Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 07/20/2018
Format: 07/20/2018
State of Tennessee v. Angela Faye Daniel
M2015-01073-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

We granted permission to appeal in this case in order to determine whether the exclusionary rule should be applied to a blood sample drawn from an individual pursuant to a search warrant because the arresting officer failed to leave a copy of the warrant with the individual. The Defendant, Angela Faye Daniel, was arrested for driving under the influence. The arresting officer obtained a search warrant and transported the Defendant to a medical facility for a blood draw. The officer failed to give the Defendant a copy of the search warrant. The trial court granted the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained pursuant to the warrant on the basis of the exclusionary rule set forth in Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41. The State sought and was granted an interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We hold that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, a good-faith exception should be applied to Rule 41’s exclusionary rule. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment below and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.  

Williamson County Supreme Court 07/20/18
State of Tennessee v. Lindsey Brooke Lowe
M2014-00472-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

A jury convicted the Defendant, Lindsey Brooke Lowe, of two counts of first degree premeditated murder, two counts of first degree felony murder, and two counts of aggravated child abuse, all arising from the Defendant’s smothering to death her newborn infant twins. The trial court merged the alternative counts of first degree murder as to each victim and sentenced the Defendant to two terms of life imprisonment for the murders and two terms of twenty-five years for the aggravated child abuse convictions, all to be served concurrently. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the Defendant’s convictions and sentences. We granted the Defendant’s application for permission to appeal in order to address the following issues raised by the Defendant: (1) whether the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-6-108 (“the ERRA”), violates the Tennessee Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause; (2) whether the trial court erred by relying on the ERRA to deny the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence gathered at her house pursuant to a search warrant that did not conform with the technical requirements of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41; (3) whether the trial court erred by ruling inadmissible certain expert testimony proffered by the defense during the hearing on the Defendant’s motion to suppress her statement to Detective Malach; (4) whether the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress her statement; and (5) whether the trial court erred by prohibiting the Defendant’s expert witness from testifying at trial about the reliability of her responses to Detective Malach’s questions. We also directed the parties to address the additional issue of whether the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule adopted by this Court in State v. Davidson, 509 S.W.3d 156, 185-86 (Tenn. 2016), should be expanded to include clerical errors made by the issuing magistrate when the search in question is otherwise constitutional. We hold that the ERRA represents an impermissible encroachment by the legislature upon this Court’s authority and responsibility to adopt exceptions to the exclusionary rule and, therefore, violates the Tennessee Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause; that the exclusionary rule should not be applied to suppress evidence gathered pursuant to a search warrant that is technically defective under Rule 41 due to the magistrate’s simple and good-faith clerical error of incorrectly indicating on one of three copies of the warrant that it was issued at 11:35 “PM” while correctly indicating on the other two copies that it was issued at 11:35 “AM”; that the trial court did not err in ruling inadmissible the defense expert’s testimony at the hearing on the Defendant’s motion to suppress her statement, although the trial court should have allowed defense counsel to proffer the testimony in a question and answer format; that the trial court did not err in ruling that the Defendant was not in custody at the time she made her statement to Detective Malach, rendering moot any claimed defects in the administration of Miranda warnings prior to her statement being made; and that the trial court did not commit reversible error in ruling inadmissible at trial certain proffered expert testimony by a defense witness. In sum, we affirm the Defendant’s convictions and sentences. 

Sumner County Supreme Court 07/20/18
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
David R. Smith v. The Tennessee National Guard
M2016-01109-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

In 2014, the General Assembly enacted a statute waiving Tennessee’s sovereign immunity for claims brought against the State pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301 to 4335 (“USERRA”). The waiver of sovereign immunity became effective on July 1, 2014, and applied to USERRA claims “accruing on or after” that date. After passage of the statute, the plaintiff brought a USERRA claim against the defendant, an entity of the State, but his claim was based on facts that occurred prior to August 8, 2011. The trial court dismissed the claim, explaining that the claim accrued prior to July 1, 2014, and remained barred by sovereign immunity. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the claim accrued on July 1, 2014, when the plaintiff gained a judicial remedy by the enactment of the statute waiving sovereign immunity. We conclude that the claim accrued prior to July 1, 2014, and remains barred by sovereign immunity. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/22/18
Rose Coleman v. Bryan Olson
M2015-00823-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

When a divorce complaint is filed and served, a statutory injunction goes into effect prohibiting both parties from changing the beneficiary on any life insurance policy that names either party as the beneficiary without the consent of the other party or a court order. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-106(d)(2) (2010). Jessica Olson sued her husband, Bryan Olson, for divorce. A week later, Ms. Olson, while seriously ill, changed the beneficiary on her life insurance policy from her husband to her mother. Ms. Olson died a few days later. Her mother, Rose Coleman, collected the life insurance benefits. Ms. Coleman sued Mr. Olson for grandparent visitation under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-306 (2010). Mr. Olson responded that he did not oppose visitation, and therefore, Ms. Coleman was not entitled to court-ordered visitation. In addition, Mr. Olson countersued to recover the life insurance benefits. The trial court awarded the insurance benefits to the Olsons’ child, finding that Ms. Olson had intended to remove Mr. Olson and substitute their child as the insurance beneficiary. The trial court ordered Ms. Coleman to pay the remaining life insurance funds into the court registry, to account for her expenditures, and to pay a judgment for expenditures that did not benefit the child. The trial court also granted Ms. Coleman’s petition for grandparent visitation. The Court of Appeals reversed, awarding the life insurance benefits to Mr. Olson based on Ms. Olson’s violation of the statutory injunction and its consideration of Mr. Olson’s financial needs. In addition, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s award of visitation to Ms. Coleman. We hold that (1) Ms. Olson violated the statutory injunction under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-106(d)(2) when she removed Mr. Olson as her life insurance beneficiary; (2) the Olsons’ divorce action abated when Ms. Olson died and the statutory injunction became ineffective; (3) a trial court, after the abatement of a divorce action, may remedy a violation of the statutory injunction after considering the equities of the parties; (4) the trial court erred by awarding the life insurance benefits to the Olsons’ child based on the pleadings and the evidence; (5) the Court of Appeals erred by awarding the life insurance benefits to Mr. Olson without sufficient evidence of the equities of the parties; (6) the trial court, on remand, may remedy the violation of the statutory injunction by awarding all or a portion of the life insurance benefits to either or both parties after hearing additional evidence and considering the equities of the parties; and (7) Ms. Coleman was not entitled to court-ordered grandparent visitation absent Mr. Olson’s opposition to visitation. We affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals; we reverse and vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand to the trial court for further proceedings. 

Montgomery County Supreme Court 06/15/18
Athlon Sports Communications, Inc. v. Stephen C. Duggan, et al
M2015-02222-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

We granted permission to appeal in this case to address the methods by which a trial court may determine the “fair value” of the shares of a dissenting shareholder under Tennessee’s dissenters’ rights statutes, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 48-23-101, et seq. In doing so, we overrule Blasingame v. American Materials, Inc., 654 S.W.2d 659 (Tenn. 1983), to the extent that Blasingame implicitly mandates use of the Delaware Block method for determining the fair value of a dissenting shareholder’s stock. We adopt the more open approach espoused in Weinberger v. UOP, Inc., 457 A.2d 701, 712-13 (Del. 1983), in which the Delaware Supreme Court departed from the Delaware Block method and permitted trial courts to determine fair value by using any technique or method that is generally acceptable in the financial community and admissible in court. This approach allows trial courts to utilize valuation methods that incorporate projections of future value, so long as they are susceptible of proof as of the date of the corporate action and not the product of speculation. In this dissenters’ rights case, the defendant minority shareholders were forced out of the corporation as a result of a merger, and the corporation petitioned the trial court to determine the fair value of the minority shareholders’ stock. Both parties presented expert testimony regarding the valuation of the dissenting shareholders’ stock, and both experts assumed that Blasingame required use of the Delaware Block method to value the stock. However, both experts also valued the dissenting shareholders’ stock under more modern approaches, such as the discounted cash flow method. After a bench trial, the trial court discredited the testimony of the dissenting shareholders’ expert and credited the testimony of the corporation’s expert. The trial court’s order indicates that it may have based its decision on the premise that Blasingame compelled use of the Delaware Block method to determine stock value. Consequently, we remand to the trial court to reconsider its determination on valuation in light of our decision to partially overrule Blasingame

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/08/18
Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Charles Edward Daniel
E2017-01170-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia S. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford G. Forgety, Jr.

This direct appeal arises from a disciplinary proceeding against a Knoxville attorney. A hearing panel (“Hearing Panel”) of the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) found that the attorney had violated Rule 8.4(b) and (c) of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) by misappropriating funds from his law partnership in a manner intended to conceal his actions from his law partners. The Hearing Panel suspended him from the practice of law for three years but ordered the entire suspension served on probation. We conclude that the Hearing Panel did not abuse its discretion by suspending rather than disbarring the lawyer but did abuse its discretion by probating the entire suspension. Accordingly, we modify the Hearing Panel’s judgment to include one year of active suspension. In all other respects, the Hearing Panel’s judgment is affirmed.

Knox County Supreme Court 06/08/18
Tiffinne Wendalyn Gail Runions, Et Al. v. Jackson -Madison County General Hospital District, Et Al.
W2016-00901-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The Tennessee Health Care Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 29 26 121(a)(1) (2012 & Supp. 2017), requires a person who asserts a potential health care liability claim to give written pre-suit notice of the claim to each health care provider that will be named a defendant at least sixty days before the complaint is filed. The question we address is whether the trial court erred by allowing the plaintiff to amend her complaint, after the expiration of the statute of limitations, to substitute as a defendant a health care provider to which the plaintiff had not sent pre-suit notice. The health care provider the plaintiff sought to substitute had knowledge of the claim based on pre-suit notice the plaintiff had mistakenly sent to another potential defendant. We hold that the plaintiff did not comply with the mandatory pre-suit notice provision of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1) because she did not give written pre suit notice of the potential claim to the health care provider she later sought to substitute as a defendant after the expiration of the statute of limitations. Although the health care provider learned about the claim based on the pre-suit notice the plaintiff sent to another potential defendant, this form of notification did not comply with the notice requirement of section 29-26-121(a)(1). Because the plaintiff did not comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1), the 120-day filing extension under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c) is not applicable. Under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 15.03, the filing date of the proposed amended complaint may relate back to the filing date of the original complaint. The plaintiff, however, filed the original complaint after the expiration of the statute of limitations. As a result, the plaintiff’s motion to substitute the health care provider is futile because the amended suit would be subject to dismissal based on the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. The trial court erred by allowing the plaintiff to amend her complaint. We reverse the trial court and the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings. 

Madison County Supreme Court 06/06/18
In Re: James Carl Cope, BPR #03340
M2016-02144-SC-BAR-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge:

This Court suspended attorney James Carl Cope pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 22.3, based on his federal felony conviction for insider trading and referred the matter to the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) to initiate proceedings to determine his final discipline. A hearing panel (“Panel”) imposed a final discipline of twenty-five months’ suspension, retroactive to the date of his initial suspension by this Court, which was on October 25, 2016. Neither the Board nor Mr. Cope appealed this judgment. The Board petitioned this Court for an order enforcing the Panel’s judgment. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 15.4(b) and (c), we determined that the punishment imposed by the Panel appeared inadequate and proposed that it be increased. Mr. Cope subsequently requested oral argument, which we granted. We now consider whether the punishment imposed by the Panel is appropriate under the circumstances of this case and is in uniformity with prior disciplinary decisions in this state. Following a thorough review of the record and the law, we conclude that it is not. Therefore, we modify the Panel’s judgment to impose the twenty-five-month suspension prospectively from the filing of this opinion.

Supreme Court 05/04/18
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Minor - Concurring
W2016-00348-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan

Christopher Minor was sentenced to serve additional time in prison for violations of the criminal gang offense statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-121(b) (2014). While his case was on appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals in State v. Bonds, 502 S.W.3d 118, 157 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2016), declared that a portion of the criminal gang offense statute was unconstitutional. Today, the Court vacates Mr. Minor’s convictions for violating the criminal gang offense statute. It is only fair that Mr. Minor should not have to serve additional time in prison for violating a statute that an appellate court declared unconstitutional while his appeal was pending. 

Madison County Supreme Court 04/11/18
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Minor
W2016-00348-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan

We granted this appeal to clarify the interplay among appellate review preservation requirements, the plain error doctrine, and the retroactive application of new rules. We conclude that a new rule applies retroactively to cases pending on direct review when the new rule is announced but does so subject to other jurisprudential concepts, such as appellate review preservation requirements and the plain error doctrine. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in State v. Bonds, 502 S.W.3d 118 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Aug. 18, 2016), declaring the criminal gang offense statute, see Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-121(b) (2014), unconstitutional applies to the defendant’s appeal because it was pending on direct review when Bonds was decided. Nevertheless, we evaluate the defendant’s entitlement to relief by applying the plain error doctrine because the defendant failed to challenge the constitutionality of the statute in the trial court. We conclude that the defendant has established the criteria necessary to obtain relief pursuant to the plain error doctrine. Therefore, we reverse that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision denying the defendant relief and vacate the defendant’s convictions under the criminal gang offense statute. We remand this matter to the trial court for resentencing on the defendant’s remaining convictions in accordance with the sentencing classification ranges established by the specific statutes creating the offenses, without any classification or sentence enhancement pursuant to the criminal gang offense statute.

Madison County Supreme Court 04/11/18
Brittany Noel Nelson, et al v. Charles W. Myres, et al.
M2015-01857-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

The primary issue in this appeal is whether a surviving spouse maintains priority to file a wrongful death action when the decedent’s child has also filed a wrongful death action in which the child alleges that the surviving spouse negligently caused the decedent’s death. The trial court dismissed the daughter’s wrongful death complaint, but the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, ruling that under the circumstances presented in this case, the surviving spouse was disqualified from filing the wrongful death action. Because the wrongful death statutes do not include an exception to the spousal priority rule and because the surviving spouse did not waive his right to file the wrongful death action, we hold that the trial court properly dismissed the daughter’s wrongful death action. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the cause remanded to the trial court. 

Sumner County Supreme Court 03/05/18
Board of Professional Responsibility of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Robin K. Barry
M2016-02003-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell

This is an appeal from attorney disciplinary proceedings based on the attorney’s knowing conversion of client funds. In this case, disputed insurance funds were placed in the attorney’s trust account pending resolution of the dispute. Shortly after the disputed insurance funds were deposited, the attorney began to comingle funds in her trust account and use the insurance proceeds for her own purposes. At about the time the dispute over the insurance funds was resolved, the attorney moved out of state. In response to her client’s repeated inquiries about disbursement of the client’s share of the funds, the attorney stalled, made misrepresentations, and finally stopped communicating with the client altogether. After the client filed a complaint with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility against the attorney, the hearing panel found violations of RPC 1.4, RPC 1.15(a) and (d) and RPC 8.4, which included the knowing conversion of client funds and the failure to communicate. The hearing panel found five aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances. It suspended the attorney’s Tennessee law license for eighteen months, two months of which were to be served on active suspension. After the Board appealed, the chancery court held that the hearing panel’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and that disbarment was the only appropriate sanction. The attorney now appeals to this Court, arguing that disbarment is not warranted. In the alternative, the attorney argues that the disbarment should be made retroactive to the date of her original temporary suspension. Under the circumstances of this case, we affirm the chancery court and disbar the attorney from the practice of law in Tennessee, and we decline to make the disbarment retroactive.

Davidson County Supreme Court 02/16/18
Sean K. Hornbeck v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2016-01793-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Ben H. Cantell

In this attorney disciplinary appeal, upon petition by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, this Court ordered the temporary suspension of the attorney from the practice of law based on the threat of substantial harm he posed to the public. For a time, the attorney was placed on disability status; later he was reinstated to suspended status. Subsequently, after an evidentiary hearing, a hearing panel found multiple acts of professional misconduct, including knowing conversion of client funds with substantial injury to clients, submitting false testimony and falsified documents in court proceedings, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, violating Supreme Court orders, and defrauding clients. The hearing panel determined that the attorney should be disbarred. On appeal to the chancery court, the attorney argued inter alia that the disbarment should be made retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension. The chancery court affirmed the decision of the hearing panel. On appeal to this Court, the attorney does not question the disbarment but argues that it would be arbitrary and capricious not to make his disbarment retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension, in order to advance the date on which he may apply for reinstatement of his law license. We disagree. In contrast to suspension, which contemplates that the lawyer will return to law practice, disbarment is not a temporary status. Disbarment is a termination of the individual’s license to practice law in Tennessee. Therefore, we decline to make the effective date of the attorney’s disbarment retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension. Accordingly, we affirm.

Davidson County Supreme Court 02/16/18
Chuck's Package Store Et Al. v. City of Morristown
E2015-01524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

From 2011–2014, a municipality charged alcoholic beverage retailers higher inspection fees than was authorized by the municipality’s ordinance. A group of alcoholic beverage retailers paid the excess fees, but not under protest. After the municipality denied the retailers’ requests for refunds, they sued the municipality for recovery of the excess collections and other damages. The municipality moved to dismiss, arguing that Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-1-901, et seq., required the retailers to have paid under protest any disputed taxes before filing suit to recover the overpayments. The trial court disagreed and awarded the retailers a judgment for the overpayments, ruling that Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-1-1801, et seq., applied and payment under protest was not required. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-1-901, et seq., rather than sections 67 1-1801, et seq., apply to a suit to recover municipal taxes. Under section 67-1-901(a), the retailers were required to have paid under protest the disputed taxes before filing suit. Because the retailers did not pay the taxes under protest, they are not entitled to refunds.

Hamblen County Supreme Court 02/06/18
State of Tennessee v. LaJuan Harbison
E2015-00700-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

A jury convicted LaJuan Harbison of four counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter and four counts of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the convictions and remanded for a new trial, holding that the trial court erred in denying Harbison’s request for a separate trial, that his multiple convictions for employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony violated the prohibition against double jeopardy, and that the evidence was insufficient to support one of the counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. We granted the State’s application for permission to appeal to determine whether the trial court properly exercised its discretion by denying Harbison’s motion for severance; whether Harbison waived the double jeopardy issue; and if not, whether Harbison’s convictions for employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony violate the prohibition against double jeopardy where he used one firearm but was convicted of multiple dangerous felonies against different victims. We hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Harbison’s request for a separate trial; Harbison did not waive the double jeopardy issue; and his multiple convictions for employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony do not violate the prohibition against double jeopardy. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, reinstate Harbison’s three convictions for attempted voluntary manslaughter and three convictions for employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, and remand to the trial court for resentencing and corrected judgments.

Knox County Supreme Court 01/09/18
Kenneth M. Spires, Et Al. v. Haley Reece Simpson, Et Al.
E2015-00697-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Michael Sharp

We granted permission to appeal in this case to clarify when two Tennessee statutes would apply to preclude a parent who owes child support arrearages from recovering proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit. In this case, the plaintiff and the decedent were married and had one child; the plaintiff abandoned the decedent and their son soon after the child was born. The plaintiff and the decedent never divorced. The decedent spouse died unexpectedly, and soon afterward the plaintiff surviving spouse filed this wrongful death action. At the time, the plaintiff surviving spouse owed child support arrearages for four other children unrelated to the decedent. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff surviving spouse from the wrongful death lawsuit based on a provision in Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes, Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-5-107(b) (2009 & Supp. 2017), and a similar provision in Tennessee’s intestate succession statutes, Tennessee Code Annotated section 31-2-105(b) (2015 & Supp. 2017). It held that these two statutes disqualified the plaintiff from filing the wrongful death action or recovering the proceeds from it because he never provided financial support for his child with the decedent spouse and because he had child support arrearages for his four children unrelated to the decedent spouse. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that the two statutes did not bar the plaintiff from commencing the lawsuit for the wrongful death of his spouse, but it also held that they precluded him from recovering proceeds from the wrongful death lawsuit until his outstanding child support arrearages were satisfied. Consequently, the Court of Appeals ordered that the plaintiff’s recovery from the wrongful death action be paid toward satisfaction of his child support arrearages for his four children who were unrelated to the decedent spouse. On appeal, we hold that the prohibitions in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 20-5-107(b) and 31-2-105(b) apply only when (1) the “parent” who seeks to recover in the wrongful death lawsuit is a parent of the decedent child, and (2) that parent’s child support arrearage is owed for the support of that decedent child. Therefore, neither statute is applicable under the facts of this case. Accordingly, the decisions of the lower courts are reversed and vacated insofar as they applied those two statutes to this case. We affirm the Court of Appeals’ holding that newly enacted wrongful death statutes regarding a surviving spouse’s waiver based on abandonment of a decedent spouse may not be applied retroactively.

Monroe County Supreme Court 12/27/17
C.W.H. v. L.A.S.
E2015-01498-SC-R11-JV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert D. Philyaw

This is a custody case involving the minor children of unmarried parties. C.W.H. (hereinafter “Father”) and L.A.S. (hereinafter “Mother”) agreed to a modification of an existing parenting plan in 2013. Subsequently, Father learned information to which he was not privy during the settlement conference, namely, that Mother had relocated from her state of residence (Ohio) to Nevada with the parties’ minor children, where she was employed as a prostitute. Father filed a motion for an emergency temporary custody order and a temporary restraining order. Father prevailed in a hearing before the juvenile court magistrate and was designated as the primary residential parent. Mother requested a hearing before the juvenile court. Following a hearing, the juvenile court found a material change in circumstances and upheld the magistrate’s determination. Mother appealed to the Court of Appeals, which vacated and remanded the case for the juvenile court to conduct a best interest analysis. On remand, the juvenile court affirmed its earlier findings regarding a material change in circumstances and, in addition, concluded that changing the primary residential parent from Mother to Father was in the best interest of the children. Mother again appealed to the Court of Appeals, which concluded “that the evidence preponderate[d], in part but significantly, against the juvenile court’s factual findings,” reversed the juvenile court, and mandated that its order be carried out within twenty days. We granted Father’s application for permission to appeal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 11 to decide, as set forth in Father’s application, whether “the Court of Appeals err[ed] in reversing the [juvenile court] and awarding Mother custody of the minor children” and whether “the Court of Appeals err[ed] in ordering the change in custody prior to an opportunity for the Father to appeal to this Court?” We answer both questions in the affirmative, reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, and remand this matter to the juvenile court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Hamilton County Supreme Court 12/19/17
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
John Howard Story, Et Al. v. Nicholas D. Bunstine, Et Al.
E2015-02211-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kristi M. Davis

The defendant attorneys in the instant legal malpractice case, Nicholas D. Bunstine, Brent R. Watson, and Jerrold L. Becker, individually and d/b/a Bunstine, Watson, McElroy & Becker, represented the plaintiffs, John Howard Story and David Bruce Coffey, in a lender liability lawsuit. In the underlying lender liability lawsuit, the trial court ultimately dismissed the case against two of the lender defendants, and the claims against the remaining lender defendant were later voluntarily dismissed. Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed the instant lawsuit against the defendant attorneys alleging legal malpractice. The trial court partially dismissed the case based on the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations for filing a complaint for legal malpractice. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104(c)(1). Later, in response to the defendant attorneys’ motion for summary judgment, the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ remaining claim, determining that the claim was also barred by the statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We granted this appeal to address: (1) whether this Court’s opinion in Carvell v. Bottoms, 900 S.W.2d 23 (Tenn. 1995), in which we set forth a discovery rule for when the statute of limitations begins to run in a legal malpractice action, should be overruled; (2) whether an interlocutory ruling in underlying litigation constitutes a legally cognizable injury; (3) whether this Court should adopt either the continuous representation rule or the appeal-tolling doctrine for tolling the statute of limitations in legal malpractice actions; and (4) whether a subsequent action of an attorney that renders an interlocutory order final amounts to a separate and discrete act of malpractice such that the statute of limitations for that action does not begin until said action is taken. Following our review, we conclude that Carvell v. Bottoms is the accurate analysis for determining when a claim of legal malpractice accrues. In addition, we decline to adopt the two tolling doctrines proposed by the plaintiffs, and we further decline to hold that the trial court’s final judgment in the underlying case is required before there is an actual injury for purposes of the accrual of a claim for litigation malpractice. Nevertheless, we conclude that, in the case before us, the complaint fails to establish an actual injury prior to the date of the trial court’s final judgment in the underlying case. Consequently, the trial court erred in granting the motion to dismiss and in determining that the plaintiffs’ legal malpractice claims were time barred. Finally, we conclude that the trial court also erred in granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. In this case, the defendant attorneys’ alleged negligence, which purportedly rendered the interlocutory order in the underlying case final, constituted a distinct act of malpractice, and as such, the statute of limitations had not run on that claim at the time the plaintiffs filed this legal malpractice action. Therefore, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Knox County Supreme Court 12/11/17
In Re Estate of Calvert Hugh Fletcher
M2015-01297-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven D. Qualls

A husband and wife deposited funds in a joint checking account designated with a right of survivorship. Later, the husband withdrew most of the funds from the joint account and placed the funds in a certificate of deposit issued solely in his name. After the husband’s death, a dispute arose between his surviving spouse and his children from a previous marriage regarding ownership of the certificate of deposit. The trial court, relying on Mays v. Brighton Bank, 832 S.W.2d 347 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992), held that the certificate of deposit was an asset of the husband’s estate because the funds ceased to be entireties property when withdrawn from the joint account. The Court of Appeals reversed and, relying on In re Estate of Grass, No. M2005-00641-COA-R3-CV, 2008 WL 2343068, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 4, 2008), held that the certificate of deposit belonged to the surviving spouse because the funds were impressed with the entireties and could be traced to the joint account. We hold that once funds are withdrawn from a bank account held by a married couple as tenants by the entirety, the funds cease to be entireties property. Accordingly, the certificate of deposit issued to the husband from funds withdrawn from the joint bank account belongs to his estate, not his surviving spouse. We reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Putnam County Supreme Court 12/06/17
State of Tennessee v. Kevin Patterson AKA John O'Keefe Varner AKA John O'Keefe Kitchen
M2015-02375-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Walter C. Kurtz

We granted this appeal to determine whether deficiencies in the State’s timely filed notice of intent to sentence the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as a repeat violent offender entitle the defendant to relief via the plain error doctrine. We conclude that, although imperfect, the timely filed notice fairly informed the defendant of the State’s intent to seek enhanced sentencing and triggered the defendant’s duty to inquire into the errors and omissions. Furthermore, the defendant has failed to establish that the deficiencies in the notice adversely affected his substantial rights—a necessary criterion for obtaining relief via the plain error doctrine. Accordingly, we reverse in part the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment, insofar as it set aside the defendant’s sentence of life without parole and remanded to the trial court for resentencing, and we reinstate the judgment of the trial court in all respects.

Coffee County Supreme Court 11/30/17
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
Embraer Aircraft Maintenance Services, Inc. v. Aerocentury Corp.
M2016-00649-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Aleta A. Trauger

In this case, the petitioner had a repairman’s lien on personal property and filed an action in federal district court to enforce the lien by original attachment of the lien-subject property. During the pendency of the federal court action, the lien-subject property was sold to a purchaser and was no longer available for attachment, so the lienholder sought to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property. The federal court then sought certification under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 23 of two questions: (1) May a repairman’s lien arising under Tennessee Code Annotated section 66-19-101 (2015) be enforced by a method other than attachment of the lien-subject property itself? and (2) In Tennessee, under what circumstances, if any, may a court attach the proceeds of the sale of lien-subject property, or otherwise reach them with a judgment, where the owner has rendered attachment of the lien-subject property impracticable or impossible after the initiation of a foreclosure proceeding? We answer the first question by interpretation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 66-21-101 (2015), which addresses enforcement of a statutory lien by original attachment where the lien statute does not specify a method to enforce the lien. The lienholder has no statutory lien on the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property, and section 66-21-101 addresses only enforcement of a statutory lien. Accordingly, section 66-21-101 is not a statutory vehicle for the lienholder to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property. Section 66-21-101 neither provides for nor excludes other remedies that may be available to the lienholder to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property. The second question certified by the federal district court in this case is not a defined question of unsettled Tennessee law, but it is more in the nature of an open-ended inquiry regarding other remedies that might enable the lienholder to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property. Such an open-ended inquiry is not suitable for certification under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 23, and there is ample Tennessee case law available to the parties on other possible remedies, so we respectfully decline to address the merits of the second certified question.

Supreme Court 11/27/17