Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 11/18/2019
Format: 11/18/2019
Carlos Eugene Moore v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
W2018-00969-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree, Jr.

Carlos Eugene Moore (“Attorney”) entered into a written contingent fee agreement to represent a client in a personal injury matter. The agreement, which was signed by the client, provided that if the client refused to accept any settlement offer which Attorney advised her was reasonable and should be taken, the client was responsible for the contingency fee “on the basis of that offer” unless Attorney waived the provision. When Attorney received an offer to settle the matter, he advised the client to accept the offer. She refused. Attorney filed a motion to withdraw which was granted. Attorney also sought to place a lien against the client’s eventual recovery for his fees and expenses “presently owe[d].” After the client filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility (“BPR”), the BPR filed a petition for discipline. A hearing panel was appointed and, after an evidentiary hearing, the panel concluded that (1) Attorney had “made an agreement for and has sought to collect an unreasonable fee,” violating Rule of Professional Conduct (“RPC” or “Rule”) 1.5(a) and 1.5(c); and (2) Attorney had “violated Rule 1.8(i) because [the client] became obligated when [Attorney] advised [her] that the settlement offer . . . was ‘reasonable and should be taken.’” The hearing panel imposed a sanction of public censure. Attorney sought review in chancery court, and the chancery court affirmed the hearing panel’s decision. Attorney then sought review in this Court, arguing that the hearing panel’s findings that he had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct were arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial and material evidence. Attorney further contends that the sanction imposed was arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial and material evidence. We hold that the record supports both the findings of violations and the imposition of a public censure. Accordingly, we affirm the chancery court’s ruling upholding the hearing panel’s decision.   

Shelby County Supreme Court 05/13/19
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones - Concurring
W2015-02210-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

I concur in the Court’s opinion except for the analysis regarding the proportionality review. In 1997, this Court narrowed the scope of the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D) by limiting consideration to only those cases in which the death penalty had been sought. State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 666 (Tenn. 1997). A majority of this Court reaffirmed this truncated approach in State v. Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d 180, 217 (Tenn. 2013). In Pruitt, I joined Justice William C. Koch, Jr. in dissenting from the Court’s decision to continue following the Bland approach, as it improperly narrowed the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D). Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d at 230 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting). We determined that the Court should return to its pre-Bland proportionality analysis by considering “all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death has been imposed” and focusing on whether the case under review more closely resembles cases that have resulted in the imposition of the death penalty than those that have not. Id. at 230–31 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting).

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/30/19
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones
W2015-02210-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

In this capital case, a Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Henry Lee Jones, of alternative counts of first degree premeditated murder and first degree felony murder of Clarence James and alternative counts of first degree premeditated murder and first degree felony murder of Lillian James. The jury sentenced the Defendant to death on all four counts. As for the two counts related to Mr. James, the jury found the evidence sufficient to support six aggravating circumstances. As for the two counts related to Mrs. James, the jury found the evidence sufficient to support five aggravating circumstances. The trial court merged each of the felony murder convictions into the corresponding premeditated murder convictions and imposed two sentences of death. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the Defendant’s convictions and sentences. On automatic review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 39-13-206(a)(1), we now address the following issues: (1) Whether the Defendant was unconstitutionally denied the right to counsel; (2) whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence the former testimony of Tevarus Young; (3) whether the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions; and (4) whether the trial court erred in denying the appointment of a mitigation expert. We also conduct our mandatory review of the Defendant’s death sentences. Upon our thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the Defendant’s convictions and death sentences. As to the remaining issues raised by the Defendant, we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ conclusions and attach as an appendix to this opinion the relevant portions of that court’s decision.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/30/19
Gerald Stanley Green v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court Of Tennessee
W2017-02358-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

This direct appeal involves a lawyer disciplinary proceeding against a Memphis attorney arising from two client complaints and the lawyer’s failure to satisfy fully Mississippi’s requirements for pro hac vice admission before representing a criminal defendant in Mississippi. A Hearing Panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Hearing Panel”) determined that the lawyer had violated four provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”). After consulting the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (“ABA Standards”) and considering the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, including the lawyer’s seventeen prior disciplinary sanctions, the Hearing Panel suspended the lawyer for six months and directed thirty days of the sanction to be served on active suspension with the remainder to be served on probation with conditions, including a practice monitor, restitution, and continuing legal education focused on law office management, client communication, and client relations. The lawyer appealed the Hearing Panel’s judgment, and the Chancery Court for Shelby County affirmed. The lawyer then appealed to this Court. After carefully reviewing the record, we affirm.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/24/19
Frederick Copeland v. Healthsouth/Methodist Rehabilitation Hospital, LP Et Al.
W2016-02499-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rhynette N. Hurd

A rehabilitation hospital hired a medical transportation company to take a patient to a doctor’s appointment. Before the transport, the company’s driver required the patient to sign an agreement that, in part, released the company from any liability. After the appointment, the patient fell as he was getting into the company’s van. He sued the medical transportation company, which moved to dismiss based on the exculpatory provisions of the agreement. The trial court and the Court of Appeals ruled that the exculpatory provisions were enforceable. We hold that to determine the enforceability of an exculpatory agreement, a court should consider the totality of the circumstances and weigh these non-exclusive factors: (1) relative bargaining power of the parties; (2) clarity of the exculpatory language, which should be clear, unambiguous, and unmistakable about what the party who signs the agreement is giving up; and (3) public policy and public interest implications. We hold that the exculpatory provisions in the agreement between the medical transportation company and the patient are unenforceable based on the unequal bargaining power of the parties, the overly broad and unclear language of the agreement, and the important public interest implicated by the agreement. Thus, the exculpatory language in the agreement does not, as a matter of law, bar the patient’s claim. We vacate the judgment of the trial court, reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings. 

Shelby County Supreme Court 12/20/18
State of Tennessee v. Jimmy Williams
W2016-00946-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

We accepted this appeal to determine whether a notice that the State intended to seek enhanced sentencing in one case is sufficient to provide notice that the State intended to seek enhanced sentencing in a subsequent unrelated case involving the same defendant. The defendant, Jimmy Williams, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced as a career offender to serve fifteen years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. At trial, the defendant unsuccessfully objected to his classification as a career offender based on the State’s failure to file a timely notice of its intent to seek enhanced sentencing, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the trial court’s ruling. He now appeals the sentencing issue and also argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. We hold that the State must file a timely and proper notice in each case for which it intends to seek enhanced punishment. Consequently, the defendant in this case did not receive proper notice of the State’s intention, and therefore, the trial court should have sentenced him as a Range I, standard offender. However, the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction; therefore, we affirm the defendant’s judgment of conviction for aggravated assault but modify his sentence and remand for entry of a corrected judgment form in accordance with this opinion. 

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/12/18
Board of Professional Responsibility of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Larry Edward Parrish
W2017-00889-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies
This is a direct appeal of a disciplinary proceeding involving a Memphis attorney who filed motions to recuse containing pejorative statements about three appellate judges. A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility found that the attorney had violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct and that his sanction should be a public censure. The trial court agreed that the attorney was guilty of misconduct but modified the hearing panel’s decision, determining that the appropriate sanction was a six-month suspension, with thirty days served on active suspension and the remainder on probation.  We hold that the attorney’s pejorative statements in the motions to recuse were not protected by the First Amendment and there was material and substantial evidence of noncompliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, we hold that the hearing panel acted arbitrarily and capriciously in determining that the attorney should receive a public censure rather than suspension. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Shelby County Supreme Court 08/14/18
Tommy Nunley v. State of Tennessee
W2016-01487-SC-R11-ECN
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Wheeler Campbell

This appeal arises out of the appellant prisoner’s petition for a writ of error coram nobis. The petitioner, convicted of aggravated rape in 1998, asserted in his petition that the State violated his constitutional right to due process of law by withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense in his trial, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Without asking the State for a response to the coram nobis petition and without an evidentiary hearing, the trial court dismissed the petition in part because it was filed long after expiration of the one-year statute of limitations and demonstrated no reason for equitable tolling of the statute of limitations. The Court of Criminal Appeals declined to consider the statute of limitations because the State had not pled it as an affirmative defense, but affirmed the dismissal because the petition did not present newly discovered evidence warranting coram nobis relief. On appeal, we initially clarify that an error coram nobis proceeding is not the appropriate procedural vehicle for obtaining relief on the ground that the petitioner suffered a constitutional due process violation under Brady. As to the petition, we hold that (1) coram nobis petitions with insufficient allegations are susceptible to summary dismissal on the face of the petition, without discovery or an evidentiary hearing; (2) Tenn. R. Civ. P 8.03 does not apply to a petition for writ of error coram nobis; (3) timeliness under the statute of limitations is an “essential element” of a coram nobis claim that must be demonstrated on the face of the petition; and (4) if the petitioner seeks equitable tolling of the statute of limitations, the facts supporting the tolling request must likewise appear on the face of the petition. Applying this standard, we find no error in the trial court’s decision to dismiss the coram nobis petition and affirm.

Shelby County Supreme Court 07/19/18
Drayton Beecher Smith, II v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court Of Tennessee
W2017-00247-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge William B. Acree

Drayton Beecher Smith, II (“Attorney”) pled guilty in 2007 to federal charges of receipt and possession of images depicting child pornography and was sentenced to five years of imprisonment. In conjunction with these charges, Attorney consented to his disbarment, which was ordered in 2008. In August 2014, after being discharged from prison and while on probation, Attorney petitioned to be reinstated to the practice of law in Tennessee. The Board of Professional Responsibility (“BPR”) opposed Attorney’s petition, and a hearing panel was appointed (“the Panel”). After an evidentiary hearing, the Panel denied Attorney’s petition. Attorney sought review in chancery court, and the chancery court reversed the Panel’s decision and ordered Attorney reinstated. The BPR sought review in this Court. Initially, we hold that the chancery court had subject-matter jurisdiction of Attorney’s petition in spite of the BPR’s untimely filing of its application for costs. We further hold that the chancery court misapplied the applicable standard of review and thereby committed reversible error. Accordingly, we reverse the chancery court’s ruling and reinstate the Panel’s decision.

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/26/18
Derrick Hussey, Et Al. v. Michael Woods, Et Al.
W2014-01235-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02 allows a trial court to set aside a final judgment under certain circumstances, including when the judgment is void or “for any other reason justifying relief.” Here, a decedent’s mother, in her capacity as her unmarried son’s next of kin, filed a lawsuit seeking damages for his wrongful death. The case was settled and dismissed. Nearly twenty months later, the decedent’s alleged minor child filed a Rule 60.02 motion to set aside the order of dismissal and to be substituted as the plaintiff. The motion asserted that the child was the decedent’s next of kin and the proper party to pursue the wrongful death claim, based on the decedent’s execution of an acknowledgment of paternity and a Mississippi trial court order for support. The trial court denied the motion, finding it was not timely filed. The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s ruling, holding that the Rule 60.02 motion was not ripe for adjudication until the trial court conclusively established the child’s paternity. We find the Court of Appeals erred by focusing on issues surrounding the child’s paternity rather than reviewing the correctness of the trial court’s ruling on the Rule 60.02 motion. We hold that the trial court properly denied relief under Rule 60.02. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated.

Shelby County Supreme Court 12/18/17
State of Tennessee v. Tabitha Gentry (AKA ABKA RE BAY)
W2015-01745-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey

The primary issue in this appeal is whether Tennessee’s theft statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-103, encompasses theft of real property. The defendant physically entered and occupied for over a week a vacant East Memphis house valued at more than two million dollars and filed documents with the Shelby County Register of Deeds Office purporting to reflect her ownership of the property. A jury convicted the defendant of theft of property valued at over $250,000 and aggravated burglary. The defendant challenges her convictions, arguing that Tennessee’s theft statute does not encompass theft of real property. We conclude that our theft statute applies to theft of real property by occupation, seizure, and the filing of a deed to the property and that the evidence is sufficient to support the defendant’s convictions. We also reject the defendant’s arguments that the trial court improperly limited her cross-examination of a prosecution witness and her closing argument. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the defendant’s convictions and remanding to the trial court for resentencing.

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/29/17
State of Tennessee v. Antoine Perrier
W2015-01642-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case with direction to the parties to particularly address the following issues:  (1) the meaning of the phrase “not engaged in unlawful activity” in the self-defense statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-611, and (2) whether the trial court or the jury decides whether the defendant was engaged in unlawful activity.  We hold that the legislature intended the phrase “not engaged in unlawful activity” in the self-defense statute to be a condition of the statutory privilege not to retreat when confronted with unlawful force and that the trial court should make the threshold determination of whether the defendant was engaged in unlawful activity when he used force in an alleged self-defense situation.  We further conclude that the defendant’s conduct in this case constituted unlawful activity for the purposes of this statute.  The defendant has also presented four other issues to this Court, arguing that the trial court erred by failing to properly instruct the jury on the lesser-included offenses of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, that the second count of the indictment was deficient, that the trial court should have given the jury an instruction on the defense of necessity, and that the evidence was insufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for assault.  We affirm the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, albeit on separate grounds. 

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/21/17
State of Tennessee v. Sedrick Clayton - Concurring
W2015-00158-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carolyn W. Blackett

I concur in the Court’s opinion except for the analysis regarding the proportionality review. In 1997, this Court narrowed the scope of the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1)(D) by limiting its consideration to only those cases in which the death penalty had been sought. State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 666 (Tenn. 1997). A majority of this Court reaffirmed this truncated approach in State v. Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d 180, 217 (Tenn. 2013). In Pruitt, I joined Justice William C. Koch, Jr. in dissenting from the Court’s decision to continue following the Bland approach, as it improperly narrowed the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(c)(1)(D). Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d at 230 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting). We determined that the Court should return to its pre-Bland proportionality analysis by considering “all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death has been imposed” and focusing on whether the case under review more closely resembles cases that have resulted in the imposition of the death penalty than those that have not. Id. at 230-31 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting).

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/20/17
State of Tennessee v. Sedrick Clayton
W2015-00158-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carolyn W. Blackett

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant of the first degree murders of Arithio Fisher (Count I), Patricia Fisher (Count II), and Pashea Fisher (Count III), and the attempted first degree murder of A’reco Fisher (Count IV), as well as possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony (Count V), employing a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony (Count VI), and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (Count VII). The jury sentenced the defendant to death for each of the first degree murders. The trial court imposed agreed-upon sentences of fifteen years for the attempted murder and three years, six years, and eleven months, twenty-nine days, respectively, for the remaining convictions, with the sentences for Counts I, II, III, IV, and VII to be served concurrently with each other and the sentences for Counts V and VI to be served concurrently with each other but consecutively to the previous sentences, for an effective sentence of death plus six years. On appeal, we hold that: (1) the evidence is sufficient to support the jury’s finding that the defendant acted with premeditation in commission of the offenses; (2) the defendant waived his Fourth Amendment challenge to the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress his statements; and (3) each of the death sentences satisfies our mandatory statutory review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206. As to the remaining issues raised by the defendant, we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ conclusions and attach as an appendix to this opinion the relevant portions of that court’s decision. The defendant’s convictions and sentences, as merged by the Court of Criminal Appeals, are affirmed.

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/20/17
Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
W2013-01949-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert S. Weiss

I concur in the majority’s decision regarding the pretrial agreement. I dissent from the majority’s analysis regarding superseding cause. The trial court did not err in declining to give an instruction on superseding cause; the majority’s analysis confuses causation in fact with superseding cause. Further, I dissent from the majority’s analysis of the remittitur issue and its remand to the trial court. The majority, in five lengthy footnotes, attempts to defend its decision. The reasoning in this separate opinion is clearly stated; I will not debate with the majority in a series of footnotes.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/20/17
Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc.
W2013-01949-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert S. Weiss

This appeal arises out of sequential rear-end collisions involving three tractor trailer vehicles. The plaintiff’s tractor trailer was rear-ended by a tractor trailer owned by the defendant, which was in turn rear-ended by a third tractor trailer. The plaintiff sued the owners and drivers of both of the other tractor trailers, seeking compensation for personal injuries. Before trial, the plaintiff entered into an agreement with the owner of the third tractor trailer that neither would take any action adverse to the other and that the owner of the third tractor trailer would only owe the plaintiff half of any judgment entered against it. The owner of the third tractor trailer was later dismissed on a directed verdict. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff against the defendant. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for new trial and, with little explanation, also suggested a remittitur of the jury’s verdict in all four categories of damages awarded. After the defendant appealed, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings regarding the pretrial agreement between the plaintiff and the owner of the third tractor trailer. Regarding the trial court’s remittitur, the Court of Appeals reinstated the jury’s award for lost earning capacity, suggested a further remittitur to the award for loss of enjoyment of life, and affirmed the remitted award in the remaining two categories of damages. On appeal, we affirm the trial court’s rulings regarding the pretrial agreement. We find no error in the trial court’s decision not to give the jury a special instruction on superseding cause. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to suggest a further remittitur absent a finding that the jury’s award—as remitted by the trial court—exceeds the uppermost boundary of the range of reasonableness under the evidence at trial, and so we reverse the Court of Appeals’ remittitur of the award for loss of enjoyment of life. As to the trial court’s remittitur, in view of the sharply conflicting evidence on the plaintiff’s damages, the trial court’s failure to indicate the reasons for its suggested remittitur leaves us unable to determine whether the evidence preponderates against the remittitur and, consequently, unable to conduct a proper appellate review of the trial court’s remittitur decision. Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial court for explanation of its reasons for suggesting remittitur of the jury’s award. For the same reason, the Court of Appeals was without sufficient information to perform a meaningful review of the trial court’s suggested remittitur, so we vacate the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the trial court’s remittitur of the award on lost earning capacity. The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/20/17
Regions Bank v. Thomas D. Thomas, Et Al.
W2015-00798-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

We granted this appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals correctly applied the statutory “rebuttable presumption rule” under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code, as codified at Tennessee Code Annotated section 47-9-626, in reversing the trial court and concluding that the Plaintiff, Regions Bank, was not entitled to recover a deficiency from the Defendants, Thomas D. Thomas, Helen L. Thomas, and The Thomas Family Living Trust. We conclude that both the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in their respective applications of the “rebuttable presumption rule.” Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, the judgment of the trial court is vacated, and this matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings as set forth herein.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/16/17
State of Tennessee v. Antonio Henderson
W2015-00151-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula Skahan

We granted the application for permission to appeal of the Defendant, Antonio Henderson, in this case to determine whether the evidence is sufficient to support his conviction for especially aggravated robbery. The Defendant contends that the serious bodily injury to the victim occurred after the robbery was complete and that, as a result, he could have committed only an aggravated robbery. We hold that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the victim’s serious bodily injury was inflicted before the Defendant had completed robbing the victim with a deadly weapon. Accordingly, the evidence supports the Defendant’s conviction of especially aggravated robbery. Therefore, albeit for different reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/05/17
Deborah Bray v. Radwan R. Khuri, M.D.
W2015-00397-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) requires a person who asserts a potential claim for healthcare liability to include with pre-suit notice a HIPAA compliant medical authorization permitting the healthcare provider who receives the notice to obtain complete medical records “from each other provider being sent the notice.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(2)(E). Here, the plaintiff sent pre-suit notice of her claim to a single healthcare provider and included a medical authorization. After the plaintiff filed suit, the defendant healthcare provider moved to dismiss, asserting the plaintiff had failed to provide a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization. The trial court granted the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that a prospective plaintiff who provides pre-suit notice to one potential defendant is not required under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(2)(E) to provide the single potential defendant with a HIPAA-compliant medical authorization. We reverse the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings. 

Shelby County Supreme Court 07/05/17
State of Tennessee v. Ray Rowland
W2014-02311-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

The issue we address is whether a defendant has an appeal as of right from the denial of a Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g) motion for return of property when the defendant did not file a pretrial motion to suppress and pleaded guilty. The defendant was indicted on charges of aggravated assault by use or display of a deadly weapon. Law enforcement officers seized guns and other related items from the defendant’s home. The defendant did not challenge the seizure of his property and pleaded guilty to reduced charges of reckless endangerment. Three years later, he filed a Rule 41(g) motion for the return of property. The trial court dismissed the motion, and the defendant appealed. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed and remanded, finding that the defendant may be entitled to relief under Rule 41(g) based on the court’s determination that an illegal seizure occurs when, after a conviction, the State retains possession of property that is not stolen and not connected to the commission of a crime. See State v. Rowland, No. W2014-02311-CCA-R3-CD, 2015 WL 6601315, at *3 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 30, 2015), perm. app. granted (Mar. 23, 2016). We hold that the defendant had no appeal as of right under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(b) from the trial court’s order denying the Rule 41(g) motion. The Court of Criminal Appeals erred by hearing the defendant’s appeal when it lacked jurisdiction under Rule 3(b) and by determining that the defendant could be entitled to relief under Rule 41(g).   

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/02/17
State of Tennessee v. James Hawkins - Concurring
W2012-00412-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

I concur fully with the Court’s opinion except for the analysis regarding the proportionality review. In 1997, this Court narrowed the scope of the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D) by limiting its consideration to only those cases in which the death penalty had been sought. State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 666 (Tenn. 1997). A majority of this Court reaffirmed this truncated approach in State v. Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d 180, 217 (Tenn. 2013). In Pruitt, I joined Justice William C. Koch, Jr. in dissenting from the Court’s decision to continue following the Bland approach, as it improperly narrows the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D). Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d at 230 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting). We determined that the Court should return to its pre-Bland proportionality analysis by considering “all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death has been imposed” and focusing on whether the case under review more closely resembles cases that have resulted in the imposition of the death penalty than those that have not. Id. at 230-31 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting).

Shelby County Supreme Court 05/01/17
State of Tennessee v. James Hawkins
W2012-00412-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

A jury convicted the defendant of the premeditated first degree murder of his girlfriend, who was the mother of his three children. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-202(a)(1) (2014). The jury also found the defendant guilty of initiating a false report concerning her disappearance and of abuse of her corpse, based on his sawing off her head, hands, and feet and throwing the remainder of her body over a bridge in Mississippi. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-16-502 (2014); id. § 39-17-312(a). At the conclusion of a separate sentencing hearing on the first degree murder conviction, the jury imposed the death sentence, finding that the prosecution had proven two statutory aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, id. § 39-13-204(i)(2), (13), and had established that these aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, id. § 39-13-204(g). For the remaining convictions, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences of twelve and six years, respectively, and ordered these sentences served consecutively to the death penalty. The defendant appealed, raising numerous issues, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences. State v. Hawkins, W2012-00412-CCA-R3-DD, 2015 WL 5169157 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 28, 2015). The case was thereafter automatically docketed in this Court for review, as required by statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-206(a)(1), (c)(1). We hold that: (1) the defendant’s sentence of death was not imposed in an arbitrary fashion; (2) the evidence supports the jury’s findings that the aggravating circumstances were proven beyond a reasonable doubt and that these aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) the sentence of death is neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering both the nature of the crime and the defendant. We also hold that: (1) admission of the defendant’s statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to allow the defendant to enter guilty pleas to the noncapital offenses pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b) at the beginning of trial, after the jury had been sworn; (3) the trial court did not err by admitting testimony about the victim’s threats to call the police about the defendant’s conduct as this testimony was non-hearsay; (4) the trial court did not err by admitting the victim’s application for an order of protection against the defendant, pursuant to the forfeiture by wrongdoing exception to the hearsay rule; (5) the trial court did not violate Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b) by permitting the defendant’s children to testify about his acts of violence and sexual abuse because this testimony was offered to prove motive and premeditation; and (6) any error in the prosecutorial rebuttal argument was not so improper or inflammatory as to prejudice the defendant. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the Court of Criminal Appeals and the trial court upholding the defendant’s convictions and sentences. With respect to issues not specifically addressed herein, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and include relevant portions of the intermediate appellate court’s decision in the appendix to this opinion.

Shelby County Supreme Court 05/01/17
Kim Hardy v. Tournament Players Club at Southwind, Inc., d/b/a "TPC Southwind,", et al.
W2014-02286-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

We granted this interlocutory appeal to address whether an employee may assert a private right of action against her employer under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-2-107, referred to as the Tennessee Tip Statute, for the employer’s failure to properly pay tips, gratuities, and service charges.  The trial court granted the defendant employers’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff employee’s claim pursuant to section 50-2-107 for failure to state a claim, on the ground that there was no private right of action under the statute.  In a divided opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed, based in part on a 1998 Court of Appeals decision recognizing a private cause of action under the Tip Statute.  On appeal, we find that the 1998 Court of Appeals decision is inconsistent in part with subsequent Tennessee Supreme Court jurisprudence on implying a private right of action under a statute.  For this reason, we decline to apply the doctrine of legislative inaction to presume that the legislature knew of the 1998 Court of Appeals’ holding, recognizing a private right of action under the statute, and acquiesced in it.  We hold instead that the employee has no private right of action under section 50-2-107 and overrule the 1998 Court of Appeals decision to the extent that it is inconsistent with our holding herein.  Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s judgment granting the motion to dismiss the employee’s cause of action under section 50-2-107 for failure to state a claim.

Shelby County Supreme Court 03/08/17
Rogelynn Emory v. Memphis City Schools Board of Education, Now Known As Shelby County Board Of Education
W2014-01293-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

This case arises out of the termination of a tenured teacher. After a three-day hearing, the school board concluded that there was ample evidence of the teacher’s unsatisfactory job performance, so it terminated her employment. In the trial court review of the school board’s decision, the teacher argued that she should be reinstated with back pay because her school board hearing occurred well beyond the thirty-day period set forth in the Teachers’ Tenure Act. The trial court affirmed the termination and the teacher appealed. The Court of Appeals declined to reinstate the teacher based on the untimeliness of the school board hearing but it awarded her partial back pay. On appeal, we first clarify the standard of judicial review for the termination of a tenured teacher under the Tenure Act. Second, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ award of partial back pay to the teacher because the relief ordered is without basis in the Tenure Act. Finally, because the teacher failed to raise to the school board any objection as to the timeliness of her hearing, we hold that the issue is not properly before this Court. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision to uphold the termination of the teacher’s employment.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/13/17
State of Tennessee v. Rhakim Martin
W2013-02013-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

A jury convicted the defendant of carjacking and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court imposed an effective sixteen-year sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. In this Court, the defendant presents the following issues: (1) whether the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the victim’s identification of him because the victim previously viewed his photograph on a county-operated “mug shot” website; (2) whether the trial court committed plain error in failing to instruct the jury on possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony as a lesser-included offense of employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony; (3) whether the failure to name the predicate felony of the firearm offense voids that count of the indictment; (4) whether the defendant’s conviction for the firearm offense violates the prohibitions against double jeopardy and the terms of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(c); and (5) whether the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. We hold that the victim’s prior viewing of the defendant’s booking photograph on the county-operated website did not constitute state action and that the trial court therefore properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the victim’s identification of him. We further hold that the defendant failed to establish that the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony affected a substantial right, so the defendant is not entitled to plain error relief. Based on our holding in State v. Duncan, No. W2013-02554-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL ____, at * _ (Tenn. ___ ___, 2016), released on the same date as this opinion, we conclude that the failure to name the predicate felony of the firearm offense does not void that count of the indictment. We hold that the defendant’s convictions for carjacking and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony did not violate either double jeopardy or Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(c). Finally, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/14/16