Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 07/22/2016
Format: 07/22/2016
Stephanie Keller, et al v. Estate of Edward Stephen McRedmond, et al
M2013-02582-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This case involves an internecine conflict among siblings who were shareholders in a closely-held family corporation. The dispute resulted in dissolution of the original family corporation, the formation of two new competing corporations, and a long-running lawsuit in which one group of shareholder siblings asserted claims against the other group of shareholder siblings. After a trial, the trial court awarded damages to the plaintiff shareholder siblings. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the plaintiff shareholder siblings did not have standing because their claims were derivative in nature and belonged to their new corporation. We granted permission to appeal to consider the standard for determing whether a shareholder’s claim is a direct claim or a derivative claim. In this Opinion, we set aside the approach for determining whether a shareholder claim is direct or derivative described by this Court in Hadden v. City of Gatlinburg, 746 S.W.2d 687, 689 (Tenn. 1988), and adopt in its stead the analytical framework enunciated by the Delaware Supreme Court in Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette, Inc., 845 A.2d 1031, 1039 (Del. 2004). Under the Tooley framework, the analysis of whether a shareholder claim is direct or derivative is based solely on who suffered the alleged harm—the corporation or the suing shareholder individually—and who would receive the benefit of the recovery or other remedy. In light of this holding, we affirm in part and reverse in part the decision of the Court of Appeals, and we remand to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 07/11/16
Clark D. Frazier v. State of Tennessee - Dissenting
M2014-02374-SC-R11-ECN
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

I respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision. In my view, this Court should apply the doctrine of stare decisis, adhere to its previous reasoning in Wlodarz v. State, 361 S.W.3d 490 (Tenn. 2012), and hold that the writ of error coram nobis under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40 26 105 (2014) may be used in a collateral attack on a guilty plea. 

Robertson County Supreme Court 07/07/16
Clark D. Frazier v. State of Tennessee
M2014-02374-SC-R11-ECN
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether a criminal defendant who pleads guilty may later seek to overturn his plea via a petition for writ of error coram nobis filed pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-26-105. Although this Court held in Wlodarz v. State, 361 S.W.3d 490 (Tenn. 2012), that guilty pleas may be subject to a collateral attack via a petition for writ of error coram nobis, we now overturn that decision. We hold that the statute setting forth the remedy of error coram nobis in criminal matters does not encompass its application to guilty pleas. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals on the separate grounds stated herein.

Robertson County Supreme Court 07/07/16
State of Tennessee v. Howard Hawk Willis - Concurring
E2012-01313-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

I concur fully with the Court’s opinion except for the analysis in Section II(E)(4) 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).

Washington County Supreme Court 07/06/16
State of Tennessee v. Howard Hawk Willis
E2012-01313-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

This appeal arises from the murder of two teenagers, accompanied by the dismemberment of one of them. A jury convicted the defendant, Howard Hawk Willis, of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and one count of felony murder in the perpetration of a kidnapping. The jury sentenced the defendant to death on each conviction. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences. On appeal, the defendant contends, inter alia, that certain incriminating statements he made to his ex-wife should have been excluded because she was acting as an agent of the State at the time the statements were made. He asserts that the admission into evidence of the statements violated his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. For purposes of the right against self-incrimination, we hold that this is a case of “misplaced trust” in a confidant and there was no violation of the Fifth Amendment. The defendant also argues that the admission of the statements violated his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. The incriminating statements to the ex-wife were made during in-person meetings with her at the jail and during recorded telephone calls from jail. As to statements made to the ex-wife prior to indictment, we hold that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel had not attached, so there was no violation regardless of whether the ex-wife was acting as an agent of the State. As to statements made in person to the ex-wife after indictment, the evidence shows only that the State willingly accepted information from a cooperating witness. We hold that, for a cooperating witness or informant to be deemed a “government agent” for purposes of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, the defendant must show that the principal—the State, personified by law enforcement officers—manifested assent, either explicitly or implicitly, to have the cooperating witness act as a government agent, and that the State had some level of control over the witness’s actions with respect to the defendant. Agency cannot be proven based solely on the actions of the alleged agent, so proof that the ex-wife repeatedly contacted law enforcement is not sufficient in and of itself to show that the State assented to have her act as its agent. Therefore, the admission into evidence of the statements made in person to the ex-wife after indictment did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. As to the incriminating statements made by telephone, we hold that, by placing the telephone calls to his ex-wife from jail with full knowledge that all calls were subject to monitoring and recording, the defendant implicitly consented to the monitoring and recording of his conversations and waived his Sixth Amendment rights. After full review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the defendant’s two convictions of first degree murder, and we affirm the sentences of death.

Washington County Supreme Court 07/06/16
State of Tennessee v. Michael Smith
W2013-01190-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

A jury convicted Michael Smith (“the Defendant”) of aggravated assault, committed by violating a protective order, and evading arrest. The trial court imposed an effective sentence of ten years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days’ incarceration. The Defendant appealed his convictions and sentences, which the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. State v. Smith, No. W2013-01190-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 3954062, at *21 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 13, 2014). The Defendant then requested permission to appeal to this Court, alleging the following errors: (1) the trial court’s failure to require the State to make an election of offenses; (2) the insufficiency of the indictment; (3) the trial court’s refusal to allow the Defendant to sit at counsel table; (4) the trial court’s ruling that, should he elect to testify, the Defendant could be impeached with prior convictions; (5) the trial court’s denial of a mistrial after allowing a witness to testify about a different criminal proceeding against the Defendant; (6) the admission of the victim’s testimony about the Defendant’s prior bad acts; and (7) the trial court’s failure to confine the flight instruction to the aggravated assault charge. We granted the Defendant’s request for permission to appeal. Upon our review of the record and the applicable law, we hold that the State’s failure to elect an offense as to the aggravated assault charge resulted in plain error. Accordingly, we reverse the Defendant’s conviction for aggravated assault and remand the matter to the trial court for a new trial on that charge. We affirm the Defendant’s conviction for evading arrest.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/24/16
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth McCormick
M2013-02189-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson

We granted this appeal to reconsider our decision in State v. Moats, 403 S.W.3d 170 (Tenn. 2013), which held that the community caretaking doctrine is not an exception to the federal and state constitutional warrant requirements. Having concluded that Moats was wrongly decided, we overrule Moats and hold that the community caretaking doctrine is analytically distinct from consensual police-citizen encounters and is instead an exception to the state and federal constitutional warrant requirements which may be invoked to validate as reasonable a warrantless seizure of an automobile. To establish that the community caretaking exception applies, the State must show that (1) the officer possessed specific and articulable facts, which, viewed objectively and in the totality of the circumstances, reasonably warranted a conclusion that a community caretaking action was needed; and (2) the officer’s behavior and the scope of the intrusion were reasonably restrained and tailored to the community caretaking need. We conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that the community caretaking exception applies in this case. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court and Court of Criminal Appeals declining to grant the defendant’s motion to suppress are affirmed on the separate grounds stated herein.

White County Supreme Court 05/10/16
Starlink Logistics, Inc. v. ACC, LLC, et al
M2014-00368-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

After its closure, a Class II landfill continued to discharge contaminants into a creek that flowed into a lake located on adjoining property. Following years of investigations and multiple failed remedial measures, the landfill owner and the state agency with authority to direct landfill cleanup operations agreed that the most feasible, practical, and effective way to abate the discharge was for the landfill owner to divert water from entering the landfill and, over a four-year period, to remove and relocate the landfill waste. The neighboring landowner of the property on which the lake affected by the discharge was located objected to the plan, arguing that the landfill owner should also be required to treat or divert water leaving the landfill site. The Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Control Board (“the Board”) heard the case and approved the landowner’s plan of action and did not require diversion of the water leaving the landfill. The neighboring landowner appealed, and the trial court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Court of Appeals, dissatisfied with the ruling, remanded the case to the Board to take additional proof on whether the neighboring landowner was willing to pay for the costs of diverting the discharge, the costs of implementing the diversion option, and the landfill owner’s ability to pay for the diversion plan. We granted the Board’s application for permission to appeal. We hold that the Court of Appeals failed to properly apply the judicial review provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-5-322(h) (2011) and substituted its judgment for that of the Board. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 05/09/16
American Heritage Apartments, Inc. v. The Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, Hamilton County, Tennessee
E2014-00302-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jacqueline Schulten Bolton

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether a customer who seeks to challenge monthly rates charged by its sewer service provider must exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit. The plaintiff apartment complex filed this action individually and as a class representative, arguing that the monthly charge assessed by the defendant water and wastewater treatment authority is unlawful. In response, the defendant asserted that a customer who seeks to dispute the rates charged must first follow the administrative procedures provided in the Utility District Law of 1937, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 7-82-101 to –804 (2015). On this basis, the water and wastewater treatment authority sought dismissal of the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the administrative procedures in Part 4 of the Utility District Law of 1937 do not apply to a rate challenge filed by an individual customer against a water and wastewater treatment authority, so we agree with the Court of Appeals that the trial court erred in dismissing the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. We affirm the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, except that we vacate the trial court’s alternative ruling on class certification and remand that issue to the trial court for reconsideration.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 04/08/16
Pervis Tyrone Payne v. State of Tennessee
W2013-01248-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Robert Carter, Jr.

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether a capital defendant, via a petition for writ of error coram nobis, may obtain a hearing to determine whether he is ineligible to be executed because he is intellectually disabled. The Petitioner, Pervis Tyrone Payne, was convicted in 1988 of two first degree murders, and the jury imposed the death sentence for each murder. In 2001, this Court held that the federal and state constitutions prohibit the execution of individuals who are intellectually disabled. Van Tran v. State, 66 S.W.3d 790, 812 (Tenn. 2001). The Petitioner asserts that he meets the statutory definition of intellectually disabled, but he has not yet been afforded an evidentiary hearing on his claim. In this proceeding, he has sought to establish his right to such a hearing via a claim of error coram nobis. The trial court denied relief without a hearing, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed with one judge dissenting. We hold that the Petitioner is not entitled to relief under a claim of error coram nobis. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/07/16
Vodafone Americas Holdings, Inc. & Subsidiaries v. Richard H. Roberts, Commissioner of Revenue, State of Tennessee - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
M2013-00947-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell T. Perkins


I agree with much of the analysis in the majority opinion. Indeed, although in my mind it presents a close question, I can agree with the majority that the taxpayer’s calculation of franchise and excise taxes under the statutory apportionment formula does not “fairly represent the extent of the taxpayer’s business activity” in Tennessee. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 67-4-2014(a) (2015). However, where I must part company with the majority is on the issue of the Commissioner’s compliance with the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s (“Department”) own regulation applicable in this case. See Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 1320-06-01-.35(1)(a)(4) (“the variance regulation”).

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/23/16
Vodafone Americas Holdings, Inc. & Subsidiaries v. Richard H. Roberts, Commissioner of Revenue, State of Tennessee
M2013-00947-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Russell T. Perkins


In this appeal, we review a tax variance. The Commissioner of Tennessee’s Department of Revenue determined that, if the standard apportionment formula in Tennessee’s franchise and excise tax statutes were applied to the appellant taxpayer, a multistate wireless telecommunications company, nearly all of the taxpayer’s sales receipts for services to its Tennessee customers—over a billion dollars in receipts—would not be subject to Tennessee franchise and excise taxes.  Pursuant to his authority under Tennessee’s franchise and excise tax variance statutes, the Commissioner imposed on the taxpayer a variance that required the taxpayer to pay taxes on the receipts from its Tennessee customers. The taxpayer now argues that, by imposing the variance, the Commissioner has usurped the legislature’s prerogative to set tax policy.  After review of the legislative history, we find that Tennessee’s legislature intended for the Commissioner to have the authority to impose a variance where, as here, application of the statutory apportionment formula does not fairly represent the extent of the taxpayer’s business activity in Tennessee.  We decline to judicially abrogate the legislature’s express delegation of this authority to the Commissioner.  The variance in this case comports with Tennessee’s franchise and excise tax statutes, the implementing regulation, and the statutory purpose of imposing upon corporations a tax for the privilege of doing business in this State.  Finding no abuse of the Commissioner’s discretion, we affirm.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/23/16
The Tennessean, et al v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al - Dissenting
M2014-00524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

In the past, this Court has consistently refrained from creating public policy exceptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act (TPRA), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 10 7 101 to 702 (2012 & Supp. 2014), because the authority to enact such exceptions rests solely with the General Assembly. See, e.g., Schneider v. City of Jackson, 226 S.W.3d 332, 344 (Tenn. 2007) (“[T]he General Assembly, not this Court, establishes the public policy of Tennessee.”). Departing from this principle, the majority has concluded that Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 exempts all police records from public disclosure during the course of a criminal prosecution. The plain language of the rule, however, protects from disclosure only work product and witness statements. Moreover, I believe that the victim of the alleged rape is entitled to an adjudication of her claim that public disclosure of the police records would violate her statutory and constitutional rights. I must, therefore, respectfully dissent.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/17/16
The Tennessean, et al v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al - Concurring
M2014-00524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

I fully concur in the majority opinion in this case but write separately to respond to the dissent. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/17/16
The Tennessean, et al v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al
M2014-00524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

The issue in this case is whether a coalition of media groups and a citizens organization, relying on the Tennessee Public Records Act, have the right to inspect a police department’s criminal investigative file while the criminal cases arising out of the investigation are ongoing. Four Vanderbilt University football players were indicted for aggravated rape and other criminal charges arising out of the alleged rape of a university student in a campus dormitory. Following the indictments, the Petitioners, a group of media organizations and a citizens group, made a Public Records Act request to inspect the police department’s files regarding its investigation of the alleged criminal conduct by the football players. The request was denied. We hold that the Public Records Act allows access to government records, but there are numerous statutory exceptions, including a state law exception in Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-503(a)(2), that shield some records from disclosure. Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure falls within the state law exception. Rule 16 provides for the release of certain information to the defendant in a criminal case, but does not authorize the release of any information to a nonparty to the case. Therefore, during the pendency of the criminal case and any collateral challenges to any conviction, Rule 16 governs the disclosure of information and only the defendant has the right to receive certain information. We hold that, based on Rule 16, the Petitioners have no right to the requested information during the pendency of the criminal cases and any collateral challenges. Jane Doe, the victim of the alleged criminal acts, intervened in this action to prevent disclosure of the investigative file, and particularly photographs and video images of the alleged assault. Based on our ruling today, these records are protected from disclosure until the conclusion of the criminal cases and all collateral challenges. At the conclusion of the criminal cases and following any guilty plea or conviction and sentencing, Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-504(q)(1) applies to block the release of Ms. Doe’s personal information and any photographic or video depiction of her. This requires no action on the part of Ms. Doe and no further court proceedings.      

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/17/16
Rashe Moore v. State of Tennessee
W2013-00674-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Otis Higgs, Jr.

In this post-conviction case, we clarify the appropriate prejudice analysis for ineffective assistance of counsel claims arising from the failure to properly request jury instructions on lesser-included offenses where, as here, the jury was given no option to convict of any lesser-included offense. The jury convicted the petitioner as charged of one count of aggravated burglary and multiple counts of aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated robbery in connection with a home invasion. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and declined to address the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on lesser-included offenses because the petitioner’s trial counsel did not request the instructions in writing as required by statute. Thereafter, the post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, a majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals granted a new trial on the especially aggravated kidnapping charges based on ineffective assistance of counsel. We hold that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in concluding that the petitioner was prejudiced by his trial counsel’s failure to request a jury instruction on aggravated kidnapping as a lesser-included offense of especially aggravated kidnapping. We conclude that no reasonable probability exists that a properly instructed jury would have convicted the petitioner of any of his asserted lesser-included offenses instead of the charged offenses. Because the petitioner suffered no prejudice, he did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel as to any of his convictions. We reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment granting a new trial on the especially aggravated kidnapping charges and reinstate the post-conviction court’s judgment denying relief on these convictions. We further hold that the Court of Criminal Appeals properly affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief on the petitioner’s other convictions.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 03/16/16
Circle C. Construction, LLC v. D. Sean Nilsen, et al.
M2013-02330-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.


The issue we address is whether the savings statute applies to save an action that was filed within the extended statute of limitations set by a tolling agreement, was voluntarily nonsuited, and was refiled within one year, but after the extended statute of limitations in the tolling agreement. The trial court granted summary judgment, ruling that the case was not timely filed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the tolling agreement precluded application of the savings statute. We hold that the party filing the suit complied with the tolling agreement by filing the first suit within the extended statute of limitations set by the agreement. The savings statute applies to save the action; therefore, the refiled suit was timely filed. We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/07/16
State of Tennessee v. Linzey Danielle Smith
M2013-02818-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether the traffic stop of the Defendant, Linzey Danielle Smith, violated the constitutional rights of the Defendant.  The arresting officer initiated the stop after observing the Defendant once cross and twice touch the fog line marking the outer right lane boundary on an interstate highway.  After being pulled over, the Defendant was charged with alternative counts of driving under the influence.  The Defendant filed a motion to suppress, contending that the traffic stop was unconstitutional.  After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress.  The Defendant then pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and reserved a certified question of law regarding the legality of her traffic stop.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment.  We hold that the traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion and therefore met constitutional requirements.  Accordingly, we affirm the Defendant’s judgment of conviction.  

Williamson County Supreme Court 02/11/16
State of Tennessee v. William Whitlow Davis, Jr.
E2013-02073-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Dugger, Jr.

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether the traffic stop of the Defendant, William Whitlow Davis, Jr., violated the constitutional rights of the Defendant. The arresting officer initiated the stop after observing the Defendant cross the double yellow center lane lines with the two left wheels of the Defendant’s car. The Defendant subsequently was charged with driving under the influence and a traffic violation. The Defendant filed a motion to suppress, contending that the traffic stop was unconstitutional. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. The Defendant then pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and reserved a certified question of law regarding the legality of his traffic stop. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment. We hold that the traffic stop was supported by probable cause. Therefore, we affirm the Defendant’s judgment of conviction.

Knox County Supreme Court 02/11/16
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Lee Hutchison
E2012-02671-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

A jury convicted the defendant of three counts of facilitation of first degree murder and one count of facilitation of aggravated robbery. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and the sentence. On appeal to this Court, the defendant contends, inter alia, that the admission into evidence of an autopsy report through the testimony of a medical examiner who did not perform the autopsy violated his right to confront the witnesses against him under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. The defendant also argues that the warrantless search of his home by officers who entered the home after the first responding officer constituted an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution, so the trial court should have suppressed the evidence seized in that search. We hold that, under the circumstances of this case, the autopsy report is not testimonial under Williams v. Illinois, 132 S. Ct. 2221 (2012), so its admission into evidence did not violate the Defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause. We further hold that, where the responding officer’s initial entry into the home was justified by exigent circumstances, the subsequent entry into the home by other officers constituted a mere continuation of the initial officer’s lawful entry into the home. Consequently, the trial court did not err by denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence that was in plain view and within the scope of the exigent circumstances search. Finally, we hold that the admission into evidence of items that were not in plain view, even if erroneous, constituted harmless error. Accordingly, we affirm. 

Knox County Supreme Court 02/05/16
In re Robert Lee Vogel, BPR #023374
M2015-00350-SC-BAR-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge:


The Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) initiated disciplinary proceedings against attorney Robert Lee Vogel based upon two unrelated complaints of professional misconduct. A hearing panel (“Panel”) determined that Mr. Vogel had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) and entered a judgment suspending Mr. Vogel from the practice of law. The Panel subsequently clarified the sanction in an “Agreed Order Amending the Hearing Panel’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” (“Agreed Order”). The Agreed Order provided that Mr. Vogel would be suspended from the practice of law for one year, with all but thirty days of the suspension to be served on probation. Mr. Vogel’s probation would be conditioned upon his compliance with the terms of his Tennessee Lawyer’s Assistance Program (“TLAP”) agreement, completion of his treatment and counseling program, and weekly attendance at two twelve-step meetings. The Board petitioned this Court for an order enforcing the Panel’s judgment and the Agreed Order. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 8.4, we determined that the punishment imposed by the Panel appeared inadequate and proposed that it be increased. Mr. Vogel subsequently requested oral argument, which we granted. The issue before the Court is whether the punishment imposed by the Panel is in uniformity with prior disciplinary decisions in this state and appropriate under the circumstances of this case. Upon a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we hold that it is not. Accordingly, we modify the Panel’s judgment to impose a one-year suspension from the practice of law, with the entire suspension to be served on active suspension.

Supreme Court 02/04/16
In re Carrington H. et al - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2014-00453-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge George L. Lovell

The Court has decided that an indigent parent has the right to assistance of counsel—but not the right to effective assistance of counsel—in a parental termination proceeding. I believe that the vast majority of lawyers provide competent representation as required by our Rules of Professional Conduct. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 8, RPCs 1.1 & 1.3. But in those rare situations where a lawyer makes a mistake or fails to do his or her duty to such an extent that the termination proceeding is not fundamentally fair, I favor providing the parent with an opportunity to seek relief. In my view, providing counsel for an indigent parent but not requiring counsel to render effective representation is an empty gesture.  

Maury County Supreme Court 01/29/16
In re Carrington H. et al.
M2014-00453-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge George L. Lovell

We granted review in this case to decide (1) whether an indigent parent’s right to appointed counsel in a parental termination proceeding includes the right to challenge an order terminating parental rights based on ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel; and (2) whether the Court of Appeals must review any ground the trial court relied on to terminate parental rights when a parent fails to raise all grounds for termination on appeal. We hold that parents are constitutionally entitled to fundamentally fair procedures in parental termination proceedings. Nevertheless, this constitutional mandate does not require us to adopt a procedure by which parents may collaterally attack orders terminating parental rights based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Additionally, we hold that appellate courts must review a trial court’s findings regarding all grounds for termination and whether termination is in a child’s best interests, even if a parent fails to challenge these findings on appeal. Having reviewed the record on appeal in accordance with these holdings, we affirm the trial court’s judgment terminating the mother’s parental rights.

Maury County Supreme Court 01/29/16
State of Tennessee v. Jimmy Dale Qualls
W2013-01440-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the election of offenses doctrine, articulated in Burlison v. State, 501 S.W.2d 801 (Tenn. 1973), and reaffirmed in State v. Shelton, 851 S.W.2d 134 (Tenn. 1993), requires the prosecution to identify a single incident of sexual battery in cases, such as this one, where the child victim testifies to repeated incidents of sexual contact occurring over a substantial period of time but does not furnish any specific details, dates, or distinguishing characteristics as to individual incidents of sexual battery. We hold, as have courts in other jurisdictions, that where a prosecution is based on such nonspecific or “generic” evidence, requiring the prosecution to elect a single specific incident is not possible. However, to prevent infringement upon the defendant’s right to a unanimous verdict, the trial court must give a modified unanimity instruction which informs the jury that it must unanimously agree the defendant committed all the acts described by the victim in order to convict the defendant. Although the trial court did not have the benefit of this decision and therefore did not provide the modified unanimity instruction to the jury in this case, we conclude, based on the record in this appeal, that the omission of this instruction was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment vacating the defendant’s convictions of sexual battery by an authority figure and reinstate the trial court’s judgment approving the jury’s verdict.

Hardeman County Supreme Court 01/28/16
Board of Professional Responsibility v. Connie Reguli
M2015-00406-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones


A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel determined that an attorney violated multiple rules of professional conduct and imposed a suspension to be served on probation subject to certain conditions. The trial court affirmed the hearing panel’s findings but modified the sanction by requiring the attorney to pay restitution, shortening the term of the suspension and probation, and eliminating and modifying other conditions of probation. Upon careful consideration, we affirm the trial court’s order of restitution, but otherwise reinstate the decision of the hearing panel.
 

Williamson County Supreme Court 12/28/15