Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 02/27/2021
Format: 02/27/2021
Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., Et Al. v. City of Memphis, Et Al.
W2019-00299-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim Kyle

The appellants filed the instant action seeking a declaratory judgment concerning the rights and obligations of the parties under a 2001 contract. The contract, to which the three appellees were parties, concerns the governance of the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee. In a previously filed action, the appellants sought similar relief, but the trial court dismissed the case for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In the instant case, however, the trial court granted the appellees’ motions under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02 to dismiss the complaint based on the court’s conclusion that the appellants lacked standing. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal but for a different reason. The intermediate appellate court instead concluded that dismissal was appropriate because the complaint was barred by the doctrine of res judicata and, as such, declined to address the standing issue. After thorough review, we conclude that the Court of Appeals’ decision was erroneous because an essential element of the res judicata doctrine—an underlying judgment that was final and on the merits—has not been established. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for consideration of whether the trial court properly dismissed the complaint based on the doctrine of standing.   

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/24/21
State of Tennessee v. Samantha Grissom Scott
M2018-01852-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

Defendant, Samantha Grissom Scott, pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to deliver more than twenty-six grams of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia but specifically reserved a certified question of law pursuant to Rule 37(b)(2)(A) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure. The trial court, Defendant, and the State all agreed that the certified question is dispositive of the case. The question pertained to the legality of the initial search of Defendant’s house during which law enforcement discovered illegal contraband. In a split opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the appeal after determining that the certified question is not dispositive because the evidence would have been admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine notwithstanding the search in question. We conclude that the certified question is dispositive of the case, that the inevitable discovery doctrine does not apply, that exigent circumstances did not exist, that Defendant’s consent to the search was involuntary, and that the case against her should be dismissed. We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and dismiss Defendant’s convictions.

Warren County Supreme Court 02/23/21
In Re Mattie L.
W2018-02287-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

In this parental termination case, we review the trial court’s application of the missing witness rule to a party in a non-jury trial, the trial court’s reliance on the doctrine of unclean hands, and whether the trial court erred in terminating parental rights on the grounds of abandonment. A mother and stepfather petitioned the trial court to terminate a father’s parental rights and allow the stepfather to adopt the child. The trial court terminated the father’s parental rights based on a finding of abandonment by willful failure to support, willful failure to make reasonable or consistent support payments, and willful failure to visit. The trial court also found termination was in the child’s best interest. In reaching these conclusions, the trial court presumed that because the father—a missing witness—did not appear for trial, his testimony would have been unfavorable to him. In addition, the trial court ruled that under the doctrine of unclean hands, the father should be “repelled at the courthouse steps” because he made false statements in his interrogatory answers. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding the trial court erred by applying the missing witness rule in a non-jury trial and by applying the doctrine of unclean hands. The Court of Appeals also held the mother and stepfather’s evidence of abandonment was less than clear and convincing. We hold: (1) the missing witness rule may apply in a non-jury trial, although here the trial court misapplied the rule; (2) the trial court erred in applying the doctrine of unclean hands to the father because he was defending against a petition for statutory relief while seeking no equitable relief, and his alleged misconduct was collateral to the issue of abandonment; and (3) the evidence of abandonment was not clear and convincing. Thus, we hold the trial court erred in terminating the father’s parental rights. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and dismiss the petition to terminate the father’s parental rights.

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/05/21
Clarissa Bidwell, Ex Rel James Bidwell Et Al. v. Timothy A. Strait MD Et Al. - Concurring Separately
E2018-02211-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

I concur in the well-reasoned majority opinion but write separately on the issue of “extraordinary cause” to excuse failure to give pre-suit notice under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(b) (“The court has discretion to excuse compliance with this section only for extraordinary cause shown.”).

Hamilton County Supreme Court 01/26/21
Clarissa Bidwell, Ex Rel James Bidwell Et Al. v. Timothy A. Strait MD Et Al. - Concurring In Part, Dissenting In Part
E2018-02211-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

I agree with the majority that the Defendants, Dr. Timothy Strait and Dr. Jeffrey Colburn, are entitled to summary judgment. It is a harsh and unfortunate result. The Defendants did not comply with the notice requirement of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(5) and gained a tactical advantage which allowed them to win this case. While I agree with the result, I disagree that the Defendants sufficiently alleged comparative fault in their answers so that the Plaintiff had ninety days to amend his complaint under Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 01/26/21
Clarissa Bidwell, Ex Rel James Bidwell Et Al. v. Timothy A. Strait MD Et Al.
E2018-02211-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle E. Hedrick

James Bidwell filed this health care liability action individually and on behalf of his deceased wife, Clarissa Bidwell, and her estate against Drs. Timothy Strait and Jeffrey Colburn (“the physician Defendants”) and the entities he believed to be their employers—The Neurosurgical Group of Chattanooga, P.C., EmCare Inc., and Envision Healthcare Corporation.  Mr. Bidwell timely provided pre-suit notice to the named defendants and timely filed his lawsuit.  Mr. Bidwell did not provide Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority (“Erlanger”) with pre-suit notice, nor did he name Erlanger as a defendant.  Furthermore, Dr. Strait and Dr. Colburn did not provide Mr. Bidwell written notice of Erlanger as their correct employer within thirty days of receiving pre-suit notice.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-121(a)(5).  Dr. Strait answered Mr. Bidwell’s complaint, denying the allegations made against him and asserting that he was employed by Erlanger at all relevant times.  Dr. Colburn similarly answered, denying the allegations made against him and that either EmCare Inc. or Envision Healthcare Corporation was his employer.  Drs. Strait and Colburn then moved for summary judgment arguing that, pursuant to the Governmental Tort Liability Act, no judgment could be rendered against them because Mr. Bidwell had failed to name as a defendant their actual employer, Erlanger.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-310(b).  Within ninety days of Dr. Strait’s and Dr. Colburn’s answers, Mr. Bidwell filed two motions for leave to amend his complaint to add Erlanger as a defendant.  Mr. Bidwell relied on Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119, which provides a plaintiff with a ninety-day “grace period” within which to amend a complaint when comparative fault “is or becomes an issue,” and section 29-26-121(a)(5), which he argued required the physician Defendants to notify him of Erlanger within thirty days of receiving pre-suit notice.  The trial court granted Dr. Strait’s and Dr. Colburn’s motions for summary judgment, finding that Mr. Bidwell’s motions to amend were futile because he had not provided Erlanger with pre-suit notice.  Mr. Bidwell appealed, and the Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s orders granting summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings.  Dr. Strait and Dr. Colburn subsequently filed an application for permission to appeal with this Court.  We hold that, although the physician Defendants failed to comply with section Tennessee Code Annotated 29-26-121(a)(5), the statute provides no remedy for noncompliance, and their noncompliance does not constitute extraordinary cause sufficient to excuse Mr. Bidwell’s failure to provide Erlanger with pre-suit notice.  However, we additionally hold that Dr. Strait’s and Dr. Colburn’s answers sufficiently asserted Erlanger’s comparative fault.  Therefore, Mr. Bidwell was entitled to amend his complaint to name Erlanger as a defendant pursuant to section 20-1-119, so long as he amended his complaint and caused process to issue to Erlanger within ninety days of Dr. Strait’s answer—the first answer alleging Erlanger’s fault.  Because section 20-1-119 applied, Mr. Bidwell was not obligated to provide Erlanger with pre-suit notice under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c).  We conclude that, because the record on appeal reflects that Mr. Bidwell failed to file an amended complaint and cause process to issue, he is not entitled to amend his complaint to add Erlanger as a defendant.  Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the grounds stated herein and reinstate the trial court’s orders granting the physician Defendants’ motions for summary judgment and denying the Plaintiff’s motions to amend. 

Hamilton County Supreme Court 01/26/21
In Re: Winston Bradshaw Sitton, BPR#018440 - Concurring in Section III, not joining in Sections I and II
M2020-00401-SC-BAR-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge:

I join only in Section III of the majority opinion, agreeing that we should increase Mr. Sitton’s punishment to a four-year suspension from the practice of law with one year on active suspension and the remainder on probation.

I do not join in Sections I and II because those sections exceed the scope of our review under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 15.4 and this Court’s March 20, 2020 Order. See Order, In re Sitton, No. M2020-00401-SC-BAR-BP (Tenn. Mar. 20, 2020) (order deeming attorney discipline to be “inadequate” and “propos[ing] that the punishment should be increased”).

Supreme Court 01/22/21
In Re: Winston Bradshaw Sitton, BPR#018440
M2020-00401-SC-BAR-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge:

This case is a cautionary tale on the ethical problems that can befall lawyers on social media. The attorney had a Facebook page that described him as a lawyer. A Facebook “friend” involved in a tumultuous relationship posted a public inquiry about carrying a gun in her car. In response to her post, the attorney posted comments on the escalating use of force. He then posted that, if the Facebook friend wanted “to kill” her ex-boyfriend, she should “lure” him into her home, “claim” he broke in with intent to do her harm, and “claim” she feared for her life. The attorney emphasized in his post that his advice was given “as a lawyer,” and if she was “remotely serious,” she should “keep mum” and delete the entire comment thread because premeditation could be used against her “at trial.” In the ensuing disciplinary proceedings, a Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel found that the attorney’s conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(a) and (d). It recommended suspension of his law license for sixty days. Under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, § 15.4, this Court determined that the punishment imposed by the hearing panel appeared inadequate and, after briefing, took the matter under advisement. We now hold that the sanction must be increased. The attorney’s advice, in and of itself, was clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice and violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, his choice to post the remarks on a public platform amplified their deleterious effect. The social media posts fostered a public perception that a lawyer’s role is to manufacture false defenses. They projected a public image of corruption of the judicial process. Under these circumstances, the act of posting the comments on social media should be deemed an aggravating factor that justifies an increase in discipline. Accordingly, we modify the hearing panel’s judgment to impose a four-year suspension from the practice of law, with one year to be served on active suspension and the remainder on probation.

Supreme Court 01/22/21
State of Tennessee v. Robert Jason Allison
M2017-02367-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

We granted permission to appeal to the Defendant to examine the propriety of his convictions for money laundering based on his receipt of payment for drugs he “fronted” to a confidential informant.  On separate occasions, the Defendant delivered a quantity of marijuana to the informant.  At the time of delivery, the informant paid the Defendant for a portion of marijuana, but the Defendant also fronted additional marijuana to the informant, meaning the Defendant had an expectation that he would be paid later with proceeds from the informant’s sale of the drugs.  The Defendant subsequently received payment.  Based on these actions, the Defendant was charged with and convicted of two counts of delivering marijuana and two counts of money laundering.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-903(c)(1) (2006); Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-417(a)(2) (2006 & Supp. 2008).  The Defendant challenged whether the evidence supported his money laundering convictions, whether those convictions violated double jeopardy protections, and whether the money laundering statute was unconstitutionally vague.  The trial court rejected the Defendant’s challenges, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgments.  We hold that the evidence supporting one of the money laundering convictions was legally sufficient, because the proof supported an inference that the Defendant purchased marijuana with the proceeds he had received with the intent to promote the carrying on of the sale of marijuana.  With respect to the second money laundering conviction, we hold that the evidence was insufficient, because the proof showed only that the Defendant received payment for drugs he had fronted.  We further hold that the Defendant’s punishment for both delivery of marijuana and money laundering does not violate double jeopardy protections and that the money laundering statute is not unconstitutionally vague by virtue of its use of the undefined phrase “carrying on.”  Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/14/21
Melanie Lemon v. Williamson County Schools, Et Al.
M2018-01878-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff


We granted permission to appeal in this case to address whether a claim for wrongful termination of employment can be asserted under the Teacher Tenure Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 49-5-501 to -515, by classifying a tenured teacher’s resignation as a constructive discharge rather than a voluntary quit. The plaintiff tenured teacher in this appeal quit her teaching position and sued for wrongful termination under the Tenure Act. We conclude that the doctrine of constructive discharge is inconsistent with the robust procedural framework in the Act, intended to give tenured teachers ample opportunity to be heard and ensure that dismissal decisions are made methodically, with transparency, and by consensus of professional educators. We reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision to apply the doctrine of constructive discharge to the plaintiff’s claims, and we hold that constructive discharge is not applicable to wrongful termination claims under the Tenure Act. We affirm the trial court’s dismissal of those claims. We also affirm the lower courts’ dismissal of the plaintiff teacher’s tort claims against the school system and individual school officials.

Williamson County Supreme Court 01/07/21
Carolyn Coffman, Et Al. v. Armstrong International, Inc., Et Al. - Dissenting
E2017-01985-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

In late 2014 Carolyn Coffman’s husband, Donald Coffman, was diagnosed with lethal malignant pleural mesothelioma, a virulent cancer of the thin membrane that lines the lungs and chest, caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. He died three months later. Mr. Coffman had been exposed to asbestos while working as a mechanic at the Tennessee Eastman Chemical plant in Kingsport. The Defendants, who manufactured the valves, gaskets, and other items that Mr. Coffman worked around, did not warn him that asbestos products had been added to the Defendants’ manufactured products after being sold. The Defendants also did not warn Mr. Coffman that exposure to these asbestos-containing products could cause him to develop mesothelioma. Based on the evidence Mrs. Coffman submitted on summary judgment, the Defendants knew or should have known that asbestos-containing products would have to be added to their equipment after the sale to make the equipment usable, yet the Defendants did not warn Mr. Coffman of the danger. Thus, the question before the Court is whether the Defendants had a duty to warn that the products they manufactured and sold were unreasonably dangerous when the Defendants knew or should have known that their products required post-sale integration of an asbestos-containing component to work properly. 

Knox County Supreme Court 01/04/21
Carolyn Coffman, Et Al. v. Armstrong International, Inc., Et Al.
E2017-01985-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge William T. Ailor

This is a product liability action stemming from occupational exposure to asbestos. Pertinent to this appeal, Mr. and Mrs. Coffman (“Appellees”) asserted claims against the manufacturers of certain equipment (“Equipment Defendants”) under the Tennessee Products Liability Act for failing to warn of dangers for exposure to asbestos-containing products that the Equipment Defendants did not themselves manufacture or sell. The trial court granted summary judgment to the Equipment Defendants and the Court of Appeals reversed. This Court granted the Equipment Defendants’ application in part and directed the parties to address: “Whether the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the Equipment Defendants had a duty to warn of the dangers associated with the post-sale integration of asbestos-containing materials manufactured and sold by others.” We have concluded that the Equipment Defendants had no duty to warn on the facts and law applicable here. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Knox County Supreme Court 01/04/21
Jared Effler, Et Al. v. Purdue Pharma L.P. Et Al.
E2018-01994-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. McAfee

Declaring that the sale and distribution of illegal drugs affects every community in the country, the Tennessee Legislature enacted the Tennessee Drug Dealer Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-38-101 to -116. This Act provides a cause of action against a knowing participant in the illegal drug market for injuries caused by illegal drug use. In response to the opioid epidemic in East Tennessee, seven District Attorneys General and two Baby Doe plaintiffs sued several drug companies under the Act. The District Attorneys and the Baby Doe plaintiffs alleged that the drug companies knowingly participated in the illegal drug market by intentionally flooding East Tennessee communities with prescription opioid medications, leading to widespread addiction and diversion of the opioids into the black market. The District Attorneys claimed that the opioid epidemic had damaged the communities in their districts, and the Baby Doe plaintiffs alleged that they were harmed by exposure to opioids in utero. The drug companies moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the pleadings. Their two-fold challenge asserted that the Act did not authorize the District Attorneys to sue for damages and that the Act did not apply to the drug companies’ conduct. The trial court ruled that the Act did not apply and dismissed the case. The Court of Appeals reversed. The issues we decide are whether the District Attorneys had statutory standing to sue under the Act and whether the Act applies to the drug companies based on factual allegations in the complaint that the drug companies knowingly participated in the illegal drug market. We hold that the District Attorneys lack standing because the Act does not name them as parties who can sue under the Act. This leaves the Baby Doe plaintiffs, who alleged facts showing that the drug companies knowingly participated in the illegal drug market by facilitating the marketing or distribution of opioids. Taking these factual allegations as true, as required at this stage of the case, we hold that the Baby Doe plaintiffs have stated a claim against the drug companies under the Act. 

Campbell County Supreme Court 12/17/20
In Re Neveah M.
M2019-00313-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith

We granted this appeal to settle a split of authority in the Court of Appeals concerning the proper interpretation of a statute that requires a person seeking termination of parental rights to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a “parent or guardian has failed to manifest, by act or omission, an ability and willingness to personally assume legal and physical custody or financial responsibility of the child.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(14) (Supp. 2016); id. (2017 & Supp. 2020). In some decisions, the Court of Appeals has interpreted this language as requiring clear and convincing proof that a parent was both unable and unwilling to personally assume legal and physical custody or financial responsibility of a child. See, e.g., In re Ayden S., No. M2017-01185-COA-R3-PT, 2018 WL 2447044, *7 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 31, 2018). In other decisions, the Court of Appeals has construed this statute as requiring clear and convincing proof that a parent was either unable or unwilling to personally assume legal and physical custody or financial responsibility of a child. See, e.g., In re Amynn K., No. E2017-01866-COA-R3-PT, 2018 WL 3058280, *14 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 20, 2018). We hold that the statute is ambiguous and that the latter interpretation—the In re Amynn K. interpretation—best effectuates legislative intent. Therefore, we overrule In re Ayden S. and all other Court of Appeals’ decisions inconsistent with our holding herein. Additionally, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals herein, which applied the In re Ayden S. interpretation, and reinstate the judgment of the trial court terminating mother’s parental rights based solely on Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-1-113(g)(14). In all other respects, the trial court’s judgment remains intact and is reinstated.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/10/20
Talat Parveen, Et Al. v. ACG South Insurance Agency, LLC, Et Al.
E2018-01759-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Eddie Lauderback

The present appeal concerns an insurance agent’s alleged negligent failure to procure excess uninsured motorist coverage in accordance with a prospective insured’s instructions. The two insured parties, a married couple, filed suit against their insurance agent and agency after they were denied coverage by the insurance carrier. The trial court found that it was undisputed that the insureds had paid the premium for the policy in effect and applied Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-135(b), which provides: “The payment of premium for an insurance contract, or amendment thereto, by an insured shall create a rebuttable presumption that the coverage provided has been accepted by all insureds under the contract.” The trial court determined that the insureds had failed to rebut the statutory presumption that they had accepted the provided coverage, which did not include excess uninsured motorist coverage. Therefore, the trial court granted the insurance agent’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed, concluding that the rebuttable presumption does not apply to actions against an insurance agent. We granted the ensuing application for permission to appeal to address whether section 56-7-135(b) applies to create a rebuttable presumption in actions against an insurance agent for negligent failure to procure an insurance policy as directed. Considering the plain language of the statute, we conclude that it does create such a presumption. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court granting summary judgment. 

Washington County Supreme Court 12/04/20
State of Tennessee v. Isaiah Styles
E2020-00176-SC-T10B-CO
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle A. Hixson

This case is one of three cases decided today by this Court involving a trial judge who previously served as a deputy district attorney general in Knox County at the time the defendants in each case were indicted by the Knox County Grand Jury. After a subsequent appointment to serve as a trial judge in Knox County Criminal Court, the trial judge was assigned to the defendants’ cases. The defendant in this case moved for recusal, arguing that the trial judge previously had supervisory authority over his case as Deputy District Attorney General. The trial judge denied the motion for recusal, and the defendant filed an appeal in the Court of Criminal Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, section 2. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision, holding that recusal of the trial judge was necessary. We then granted the State’s accelerated application for permission to appeal to this Court. This Court issued a separate opinion today in State v. Griffin, __ S.W.3d __, __, No. E2020-00327-SC-T10B-CO (Tenn. 2020), which is controlling to the outcome of this case. Specifically, we held in Griffin that the defendant failed to establish that the trial judge’s supervisory responsibilities in his role as a deputy district attorney general were personal or substantial in that case. Id. We hold that the same is true for this case. Therefore, for the reasons provided in Griffin, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s denial of recusal in this case.

Knox County Supreme Court 10/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Raffell Griffin, Et Al.
E2020-00327-SC-T10B-CO
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle A. Hixson

The trial judge in this matter served as a deputy district attorney general in Knox County at the time the defendants were indicted by the Knox County Grand Jury. After a subsequent appointment to serve as a trial judge in Knox County Criminal Court, the trial judge was assigned to the defendants’ cases. The defendants moved for recusal, arguing that the trial judge had supervisory authority over their cases as Deputy District Attorney General. The trial judge denied the motions for recusal, and the defendants filed an appeal in the Court of Criminal Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, section 2. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial judge’s decision, holding that recusal of the trial judge was necessary. We then granted the State’s accelerated application for permission to appeal to this Court. Having thoroughly reviewed the filings of the parties and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial judge’s denial of the motion to recuse was appropriate in this case. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Knox County Supreme Court 10/30/20
State of Tennessee v. Decosio Jacques Clark
E2020-00416-SC-T10B-CO
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle A. Hixson

The defendant in this case is a co-defendant below with the defendants in the matter, State v. Griffin, __ S.W.3d __, __, No. E2020-00327-SC-T10B-CO (Tenn. 2020). This Court issued a separate opinion today in Griffin which is controlling to the outcome of this case. See id. Specifically, we held in Griffin that the trial judge properly denied recusal, even though he served as a Deputy District Attorney General in Knox County at the time the defendants were indicted by the Knox County Grand Jury. Id. For the reasons provided in Griffin, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals in this case and reinstate the trial court’s denial of recusal.

Knox County Supreme Court 10/30/20
Crouch Railway Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC
M2017-02540-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph A. Woodruff


The issue in this appeal is whether a Tennessee court may exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a Texas corporate defendant involved in a contractual dispute with a Tennessee company it chose to perform specialized professional services. A Texas oil-drilling company elected to contract with a Tennessee civil engineering company for custom design and consulting services related to the potential construction of a railcar repair facility in Texas. The Tennessee company performed the services primarily out of its principal place of business in Tennessee. When the Texas company failed to pay in full, the Tennessee company filed a civil action in Tennessee for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The Texas company moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(2). The Williamson County Chancery Court granted the motion, finding (1) that the Texas company lacked the “minimum contacts” necessary for the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction, and (2) that requiring the Texas company to litigate in Tennessee would be unreasonable and unfair. The Court of Appeals reversed, relying primarily on Nicholstone Book Bindery, Inc. v. Chelsea House Publishers, 621 S.W.2d 560 (Tenn. 1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 994 (1982). Although we find Nicholstone to be consistent with our opinion today, we base our review on contemporary jurisprudence in this area of the law. We hold that, consistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Tennessee company established a prima facie case for the valid exercise of personal jurisdiction over the Texas company. Additionally, the exercise of jurisdiction would not be unfair or unreasonable. Therefore, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Williamson County Supreme Court 10/06/20
MARTY HOLLAND v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
W2018-01517-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw
The Petitioner-appellee, Marty Holland, pled guilty to attempted first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery. As part of the plea, he agreed to serve a seventeen-year sentence. He also agreed to serve the sentence concurrently with a previously imposed federal sentence for an unrelated bank robbery charge and consecutive to a state sentence for an unrelated theft charge. The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which the post-conviction court denied. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the postconviction court’s denial of the petition but remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing regarding one issue: whether the Petitioner was fully informed of the circumstances of agreeing to serve concurrent state and federal sentences. This issue was not raised by the Petitioner in his post-conviction petition or on appeal, was not argued by either party during the post-conviction hearing or on appeal, and was not decided by the post-conviction court. Based on our review of the law and the record before us on appeal, we hold that the Court of Criminal Appeals was without authority under the Post-Conviction Procedure Act of 1995 to remand this case for consideration of an issue that was not raised by either party. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals to remand this case, and we reinstate the post-conviction court’s denial of the petition.
 
Hardeman County Supreme Court 10/02/20
Douglas Ralph Beier v. Board of Professional Responsibility of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
E2019-00463-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies
In this appeal from attorney disciplinary proceedings, the hearing panel of the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility determined that the attorney’s conduct in two cases violated the Rules of Professional Conduct. In one case, the hearing panel found that the attorney signed the name of a witness on an affidavit, falsely notarized the signature, and did not disclose to the trial court or opposing counsel that he had signed the witness’s affidavit. In another case, the hearing panel found, the attorney persuaded a client in a probate matter to agree to an unreasonable contingency fee arrangement, took advantage of the client’s disability, misrepresented to the probate court that the client was the decedent’s sole heir, failed to disclose the existence of other heirs, and got the probate court to agree to close the estate without a detailed accounting in order to avoid judicial scrutiny of the unreasonable fee. The hearing panel suspended the law license of the appellant attorney for two years, with three months served as active suspension and the remainder on probation. The attorney and the Board both appealed the hearing panel’s decision to the chancery court. The chancery court affirmed the hearing panel’s findings as to rule violations and aggravating and mitigating factors, but it modified the sanction to two years active suspension. The attorney now appeals to this Court, arguing that his conduct was not dishonest, he did not take advantage of a vulnerable client, and his probate fee arrangement was not unreasonable. We affirm the hearing panel’s factual findings and its findings as to rule violations. In view of the seriousness of the violations, we affirm the chancery court’s modification of the sanction to two years active suspension.
 
Hamblen County Supreme Court 10/02/20
Scott Trent Et Al. v. Mountain Commerce Bank Et Al.
E2018-01874-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

The issue presented is whether a quitclaim deed should be equitably reformed when reformation would benefit parties with constructive notice of a title defect and harm the rights of creditors with recorded judgment liens. A husband and wife quitclaimed parcels of real property to limited partnerships. The wife was omitted as a grantor on one of the quitclaim deeds even though she and her husband owned the property as tenants by the entirety. Two banks obtained judgments against the husband and wife and recorded the judgments. The property was later sold, and the purchasers and their lender discovered that the property was subject to the wife’s retained ownership interest and the banks’ recorded judgment liens. To remedy the error, the husband and wife signed a quitclaim deed of correction, referencing the wife’s omission as a grantor on the previous quitclaim deed. The purchasers and their lender then filed this declaratory judgment action asking the trial court to hold, based on mutual mistake, that the corrected quitclaim deed reformed the original quitclaim deed, vested ownership in the limited partnership, divested the wife’s interest, and removed the banks’ judgment liens. The trial court denied reformation, finding that there was no mutual mistake by the husband and the limited partnership who signed the original quitclaim deed. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After considering the equities of the parties, we decline to grant reformation of the quitclaim deed because doing so would deprive the banks of their recorded judgment liens and benefit the purchasers and their lender who acquired the property with constructive notice of the wife’s remaining interest in the property and the banks’ recorded judgment liens. Thus, we need not decide whether reformation is an available remedy to correct a quitclaim deed by adding an omitted grantor. We affirm the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Appeals, based on different reasoning. 

Hamblen County Supreme Court 08/26/20
Brice Cook v. State of Tennessee
W2018-00237-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

The dispositive question in this appeal is whether the post-conviction judge should have recused himself because his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. We answer this question in the affirmative and hold that the post-conviction judge was obligated to recuse himself in this case even though the petitioner failed to file a motion for recusal. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed; the judgment of the post-conviction court is vacated; and this matter is remanded to the trial court for a new post-conviction hearing before a different judge.

Shelby County Supreme Court 08/25/20
Benjamin Lay, Et Al. v. Mark Goins, Et Al. - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2020-00832-SC-RDM-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

Under the majority’s decision, qualified Tennessee voters can now vote by absentee mail ballot if voters, in their discretion, determine they have underlying medical or health conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or if they are vulnerable to greater health risks should they contract COVID-19, or if they care for someone with such a condition.1 I concur in part because I welcome this result as to those plaintiffs, and I agree with much of what the majority has to say about the rest. This cascade of agreement includes: the presumption of constitutionality afforded to Tennessee Code Annotated sections 2-6-201(5)(C) and (D); the application of the Anderson-Burdick standard of review; the moderate burden on the right to vote of those plaintiffs who do not have (or care for someone with) an underlying condition; and the lack of persuasiveness of the Defendants’ evidence of voter fraud. And yet I must dissent.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/05/20
Benjamin Lay, Et Al. v. Mark Goins, Et Al.
M2020-00832-SC-RDM-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

We assumed jurisdiction over these appeals pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d)(1) (2009 & Supp. 2019) and Rule 48 of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court and ordered expedited briefing and oral argument. The issue we must determine is whether the trial court properly issued a temporary injunction enjoining the State from enforcing its current construction of the eligibility requirements for absentee voting stated in Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-6-201(5)(C) and (D) (2014 & Supp. 2019). The injunction temporarily mandated the State to provide any eligible Tennessee voter, who applies to vote by mail in order to avoid transmission or contraction of COVID-19, an absentee ballot in upcoming elections during the pendency of pandemic circumstances. The injunction further mandated the State to implement the construction and application of Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-6-201(5)(C) and (D) that any qualified voter who determines it is impossible or unreasonable to vote in-person at a polling place due to the COVID-19 situation shall be eligible to check the box on the absentee ballot application that ‟the person is hospitalized, ill or physically disabled and because of such condition, the person is unable to appear at the person’s polling place on election day; or the person is a caretaker of a hospitalized, ill or physically disabled person,” and have that absentee voting request duly processed by the State in accordance with Tennessee law. At oral argument before this Court, the State conceded that, under its interpretation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-6-201(5)(C) and (D), persons who have underlying medical or health conditions which render them more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 or at greater risk should they contract it (“persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19”), as well as those who are caretakers for persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19, already are eligible to vote absentee by mail. We hold that injunctive relief is not necessary with respect to such plaintiffs and persons. We instruct the State to ensure that appropriate guidance, consistent with the State’s acknowledged interpretation, is provided to Tennessee registered voters with respect to the eligibility of such persons to vote absentee by mail in advance of the November 2020 election.

With respect to those plaintiffs and persons who do not have special vulnerability to COVID-19 or who are not caretakers for persons with special vulnerability to COVID-19, we hold that the trial court erred in issuing the temporary injunction. Accordingly, we vacate the temporary injunction. Recognizing that absentee ballots already have been cast for the August 6, 2020 election consistent with the trial court’s temporary injunction, and mindful of the goal of avoiding alterations to election rules on the eve of an election, the absentee ballots of all Tennessee registered voters who timely requested and submitted an absentee ballot by mail for the August 6, 2020 election pursuant to the trial court’s temporary injunction and which absentee ballots otherwise meet the requirements of the absentee voting statutes shall be duly counted. These cases are remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

This opinion is not subject to rehearing under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 39, and the Clerk is directed to certify this opinion as final and to immediately issue the mandate.
  

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/05/20