At the close of Milan’s proof, the trial court granted a directed verdict in favor of Volunteer and awarded Volunteer attorney’s fees against Milan. The charges against Navistar went to the jury, and the jury found in favor of Milan and awarded Milan $10,000,000 in compensatory damages, $20,000,000 in punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. Navistar appealed and raised eight issues to the Court of Appeals. In response, Milan raised two additional issues. Volunteer raised one issue regarding attorney’s fees. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s award of Volunteer’s attorney’s fees against Milan. However, the court reversed the judgments that were awarded in favor of Milan and against Navistar. The court determined that because Milan’s fraud claims were based on economic loss and “concern[ed] the quality of the trucks,” the fraud claims were barred by the economic loss doctrine under Tennessee law. The court also held that Milan’s claim under the TCPA failed because the trucks in question did not qualify as “goods” under the statute. Additionally, the court held that Milan waived any issues regarding its claims of breach of express warranty. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Milan urges the Court to adopt a broad fraud exception to the economic loss doctrine and to find that its claims for express breach of warranty were not waived. Milan also argues, among other things, that Navistar waived its challenge to the TCPA claim and associated award of attorney’s fees. Navistar argues that the Court of Appeals’ decision should be affirmed and raises additional issues regarding evidence at trial and the monetary verdict. Volunteer argues that its award of attorney’s fees against Milan should be affirmed and that it also should be awarded attorney’s fees for costs of appeal.
Ritchie Phillips et al v. Mark Hatfield - E2019-00628-SC-R11-CV
In this property dispute, Ritchie and Roma Phillips brought a declaratory judgment action against a neighboring land owner, Mark Hatfield, seeking to declare that Mr. Hatfield’s property was subject to a residential-use restriction and could not be used for commercial purposes. In 1953, the property now belonging to the Phillips and Mr. Hatfield was originally part of a platted neighborhood development. The development was sold in lots, and the property now belonging to Mr. Hatfield was sold in 1955. Thereafter, the original owners recorded a protective covenant restricting the entire development to residential use for a period of twenty years. The original owners reacquired portions of the property, and it was sold numerous times before Mr. Hatfield acquired it in 2016. Mr. Hatfield purchased the property with the intent to construct a retail establishment thereon. Following a hearing and subsequent bench trial, the trial court determined that the protective covenant restricting the property to residential use applied to Mr. Hatfield’s property and that Mr. Hatfield had constructive notice of the covenant in his deed and through public records. The trial court declared that Mr. Hatfield’s property was subject to an implied negative reciprocal easement and, as a result, issued a permanent injunction halting Mr. Hatfield’s construction of the retail establishment. Mr. Hatfield appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The court reasoned that the elements to prove an implied reciprocal easement were established. The court also determined that, despite evidence that the property was in fact re-zoned at one point to commercial use, and that a previous owner was issued a business license for the property, there was no evidence that the property in question was actually ever used for any business purpose or that the original neighborhood development plan had been abandoned. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Mr. Hatfield argues that the lower courts misapplied the doctrine of negative reciprocal easements and incorrectly charged him with notice of the protective covenant at the time of purchase. Mr. Hatfield also renews his argument that the general plan for residential use was abandoned, making the covenant inapplicable to his property.
Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. et al v. City of Memphis et al. - W2019-00299-SC-R11-CV
The appellants, Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., EPPF, LLC, and Guesthouse at Graceland, LLC (collectively referred to as “EPE”), sought approval in 2014 for the Graceland Economic Plan in which it proposed to construct a hotel, convention center, theater, concert venue, and museum facility in Memphis/Shelby County. The plan was first approved by the Economic Growth Development Engine (“EDGE”) and then approved by Memphis City Council, the County Commission, and the State of Tennessee, and the plan was granted certain tax incentive funding. In 2017, EPE sought to supplement its previous proposal to include a 6,200-seat arena and to increase its tax incentive funding. Approval of the supplemental plan stalled. Thereafter, EPE filed a complaint against the appellees, City of Memphis (“City”), Shelby County, Tennessee (“County”), and Hoops, LP, the predecessor of Memphis Basketball, LLC (“Memphis Basketball”), for a declaratory judgment and claiming intentional interference with business relations. EPE alleged that Memphis Basketball caused the delay of their plan because it allegedly threatened to sue the City and County on the basis that the supplemental plan would violate a previous agreement related to FedEx Forum (the “Arena Use Agreement”). The trial court dismissed the complaint because it determined that EPE had not exhausted its administrative remedies and that it lacked standing to bring the suit. EDGE and the County Commission then separately voted to approve EPE’s supplemental plan contingent upon Memphis Basketball entering into a binding agreement that approval of the supplemental plan did not violate the Arena Use Agreement. Months later, EPE filed a second complaint against the appellees seeking only a declaratory judgment that would satisfy the contingency stated by EDGE and the County Commission. The trial court, again, dismissed the complaint on the basis that EPE did not have standing to bring the complaint because it was not a party or beneficiary to the Arena Use Agreement. EPE appealed the dismissal and a majority of the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal but on the grounds that the second complaint was barred due to res judicata. The majority did not reach the issue of standing. The dissenting opinion stated that res judicata did not apply and that standing should be the dispositive issue. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, EPE argues, among other things, that res judicata does not bar its second claim because a failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not an adjudication on the merits and that it has third-party standing to seek interpretation of the Arena Use Agreement. EPE also argues that the County conferred EPE’s standing in the suit by authorizing it to pursue the declaration from the appellees by way of the contingency. The appellees argue that res judicata bars the second complaint or that, in the alternative, EPE lacks standing to bring the action.
September 30, 2020
In re Neavah M. - M2019-00313-SC-R11-PT
This expedited appeal examines one of the grounds for termination in Tennessee’s termination of parental rights statute. In this case, a child was removed from her biological mother’s care and placed into the care of foster parents. Thereafter, the Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) filed a petition for dependency and neglect. The juvenile court determined the child was dependent and neglected and granted custody to the foster parents but did not terminate the mother’s parental rights. The mother did not appear at the hearing, but she later requested visitation with the child. Thereafter, the foster parents filed a petition to adopt the child and terminate the mother’s parental rights. After a trial, the trial court terminated the mother’s parental rights and granted the adoption. The trial court held that the mother had “failed to manifest an ability” to assume custody of the child and that placing the child in the mother’s care would “pose a severe risk of physical and psychological harm to [the child].” The mother appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the mother’s rights should not have been terminated under the statute without a finding that she was not only unable but that she was also unwilling to assume custody of the child. The Court of Appeals recognized a split of authority under Tennessee law regarding whether the petitioning party was required to prove that the parent was both unable and unwilling to assume custody or whether a failure to manifest either an ability or willingness to assume custody could be sufficient under the statute, in addition to the risk of harm element. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the foster parents’ application for permission to appeal and limited the issues to whether the statute requires a petitioner to prove inability or unwillingness or both inability and unwillingness and, if both, whether the Court of Appeals should have remanded the case for further proceedings for the trial court to address the issue of the mother’s willingness to assume custody of the child.
Snake Steele, Inc. v. Holladay Construction Group, LLC - M2019-00322-SC-R11-CV
Appellant Holladay Construction Group, LLC (“HCG”) hired Appellee Snake Steel, Inc. (“SSI”) as a subcontractor to complete steel construction work for 2200 Charlotte, LLC (the “owner”). Tennessee’s Prompt Pay Act (“the Act”) permitted HCG to withhold a “retainage,” a percentage of the agreed-upon contract amount, until satisfactory completion of SSI’s responsibilities and until the owner provided the payment to HCG. SSI completed its responsibilities in September 2014 and received payment minus the retainage amount. The owner remitted the retainage to HCG in May 2015. SSI requested the retainage from HCG in February 2016 but had yet to receive it by September 2017. SSI filed suit seeking to recover the retainage amount and arguing that it was entitled to a $300 per day statutory penalty for each day HCG withheld the retainage amount and failed to put it in an interest-bearing escrow account. After the suit was filed, HCG tendered the retainage amount and other fees but not the alleged penalty. Thereafter, HCG filed a motion to dismiss the claim for statutory penalties, arguing that the claim was barred by a one-year statute of limitations. The trial court granted the motion, reasoning that the one-year statute of limitations barred recovery because the latest the claim could have accrued was February 19, 2016, one year and seven months before the suit was filed, when SSI requested the retainage from HCG. SSI appealed and the Court of Appeals agreed that the Act’s one-year statute of limitations applied in this case. However, the court remanded the case to determine when SSI could have reasonably discovered that HCG had failed to put the retainage in an escrow account. The court also held that, at the very least, SSI may be entitled to statutory penalties for the 365 days preceding when it filed the complaint in September 2017, or more. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, HCG argues that if SSI were able to collect any penalty based on the escrow account claim it would render the Act’s one-year statute of limitations meaningless. Additionally, HCG contends that the action accrued on February 19, 2016, and that the alleged penalty is disproportional to the actual harm. SSI argues that HCG’s failure to timely pay the retainage was a breach of contract and that HCG’s failure to hold the retainage in an escrow account was a breach of the Act. Additionally, SSI contends that it could not have reasonably known about HCG’s failure to keep the retainage in an escrow account until after the suit was filed in September 2017. As a result, the suit was filed within the one-year statute of limitations.
State of Tennessee v. Shalonda Weems - M2018-02288-SC-R11-CD
The defendant, Shalonda Weems, was convicted by a jury of aggravated child neglect and reckless homicide following the death of her infant child. After the jury’s verdict, the defendant filed a motion for judgment of acquittal on both charges. The trial court denied the motion as to the reckless homicide charge but granted the motion as to the aggravated child neglect charge because it determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove the defendant acted knowingly in causing harm to the child, a necessary element of conviction under the statute. The State appealed the partial acquittal, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The court stated that the child’s medical records showed that she was “well[-]developed, well[-]nourished: alert and vigorous” and that she showed “normal growth and development.” Additionally, the court credited the defendant’s testimony and records that she attended regular check-ups and brought the child to the emergency room when she appeared ill on one occasion. The court determined that “the evidence was insufficient to prove that [the defendant] knowingly did not feed [the child] or knowingly neglected [the child].” The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the State’s application for permission to appeal in which the State argued that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s judgment of acquittal “by substituting its own credibility determinations for those made by the jury, determining the weight to be given to witness testimony, failing to consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, and failing to disregard countervailing evidence.” In response, the defendant argues that when contemplating the totality of the evidence at trial, the trial court applied the correct legal standard when it partially granted the motion for acquittal.
State of Tennessee v. Samantha Grissom Scott - M2018-01852-SC-R11-CD
The defendant, Samantha Scott, pled guilty to two drug offenses and, with the State’s consent, reserved her right to appeal a certified question of law regarding the legality of the search of her home. On appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendant argued that her initial consent to officers to conduct a warrantless search of her home was involuntary and that, therefore, any evidence obtained from the search was inadmissible. She also argued that the search warrant that officers obtained using information discovered during the warrantless search was invalid, rendering inadmissible any evidence found through that search warrant. The State contested that the question on appeal was dispositive of the case and argued that exigent circumstances existed that allowed officers to seize the defendant and obtain her consent. Additionally, the State argued for the first time that, even if the defendant’s consent was invalid, the evidence still would be admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine. A majority of the appellate court agreed and held that the officers had probable cause to obtain a search warrant for the home upon their arrival, regardless of the defendant’s consent to conduct a warrantless search. Therefore, the evidence would have been discovered inevitably. The majority held that the defendant’s question was not dispositive and the appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The dissenting opinion determined that the inevitable discovery doctrine did not apply to the facts of this case because there was insufficient certainty that the officers would have obtained a search warrant and found the evidence on their own. The dissent also stated that no exigent circumstances existed and the defendant’s consent was invalid. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, in addition to the arguments made below, the defendant argues that the State waived its inevitable discovery doctrine argument by consenting to the certified question in the trial court. In response, the State contends that matters of jurisdiction, such as whether the question is dispositive, cannot be waived.
September 2, 2020
Jared Effler, et al. v. Purdue Pharma L.P., et al. – E2018-01994-SC-R11-CV
This appeal involves the scope of Tennessee’s Drug Dealer Liability Act (“DDLA” or the “Act”). The Plaintiffs are two minor children, through their guardian ad litem, and a number of Tennessee District Attorneys General (“District Attorney Plaintiffs), in their own right and on behalf of local city and county governments. The Plaintiffs allege liability against a group of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors (the “Manufacturer Defendants”), under the DDLA for their participation in over-prescribing and diverting prescription opioids in Tennessee. The Manufacturer Defendants filed a motion to dismiss in the trial court for failure to state a claim under the DDLA and challenged the District Attorney Plaintiffs’ standing to file the lawsuit. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss but did not reach the issue of standing. The Court of Appeals reversed, stating that the Act confers standing on district attorneys “to pursue DDLA claims on behalf of the political subdivisions within their respective judicial districts,” and that the the Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges “knowing participat[ion] in the diversion of opioids,” a claim for which relief may be granted under the Act. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Manufacturer Defendants continue to challenge the District Attorney Plaintiffs’ standing, arguing that the express language of the DDLA at most authorizes district attorneys general to represent a local government in a suit under the DDLA only if requested or retained by that locale to do so. Additionally, they argue that the DDLA does not apply to the “conduct of pharmaceutical manufacturers within the highly regulated market for FDA-approved medications.” The Manufacturer Defendants do not claim complete immunity under the DDLA in all circumstances. Rather, they argue that the Plaintiffs’ allegations do not suggest participation in the illegal drug market and no other jurisdiction has expanded liability to similarly situated parties. The Plaintiffs argue that the DDLA is consistent with the structure of the Act and its remedial purpose to allow district attorneys general to have standing in their own right, which does not create a conflict of interest or usurp the power of local governments. Additionally, the Plaintiffs argue that they have stated a valid claim under the DDLA because the Manufacturer Defendants have participated in the illegal distribution of their prescription drugs by knowingly or intentionally oversupplying opioids, allowing and encouraging doctors to write excessive prescriptions, supplying pharmacies and pain clinics engaged in illegal drug diversion, promoting opioids for long-term use, distributing opioids without effective diversion controls, and participating in a closed distribution system. Amicus curiae include Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and American Tort Reform Association, the International Association of Defense Counsel, the State of Tennessee, and the Tennessee District Attorneys General’s Conference.
Talat Parveen et al. v. ACG South Insurance Agency LLC et al. – E2018-01759-SC-R11-CV
This case involves interpretation of a Tennessee statute that states: “payment of premium for an insurance contract . . . by an insured shall create a rebuttable presumption that the coverage provided has been accepted by all insureds under the contact.” The plaintiffs obtained Safeco motor vehicle insurance coverage in 2013 through an agent of ACG South Insurance Agency, LLC (“ACG”). The plaintiffs allegedly requested identical insurance coverage to their previous policy with State Farm, “including [the] total amount of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.” ACG’s agent obtained an insurance policy for the plaintiffs, but it did not include the uninsured/underinsured coverage as requested. The plaintiffs received the policy information and paid the premium for 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 2015, the plaintiffs filed an insurance claim following an accident with an uninsured driver. The insurance company denied the claim, reasoning that the plaintiffs’ insurance policy did not include “excess uninsured motorist coverage.” The plaintiffs brought suit against ACG and its agent (the “defendants”) alleging that the defendants were negligent in failing to obtain the coverage they requested, specifically an umbrella policy that included excess uninsured motorist coverage. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the theory that the plaintiffs failed to rebut the presumption that they accepted the insurance policy that did not include the uninsured/underinsured coverage upon payment of the insurance premiums under the statute. The trial court granted the defendants’ motion. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the statute only created a rebuttable presumption between the “parties to the contract,” meaning the insurance company and the insured. The court reasoned that the insurance agent was not a party to the insurance contract and therefore was not subject to the statutory presumption. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the defendants argue that the statutory presumption applies in suits against insurance agents, based on principles of agency and the common law for contracts. The plaintiffs argue that the presumption does not apply to the agent’s actions in this case because the plain language of the statute, “under the contract,” limits the presumption to claims that are solely against insurer. Further, the plaintiffs argue that legislative history supports their interpretation that the presumption does not apply in this case.
July 30, 2020
Earle J. Fisher et al., v. Tre Hargett et al. - M2020-00831-SC-RDM-CV
Benjamin Lay et al., v. Mark Goins et al. - M2020-00832-SC-RDM-CV
May 28, 2020
State of Tennessee v. Robert Jason Allison – M2017-02367-SC-R11-CD
The defendant, Robert Allison, was convicted of two counts of delivery of marijuana, one count of possession with intent to distribute over ten pounds of marijuana in a drug-free school zone, one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and two counts of money laundering. The evidence at trial showed that the defendant engaged in two separate drug sales with a police informant in which he exchanged drugs for money, and he provided, or “fronted” drugs, and received payment at a later date. The defendant appealed his convictions and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court has narrowed the issues to the three addressed by the Court of Criminal Appeals: (1) whether the evidence at trial was sufficient to support the defendant’s convictions for money laundering, (2) whether the defendant’s convictions for money laundering violate the double jeopardy clause of the federal and state constitutions, and (3) whether the Tennessee money laundering statute is unconstitutionally vague. The defendant argues that the drug sales and receipt of money for the “fronted” drugs were one single transaction and cannot be considered separate transactions to sustain the money laundering convictions and that his convictions violate the double jeopardy clause. Additionally, the defendant argues that there was no proof that the money received for the “fronted” drugs was used in furtherance of illegal activity. The State argues that the money received for the “fronted drugs” was a separate transaction apart from the two controlled buys with the police informant. Additionally, the State contends that the evidence supports an inference that the money received for the “fronted” drugs was used to buy drugs for future sale. The State also argues that the language of the Tennessee money laundering statute specifically provides for multiple convictions; therefore, the double jeopardy clause is not applicable. Moreover, the offenses of money laundering and the sale of drugs require proof of different elements for conviction. Lastly, the State argues that the defendant has waived his constitutional claim regarding the money laundering statute, but that, nonetheless, the statute is not vague.
Brice Cook v. State of Tennessee – W2018-00237-SC-R11-PC
The defendant, Brice Cook, was tried and convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Following the denial of his direct appeal, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief that alleged multiple theories of ineffective assistance of counsel during trial and on appeal and also claimed that the State committed discovery violations. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied the defendant’s petition. The defendant appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals reasserting the claims from his original petition as well as a new claim that the post-conviction judge was unconstitutionally biased toward him during the post-conviction proceeding and deprived him of his right to due process. The defendant sought a new post-conviction hearing and for the court to recuse the post-conviction judge from the case. A majority of the intermediate court affirmed the denial of the petition and held that the defendant failed to carry his burden regarding the ineffective assistance of counsel claims. Additionally, while the majority cautioned the post-conviction judge against sharing his personal comments about the proceedings or the parties, the court determined that the judge’s comments did not evidence bias against the defendant. Moreover, the court held that the defendant waived the claim of judicial bias because he did not file a timely motion to recuse the post-conviction judge as is required by Tennessee Supreme Court Rules. The dissenting opinion in the Court of Criminal Appeals determined that the post-conviction judge should have disqualified himself regardless of a motion from the defendant and that, through his comments about trial counsel and the post-conviction process, the post-conviction judge expressed bias that effected the fairness of the proceeding. Additionally, the dissent concluded that any motion by the defendant would have been futile because the comments giving rise to the claim of judicial bias came at the end of the hearing. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the defendant argues that the post-conviction judge violated his right to a fair post-conviction proceeding and that he should be entitled to a new hearing with a different judge. Additionally, the defendant contends that he did not waive the judicial bias claim because the judge had a duty to recuse himself even absent a motion to recuse, and a biased trial judge is a structural, constitutional error that requires reversal. The State argues that the defendant waived the claim of judicial bias, and plain error review is not available in post-conviction proceedings. Additionally, the State argues that the post-conviction judge did not abuse his discretion in denying the defendant’s original petition for relief, and the post-conviction judge did not commit reversible error in expressing his own thoughts on the petition or the parties after he made his ruling. Lastly, the State argues that the defendant waived any additional constitutional claims that were not previously raised in the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Melanie Lemon v. Williamson County Schools et. al. – M2018-01878-SC-R11-CV
In this case, the plaintiff, Melanie Lemon, brought suit against the school board and three individual administrators after she claimed she was harassed, stalked, and intimidated into resigning from her position as a classroom teacher. Ms. Lemon filed a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against the administrators and filed claims of wrongful termination under the Teacher Tenure Act (“TTA”), breach of contract, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the school board. The trial court dismissed the claim for wrongful termination and held that because Ms. Lemon resigned from her position, she was not afforded the protections of the TTA, and her theory of constructive discharge was not recognized under Tennessee law. The trial court also dismissed her claims of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress on the basis that the school board was immune from suit under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”). The trial court later granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants as to the claims of breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ms. Lemon appealed to the Court of Appeals and challenged the dismissal of all five claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the claims for negligence, negligent infliction of emotion distress and breach of contract, as well as the claim against the administrators for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the dismissal of Ms. Lemon’s claim for wrongful termination. In so doing, the Court of Appeals held that, while there is no controlling law in Tennessee regarding constructive discharge, there was nothing that foreclosed the application of that theory in a wrongful termination action under the TTA. The Tennessee Supreme Court accepted the school board’s application for permission to appeal. The school board argues that the TTA does not apply to Ms. Lemon because of her resignation and that the theory of constructive discharge is incongruent with the intent of the TTA. The school board also argues that if the Court were to recognize a claim for constructive discharge under the TTA, Ms. Lemon’s remedy is limited to those enumerated in the statute. On the other hand, if the Court were to recognize the wrongful termination claim as a common law tort claim, not under the TTA, the school board argues that it is immune from suit under the GTLA. Ms. Lemon argues that the theory of constructive discharge supports the overall legislative intent of the TTA, and the evidence shows that she was constructively discharged from her position. Additionally, Ms. Lemon contends that the remedy available to her should not be limited to those enumerated in the TTA because reinstatement is not appropriate under the circumstances, Tennessee case law supports a remedy of compensatory damages, and awarding her a remedy outside of what is listed in the TTA is within the Court’s power. Ms. Lemon also challenges the dismissal of her original tort claims, which the school board argues were all properly dismissed. The individual school administrators argue that they are not proper parties to this appeal because Ms. Lemon failed to preserve the issue of the dismissal of her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim on appeal. Additionally, the administrators argue that they are absolutely immune from suit and, even if the Court were to allow the claim against them, the evidence fails to show the administrators’ conduct was “outrageous.”
Tuesday, May 19, 2020, arguments heard via Video Conference and Livestream. See story relating to this inaugural event here.
Carolyn Coffman et al. v. Armstrong International, Inc. et al. – E2017-01985-SC-R11-CV
In this products liability action, Carolyn Coffman, acting as plaintiff on behalf of her husband, alleged that her husband developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos when removing insulation, gaskets, and packing from industrial equipment at his workplace. Ms. Coffman sought to hold the manufacturers of the industrial equipment (“the Equipment Defendants”) liable on the basis that they had a duty to warn of the dangers associated with the asbestos-containing products that were incorporated into their equipment. The Equipment Defendants filed motions for summary judgment as to the plaintiffs’ claims arising from the post-sale integration of asbestos-containing equipment. The trial court granted the motions and held that the “bare metal defense,” under principles of federal tort law, relieved the Equipment Defendants of their duty to warn because their pieces of equipment were merely components of the larger system at Mr. Coffman’s workplace. Additionally, the trial court concluded that the Equipment Defendants did not substantially participate in the integration of their equipment into the employer’s system and their products were not shown to be defective. The plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the “bare metal defense” did not apply and that the defense is inconsistent with binding precedent in Tennessee as stated in Satterfield v. Breeding Insulation Company, 266 S.W.3d 347 (Tenn. 2008). The Court of Appeals applied the test from Satterfieldand held that the defendants had a duty to warn about the dangers associated with the asbestos-containing products incorporated post-sale even if manufactured by a third party. On appeal to this Court, the parties have been asked to address the following question in addition to the issues raised in their briefs: Whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the Equipment Defendants had a duty to warn of the dangers associated with the post-sale integration of asbestos-containing materials manufactured and sold by others.
Clarissa Bidwell ex rel James Bidwell et al. v. Timothy Strait MD et al. - E2018-02211-SC-R11-CV
In this healthcare liability action, James Bidwell is named as the plaintiff on behalf of his wife, Clarissa Bidwell, who is deceased. Ms. Bidwell went to the hospital for cranial issues and, after diagnostic testing and diagnosis, she was released from care by Drs. Timothy Strait and Jeffrey Colburn. On the way home, she experienced stroke-like symptoms and was flown to Erlanger Hospital (“EH”) to undergo emergency brain surgery. She passed away shortly thereafter. Following an investigation, the plaintiff provided pre-suit notice to Drs. Strait and Colburn and two facilities that he believed were the doctors’ employers, as required by Tennessee’s Healthcare Liability Act (“the Act”). The plaintiff filed suit against the doctors and the facilities under the Act alleging negligence and vicarious liability related to the conduct of the physician defendants. EH was not one of the employers listed in the original complaint, and the plaintiff did not send pre-suit notice to EH. In their answers, the physician defendants denied being employees of the facilities listed in the complaint. Additionally, Dr. Strait stated that his facility had been acquired by EH, and he reserved the right to plead comparative negligence as to the plaintiff or other responsible parties but claimed he did not know of any other parties that could be named as a defendant in the suit. Dr. Colburn also reserved the right to raise the defense of comparative fault and stated that at all times relevant to the suit, he provided medical care at a division of EH. The physician defendants filed motions for summary judgment, claiming that EH was their actual employer and, because EH was not listed as a defendant in the case, as required by statute, the doctors were immune from suit and the case should be dismissed. The plaintiff filed a motion to amend its complaint to substitute EH as the physician defendants’ employer and to add claims against EH. The trial court denied the motion to amend and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The trial court reasoned that EH was a necessary party to the action, and because the plaintiff failed to provide pre-suit notice to EH within the statute of limitations period, the plaintiff could not add EH as a party. The plaintiff appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to amend and vacated the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the physician defendants were required by statute to notify the plaintiff that EH was a “known or necessary party within thirty days of receiving pre-suit notice.” Additionally, because the physician defendants failed to do so, and then subsequently declared that EH was a necessary party, the plaintiff was entitled to additional time to amend his complaint to add EH and the claims against it. On appeal to this Court, the defendants argue that the statute requiring defendants to notify a plaintiff about a known or necessary party should not be interpreted broadly and only applies when there is an error regarding the named parties in the suit and the defendant knows of the error. Additionally, the physician defendants contend that the plaintiff cannot rely on the statute because he was aware of EH before filing suit, and the Act’s 90-day savings statute did not apply in this case because neither defendant pled comparative fault against EH in his answer.
Scott Trent et al. v. Mountain Commerce Bank et al. – E2018-01874-SC-R11-CV
This case involves an attempt to reform a deed for real property. The essential question raised by this case is whether Tennessee law precludes the reformation of a deed to add an omitted party even when it is undisputed that the intent of the parties was that the omitted party be included. The property included in the deed (“the Property”) was conveyed by Real Estate Holdings of East Tennessee, L.P. (“REH”) to Scott and Ted Trent in 2016. REH acquired the Property from Adren and Pamela Green on March 10, 2010, by quitclaim deed. The March 10 deed included Adren Green’s name and signature as grantor and Shannon Green’s name and signature as grantee and representative of REH. Pamela Green’s name and signature did not appear on the deed. Between 2010 and 2016, First Community Bank and Mountain Commerce Bank (“the respondents”) were awarded judgments against Adren and Pamela Green. On August 30, 2016, REH conveyed the property to the Trents, and, shortly thereafter, Adren and Pamela Green executed a correction to the August 30 deed that acknowledged Pamela Green was absent from the original March 10, 2010 deed that gave REH interest in the Property, and the parties attempted to correct the March 10 deed to add Pamela Green as grantor. On September 8, 2017, Scott and Ted Trent, trustee William Phillips, and Civis Bank (“the petitioners”) initiated a declaratory judgment action seeking to declare that they were vested with “all right, title, and interest” in the Property, subject only to the deed of trust executed in order to secure financing through Civis Bank. Additionally, the petitioners sought to declare that the respondents had no interest or lien on the Property via their judgments against the Greens. The petitioners requested that the trial court reform the original March 10, 2010 quitclaim deed to include Pamela Green as grantor. After a trial, the court determined that the evidence showed Pamela Green intended to convey her interest in the Property in the March 10, 2010 deed. However, the trial court held that it did not have the power to add Pamela Green as a grantor because there was no mutual mistake between the actual parties to that deed, Arden and Shannon Green. The trial court declined to hold that the petitioners were the only parties with interest in the Property. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the petitioners argue that the March 10 deed was just a manifestation of the original agreement between three parties, Arden, Pamela, and Shannon Green, and there was a mutual mistake between those three parties that led to the deed not accurately reflecting the transfer of Pamela Green’s interest. Additionally, because all parties testified and agreed that it was a mistake not to include Pamela Green on the March 10 deed, the trial court had the authority to reform the deed. The respondents argue that their judgments attached to Pamela Green’s interest in the property, giving them a superior interest in the property over the petitioners, and the March 10 deed cannot be reformed when there are intervening judgment liens on the Property. The respondents also argue that reformation cannot be used to add a grantor to the deed.The live-stream of the final case on the Tennessee Supreme Court's docket today will begin at 1:30 p.m. EDT/12:30 CDT on the TN Courts YouTube page. The Tennessee Supreme Court remains committed to keeping Tennessee courts open while protecting the health and safety of all parties. Due to the continued concerns regarding COVID-19, the cases set for the May 19, 2020 docket will be heard by livestream video conferencing. This is one of the many efforts the Court has taken during the COVID-19 pandemic to prioritize the health and well-being of all litigants, attorneys, judges, and employees of the court system.
Tuesday, April 1, 2020, argument heard via Video Conference. See story relating to this historic event here.
Lataisha M. Jackson v. Charles Anthony Burrell et al. – W2018-00057-SC-R11-CV
This healthcare liability action arose when the plaintiff, Lataisha Jackson, alleged that an employee, Charles Burrell, at Gould’s Salon Inc. d/b/a Gould’s Day Spa & Salon (“Gould’s”) sexually assaulted her while she was getting a massage. Ms. Jackson filed claims of vicarious liability, negligence, and negligent supervision, retention, and training against Gould’s. Gould’s filed a motion for summary judgment claiming, in part, that the negligence claims could not survive because Ms. Jackson failed to file a certificate of good faith, which is a pre-suit notice requirement under the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act (“THCLA”). In opposition, Ms. Jackson argued that the certificate of good faith was not required by law under the common knowledge exception to the THCLA. The trial court granted Gould’s motion for summary judgment based on Ms. Jackson’s failure to file the certificates of good faith and dismissed the claims with prejudice. Ms. Jackson appealed to the Court of Appeals but did not directly raise the issue of whether the common knowledge exception applied in this case. Gould’s, however, argued the issue in its brief. A majority of the intermediate court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Gould’s and held that the common knowledge exception did not apply and that, even if it did, Ms. Jackson waived the argument by not raising it as an issue on appeal. The dissent determined that the argument regarding the common knowledge exception was not waived and that the exception applied as related to Ms. Jackson’s negligence claims. On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Ms. Jackson contends that the issue of whether the common knowledge exception applies was not waived because she argued it in front of the trial court, Gould’s argued the issue in its brief on appeal, and Gould’s never raised the issue of waiver. Additionally, she argues that the common knowledge exception exempts her from having to file a certificate of good faith because, under the THCLA, the certificate is required for medical negligence and this a case of negligent supervision and retention of an employee. Gould’s argues that Ms. Jackson was required to file a certificate of good faith because the legislative intent shows that it is required for all health care liability claims, not just “medical” claims. Additionally, Gould’s contends that Ms. Jackson’s “skeletal” arguments in the trial court did not satisfy her burden of preserving the issue for appeal. Gould’s also contends that even if the argument is not waived, the common knowledge exception does not apply in this case because a determination of whether Gould’s acted negligently in hiring, retaining, or supervising an employee is not a matter within the common knowledge of a layperson.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020, arguments heard in Nashville, Tennessee.
Vickie S. Young, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Randall Josh Young, Deceased v. First Cardiology PLLC, et al - M2019-00316-SC-R11-CV
In this healthcare liability action, the plaintiff, Vickie Young, filed a wrongful death suit against the defendants, First Cardiology PLLC and Thomas Killian, M.D., alleging negligence and medical malpractice that resulted in her husband’s death. Before trial, the defendants sought to exclude the plaintiff’s medical expert testimony on the basis that the expert was not licensed to practice medicine in Tennessee or a contiguous bordering state during the year preceding the relevant time period, as required by Tennessee statute. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to exclude the expert’s testimony, stating that the particular statute only applied to healthcare professionals who were practicing in a “health care profession requiring licensure,” and, at the time relevant to this case, the plaintiff’s expert was exempt from licensure as part of a post-graduate medical training program. The trial court subsequently granted the defendants’ permission to file an interlocutory appeal, but the Court of Appeals denied the application. The Supreme Court, however, granted review of the appeal. Before the Supreme Court, the defendants argue that the competency requirements for medical experts are unambiguous in that the expert must have been licensed and practicing in Tennessee or a contiguous bordering state during the year preceding the date that the alleged injury or wrongful act occurred. The plaintiff argues that the statute at issue does not apply to medical professionals who, like the expert in this case, were qualified to practice medicine under a waiver of licensure during the relevant time period.
George H. Thompson, III v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee - M2018-02216-SC-R3-BP
This attorney-discipline case was initiated after a single complaint alleging that the attorney, Mr. George Thompson, allowed the statute of limitations in a client’s personal injury action to expire, prohibiting the client from refiling her claim or obtaining relief. Mr. Thompson offered his client $5,000 in exchange for a release from liability concerning the case, but he did not advise his client that she should obtain independent legal counsel regarding the release. Mr. Thompson stipulated to the acts of wrongdoing and that he violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. As a result, the hearing panel found that a one-year suspension, thirty days active with the remainder on probation, was the appropriate measure of discipline given Mr. Thompson’s history of similar acts of wrongdoing and discipline. The chancery court affirmed the hearing panel’s sanction. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Thompson argues that thirty days active suspension would effectively eliminate his ability to carry on his solo practice and would force him to retire early. Additionally, Mr. Thompson argues that he did not knowingly or intentionally violate the rules, so a suspension is not appropriate in this instance. The Board argues that the hearing panel’s decision is not arbitrary or capricious and is supported by substantial and material evidence.
In re: Cumberland Bail Bonding - M2017-02172-SC-R11-CD
This case involves the challenge of a judicial district’s local rule of court, which requires a bonding agent to give notice to a defendant of all his or her court appearances and to be present at all of the defendant’s court appearances. Here, Cumberland Bail Bonding failed to appear at a defendant’s hearing. As a result, the trial court suspended Cumberland’s bonding privileges pending a hearing. Cumberland filed a motion for reinstatement of bonding privileges, which was denied, and Cumberland appealed. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court’s order suspending Cumberland. It held that, while the notification requirement of the rule is within the trial court’s “inherent power” to regulate bonding companies, the appearance requirement is “arbitrary, capricious, and illegal” because it was “not apparent why the bonding company’s presence” is required at each appearance. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the State argues that the appearance requirement is neither arbitrary nor capricious because “[t]he bondsman’s presence in court ensures that all parties timely receive relevant information about a defendant.” Additionally, the State argues that the local rule does not conflict with any statute or rule and that the statutes regulating bonding agents did not abrogate the court’s inherent authority to regulate bonding agents through the local rule. Cumberland argues that the local rule is inconsistent with Tennessee statute because “it modifies the statutory obligations of bonding companies” and that the appearance requirement is arbitrary and capricious.
Crouch Railway Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC - M2017-02540-SC-R22-CV
This contract dispute arose after LS Energy Fabrication, LLC (Lonestar) hired Crouch Railway Consulting (Crouch) for engineering and planning services related to the construction of a railcar repair facility in Texas. Lonestar is a Texas company, based out of Baytown Texas, and Crouch is a Tennessee company, based out of Brentwood, Tennessee. Months in to the performance of the contract, Lonestar failed to make payments for work completed in two separate months. Crouch filed a claim for breach of contract and unjust enrichment against Lonestar in Williamson County Chancery Court. Lonestar filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that simply contracting with a Tennessee company is not enough to confer personal jurisdiction on the Williamson County court. The trial court granted Lonestar’s motion to dismiss, but the Court of Appeals reversed. Relying on Nicholstone Book Bindery, Inc. v. Chelsea House Publishers, 621 S.W.2d 560 (Tenn. 1981), the Court of Appeals held that Lonestar “purposefully directed its activity toward Tennessee by engaging a Tennessee engineering company to provide customized services, which were preformed primarily in Tennessee.” Additionally, the Court of Appeals explained that the decision to require Lonestar to litigate in Tennessee was both “fair and reasonable.” On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, Lonestar argues that the Tennessee and United States constitutions require the nonresident defendant to “create a substantial connection with the forum state, not merely foresee the possibility of one day being sued there.” Additionally, Lonestar argues that the Court’s focus should be on the company’s conduct and not simply foreseeability. Crouch argues that Lonestar has “more than sufficient minimum contacts with Tennessee” because it “intentionally engaged Crouch,” knowing it was a Tennessee company, in specialized design and consulting services. Additionally, Crouch argues that “subjecting Lonestar to personal jurisdiction in Tennessee is consistent with notions of fair play or substantial justice.”
Douglas Ralph Beier v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee - E2019-00463-SC-R3-BP
This attorney-discipline matter arose from two separate cases for which Mr. Beier represented one of the parties. In the first case, the Board of Professional Responsibility alleged that Mr. Beier forged the signature on an affidavit and filed the document with the court. In the second case, regarding a probate matter, the Board alleged that Mr. Beier not only misrepresented who the heirs of the estate were, but he also misrepresented the value of the probate estate to pad his contingency fee. A hearing panel determined that Mr. Beier violated six separate Rules of Professional Conduct and that a two-year suspension, ninety days active suspension with the remainder on probation, was the appropriate sanction. Both Mr. Beier and the Board filed petitions for review of the hearing panel’s judgment in the Hamblen County Chancery Court. The chancery court determined that the hearing panel’s finding that Mr. Beier violated the rules was not arbitrary or capricious and was supported by substantial and material evidence. Additionally, the chancery court held that Mr. Beier’s two-year suspension was appropriate but that the entirety of the sanction should be served as an active suspension. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Beier argues that the findings and conclusions of both the hearing panel and the chancery court were arbitrary and capricious and not supported by the evidence. Furthermore, Mr. Beier argues that the hearing panel did not adequately weigh similar attorney discipline matters in determining the appropriate sanction and that the chancery court inappropriately modified the service of the suspension. The Board argues that the hearing panel’s determinations as to ethical violations were supported by substantial and material evidence and that the chancery court appropriately modified the sanction.