SUPREME COURT OPINIONS

James Williams v. Smyrna Residential, LLC et al.
M2021-00927-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sarah K. Campbell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bonita J. Atwood

Granville Williams, Jr., died while residing at an assisted-living facility. The central question in this appeal is whether his son’s ensuing wrongful-death action against the facility must be arbitrated. To answer that question, we must resolve two subsidiary issues—first, whether the attorney-in-fact who signed the arbitration agreement as Williams’s representative had authority to do so and, second, whether Williams’s son and other wrongful-death beneficiaries who were not parties to the arbitration agreement nevertheless are bound by it. We hold that signing an optional arbitration agreement—that is, one that is not a condition of admission to a health care facility—is not a “health care decision” within the meaning of the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act. The durable power of attorney that gave Williams’s attorney-in-fact authority to act for him in “all claims and litigation matters” thus provided authority to enter the optional arbitration agreement even though it did not specifically grant authority to make health care decisions. We further hold that Williams’s son is bound by the arbitration agreement because his wrongful-death claims are derivative of his father’s claims. Because we conclude that the claims in this action are subject to arbitration, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ contrary decision and remand to the trial court.

Rutherford Supreme Court

James Williams v. Smyrna Residential, LLC et al. (Dissenting)
M2021-00927-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bonita J. Atwood

To enforce and compel arbitration in this case, the majority rewrites a health care facility admission contract, disregards the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act, ignores precedent, and creates confusion in an important area of the law. I respectfully dissent.

Rutherford Supreme Court

Brian Philip Manookian v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee (Dissenting)
M2022-00075-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

While this Court has inherent jurisdiction over attorney disciplinary matters, attorneys must be afforded fair notice and an opportunity to be heard. For the first time, this Court has increased an attorney’s discipline through the exercise of the Court’s inherent jurisdiction outside of the process outlined in Rule 9 by disbarring Brian Philip Manookian without giving fair notice of its intent. I dissent from the Court’s decision to disbar Mr. Manookian and would affirm the hearing panel’s finding of a twenty-four-month suspension. Neither the hearing panel nor the trial court erred.

Davidson Supreme Court

James Williams v. Smyrna Residential, LLC et al. (Dissenting)
M2021-00927-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bonita J. Atwood

I agree with many of the points made in Justice Lee’s dissenting opinion. I write separately out of concern about the practical implications of the majority’s decision to leave the law so unsettled in an area that touches so many.

Rutherford Supreme Court

Brian Philip Manookian v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2022-00075-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

In this lawyer disciplinary case, the lawyer’s conduct compels disbarment. The lawyer sent a series of intimidating, demeaning, embarrassing, and harassing communications to opposing counsel and others. Some targeted family members of opposing counsel, including one family member who was also a former client, and caused well-founded concern for their well-being and safety. In the ensuing disciplinary proceedings, a Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel found that the purpose of the communications was to intimidate opposing counsel in order to gain unfair advantage in pending litigation. It concluded inter alia that the lawyer’s conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice, that he failed to respect the rights of third persons, and that he violated his duty to a former client, in violation of Tennessee’s Rules of Professional Conduct. The hearing panel said the presumptive sanction was disbarment, found four aggravating factors, and found no mitigating circumstances. Without explanation, the hearing panel recommended a two-year suspension instead of disbarment. The attorney appealed to the trial court. The trial court indicated that, had the Board of Professional Responsibility filed a separate petition for review, the trial court would have recommended disbarment, but because the Board did not, the trial court affirmed the sanction of suspension. Both parties appeal. Here, the lawyer’s conduct was egregious. Victimizing the families of opposing counsel and causing concern for their well-being and safety is an especially grave offense and a profound dishonor as a lawyer. The hearing panel’s decision to deviate downward from the presumptive sanction of disbarment was arbitrary and capricious, and the lawyer must be disbarred. Accordingly, we modify the judgment of the hearing panel and impose the sanction of disbarment.

Davidson Supreme Court

State of Tennessee v. David Wayne Eady
M2021-00388-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

This appeal presents two issues. First, we consider whether the District Attorney General’s
Office should have been disqualified from prosecuting this case because the District
Attorney General previously served as counsel for the accused in a separate case. Second,
we consider the propriety of conducting a single trial for multiple offenses under the theory
that the separate crimes were all parts of a larger, continuing plan. David Wayne Eady was
charged in one indictment with committing multiple robberies in Nashville over the course
of a month. Mr. Eady moved to disqualify the District Attorney General’s Office, primarily
because the District Attorney General had represented him in a criminal matter
approximately thirty years earlier. The prior matter resulted in a conviction that the State
sought to use in this case to qualify Mr. Eady as a repeat violent offender for sentencing
purposes. The trial court denied the motion to disqualify, noting the limited nature of the
District Attorney General’s involvement in this case and the “mandatory nature of the
repeat violent offender statute.” See Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-120(g) (2019). Mr. Eady
also moved to sever the offenses, which the trial court denied upon finding that the crimes
were parts of a common scheme or plan and that the evidence of one offense would be
admissible in the trial of the others. See Tenn. R. Crim. P. 14(b)(1). Mr. Eady ultimately
was convicted as charged of eleven counts of aggravated robbery, two of which later were
merged, and one count of attempted aggravated robbery. Upon Mr. Eady’s appeal as of
right, a divided panel of the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. State v. Eady, No.
M2021-00388-CCA-R3-CD, 2022 WL 7835823, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Oct. 14, 2022),
perm. app. granted, (Tenn. Jan. 31, 2023). The intermediate appellate court was unanimous
in rejecting the challenge to prosecution of the case by the District Attorney General’s
Office. Id. at *34–35. After noting that there was “no real dispute between the parties that
[the District Attorney General] had an actual conflict of interest disqualifying him from
participating in [Mr. Eady’s] prosecution,” the court seemed to proceed on the assumption
that an actual conflict of interest existed but nevertheless held that this conflict did not
require disqualification of the entire office. Id. at *34. In addition, a majority of the court
upheld the denial of a severance. Id. at *28–30. One judge dissented, however, concluding
that the offenses should have been severed because the evidence did not reflect that the
offenses were parts of a larger, continuing plan. Id. at *38–42 (McMullen, J., dissenting
in part). We granted Mr. Eady’s appeal to address both issues. As for the motion to
disqualify, we agree with the State’s argument before this Court that the circumstances do
not establish an actual conflict of interest for the District Attorney General, and we
conclude that the trial court correctly denied the motion to disqualify the District Attorney
General’s Office. As for the motion to sever, we have determined that the record does not
establish that the offenses were parts of a larger, continuing plan. Thus, we conclude that
the trial court erred in denying a severance. However, we find the error harmless as to all
convictions except the one in count eight. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the
Court of Criminal Appeals in part, reverse it in part, and remand to the trial court for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Davidson Supreme Court

Thomas Fleming Mabry v. The Board of Professional Responsibility of the Tennessee Supreme Court
E2022-00945-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

This is an appeal in a lawyer-disciplinary proceeding involving Tennessee attorney Thomas
Fleming Mabry. In March 2019, the Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition
for discipline against Mr. Mabry charging him with numerous infractions based on
complaints from several different parties. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr.
Mabry refused to participate in depositions, either in-person, telephonically, or over
videoconference. At his final disciplinary hearing conducted via Zoom, Mr. Mabry briefly
connected, by audio only, and objected to holding the hearing virtually and to the Board
introducing depositions of unavailable witnesses. He requested an indefinite continuance.
He ended the connection. The hearing continued without Mr. Mabry’s participation, and
the Hearing Panel found him in violation of multiple Tennessee Rules of Professional
Conduct. The panel permanently disbarred Mr. Mabry and ordered him to make restitution.
Mr. Mabry appealed to the chancery court claiming several procedural violations, but the
chancery court found no merit in his arguments. Mr. Mabry has now filed a direct appeal
to this Court, raising the same procedural challenges. Upon review, we agree with the
judgments of the Hearing Panel and chancery court—disbarment is the appropriate
sanction for Mr. Mabry’s actions.

Knox Supreme Court

John Earheart v. Central Transport et al.
M2023-00384-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash, Sr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenneth M. Switzer

John Earheart, Jr. ("Employee") filed a workers' compensation claim against Central Transport ("Employer") for temporary disability benefits. After initially denying the claim, Employer ultimately agreed to pay the requested benefits on the day before the scheduled expedited hearing. Following a compensation hearing, the Court of Workers' Compensation Claims ("trial court") ordered Employer to pay Employee's attorney's fees and costs under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-226(d)(l)(B). The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board ("Appeals Board") affirmed. Employer appealed. The appeal has been referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment of the Appeals Board and adopt its opinion as set forth in the attached Appendix.

 

Supreme Court

Pratik Pandharipande, M.D. v. FSD Corporation
M2020-01174-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sarah K. Campbell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

This case arises from a dispute between a property owner and his homeowners’ association. The property owner, Pratik Pandharipande, purchased a home in a vacation community on a Tennessee lake, intending to use it as a short-term rental. At the time of the purchase, the property was subject to covenants requiring that the home be used for “residential and no other purposes.” The covenants were amended several years later to allow leases with minimum lease terms of thirty days. Pandharipande contends that neither the original covenants nor the amendments prohibit him from leasing his property for short terms of two to twenty-eight days. His homeowners’ association disagrees on both scores. We agree with Pandharipande that the original covenants requiring residential use of the property do not bar his short-term rentals, but we agree with the homeowners’ association that the amendments do. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the homeowners’ association based on both the original covenants and the amendments. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We affirm the Court of Appeals in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

DeKalb Supreme Court

State of Tennessee v. Ebony Robinson
M2021-01539SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

In 2020, Ebony Robinson (“Defendant”) pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide by
intoxication, aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and driving without a license. The trial
court imposed a ten-year sentence largely suspended to probation with periodic weeks of
confinement for the first three years. The State appealed the sentence, arguing that a 2017
amendment to the probation eligibility statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-
303, prohibits defendants who are convicted of vehicular homicide by intoxication from
receiving any form of probation. The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the State and
reversed the trial court, ordering Defendant to serve the full sentence in confinement. The
intermediate court concluded that the amended probation statute expressly prohibits
probation of any kind, including periodic or split confinement, for criminal defendants
convicted of vehicular homicide by intoxication. After reviewing the relevant statutes, this
Court affirms the Court of Criminal Appeals and holds that the clear and precise language
of the 2017 amendment to the probation eligibility statute prohibits all forms of probation
for a defendant convicted of vehicular homicide by intoxication. Accordingly, we affirm
the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Davidson Supreme Court

Robert Crotty, et al. v. Mark Flora, M.D.
M2021-01193-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe P. Binkley, Jr.

In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant physician in a health care liability action asks us
to review two pretrial orders. In the first, the trial court excludes evidence that a nonparty
physician was the cause-in-fact of the claimant’s injuries because the defendant never
amended his answer to include that allegation, as required under Rule 8.03 of the Tennessee
Rules of Civil Procedure as applied in George v. Alexander, 931 S.W.2d 517 (Tenn. 1996).
Because he does not allege that the nonparty physician was negligent, the defendant asks
us to modify our holding in George and reverse the trial court’s order. We respectfully
decline to do so. In the second pretrial order on appeal, the trial court considered Tennessee
Code Annotated section 29-26-119, a provision that partially abrogates the common law
collateral source rule in health care liability actions. It held that section 29-26-119 does
not abrogate the collateral source rule under the facts of this case. We agree with the trial
court that the collateral source rule remains in effect in this case. We affirm both of the
trial court’s pretrial rulings.

Davidson Supreme Court

Robert Crotty, et al. v. Mark Flora, M.D. (Concur in Part and Dissent in Part)
M2021-01193-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe P. Binkley, Jr.

This interlocutory appeal involves two pretrial orders. I concur with the holding
and analysis of the majority as to the first pretrial order involving Rule 8.03 and George v.
Alexander, 931 S.W.2d 517 (Tenn. 1996). However, I respectfully dissent from the
majority’s holding and analysis as to the second pretrial order involving Tennessee Code
Annotated section 29-26-119 and the collateral source rule. This issue requires the Court
to interpret the meaning of section 29-26-119. I would hold that, when section 29-26-119
governs damages in a health care liability action, the statute’s clear language contemplates
only “actual economic losses suffered . . . paid or payable,” thereby abrogating the
collateral source rule. Thus, I would reverse the trial court’s pretrial order.

Davidson Supreme Court

Commercial Painting Company, Inc. v. The Weitz Company, LLC, et al.
W2019-02089-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge JoeDae L. Jenkins

The economic loss doctrine generally precludes a contracting party who suffers only
economic losses from recovering damages in tort. In Tennessee, the application of this
doctrine is limited to products liability cases. In this appeal, we consider whether the
economic loss doctrine should be expanded to apply outside the products liability context.
A jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to a drywall subcontractor in a suit
against a general contractor under theories of breach of contract and tort. The Court of
Appeals applied the economic loss doctrine to preclude the recovery of damages in tort in
a suit between sophisticated commercial entities. The intermediate court, in part, affirmed
the award of compensatory damages for breach of contract, dismissed the tort claim, and
reversed the award for punitive damages. We hold the economic loss doctrine only applies
in products liability cases and should not be extended to other claims.

Shelby Supreme Court

Roger Baskin v. Pierce & Allred Construction, Inc.
M2021-00144-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

In this appeal, we address whether a Tennessee resident may sue an Alabama corporation in a Tennessee court for alleged breach of contract and breach of warranty pertaining to its construction of a custom lake house in Alabama. Tennessee resident Roger Baskin hired Pierce & Allred Construction, an Alabama corporation with its principal place of business in Alabama, to build a house on a parcel of land in Alabama. Mr. Baskin supplied the architectural plans and some of the materials, all sourced from Tennessee, and the parties communicated throughout the project from their respective states. However, all of Pierce & Allred Construction’s activities on the project occurred in Alabama. Mr. Baskin ultimately became dissatisfied with the quality and expense of the construction work, and he filed suit in the Davidson County Chancery Court. Pierce & Allred Construction moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that the corporation lacked the “minimum contacts” with Tennessee that due process protections require. Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). The trial court granted the motion, finding that the events relevant to the claims occurred in Alabama and that the corporation’s contacts with Tennessee were minor and attenuated. The Court of Appeals reversed, looking to recent decisions from this Court, see Crouch Ry. Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC, 610 S.W.3d 460 (Tenn. 2020), and the United States Supreme Court, see Ford Motor Co. v. Mont. Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021) (explaining that the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction requires that a plaintiff’s claim arise out of or relate to the defendant’s forum contacts). We granted permission to appeal. Based on our review, we have determined that Pierce & Allred Construction’s contacts with Tennessee were not such that the corporation reasonably should have anticipated being haled into a Tennessee court to answer this suit. In making this determination, we conclude that certain contacts with Tennessee did not reflect that the corporation purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting business activities in Tennessee, while certain other contacts were not sufficiently related to Mr. Baskin’s claims to support the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction. Thus, we hold that Mr. Baskin failed to establish a prima facie case of the minimum contacts necessary for a Tennessee court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over the Alabama corporation. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court dismissing Mr. Baskin’s complaint.

Davidson Supreme Court

Commercial Painting Company, Inc. v. The Weitz Company, LLC, et al. (Dissent)
W2019-02089-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sarah K. Campbell; Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins joins
Trial Court Judge: Judge JoeDae L. Jenkins

economic-loss doctrine bars recovery in tort for purely economic losses in certain
situations. In this case, the Court is asked to apply that doctrine to bar tort claims brought
by a subcontractor against a general contractor, where the relationship between the
subcontractor and general contractor is governed by a contract. The majority opinion cabins
the economic-loss doctrine to products liability cases and refuses to extend it to contracts
for services for fear that doing so would require that we also create various exceptions. I
respectfully disagree with that holding. The core rationale underlying the economic-loss
doctrine—to create a boundary line between tort and contract law to ensure that parties can
allocate risks and responsibilities as they see fit—applies equally to cases involving
contracts for services. And to the extent that any exceptions to the rule would be needed,
their creation would not be nearly as difficult or messy as the majority predicts. I would
hold that the economic-loss doctrine applies here and precludes the subcontractor from
recovering punitive damages and pre-judgment interest.

Shelby Supreme Court

James A. Welch et al. v. Oaktree Health and Rehabilitation Center LLC d/b/a Christian Care Centers of Memphis et al.
W2020-00917-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

Tennessee’s Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 34-6-201 to -218, includes a provision for limited statutory immunity from civil liability, under certain conditions, for health care providers who rely in good faith on health care decisions made by an apparent agent on a principal’s behalf. Id. § -208. Tennessee’s Health Care Decisions Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 68-11-1801 to -1815, includes a similar provision for limited statutory immunity from civil liability, under certain conditions, for health care providers who comply in good faith with health care decisions made by an apparent agent on a principal’s behalf. Id. § -1810. The health care decision in this case is the execution of an arbitration agreement with admission to a nursing home. The agreement was signed by an agent under a durable power of attorney for health care executed several years earlier. After the resident’s death, his estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the nursing home on negligence theories. On appeal from the trial court’s denial of the defendant nursing home’s motion to compel arbitration, we hold that the nursing home does not meet the requirements for limited statutory immunity from civil liability under either the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act or the Health Care Decisions Act. Consequently, the trial court did not err in considering evidence on whether the principal had the requisite mental capacity to execute the durable power of attorney for health care. We overrule the holding on the immunity provision in the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 34-6-208, in Owens v. National Health Corporation, 263 S.W.3d 876, 889 n.4 (Tenn. 2007), to the extent it is inconsistent with this opinion. We affirm the trial court, reverse the Court of Appeals, and remand to the Court of Appeals.

Shelby Supreme Court

Ben C. Adams v. Buchanan D. Dunavant et al v. Watson Burns PLLC et al
W2023-00304-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Townsend

Before his election to the bench, the probate judge in this interpleader action served as an
expert witness in a 2017 case involving one of the defendants, Watson Burns, PLLC. In
the current case, Watson Burns, PLLC and another law firm defendant moved for the
probate judge’s recusal based on the expert opinions the judge expressed in the 2017 case.
The probate judge denied the motion, and the law firms filed an accelerated interlocutory
appeal as of right to the Court of Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B.
The Court of Appeals reversed, ordered the probate judge’s recusal, and remanded for
assignment of another judge. Two other parties to the interpleader action then filed an
accelerated application for permission to appeal in this Court pursuant to Rule 10B, section
2.07. We ordered the parties prevailing in the Court of Appeals to file a response to the
application. Having thoroughly reviewed the Rule 10B application for permission to
appeal, the response, all appendices, and the applicable law, we grant the Rule 10B
application, dispense with additional briefing and oral argument, and hold that the probate
judge’s denial of the recusal motion was appropriate in this case. Therefore, we reverse the
judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings consistent with this
decision

Shelby Supreme Court

Ben C. Adams v. Buchanan D. Dunavant et al v. Watson Burns PLLC et al.
W2023-00304-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Townsend

Before his election to the bench, the probate judge in this interpleader action served as an
expert witness in a 2017 case involving one of the defendants, Watson Burns, PLLC. In
the current case, Watson Burns, PLLC and another law firm defendant moved for the
probate judge’s recusal based on the expert opinions the judge expressed in the 2017 case.
The probate judge denied the motion, and the law firms filed an accelerated interlocutory
appeal as of right to the Court of Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B.
The Court of Appeals reversed, ordered the probate judge’s recusal, and remanded for
assignment of another judge. Two other parties to the interpleader action then filed an
accelerated application for permission to appeal in this Court pursuant to Rule 10B, section
2.07. We ordered the parties prevailing in the Court of Appeals to file a response to the
application. Having thoroughly reviewed the Rule 10B application for permission to
appeal, the response, all appendices, and the applicable law, we grant the Rule 10B
application, dispense with additional briefing and oral argument, and hold that the probate
judge’s denial of the recusal motion was appropriate in this case. Therefore, we reverse the
judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings consistent with this
decision.

Shelby Supreme Court

Beverly Gardner v. Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital
M2019-02237-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sarah K. Campbell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

“When there is a conflict between the common law and a statute, the provision of the statute must prevail.” Graves v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 148 S.W. 239, 242 (Tenn. 1912). That longstanding rule is the key to resolving this case, which pits a common-law rule governing vicarious liability claims against certain procedural provisions of Tennessee’s Health Care Liability Act. The defendant in this case moved for summary judgment under the common-law rule. The trial court granted that motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed after concluding that application of the common-law rule would conflict with the Act. We agree that the Act necessarily implies an intent to abrogate the common-law rule in the circumstances of this case and affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision.

Davidson Supreme Court

Beverly Gardner v. Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital (Concur)
M2019-02237-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This case presents a simple issue: Whether the Tennessee Health Care Liability
Act’s statute of limitation extension prevails over the common law rule that a plaintiff
cannot pursue a vicarious liability claim against a principal when the plaintiff’s claim
against the agent is procedurally barred by operation of law before the plaintiff asserts the
vicarious liability claim against the principal. This common law rule is known as the
operation-of-law exception. Here, the Plaintiff filed a vicarious liability suit against the
principal, Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital, after the one-year statute of limitations had
expired as to the Hospital’s agents but within the Act’s 120-day extension of the statute of
limitations as to the Hospital. Was the suit timely filed? Yes—the Act’s provisions prevail
over the common law operation-of-law exception.

Davidson Supreme Court

Beverly Gardner v. Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital (Dissent)
M2019-02237-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This appeal presents issues similar to those in Ultsch v. HTI Memorial Hospital
Corp., No. M2020-00341-SC-R11-CV, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tenn. 2023). In that case, I
dissented from the result reached by a majority of the Court, which held that provisions of
the statutory scheme commonly referred to as the Health Care Liability Act (“HCLA”)
abrogated the common law vicarious liability principle known as the operation-of-law
exception. I reach the same conclusion here and respectfully dissent from the result
reached by the majority in this case.

Davidson Supreme Court

Dennis Harold Ultsch v. HTI Memorial Hospital Corporation
M2020-00341-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sarah K. Campbell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

“When there is a conflict between the common law and a statute, the provision of the statute must prevail.” Graves v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 148 S.W. 239, 242 (Tenn. 1912). That longstanding rule is the key to resolving this case, which pits a common-law rule governing vicarious liability claims against certain procedural provisions of Tennessee’s Health Care Liability Act. The defendant in this case moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims under the common-law rule. The trial court granted that motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed after concluding that application of the common-law rule would conflict with the Act. We agree that the Act necessarily implies an intent to abrogate the common-law rule in the circumstances of this case and affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision.

Davidson Supreme Court

Dennis Harold Ultsch v. HTI Memorial Hospital Corporation (Concur)
M2020-00341-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This case presents a simple issue: Whether the Tennessee Health Care Liability
Act’s statute of limitation extension prevails over the common law rule that a plaintiff
cannot pursue a vicarious liability claim against a principal when the plaintiff’s claim
against the agent is procedurally barred by operation of law before the plaintiff asserts the
vicarious liability claim against the principal. This common law rule is known as the
operation-of-law exception. Here, the Plaintiff filed a vicarious liability suit against the
principal, TriStar Skyline Medical Center, after the one-year statute of limitations had
expired as to Skyline’s agents but within the Act’s 120-day extension of the statute of
limitations as to Skyline. Was the suit timely filed? Yes—the Act’s provisions prevail over
the common law operation-of-law exception.

Davidson Supreme Court

Dennis Harold Ultsch v. HTI Memorial Hospital Corporation (Dissent)
M2020-00341-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This appeal presents issues similar to those in Ultsch v. HTI Memorial Hospital
Corp., No. M2020-00341-SC-R11-CV, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tenn. 2023). In that case, I
dissented from the result reached by a majority of the Court, which held that provisions of
the statutory scheme commonly referred to as the Health Care Liability Act (“HCLA”)
abrogated the common law vicarious liability principle known as the operation-of-law
exception. I reach the same conclusion here and respectfully dissent from the result
reached by the majority in this case.

Davidson Supreme Court

State of Tennessee v. Dashun Shackleford
E2020-01712-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

This appeal concerns the criminal gang-enhancement statute, Tennessee Code Annotated
section 40-35-121, and specifically what is required in an indictment to sufficiently plead
and provide notice under the statute. Dashun Shackleford (“Defendant”) was arrested for
aggravated robbery as to four individuals in September 2016, along with his friend and
fellow gang member, Jalon Copeland. Defendant’s indictment contained twenty counts:
four alternative counts each of aggravated robbery against four victims and four
corresponding counts of criminal gang offense enhancement. The gang-enhancement
statute requires the State to give notice in separate counts of the indictment of the
enhancement applicable under the statute. The indictment also alleged that Defendant was
a “Crips” gang member and listed the convictions of fifteen alleged fellow Crips members
to prove Defendant’s gang had a “pattern of criminal gang activity,” as also required by
the gang-enhancement statute. A Knox County jury convicted Defendant as charged. The
trial court merged the aggravated robbery convictions into four counts and imposed a total
effective sentence of twenty years to be served at eighty-five percent. In this case, the
gang- enhancement conviction increased Defendant’s aggravated robbery convictions from Class
B felonies to Class A felonies. Defendant appealed, arguing, among other things, that the
evidence at trial was insufficient to support his gang-enhancement conviction. The Court
of Criminal Appeals agreed, taking particular issue with the allegation in the indictment
that Defendant and the other gang members listed therein were plain Crips. In the
gang-enhancement phase of trial, the proof established that the majority of the gang members
listed in the indictment, including Defendant, were members of several different subsets of
the Crips gang, with only one of the listed men identified as a plain Crip. The intermediate
court concluded that the State failed to prove that Defendant’s subset gang had engaged in
a pattern of criminal gang activity and failed to comply with the notice requirements of the
gang-enhancement statute. In doing so, the court also, sua sponte, determined that a fatal
variance existed between the indictment and proof at trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals,
therefore, reverted Defendant’s aggravated robbery convictions to a classification lower in
the absence of the gang enhancement. After review, we conclude that the Court of Criminal
Appeals erred in its decision. The gang-enhancement statute is worded broadly and does
not require the State to specify in the indictment a criminal defendant’s gang subset nor
that the defendant is in the same gang subset as the individuals whose criminal activity
establishes the gang’s “pattern of criminal gang activity.” Defendant waived all other issues
by failing to properly raise them before the trial court or on appeal. Therefore, the decision
of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed and the trial court’s judgments are reinstated.

Knox Supreme Court