Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 05/17/2019
Format: 05/17/2019
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 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
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones - Concurring
W2015-02210-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

I concur in 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 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 narrowed 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 01/30/19
State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones
W2015-02210-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

In this capital case, a Shelby County jury convicted the Defendant, Henry Lee Jones, of alternative counts of first degree premeditated murder and first degree felony murder of Clarence James and alternative counts of first degree premeditated murder and first degree felony murder of Lillian James. The jury sentenced the Defendant to death on all four counts. As for the two counts related to Mr. James, the jury found the evidence sufficient to support six aggravating circumstances. As for the two counts related to Mrs. James, the jury found the evidence sufficient to support five aggravating circumstances. The trial court merged each of the felony murder convictions into the corresponding premeditated murder convictions and imposed two sentences of death. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the Defendant’s convictions and sentences. On automatic review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated 39-13-206(a)(1), we now address the following issues: (1) Whether the Defendant was unconstitutionally denied the right to counsel; (2) whether the trial court abused its discretion in admitting into evidence the former testimony of Tevarus Young; (3) whether the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions; and (4) whether the trial court erred in denying the appointment of a mitigation expert. We also conduct our mandatory review of the Defendant’s death sentences. Upon our thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the Defendant’s convictions and death sentences. As to the remaining issues raised by the Defendant, we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ conclusions and attach as an appendix to this opinion the relevant portions of that court’s decision.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/30/19
Christopher Batey v. Deliver This, Inc., Et Al.
M2018-00419-SC-WCO-WC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas Wyatt

In this workers’ compensation case, Christopher Batey (“Employee”) filed a Petition for Benefit Determination after he sustained a back injury while working for Deliver This, Inc. (“Employer”). The trial court determined that Employee was entitled to 275 weeks of permanent partial disability benefits pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-242(a)(2). On appeal, the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board affirmed the trial court’s judgment, holding that the trial court erred in “defining an employee’s burden of proof under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-242(a)(2) and in defining the phrase ‘employee’s pre-injury occupation’ as used in subsection 242(a)(2)(B)” but concluding that the errors were harmless under the circumstances presented. Batey v. Deliver This, Inc., No. 2016-05-0666, 2018 WL 805490, at *7 (Tenn. Workers’ Comp. App. Bd. Feb. 6, 2018). Employer and its insurer, Auto-Owners Insurance Company, have appealed. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, section 2, this Court directed that the appeal not be referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Panel. Upon our review, we affirm the judgment of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board and adopt its opinion in its entirety as set forth in the attached Appendix.

Supreme Court 01/29/19
Dialysis Clinic, Inc. v. Kevin Medley, Et Al
M2017-01352-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

In this interlocutory appeal, we address whether the attorney-client privilege protects communications between a corporation’s legal counsel and a third-party nonemployee of the corporation. After acquiring four commercial properties, a corporation filed unlawful detainer actions against the properties’ tenants. The tenants subpoenaed documents from a property management company hired by the corporation to manage its properties. The corporation and the property management company objected to producing documents containing communications between the corporation’s legal counsel and the property management company, arguing that the attorney-client privilege protected the documents. The trial court held that the documents were protected because the attorney-client privilege extended to the property management company as an agent of the corporation. We hold that the attorney-client privilege applies to communications between an entity’s legal counsel and a third-party nonemployee of the entity if the nonemployee is the functional equivalent of the entity’s employee and when the communications relate to the subject matter of legal counsel’s representation of the entity and the communications were made with the intention that they would be kept confidential. Applying this framework, we hold that the property management company was the functional equivalent of an employee of the corporation, that the communications related to the subject matter of counsel’s representation of the corporation, and that the communications were made with the intention that they would be kept confidential. We affirm the ruling of the trial court and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/25/19
Gerald Stanley Green v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court Of Tennessee
W2017-02358-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

This direct appeal involves a lawyer disciplinary proceeding against a Memphis attorney arising from two client complaints and the lawyer’s failure to satisfy fully Mississippi’s requirements for pro hac vice admission before representing a criminal defendant in Mississippi. 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”). After consulting the ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (“ABA Standards”) and considering the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, including the lawyer’s seventeen prior disciplinary sanctions, the Hearing Panel suspended the lawyer for six months and directed thirty days of the sanction to be served on active suspension with the remainder to be served on probation with conditions, including a practice monitor, restitution, and continuing legal education focused on law office management, client communication, and client relations. The lawyer appealed the Hearing Panel’s judgment, and the Chancery Court for Shelby County affirmed. The lawyer then appealed to this Court. After carefully reviewing the record, we affirm.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/24/19
Individual Healthcare Specialists, Inc. v. Bluecross Blueshield of Tennessee, Inc.
M2015-02524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

We granted permission to appeal in this breach-of-contract case to address the use of extrinsic evidence in the interpretation of contracts. Tennessee judges have long used extrinsic evidence of the context and circumstances at the time the parties entered into the contract to facilitate interpretation of contractual terms in accord with the parties’ intent. However, the written words are the lodestar of contract interpretation, and Tennessee courts have rejected firmly any notion that courts may disregard the written text and make a new contract for parties under the guise of interpretation. Tennessee has consistently enforced the parol evidence rule to prohibit the use of evidence of precontract negotiations in order to vary, contradict, or supplement the contractual terms of a fully integrated agreement. Thus, in interpreting a fully integrated contract, extrinsic evidence may be used to put the written terms of the contract into context, but it may not be used to vary, contradict, or supplement the contractual terms in violation of the parol evidence rule. As applied to this case, we hold that the defendant insurance company did not breach the parties’ agreement by modifying renewal commission rates on existing policies, but it did breach the agreement by refusing to pay commissions to the plaintiff agency after their agreement was terminated. In addition, because the indemnity provision in the parties’ agreement does not specifically authorize fee shifting in a suit between the two contracting parties, we hold that the plaintiff agency is not entitled to an award of attorney fees. We further conclude that the alleged systemic commission underpayments in this case were not inherently undiscoverable under any definition of that term. Consequently, even if we were to conclude that the discovery rule applies when the contractual breach is “inherently undiscoverable,” the plaintiff agency’s claim for any underpayments would not qualify under the facts of this case. The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/18/19
State of Tennessee v. David Scott Hall - Dissenting
M2015-02402-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page and Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins, joins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

I maintain that the Court of Criminal Appeals properly affirmed the defendant’s conviction for attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/07/19
State of Tennessee v. David Scott Hall
M2015-02402-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte D. Watkins

We granted permission to appeal in this case to assess the sufficiency of the evidence for a conviction for attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, i.e., attempted production of child pornography, in the wake of our decision in State v. Whited, 506 S.W.3d 416 (Tenn. 2016). The defendant hid a video camera in the minor victim’s bedroom, aimed to record the area of her bedroom where she normally changed clothes. Soon after the victim returned to her bedroom, fully clothed, she noticed the camera and turned it off. Consequently, the resulting video did not depict the minor in any degree of nudity. The defendant was charged with attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and was convicted of that offense after a bench trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, and we granted permission to appeal. On appeal, the defendant argues that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that he attempted to produce material that would include a depiction of a minor in a “lascivious exhibition” of her private body areas, as required under Tennessee’s child sexual exploitation statutes and construed in Whited. We agree. The evidence presented at trial shows at most that the defendant intended to produce material that would include images of the minor victim engaged in everyday activities ordinarily performed in the nude, which were deemed insufficient in Whited to constitute a “lascivious exhibition” under Tennessee’s child sexual exploitation statutes. Consequently, we hold that the evidence, even when viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict, is insufficient to support an inference that the defendant intended to record, and believed he would record, the minor victim engaged in a lascivious exhibition of her private body areas. Accordingly, we reverse the defendant’s conviction.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/07/19