Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 10/18/2017
Format: 10/18/2017
Regions Bank v. Thomas D. Thomas, Et Al.
W2015-00798-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

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

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

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

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/05/17
In Re Gabriella D., Et Al.
E2016-00139-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) removed three children from the custody of their parents and placed them with foster parents in March 2012 because one of the children, an infant, was severely malnourished. By July 2012, the children’s mother was cooperating with DCS and complying with a permanency plan that set the goal for the children as reunification with their mother or another relative. The mother continued to comply with the permanency plan for the next sixteen months that the children were in foster care. On the day the children were scheduled to begin a trial home visit with the mother, July 31, 2013, the foster parents filed a petition in circuit court seeking to terminate the mother’s parental rights and to adopt the children. After the foster parents filed their petition in circuit court, the juvenile court, which had maintained jurisdiction over the dependency and neglect proceeding, ordered DCS to place the children with the mother for the trial home visit. The circuit court trial on the foster parents’ petition did not occur until September 2015. By that time, the children had resided with the mother on a trial basis for two years without incident. The mother, DCS, and the guardian ad litem appointed by the juvenile court in the dependency and neglect proceeding opposed the foster parents’ petition. The foster parents and a guardian ad litem appointed by the circuit court sought termination of the mother’s parental rights. After the multi-day trial, the trial court dismissed the petition, finding that the foster parents had proven a ground for termination by clear and convincing proof but had failed to establish by clear and convincing proof that termination is in the children’s best interests. The foster parents appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We granted the mother’s application for permission to appeal and now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s judgment dismissing the foster parents’ petition. We conclude that the trial court correctly determined that the proof does not amount to clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights is in the children’s best interests.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 09/29/17
Church Of God In Christ, Inc., Et Al. v. L. M. Haley Ministries, Inc., Et Al. - Concurring
W2015-00509-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

I am pleased to concur in the well-written majority opinion but write separately on the question of whether the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine is a bar to subject matter jurisdiction or an affirmative defense.

Fayette County Supreme Court 09/21/17
Church Of God In Christ, Inc., Et Al. v. L. M. Haley Ministries, Inc., Et Al.
W2015-00509-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

We granted this appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly affirmed the trial court’s decision dismissing this lawsuit involving a dispute over the right to use and control church property for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. This doctrine derives from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and prohibits civil courts from resolving church disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice. We conclude that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not apply in this lawsuit. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s dismissal is reversed. Furthermore, we conclude that the undisputed facts establish that the plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment, and we remand this matter to the trial court for any other further proceedings and orders that may be necessary to afford the plaintiffs possession and control of the disputed church real property and to address the plaintiffs’ requests for an accounting and control of the disputed church personal property.

Fayette County Supreme Court 09/21/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al. - dissenting
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

The majority’s decision misapplies Tennessee statutory and case law and creates practical problems for candidates for public office. For these reasons, I join in Justice Clark’s dissent and write separately to express my concerns. 

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al. - dissenting
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

I cannot join the majority’s decision affirming the dismissal of William Thomas McFarland’s election contest lawsuit. No statute expressly authorizes a county election commission to convene a quasi judicial hearing and resolve a pre-election challenge to a circuit judge candidate’s satisfaction of constitutional residency requirements. Furthermore, the majority’s conclusion that county election commissions implicitly have such authority ignores the fact that, where the General Assembly intends for a county election commission to exercise such authority, it has enacted statutes expressly providing such authority. The majority compounds this error by applying its holding recognizing implicit authority in a manner that negates a statute explicitly granting Mr. McFarland the right to file this election contest lawsuit challenging Michael S. Pemberton’s satisfaction of constitutional residency requirements. Because the majority’s decision is inconsistent with relevant statutes, with longstanding decisions of this Court, and with commonsense, practical considerations, I dissent.

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al.
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

This appeal addresses the authority of a county election commission to make a factual determination on the qualifications of a candidate seeking to be placed on a ballot. In this case, the defendant filed a petition to run for circuit court judge. A registered voter filed a complaint with the county election commission arguing that the defendant did not reside in the judicial district and, consequently, should not be placed on the ballot. The election commission held a hearing on the complaint and voted unanimously to place the defendant on the ballot. The defendant won the election. The plaintiff, the defendant’s defeated opponent in the election, filed this election contest based solely on the defendant’s alleged failure to meet the residency requirement. The trial court and the Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint. Both held that the substance of the plaintiff’s complaint was a challenge of the election commission’s administrative decision on the defendant’s residency, governed by the 60-day statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-102 for a petition for a writ of certiorari. Because the complaint was not filed within sixty days of the county election commission’s final decision, it was dismissed as untimely. On appeal to this Court, we hold that, by necessary implication, the county election commission had the authority under Tennessee’s election statutes to hold a quasi-judicial hearing to make a factual determination to resolve the voter’s complaint challenging the defendant’s residency. We also hold that the county election commission’s decision to certify the defendant as a qualified candidate on the ballot was a final administrative decision subject to judicial review by common-law writ of certiorari. The plaintiff, who had actual notice of the county election commission’s actions, was “aggrieved” by the election commission’s final administrative decision within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-101 and, thus, had standing to file a petition for a writ of certiorari. Though the plaintiff’s complaint was styled as an election contest, the gravamen of the complaint is a request for judicial review of the county election commission’s decision, reviewable through a petition for a writ of certiorari and subject to the 60-day statute of limitations for such a petition. Because the plaintiff’s complaint was filed well after expiration of the 60-day period, we affirm the lower courts’ dismissal of the complaint as untimely

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc. - Dissenting
E2016-02178-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

I maintain that the Court of Appeals properly concluded that recusal was necessary in this case. While I adhere to the position expressed by both the appellate court’s majority and concurring opinions that “[n]othing in the record on appeal leads this Court to believe that the trial judge holds a prejudice or bias against any party or that the trial judge cannot remain impartial despite this communication,” Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc., No. E2016-02178-COA-T10B-CV, 2016 WL 7364901, at *8 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2016), perm. app. granted (Tenn. Feb. 17, 2017), I nonetheless perceive an appearance of impropriety that is expressly disfavored by the Canons of Judicial Conduct, see Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, Canon 1.2 (“A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”). Therefore, I respectfully disagree with the decision of the majority of this Court that recusal is unnecessary.

Carter County Supreme Court 09/19/17
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc.
E2016-02178-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

This case is on appeal from a trial court judge’s decision not to recuse herself based on a telephone call to a university department director concerning a potential expert witness’ qualifications. Upon the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for recusal of the trial court judge, the defendant filed an accelerated interlocutory appeal in the Court of Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, section 2. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that recusal of the trial judge was necessary. We granted the plaintiff’s accelerated application for permission to appeal to this Court. Having thoroughly reviewed the filings of both parties and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial court’s denial of the motion to recuse was appropriate in this case. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Carter County Supreme Court 09/19/17
Tennessee Department of Correction v. David Pressley
M2015-00902-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman

We granted this appeal to determine whether a “preferred service” state employee has a protected property interest in his or her employment and whether due process or specific statutory language requires the State to bear the ultimate burden of proof in a post-termination administrative appeal under section 8-30-318 of the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management Act of 2012, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 8-30-101 through -407. The Respondent, David Pressley, was employed by the Petitioner, Tennessee Department of Correction, as a correctional officer at the Morgan County Correctional Complex. Mr. Pressley was dismissed from his employment and challenged his termination pursuant to the TEAM Act’s appeals process. Mr. Pressley’s termination was upheld by the Commissioner of TDOC at Step I of the TEAM Act’s appeals process and at Step II by the Commissioner of Human Resources. At Step III of the appeals process, the Board of Appeals reinstated Mr. Pressley and reduced his discipline to a 14-day suspension. The Board of Appeals also determined that the State bore the ultimate burden of proof in the Step III appeal. The State appealed to chancery court, challenging the assignment of the burden of proof. The chancery court reversed the Board of Appeals’ decision on the burden of proof issue and remanded the matter to the Board of Appeals. Mr. Pressley appealed to the Court of Appeals which, in turn, reversed the chancery court’s decision and determined that “preferred service” state employees have a protected property interest in their employment and that the State bore the ultimate burden of proof in the Step III appeal. We reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remand this matter to the Board of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/14/17
Linda Beard v. James William Branson, et al.
M2014-01770-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Burch

We granted permission for this appeal to determine whether a surviving spouse who files a wrongful death lawsuit is acting as a legal representative of the decedent and whether a wrongful death lawsuit filed pro se by the surviving spouse is void ab initio based on the spouse’s pro se status. In this case, the decedent’s surviving spouse filed a pro se wrongful death health care liability lawsuit shortly before the one-year statute of limitations lapsed. After expiration of the limitations period, the spouse retained an attorney and filed an amended complaint. In the ensuing discovery, the defendants learned that the decedent had two daughters, both of whom were statutory beneficiaries in the wrongful death action. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment. They argued that the spouse’s initial pro se complaint was filed in a representative capacity on behalf of the decedent and the other statutory beneficiaries and that it was, therefore, void ab initio; thus, the filing of the amended complaint could not relate back to the date of the initial complaint, and the lawsuit was time-barred. The trial court denied the summary judgment motions and permitted the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial pro se complaint. It then conducted a jury trial; the jury found both defendants liable and awarded damages. The defendant hospital appealed the denial of summary judgment. Adopting the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals reversed. The plaintiff now appeals. Under the plain language of Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes, the decedent’s right of action “pass[es] to” the surviving spouse upon the decedent’s death, and the surviving spouse asserts the right of action for the benefit of himself and other beneficiaries. Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-106(a) (2009 & Supp. 2016). Consequently, we hold that the surviving spouse did not file the initial pro se complaint as the legal representative of either the decedent or the decedent’s estate. As we construe our wrongful death statutes, in filing the pro se complaint, the surviving spouse was acting to a large extent on his own behalf and for his own benefit pursuant to his right of self-representation. Under the facts of this case, we hold that the initial pro se complaint was not void ab initio, it served to toll the statute of limitations, and the trial court did not err in allowing the filing of the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial complaint. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, affirm the trial court’s denial of summary judgment, and remand to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the other issues that were properly raised on appeal but not addressed. 

Houston County Supreme Court 08/30/17
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Scottie Itzol-Deleon
M2014-02380-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

We granted the State’s application for permission to appeal in this case in order to determine (1) whether we should expressly overrule our decision in State v. Barney, 986 S.W.2d 545 (Tenn. 1999), and (2) whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in merging two of the Defendant’s convictions. We expressly overrule Barney and hold that double jeopardy principles apply when determining whether multiple convictions of sexual offenses arise from a single act of sexual assault. We further hold that, in light of the factors we adopt herein, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the Court of Criminal Appeals did not err in merging two of the Defendant’s multiple convictions. Accordingly, albeit for different reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/25/17
Jason Ray v. Madison County, Tennessee
M2016-01577-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Daniel Breen

We accepted certification of questions of law from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, which require us to determine: (1) whether, for split confinement sentences, Tennessee law authorizes a sentencing court to fix a percentage of the sentence that a defendant must serve in actual confinement before becoming eligible to participate in a work program in the local jail or workhouse; and (2) whether Tennessee law imposes a duty on a sheriff to challenge an inmate’s improper or potentially improper sentence. We conclude (1) that for split confinement sentences Tennessee trial judges are authorized to fix a percentage the defendant must serve in actual confinement before becoming eligible to earn work credits; and (2) that sheriffs in Tennessee have no duty to challenge an inmate’s sentence as improper or potentially improper.

Supreme Court 08/16/17
Danny C. Garland, II v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee - Dissenting
E2016-01106-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion in this case.

From the majority’s recitation of the facts in this case, we can all agree that the complainant, Ms. McKeogh, did not get good service overall from Mr. Garland’s office. However, the majority’s recitation of the facts also makes it clear that the problems of which Ms. McKeogh complains arise from the actions or inactions of Mr. Garland’s staff, particularly Ms. Harris and Ms. Snyder.
 

Knox County Supreme Court 08/10/17
Danny C. Garland, II v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
E2016-01106-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that a Knoxville attorney should receive a public censure based on his violations of Rules of Professional Conduct 1.3, 1.4, and 8.4(a). The trial court affirmed the hearing panel’s decision. After careful consideration, we affirm the judgment of the trial court. 

Knox County Supreme Court 08/10/17
In Re: Paul Julius Walwyn, BPR #18263
M2016-01507-SC-BAR-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge:

The Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) initiated disciplinary proceedings against attorney Paul Julius Walwyn based on a client’s complaint of professional misconduct. A hearing panel (“Panel”) determined that Mr. Walwyn had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) and ultimately entered “Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Amended Judgment of the Hearing Panel” (“Amended Judgment”) imposing a public censure with a practice monitor for one year and six additional hours of continuing legal education (“CLE”) on subjects related to the management of a law practice and/or client communication. Mr. Walwyn did not appeal the Amended Judgment to the trial court. The Board petitioned this Court for an order enforcing the Panel’s Amended Judgment. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 15.4(b) and (c), we determined that the punishment imposed by the Panel appeared inadequate and proposed that it be increased. Mr. Walwyn subsequently requested oral argument, which we granted. We now consider whether the punishment imposed by the Panel is appropriate under the circumstances of this case and is in uniformity with prior disciplinary decisions in this state. Following a thorough review of the record and the law, we conclude that it is not. Therefore, we modify the Panel’s Amended Judgment to impose a one-year suspension from the practice of law, with six months to be served on active suspension and six months to be served on probation with a practice monitor. The duties and obligations in relation to the practice monitor shall be enforced in accordance with the Panel’s Amended Judgment. We also impose six additional hours of CLE on subjects related to the management of a law practice and/or client communication.

Supreme Court 08/04/17
Deborah Bray v. Radwan R. Khuri, M.D.
W2015-00397-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donna M. Fields

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

Shelby County Supreme Court 07/05/17
State of Tennessee v. Rodney Stephens
E2014-02514-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

We granted the State’s application for permission to appeal in this case in order to determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in concluding that the evidence was not sufficient to support the Defendant’s conviction of aggravated stalking. The Court of Criminal Appeals reduced the Defendant’s conviction to misdemeanor stalking after concluding that the State had not adduced sufficient evidence to establish that the Defendant knowingly violated an order of protection. We hold that the Court of Criminal Appeals misapplied the standard of review and so committed reversible error. Because the proof was sufficient to support the jury’s determination that the Defendant had actual knowledge of the order of protection issued against him on August 20, 2010, the evidence is sufficient to support the Defendant’s conviction of aggravated stalking. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s judgment.

Campbell County Supreme Court 06/16/17
State of Tennessee v. Ray Rowland
W2014-02311-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

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

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/02/17
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