Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 07/23/2019
Format: 07/23/2019
State of Tennessee v. A.B. Price, Jr. and Victor Sims
W2017-00677-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald E. Parish

In early January 2017, Defendant A. B. Price, Jr., attempted to plead nolo contendere to two counts of sexual battery, and Defendant Victor Sims attempted to plead guilty to three counts of aggravated assault. Both Defendants had reached plea bargains with the State, and each of the pleas included a term of probation. The trial court declined to accept the pleas and requested the parties to return for a later hearing to present proof and argument regarding the constitutionality of certain portions of the Public Safety Act of 2016 (“the PSA”), which has the practical effect of authorizing the Tennessee Department of Correction (“DOC”) to address at least some probation violations, a role up to this point reserved exclusively to trial courts. After the hearing, the trial court ruled portions of the PSA facially unconstitutional on grounds of separation of powers, due process, and equal protection. The trial court subsequently accepted the Defendants’ pleas and inserted in each judgment the following special condition: “The probated portion of the Defendant’s sentence is not subject to the Public Safety Act; rather, the Defendant shall be subject to the rules and regulations governing probation applicable through pre-existing law (law in effect prior to January 1, 2017).” The State appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgments. We granted the State’s application for permission to appeal. We hold that the constitutionality of the PSA provisions at issue was not ripe for consideration by the trial court. Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals. We remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

  

Supreme Court 07/22/19
TWB Architects, Inc. v. The Braxton, LLC Et Al.
M2017-00423-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge David D. Wolfe

We granted review to determine whether summary judgment was properly granted to an architect firm seeking to recover its design fees from a development company. The architect firm designed a condominium project for the development company. The development company ran short of funds and was not able to pay the architect firm under their design contract. As a result, the architect firm’s president agreed to accept a condominium in the project instead of the fee. But the development company did not fulfill that agreement because the development company had pledged the condominium as collateral for a construction loan. The architect firm filed a mechanic’s lien for its unpaid fee under the parties’ design contract, and then filed this suit to enforce the lien. The trial court granted summary judgment to the architect firm, holding that the firm was entitled to its fee under the design contract, and there was insufficient evidence that the parties intended a novation by substituting the agreement to convey a condominium for the design contract. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We find that disputed questions of material fact exist about whether the architect firm and the development company intended a novation when they entered into the agreement for the condominium. Thus, the trial court should not have granted summary judgment to the architect firm. We reverse and remand to the trial court. 

Cheatham County Supreme Court 07/22/19
Board of Professional Responsibility of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Loring Edwin Justice
E2017-01334-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

This lawyer-disciplinary proceeding stems from a Knoxville attorney’s conduct in a federal personal injury lawsuit where the attorney represented the plaintiff. The federal district court imposed a discovery sanction against the corporate defendant and ordered it to pay the attorney’s fees and costs the plaintiff had incurred in locating and deposing a witness the corporate defendant failed to disclose. When the plaintiff’s lawyer submitted an itemization of fees and costs to the federal district court, the lawyer falsely claimed as his own work the work that a paralegal had performed. The lawyer also submitted a written declaration along with the itemization falsely claiming that he had kept contemporaneous records of his time in the case and attesting to the truth and accuracy of the itemization. The lawyer also requested in the itemization “grossly exaggerated and unreasonable” attorney’s fees of more than $103,000 for work beyond the scope of the federal district court’s order. Later, the lawyer testified falsely in a hearing before the federal district court by reaffirming the truth and accuracy of the itemization and the written declaration. A Hearing Panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Hearing Panel”) determined that the lawyer had violated four provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”)—RPC 1.5(a) (Fees); RPC 3.3(a) (Candor Toward the Tribunal); RPC 3.4(b) (Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel); and RPC 8.4(a) and (c) (Misconduct). The Hearing Panel found six aggravating and two mitigating factors and sanctioned the lawyer with a one-year active suspension and twelve additional hours of ethics continuing legal education. The Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) and the lawyer appealed to the Chancery Court for Knox County. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 1.3. The trial court affirmed the Hearing Panel’s findings of fact and conclusions of law but modified the sanction to disbarment. The trial court concluded that Standard 5.11 of the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (“ABA Standards”), which identifies disbarment as the presumptive sanction, applies and that the aggravating and mitigating factors do not warrant a lesser sanction than disbarment. The lawyer appealed, and after carefully reviewing the record and applicable authorities, we affirm the trial court’s judgment in all respects, including its modification of the sanction to disbarment. 

Knox County Supreme Court 07/02/19
Benjamin Shea Cotten, As Personal Representative For The Estate Of Christina Marie Cotten, Deceased, Et Al. v. Jerry Scott Wilson - Dissenting
M2016-02402-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley

The Estate of Christina Marie Cotten should have its day in court. Summary judgment for Dr. Jerry Wilson is not appropriate because the issue of whether Christina Marie Cotten’s suicide was a reasonably foreseeable result of Dr. Wilson’s negligent conduct involves disputed questions of material fact. The majority, in lengthy footnotes, attempts to defend its decision in favor of Dr. Wilson. The reasoning in this dissent is clearly stated. I decline the invitation to debate in a series of footnotes. See Borne v. Celadon Trucking Servs., Inc., 532 S.W.3d 274, 319 (Tenn. 2017) (Lee, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Williamson County Supreme Court 06/19/19
Benjamin Shea Cotten, As Personal Representative For The Estate Of Christina Marie Cotten, Deceased, Et Al. v. Jerry Scott Wilson
M2016-02402-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael W. Binkley

In this wrongful death action, the plaintiff estate seeks to hold the defendant liable for negligently facilitating the decedent’s suicide. While staying alone in the defendant’s home, the adult decedent committed suicide by shooting herself with a gun that was unsecured in the defendant’s home. The decedent’s estate sued the defendant, alleging that he should have known the decedent was potentially suicidal and that he negligently facilitated the suicide by failing to secure the gun while the decedent was in his home. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the evidence is insufficient for a trier of fact to find that the decedent’s suicide was a reasonably foreseeable probability; consequently, the decedent’s suicide constitutes a superseding intervening event that breaks the chain of proximate causation. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

Williamson County Supreme Court 06/19/19
Lewis Alvin Minyard v. Laura Nicole Lucas
E2017-02261-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan

We granted this appeal to consider whether a circuit court loses continuing, exclusive subject matter jurisdiction if a post-divorce petition seeking modification of a parenting plan adopted in a final divorce decree alleges facts that are tantamount to an unruly child claim, over which juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 37-1-103. After we granted this appeal, the General Assembly amended section 37-1-103 to expressly provide that a circuit court retains subject matter jurisdiction in these circumstances until and unless a pleading is filed or relief is sought in juvenile court and the juvenile court’s exclusive original jurisdiction is invoked. Act of April 18, 2019, 2019 Tenn. Pub. Acts ch. 167. The General Assembly applied this amendment to all cases pending on its April 18, 2019 effective date, including this appeal. Id. § 2. Because no pleading was filed in juvenile court nor was the juvenile court’s exclusive jurisdiction invoked in any other manner in this case, the circuit court retained subject matter jurisdiction of the post-divorce petition. Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the circuit court is reinstated.

Knox County Supreme Court 05/29/19
Bradley James Cox v. Laura Nicole Lucas
E2017-02264-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gregory S. McMillan

We granted this appeal to consider whether a circuit court loses continuing, exclusive subject matter jurisdiction if a post-divorce petition seeking modification of a parenting plan adopted in a final divorce decree alleges facts that are tantamount to claims of dependency and neglect, over which juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 37-1-103. After we granted this appeal, the General Assembly amended section 37-1-103 to expressly provide that a circuit court retains subject matter jurisdiction in these circumstances until and unless a pleading is filed or relief is sought in juvenile court and the juvenile court’s exclusive original jurisdiction is invoked. Act of April 18, 2019, 2019 Tenn. Pub. Acts ch. 167. The General Assembly applied this amendment to all cases pending on its April 18, 2019 effective date, including this appeal. Id. § 2. Because no pleading was filed in juvenile court nor was the juvenile court’s exclusive jurisdiction invoked in any other manner in this case, the circuit court retained subject matter jurisdiction of the post-divorce petition. Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the circuit court is reinstated.

Knox County Supreme Court 05/29/19
State of Tennessee v. Anthony Jerome Miller
E2016-01779-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Alex E. Pearson

We granted permission to appeal in this case in order to determine whether Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1007, which provides that “[n]o process, except as otherwise provided, shall be issued for the violation of [the statutes proscribing the offenses of sexual exploitation of a minor] unless it is issued upon the application of the district attorney general of the district,” applies to search warrants sought and obtained prior to the commencement of a prosecution for sexual exploitation of a minor. In this case, a police officer applied for and obtained the search warrant by which pornographic images of minors were recovered from the Defendant’s computer. The Defendant sought to suppress the evidence on the basis that the search warrant was not applied for by the district attorney general. The trial court denied the Defendant’s motion to suppress, and the Defendant subsequently pled guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a minor, reserving as a certified question the efficacy of the search warrant. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling and the Defendant’s conviction. We hold that Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1007 does not require search warrants to be applied for by the office of the district attorney general. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment below.

Greene County Supreme Court 05/22/19
Ameenah House v. Amazon.Com, Inc.
E2017-02183-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

An employee filed workers' compensation claims against her employer for alleged workrelated back and leg injuries. The Court of Workers' Compensation Claims (the trial court) ruled against the employee, finding that the employee failed to show that her alleged injuries were work-related. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board affirmed the trial court's decision. The employee appealed. This appeal was referred to the Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. After careful consideration, we affirm the judgment of the Appeals Board and adopt its opinion as set forth in the attached Appendix.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 05/16/19
Carlos Eugene Moore v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
W2018-00969-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree, Jr.

Carlos Eugene Moore (“Attorney”) entered into a written contingent fee agreement to represent a client in a personal injury matter. The agreement, which was signed by the client, provided that if the client refused to accept any settlement offer which Attorney advised her was reasonable and should be taken, the client was responsible for the contingency fee “on the basis of that offer” unless Attorney waived the provision. When Attorney received an offer to settle the matter, he advised the client to accept the offer. She refused. Attorney filed a motion to withdraw which was granted. Attorney also sought to place a lien against the client’s eventual recovery for his fees and expenses “presently owe[d].” After the client filed a complaint with the Board of Professional Responsibility (“BPR”), the BPR filed a petition for discipline. A hearing panel was appointed and, after an evidentiary hearing, the panel concluded that (1) Attorney had “made an agreement for and has sought to collect an unreasonable fee,” violating Rule of Professional Conduct (“RPC” or “Rule”) 1.5(a) and 1.5(c); and (2) Attorney had “violated Rule 1.8(i) because [the client] became obligated when [Attorney] advised [her] that the settlement offer . . . was ‘reasonable and should be taken.’” The hearing panel imposed a sanction of public censure. Attorney sought review in chancery court, and the chancery court affirmed the hearing panel’s decision. Attorney then sought review in this Court, arguing that the hearing panel’s findings that he had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct were arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial and material evidence. Attorney further contends that the sanction imposed was arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial and material evidence. We hold that the record supports both the findings of violations and the imposition of a public censure. Accordingly, we affirm the chancery court’s ruling upholding the hearing panel’s decision.   

Shelby County Supreme Court 05/13/19
Washington County School System, Et Al. v. The City of Johnson City, Tennessee
E2016-02583-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor E. G. Moody

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court held in favor of the county, concluding that the distribution statute was ambiguous and that public policy considerations favored the county’s interpretation. Upon interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed. After considering the statutory language, the statutory framework, and the legislative history, it adopted the interpretation of the statute advocated by the city. We agree with the Court of Appeals and hold in favor of the city.     

Washington County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Sullivan County, Tennessee, Et Al. v. The City of Bristol, Tennessee, Et Al.
E2016-02109-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor John C. Rambo

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant cities. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the distribution statute was ambiguous and that the statutory framework, legislative history, and other sources supported the trial court’s interpretation of the statute. Discerning no error, we affirm.  

Sullivan County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Bradley County School System, Et Al. v. The City of Cleveland, Tennessee
E2016-01030-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the city. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the distribution statute was ambiguous and that the statutory framework, legislative history, and other sources supported the trial court’s interpretation of the statute. We affirm.

Bradley County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Blount County Board of Education , Et Al. v. City of Maryville, Tennessee, Et Al.
E2017-00047-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford G. Forgety, Jr.

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court granted summary judgment against the county and in favor of the two defendant cities. The county also raised an alternative claim for reimbursement of past liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds that it had received from private club sales and shared with the cities; the county argued that, if cities were not required to share their tax proceeds, then counties should not be required to do so. The trial court rejected this claim as well and held that the statute required counties to distribute their liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds pro rata among all schools in the county, even though it did not require the same of cities. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Blount County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Coffee County Board of Education v. City of Tullahoma
M2017-00935-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa A. Jackson

This is one of five cases on appeal to this Court regarding the proper distribution of liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds between a county and a municipality within the county. In each case, the county had not approved the liquor-by-the-drink sales, but the city had approved such sales. The Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue, who collects taxes on all liquor-by-the-drink sales, distributed tax proceeds to the defendant cities in accordance with the liquor-by-the-drink tax distribution statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 57-4-306. The statute required the recipient cities to then distribute half of their proceeds “in the same manner as the county property tax for schools is expended and distributed.” Tenn. Code. Ann. § 57-4-306(a)(2)(A) (2013). In each case, the recipient city distributed half of its tax proceeds to its own city school system and did not share the proceeds with the county. The counties sued the cities, claiming that the statute required the cities to distribute the tax proceeds as the counties distribute the county property tax for schools, which is pro rata among all schools in the county based on average daily attendance. In the instant case, the trial court granted summary judgment against the county and in favor of the city. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the tax distribution statute plainly required the city to distribute half of its liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds pro rata among all schools in the county. The city appeals. We agree with the city and hold that the distribution statute directed cities to expend and distribute half of their liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds for the benefit of the city’s own school system, if any. In this case, because the city has its own school system, it was permitted to use half of its liquor-by-the-drink tax proceeds for its own school system, and it was not required to share those proceeds with the county or the county schools. Therefore, we reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the city.   

Coffee County Supreme Court 05/08/19
Nathan E.Brooks v. Board of Professional Responsibility - Concurring In Part and Not Joining In Part
E2018-00125-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey F. Stewart

Nathan E. Brooks petitioned to have his law license reinstated. Rather than pay an advance cost deposit under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 30.4(d)(9), Mr. Brooks filed a pauper’s oath and indigency affidavit. A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel dismissed the petition without prejudice, giving Mr. Brooks the opportunity to refile the petition with a cost deposit. The trial court agreed with the hearing panel and, now, so does the Tennessee Supreme Court. 

Hamilton County Supreme Court 05/07/19
Nathan E.Brooks v. Board of Professional Responsibility
E2018-00125-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jeffrey F. Stewart

In 1998, the appellant attorney agreed to entry of a consent order suspending his law license for two years. In 2017, the appellant filed this petition for reinstatement of his suspended law license. Instead of the advance cost deposit required by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 30.4(d)(9), he filed a pauper’s oath and affidavit of indigency. Upon motion of the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, the hearing panel dismissed the appellant’s petition without prejudice to his ability to file a new petition in compliance with Rule 9. On appeal, the chancery court affirmed. The appellant now appeals to this Court, arguing that a Tennessee statute entitles him to file his petition without paying the advance cost deposit, and also that mandating payment of the advance cost deposit deprives him of his constitutional right to due process. Discerning no error, we affirm.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 05/07/19
John O. Threadgill v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court Of Tennessee
E2018-01211-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins

After attorney John O. Threadgill was convicted of tax evasion, this Court ordered that the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) initiate proceedings to determine his final discipline. A hearing panel (“Panel”) imposed a final discipline of disbarment. Mr. Threadgill sought review of the Panel’s judgment in the Knox County Chancery Court, and the chancery court affirmed Mr. Threadgill’s disbarment. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 1.3, Mr. Threadgill has appealed the chancery court’s judgment to this Court. In this appeal, he argues: (1) that the Panel and the trial court lacked jurisdiction to impose disbarment; (2) that the judgment was unsupported by substantial and material evidence; and (3) that the judgment is contrary to the intent of the American Bar Association guidelines. Following a thorough review of the record and the applicable legal authorities, we affirm the judgment of the Knox County Chancery Court. 

Knox County Supreme Court 04/25/19
Gregory J. Lammert, ET Al. v. Auto-Owners (Mutual) Insurance Company
M2017-02546-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chief Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr.

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee has submitted a certified question of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 23 regarding the interpretation of two insurance policies: “Under Tennessee law, may an insurer in making an actual cash value payment withhold a portion of repair labor as depreciation when the policy (1) defines actual cash value as ‘the cost to replace damaged property with new property of similar quality and features reduced by the amount of depreciation applicable to the damaged property immediately prior to the loss,’ or (2) states that ‘actual cash value includes a deduction for depreciation?”’ Based on Tennessee law regarding the interpretation of insurance contracts, we conclude that the language in the policies is ambiguous and must be construed in favor of the insured parties. Therefore, we answer the district court’s question in the negative: The insurer may not withhold a portion of repair labor as depreciation.

Supreme Court 04/15/19
Estate of Ella Mae Haire Et Al. v. Shelby J. Webster, Et Al.
E2017-00066-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Clarence E. Pridemore

We granted this appeal to determine whether a person listed as a joint tenant with right of survivorship on checking and savings accounts sufficiently alleged claims for relief against a bank by asserting that the bank removed his name from the accounts without his consent and breached its duty to him as a co-owner of the account by accepting forged signature cards. We conclude that the allegations of the complaint are sufficient to survive the bank’s motion to dismiss because, under Tennessee law: (1) each joint tenant with right of survivorship of a multiple-party account is deemed an owner of the account; (2) all joint tenants have presumptively equal ownership of account funds; (3) a contractual relationship arises between a bank and joint tenants upon the creation of joint tenancy bank accounts; (4) contracts cannot be modified except upon consent of the parties; and (5) no statute affords banks protection from liability for removing a joint tenant’s name from an account without the joint tenant’s consent. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s judgment granting the bank’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

Knox County Supreme Court 03/20/19
Glenn R. Funk v. Scripps Media, Inc., Et Al.
M2017-00256-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

We granted review of this interlocutory appeal arising from a defamation action to address whether the Court of Appeals correctly determined that (1) a showing of malice cannot defeat the fair report privilege and (2) an assertion of the fair report privilege exempts the defendants from part of the protections of Tennessee Code Annotated section 24-1-208, Tennessee’s news media shield law. With respect to the first issue, we conclude that neither actual nor express malice defeats the privilege; the only limitations on the fair report privilege are that a report of an official action or proceeding must be fair and accurate. With respect to the second issue, we conclude that the fair report privilege is a defense based upon a source of information that renders the source of the statements the plaintiff alleges to be defamatory unprotected by Tennessee’s shield law. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the separate grounds stated in this opinion and remand this case to the trial court. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/13/19
State of Tennessee v. Jerome Antonio McElrath
W2015-01794-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham


We granted the State’s permission to appeal in this case to determine whether to adopt, as a matter of state law, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009), and if so, whether the Herring good-faith exception permits introduction of the evidence in this case. A Union City police officer arrested the defendant without a warrant because he was on a list of individuals who had been “barred” from housing authority property. The list in question was maintained by the Union City Police Department. Upon performing a search incident to arrest, the officer seized marijuana from the defendant. Nineteen days later, the same officer arrested the defendant on the same property based on the same list and again seized marijuana from the defendant. It was later discovered that the list was incorrect and that the defendant’s name should have been removed prior to the date of his arrests. The trial court suppressed the evidence in both cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals based their decisions on Tennessee’s not having yet adopted Herring’s good-faith exception. Upon discretionary review, we adopt the good-faith exception as set forth by Herring but conclude that neither of the defendant’s arrests falls within the good-faith exception. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed
 

Obion County Supreme Court 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Jerome Antonio McElrath - Concurring In the suppression of evidence; dissenting from the adoption of an exclusionary rule exception for constitutional violations caused by careless police recordkeeping
W2015-01794-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham

A Union City Police Department officer twice arrested and searched Jerome Antonio McElrath because of systemic and
long-standing errors in the police department’s records. By stopping and searching McElrath without probable cause based on these errors, the police violated McElrath’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. I disagree with the majority’s adoption of an exception to the exclusionary rule to excuse negligent police recordkeeping. That said, I agree with the majority’s conclusion that the negligence exception does not apply here because of the police department’s systemically flawed recordkeeping process. The majority provides a good roadmap for trial courts to make the fact-intensive determination of whether isolated or systemic negligence caused the police error and, thus, whether the negligence exception applies.

Obion County Supreme Court 03/12/19
State of Tennessee v. Jerome Antonio McElrath - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
W2015-01794-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham

I write separately in this case because I concur with part of the majority’s analysis and disagree with other parts of it. 

Obion County Supreme Court 03/12/19
Katherine D. Chaney v. Team Technologies, Inc.
E2018-00248-SC-R9-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

The issue in this interlocutory appeal is whether an employer, who did not use an automated external defibrillator (AED) to assist an employee who suffered a non-work related medical emergency, can be liable for workers’ compensation benefits. An employee collapsed at work because of a medical condition unrelated to her employment. The employer knew of the employee’s need for immediate medical assistance. The employer had acquired an AED but did not use it to assist the employee while awaiting the arrival of emergency medical responders. Medical responders assisted the employee, but she suffered a brain injury because of oxygen deprivation. We hold that an injury that is caused by an employer’s failure to provide reasonable medical assistance arises out of and in the course of employment when an employee becomes helpless at work because of illness or other cause unrelated to her employment, the employee needs medical assistance to prevent further injury, the employer knows of the employee’s helplessness, and the employer can provide reasonable medical assistance but does not do so. Here, the employee’s claim did not arise out of her employment because her employer provided reasonable medical assistance and had no statutory or common law duty to use its AED to assist the employee. Therefore, the employer is not liable for workers’ compensation benefits. We reverse the trial court’s denial of the employer’s motion to dismiss and remand to the trial court for an order of dismissal.

Hamblen County Supreme Court 01/31/19