Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 05/25/2017
Format: 05/25/2017
Peter M. Napolitano v. Board of Professional Responsibility
M2016-00869-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Ben H. Cantrell

This matter initially originated from a fee dispute between attorney Peter M. Napolitano (“Attorney”) and his client Gayle Connelly (“Client”). Client filed a complaint with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility (“the Board”) regarding the fee dispute in 2008. The Board dismissed this complaint in 2010 without imposing any sanctions. Client sued Attorney over the fee dispute and, after Attorney was deposed in conjunction with the lawsuit, Client filed a second complaint with the Board in 2012. This second complaint alleged that Attorney had mishandled funds in his trust account and lied under oath. The Board prosecuted this second complaint, resulting in a hearing before a hearing panel (“the Panel”). The Panel determined that Attorney had committed ethical violations related to his trust account and by lying under oath. Accordingly, the Panel imposed sanctions against Attorney, including a five-year suspension of Attorney’s law license, with one year of active suspension. Attorney and the Board both sought review in circuit court. The circuit court modified the Panel’s sanctions in part but affirmed the five-year suspension. Both Attorney and the Board sought review by this Court, with Attorney seeking a lesser punishment and the Board seeking disbarment. Additionally, both parties disagree with the Panel’s order of $7,500 in restitution to Client. We hold that the five-year suspension is appropriate and that the Panel did not err in ordering $7,500 in restitution. Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court’s judgment but modify it by adding the requirement of a practice monitor during Attorney’s probationary period.

Montgomery County Supreme Court 05/24/17
Elizabeth Eberbach v. Christopher Eberbach
M2014-01811-SC-R11
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

We granted this appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals may exercise discretion and decline to award appellate attorney’s fees when the marital dissolution agreement at issue contains a provision entitling the prevailing party to an award of such fees. In this case, Husband and Wife were parties to a marital dissolution agreement that was incorporated into their final divorce decree (“the Parties’ MDA”). The Parties’ MDA contained a provision for the award of attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in any subsequent legal proceedings. Following a post-divorce proceeding that resulted in the trial court granting relief and awarding attorney’s fees to Wife, Husband appealed. Wife also prevailed on appeal and sought an award of appellate attorney’s fees from the Court of Appeals under a statutory provision and under the Parties’ MDA. Exercising its discretion, the Court of Appeals declined to award the requested fees under the statute. The Court of Appeals erroneously failed to separately consider an award of the requested fees under the Parties’ MDA. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Williamson County Supreme Court 05/23/17
State of Tennessee v. James Hawkins - Concurring
W2012-00412-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

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

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

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

Shelby County Supreme Court 05/01/17
Darryl F. Bryant, Sr. v. Darryl F. Bryant, Jr. - (Dissent)
M2014-02379-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

The Court has adopted a majority rule that allows a co-tenant to unilaterally sever a joint tenancy with right of survivorship and convert the estate into a tenancy in common without the knowledge or consent of the other co-tenant. The better rule, followed by other jurisdictions, does not allow a co-tenant to act unilaterally to sever the other co tenant’s interest, thereby protecting the rights and expectations of joint tenants who are conveyed property with a survivorship interest. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/19/17
Darryl F. Bryant, Sr. v. Darryl F. Bryant, Jr.
M2014-02379-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman

We granted permission to appeal in this case to address whether a joint tenancy with an express right of survivorship can be severed by the unilateral actions of one of the co-tenants. The owner of the property at issue in this appeal executed a deed conveying the property to herself and to her son in a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. The same grantor later executed a quitclaim deed granting her interest in the property to her grandson (the son’s child). After the grantor died, the son filed a declaratory judgment action against the grandson, claiming that the son was the rightful owner of the property in fee simple as the surviving joint tenant under the first deed. In response, the grandson asserted that the grantor’s second deed severed the joint tenancy, conveyed the grantor’s one-half interest to him, and destroyed the son’s right of survivorship. The trial court granted the son’s motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. We reverse. Following the common-law doctrine of severance, we hold that a joint tenancy with an express right of survivorship may be severed by the unilateral action of one of the co-tenants, and that doing so converts the estate into a tenancy in common and destroys the survivorship interests of the original joint tenants. In this case, the grantor’s second deed, conveying her interest in the property to the grandson, severed the joint tenancy and destroyed the son’s right of survivorship, so the son and the grandson own the property in equal parts as tenants in common.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/19/17
Judy Kilburn v. Granite State Insurance Company, et al.
M2015-01782-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael Binkley

In this workers’ compensation case, Charles Kilburn sustained several injuries from a motor vehicle accident. He underwent cervical spine surgery to resolve his neck injury complaints. His authorized physician also recommended lumbar spine surgery to combat his back pain, but that request was denied through the utilization review process. Mr. Kilburn took oxycodone to alleviate his back pain, and his treating physician referred him to a pain management clinic. Six months after the cervical spine surgery, Mr. Kilburn died due to an overdose of oxycodone combined with alcohol. After a bench trial, the chancery court found that the death was compensable. Mr. Kilburn’s employer appealed. The appeal was initially referred to a Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel, but we later transferred the case to the Supreme Court for review. After examining the record, the parties’ arguments, and the applicable law, we reverse the judgment of the chancery court.

Williamson County Supreme Court 04/10/17
State of Tennessee v. James Robert Christensen, Jr.
W2014-00931-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph H. Walker

The maxim, “every man’s house is his castle,” is deeply rooted in our jurisprudence. Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 390 (1914). It applies whether the house is a castle or a cottage—a mansion or a mobile home. The right to retreat into the privacy of one’s home and be free from governmental intrusion is a basic tenet of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution. Our homes and adjoining land are protected spaces; governmental officers must have a warrant, absent special circumstances, to intrude onto this private area. 

Tipton County Supreme Court 04/07/17
State of Tennessee v. James Robert Christensen, Jr.
W2014-00931-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph H. Walker

James Robert Christensen, Jr., (“the Defendant”) was convicted by a jury of resisting arrest, promoting the manufacture of methamphetamine, initiating the manufacture of methamphetamine, and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. Prior to trial, the Defendant moved to suppress evidence obtained through what he claimed was an illegal search. The trial court denied the Defendant’s motion and also denied the Defendant’s motion seeking an interlocutory appeal. On direct appeal following trial, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgments, including the trial court’s ruling on the suppression issue. We granted the Defendant’s application for permission to appeal in order to address the legality of the police officers’ warrantless entry onto the curtilage of the Defendant’s residence. We hold that the officers’ entry onto the Defendant’s property was constitutionally permissible in spite of the posted “No Trespassing” signs near the Defendant’s unobstructed driveway. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.  

Tipton County Supreme Court 04/07/17
Edwin B. Jenkins et al. v. Big City Remodeling et al.
E2014-01612-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

At issue in this appeal is the liability of a general contractor and two flooring subcontractors for damages sustained by the plaintiffs when a fire destroyed their partially completed house. The plaintiffs alleged that the negligence of the general contractor and the subcontractors caused the fire and that the general contractor had breached the construction contract. The trial court granted summary judgment to the general contractor, holding that the plaintiffs could not rely on res ipsa loquitur to establish an inference of negligence; granted summary judgment to the subcontractors based on the plaintiffs’ failure to prove that any negligence of the subcontractors caused the fire; and granted summary judgment to the general contractor based on evidence that the plaintiffs were the first party to materially breach the construction contract. The Court of Appeals, in a divided opinion, affirmed summary judgment to the general contractor based on the inapplicability of res ipsa loquitur; and reversed summary judgment to the subcontractors on the negligence claim and to the general contractor on the breach of contract claim, finding genuine issues of disputed material fact. We hold that the plaintiffs cannot rely on res ipsa loquitur because they did not produce sufficient evidence that the general contractor was in exclusive control of the specific cause or all reasonably probable causes of the fire. We further hold that the plaintiffs did not produce sufficient evidence to establish that any negligence of the subcontractors was the cause in fact of the fire. For these reasons, the general contractor and flooring subcontractors are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiffs’ claims based on negligence and breach of contract. We affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment. 

Sevier County Supreme Court 04/05/17
State of Tennessee v. Jerry Lewis Tuttle
M2014-00566-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella l. Hargrove

We granted the State’s appeal primarily to determine whether the intermediate appellate court erred in finding the search warrant affidavit insufficient to establish probable cause, and in doing so, to revisit the continuing vitality of State v. Jacumin, 778 S.W.2d 430 (Tenn. 1989). In Jacumin, this Court refused to follow Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 (1983), which adopted a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis for determining whether an affidavit establishes probable cause for a search warrant, and instead embraced, as a matter of Tennessee constitutional law, another test derived from two earlier United States Supreme Court decisions, Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108 (1964) and Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410 (1969). For the reasons explained herein, we overrule Jacumin and adopt the totality-of-the-circumstances analysis for determining whether an affidavit establishes probable cause for issuance of a warrant under article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution. Applying this standard, we reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision holding the search warrant invalid. We also reverse the intermediate appellate court’s conclusion that the evidence was insufficient to support the defendant’s convictions for conspiracy to possess over 300 pounds of marijuana with intent to sell or deliver and conspiracy to commit money laundering and reinstate the trial court’s judgment approving the jury’s verdict. Finally, we affirm, on separate grounds, the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision upholding the trial court’s judgment ordering forfeiture of the $1,098,050 cash seized when the search warrant was executed.

Maury County Supreme Court 04/05/17
Stephen Michael West, et al. v. Derrick D. Schofield, et al
M2015-01952-SC-RDM-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman

The Plaintiffs, each convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death, brought this declaratory judgment action seeking to have declared facially unconstitutional the written protocol by which the Tennessee Department of Correction carries out an execution by lethal injection. After a lengthy evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied relief. The Plaintiffs appealed and, following a motion by the Defendants, this Court assumed jurisdiction over this matter. The Plaintiffs assert three grounds for relief in their brief to this Court: (1) the protocol is unconstitutional because it creates a substantial risk of serious harm; (2) the protocol is unconstitutional because it creates a substantial risk of a lingering death; and (3) the trial court erred by dismissing their claim that the protocol is unconstitutional because it requires the State to violate federal drug laws. We hold that the trial court did not err in concluding that the Plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of demonstrating that the protocol, on its face, violates the constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. We also hold that the trial court did not err in dismissing the Plaintiffs’ claims that the protocol requires violations of federal drug laws. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.  

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/28/17
Judith Moore-Pennoyer v. State of Tennessee, et al
E2015-01701-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

We granted permission to appeal to clarify the nature of the employment relationship of a trial judge’s secretarial assistant. We hold that a trial judgeʼs secretarial assistant is an at-will employee. As a result, the secretarial assistant’s employment may be terminated at any time during the term of the trial judge to whom he or she is assigned, either by the judge or the secretarial assistant. If the relationship is not terminated during the trial judge’s term, the secretarial assistant’s employment automatically terminates when the trial judge’s service ends. Because the plaintiff secretarial assistant’s employment automatically ended when the trial judge’s term ended and because she remained employed until the end of the trial judge’s term, as a matter of law, the defendant did not tortiously interfere with the plaintiff’s employment relationship. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, vacate the judgment of the trial court, and remand for entry of a judgment granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint, and for any further proceedings, consistent with this decision, that may be necessary in the trial court.

Knox County Supreme Court 03/28/17
Reginald Dion Hughes v. Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole (Dissent)
M2015-00722-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

We granted permission to appeal believing this case presented us with an opportunity to address the constitutionality of Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 (2014)—an issue that merits our attention given a 2014 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit holding the statute unconstitutional as applied in certain circumstances.  See Clifton v. Carpenter, 775 F.3d 760, 767-68 (6th Cir. 2014) (holding the statute unconstitutional when applied to bar a petitioner whose parole had been revoked from appealing the parole board’s decision because he owed $1,449.15 in court costs from prior cases).  Having now reviewed the record on appeal and the relevant statutory provisions, I am convinced that the statute does not apply to authorize dismissal of Mr. Hughes’s appeal.  As a result, I have concluded, like Justice Lee, that it is unnecessary to address the constitutionality of this statute in this appeal.  See West v. Schofield, 468 S.W.3d 482, 493–94 (Tenn. 2015)(“[C]ourts decide constitutional issues only when necessary.”).  Therefore, while I do not disagree with the majority’s discussion of the relevant constitutional principles or take issue with the outcome the majority reaches on the constitutionality of the statute, I am unable to join the majority decision affirming the dismissal of the petitioner’s appeal.  Rather, I would hold that dismissing an inmate’s claim based on Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 is permissible only if the record establishes that the inmates’ outstanding court costs were assessed against the inmate “under this part,” meaning in a manner consistent with Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-808(b).Because the record on appeal fails to establish that costs of the divorce action were assessed against Mr. Hughes “under this part,” consistently with section 41-21-808(b), I would reverse the dismissal and remand to the trial court for consideration of Mr. Hughes’s petition for certiorari on the merits.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/23/17
Reginald Dion Hughes v. Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole (Dissent)
M2015-00722-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

The Court bars Mr. Hughes’s access to the courthouse based on its interpretation of Tennessee Code Annotated sections 41-21-801 to -818, an act that adopted procedures and penalties for prison inmates who file frivolous or malicious lawsuits. As noted by the Court, the purpose of this act was to “offset the tide of frivolous inmate litigation filtering through the court system.” Under this act, a trial court may dismiss an inmate’s claim upon a finding that the claim is frivolous or malicious or if the inmate has previously filed three or more claims found to be frivolous or malicious. The specific section at issue is section 41-21-812(a), which provides that “on notice of assessment of any fees, taxes, costs and expenses under this part, a clerk of a court may not accept for filing another claim by the same inmate until prior fees, taxes, costs and other expenses are paid in full.” Id. (emphasis added).

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/23/17
Reginald Dion Hughes v. Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole
M2015-00722-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

The petition for writ of certiorari of Reginald Dion Hughes (“petitioner”) to the chancery court from the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole‟s denial of parole was dismissed pursuant Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812 following the discovery that petitioner still owed $258.58 from prior cases. Petitioner appealed the chancery court's decision, but the Court of Appeals also dismissed the appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812. Hughes v. Tenn. Bd. Prob. and Parole, No. M2015-00722-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. July 1, 2015) (order dismissing appeal), perm. app. granted (Tenn. Feb. 2, 2016). Petitioner then requested permission to appeal to this court, alleging that section 41-21-812 was unconstitutional. We granted petitioner‟s request to review this case and to determine “[w]hether Tennessee Code Annotated section 41-21-812(a) is constitutional as applied to this case.” After reviewing the record, the parties' arguments, and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals and dismiss petitioner's appeal.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/23/17
Cassidy Lynne Aragon v. Reynaldo Manuel Aragon
M2014-02292-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

In this post-divorce litigation, we granted permission to appeal to address the standard for determining what constitutes a “reasonable purpose” for a parent’s relocation with the parties’ child under Tennessee’s parental relocation statute, Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108. In this case, the father spent the majority of the residential parenting time with the parties’ child.  He sought to move with the child to Arizona because he had secured an advantageous job in an area where he and the child would live near his parents and his extended family and have their support, and where he and the child would live near some of the mother’s extended family as well.  The trial court held that the father did not have a reasonable purpose for the relocation.  In a divided opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed.  The dissent in the Court of Appeals questioned the interpretation of the term “reasonable purpose” used by the majority, which originated in a prior Court of Appeals decision, Webster v. Webster, No. W2005-01288-COA-R3CV, 2006 WL 3008019 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 24, 2006), that construed the term “reasonable purpose” to mean one that is significant or substantial when weighed against the loss to the parent opposing the relocation.  We overrule Webster insofar as it misconstrued the meaning of the term “reasonable purpose” as used in Tennessee’s parental relocation statute.  Under the natural and ordinary meaning of the term “reasonable purpose,” we hold that the father stated a reasonable purpose for relocating to Arizona with the parties’ child and that the mother did not carry her burden of establishing a ground for denying the father permission to relocate with the child.  Under section 36-6-108(d)(1), “[t]he parent spending the greater amount of time with the child shall be permitted to relocate with the child unless the court finds” that the parent opposing the relocation has proven one of the enumerated grounds.  Because the mother did not prove a ground to deny permission to relocate, we reverse the trial court’s denial of permission for the father to relocate to Arizona with the child, and we also reverse the trial court’s modification of the parties’ parenting plan to designate the mother as the primary residential parent.  On remand, the trial court is authorized to fashion an appropriate transitional parenting plan that results, within a reasonable time, in designating the father as the primary residential parent and permitting him to live in Arizona with the parties’ child.  Accordingly, we reverse the trial court and the Court of Appeals and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Montgomery County Supreme Court 03/16/17
Kim Hardy v. Tournament Players Club at Southwind, Inc., d/b/a "TPC Southwind,", et al.
W2014-02286-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

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

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

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

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/13/17
Joseph Brennan, et al v. Board of Parole For The State of Tennessee
M2014-01591-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

The Tennessee Board of Parole denied parole to a prisoner who was serving a twenty year sentence for convictions of attempted rape of a child. The Board determined that the prisoner’s release from custody would depreciate the seriousness of the crime for which he was convicted or promote disrespect for the law. The prisoner filed a petition of certiorari challenging the Board’s decision. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision, and the prisoner appealed. The Court of Appeals did not review the issues raised on appeal. Instead, it calculated the date the prisoner should have been considered for parole and concluded that the Board acted arbitrarily by conducting a parole hearing prematurely. The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded with instructions for the Board to give the prisoner an immediate parole hearing. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to calculate the date the prisoner could be considered for parole and did so incorrectly. The Tennessee Department of Correction has the statutory authority to determine the date a prisoner may be considered for parole by the Board. On review, we affirm the trial court’s decision. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Nicole Flowers
M2014-01744-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Lee Holloway, Jr.

Nicole Flowers (“the defendant”) was convicted of the criminal offense of stalking, see Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-315, based, in part, on her posting disparaging signs about the victim on the victim's private property and on the property of his employer, which was a public place. We granted this appeal to consider whether the signs placed by the defendant amounted to an exercise of her right to free speech, as protected by the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. We also consider whether the evidence presented at the bench trial was sufficient to sustain the defendant's conviction. We conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that the evidence underlying the defendant's conviction for stalking is insufficient to sustain her conviction and therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Having determined that the evidence is insufficient, the issue of the defendant's right to free speech is pretermitted.

Maury County Supreme Court 12/30/16
State of Tennessee v. John Henry Pruitt
M2013-02393-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter

We granted this appeal to consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals incorrectly held in State v. Hayes, No. M2012-01768-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 3378320, at *7 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 1, 2013), no perm. app. filed, that retroactive application of the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-6-108, would violate constitutional protections against ex post facto laws and to re-evaluate the ex post facto analysis in Miller v. State, 584 S.W.2d 758 (Tenn. 1979), in light of Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37 (1990). Having concluded that Miller was wrongly decided, we overrule Miller and hold that the ex post facto clause of the Tennessee Constitution has the same definition and scope as the federal ex post facto clause. To be an ex post facto violation, a law must be retroactive in its application and must fall within one of the four categories set forth in Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 390 (1798) (opinion of Chase, J.). We conclude that the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act is not an ex post facto statute as applied in this case and that as a result, the Defendant‟s motion to suppress the evidence against him was not well-taken. In addition, we conclude that the Defendant's issues regarding the sufficiency of the evidence to convict him and to sentence him to life without the possibility of parole do not entitle him to relief. Accordingly, the judgments of the Court of Criminal Appeals are affirmed on the separate grounds stated herein.

Hickman County Supreme Court 12/30/16
Sandra L. Wallis v. Brainerd Baptist Church, et al
E2015-01827-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

The plaintiff’s husband collapsed and died after participating in a cycling class at a fitness and recreation facility owned and operated by the church. Although the cycling class instructor and others present at the fitness facility attended the plaintiff’s husband and called 911 soon after his collapse, they did not utilize the automated external defibrillator (“AED”) on site at the facility. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death action against the church, alleging, among other things, that the church had negligently failed to utilize the onsite AED, to train facility personnel on the proper use of the AED, and to comply with applicable state statutes. The church denied negligence and subsequently filed a third-party complaint against the company that sold it the AED, asserting that the seller had contractually agreed to provide a physician oversight program, which, among other things, included oversight of the church’s compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. The church alleged that, should the plaintiff recover a judgment against it for failing to comply with statutes, the seller should be solely responsible for the judgment. The plaintiff then filed a second amended complaint naming the seller as a defendant and alleging, as relevant to this interlocutory appeal, that: (1) the seller had negligently breached a duty it owed to her husband and others using the fitness facility to properly maintain the AEDs, to ensure that they were accessible, and to ensure that the church’s employees had the knowledge, training, and ability to operate the AEDs; (2) the seller had breached its contract with the church; (3) her husband was a third-party beneficiary of the contract; and (4) the seller’s negligence and breaches of contract caused her husband’s death, entitling her to recover against the seller on her wrongful death and loss of consortium claims.

 The seller moved for summary judgment against the plaintiff and the church, arguing that: (1) it owed no duty of care to the plaintiff or her husband; (2) the church had no common law or statutory duty to acquire or use an AED; (3) neither the plaintiff nor her husband were third-party beneficiaries of the seller’s contract with the church; (4) the undisputed facts established that the seller had not breached its contract with the church; and (5) the undisputed facts failed to establish that any of the alleged breaches of contract caused the plaintiff’s husband’s death. The trial court denied the seller’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that disputes of material fact remained, but it granted the seller permission to seek an interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals denied the seller’s application for an interlocutory appeal, but this Court granted the seller permission to appeal pursuant to Rule 11 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. We conclude that the seller did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff’s husband or other users of the fitness facility independent of its contract with the church and that the church had no statutory or common law duty to acquire or use the AED it purchased from the seller, and as a result, the plaintiff’s husband was not a third-party beneficiary of the church’s contract with the seller. For these reasons, the seller is entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s second amended complaint and the church’s third-party complaint. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for entry of summary judgment in favor of the seller on all claims and for any other necessary and appropriate proceedings consistent with this decision.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 12/22/16
State of Tennessee v. Lemaricus Devall Davidson
E2013-00394-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Walter C. Kurtz

A jury imposed two sentences of death on the defendant after convicting him of multiple counts of first degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape, and facilitation of aggravated rape. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences. State v. Davidson, No. E2013 00394 CCA-R3-DD, 2015 WL 1087126, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 10, 2015). We have carefully considered the defendant’s claims of error and conducted the review mandated by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206. We hold that the trial court did not err by admitting evidence obtained during searches of the defendant’s house and of his person; the trial court did not err by admitting the defendant’s statement to law enforcement officers; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the victims’ family members to wear buttons containing images of the victims; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence post-mortem photographs of the victims; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the jury to view the defendant’s video recorded statement in the courtroom during deliberations; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting expert testimony regarding ballistics and fingerprint evidence; the defendant’s convictions were supported by sufficient evidence; and the trial court properly effectuated merger of the convictions. We affirm the Court of Criminal Appeals on the remaining issues and include relevant portions of its opinion in the appendix. We hold the sentences of death were not imposed in an arbitrary fashion; the evidence fully supports the jury’s findings of aggravating circumstances in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-13-204(i)(5), (6), (7), and (13); the evidence supports the jury’s finding that these aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances presented by the defendant; and the defendant’s death sentences are neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. We affirm the defendant’s convictions and sentences of death and vacate the Court of Criminal Appeals’ remand to the trial court for correction of the judgment documents.

Knox County Supreme Court 12/19/16
State of Tennessee v. Stanley Bernard Gibson
M2014-00598-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

The primary issue presented is whether the Drug-Free School Zone Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-432, applies when a defendant is convicted of facilitation of an offense listed in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-417. The defendant was convicted of facilitation of possession with intent to deliver .5 grams or more of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school. The trial court applied the Act to increase the defendant’s felony classification and to require service of the entire minimum sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence. State v. Gibson, No. M2014 00598-CCA-R3-CD, 2015 WL 3867567, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 23, 2015). We granted review to address whether the Act applies to a conviction for facilitation and whether the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction. The State concedes the trial court erred by applying the Act to require service of the entire minimum sentence but argues the Act is a separate criminal offense and supports the higher felony classification. Based on the clear language of the Drug-Free School Zone Act, we hold the Act does not apply to a conviction for facilitation. Therefore, the trial court erred by increasing the felony classification and by requiring service of the entire minimum sentence. Further, we hold the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for facilitation.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/16/16