Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 11/28/2022
Format: 11/28/2022
City of Knoxville, Tennessee v. Netflix, Inc. et al.
M2021-01107-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sarah K. Campbell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clifton L. Corker

This is a case about fitting new technology into a not-so-new statutory scheme. Exercising our power to answer questions certified to us by federal courts, we consider whether two video streaming services—Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC—provide “video service” within the meaning of a Tennessee law that requires such providers to obtain a franchise and pay franchise fees to localities. Netflix and Hulu say they do not provide “video service” and therefore do not owe franchise fees; the City of Knoxville says they do. We agree with Netflix and Hulu.

Supreme Court 11/22/22
In Re: Joseph H. Crabtree, Jr., BPR #011451
M2022-00339-SC-BAR-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Board of Professional Responsibility Hearing Panel
This is an attorney discipline proceeding concerning Tennessee attorney Joseph H.
Crabtree, Jr. and his representation of several clients with varying legal issues. The Board
of Professional Responsibility ("the Boare) filed formal petitions for discipline against
Mr. Crabtree in February 2019. A Hearing Panel of the Board ("Hearing Panel")
adjudicated the petitions and rendered a judgment suspending Mr. Crabtree for two years
and ordering him to serve six months as active suspension and the remainder on probation.
It also directed Mr. Crabtree to pay restitution to two clients, to reimburse one client for
any costs assessed against her upon the dismissal of her case, and to reimburse the
Tennessee Lawyers Fund for Client Protection ("TLFCP") for any money it pays to the
complainants in this matter. Mr. Crabtree failed to perfect an appeal from the Hearing
Panel's decision, and the Board petitioned this Court for an order enforcing the Hearing
Panel's judgment. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, sections 15.4(d) and (e),
we determined that the punishment imposed by the Hearing Panel appeared inadequate.
Thus, we proposed to increase it. Based on our careful consideration of the entire record,
"with a view to attaining uniformity of punishment throughout the State and
appropriateness of punishment under the circumstances of each particular case," we modify
the judgment of the Hearing Panel to impose a three-year suspension, with one year served
as active suspension and the remainder on probation. Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 9, § 15.4(b), (d).
During the first year of the probationary period, Mr. Crabtree shall engage a practice
monitor at his own expense to supervise his compliance with trust account rules and office
management procedures in accordance with Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section
12.9. Finally, as a condition of reinstatement, Mr. Crabtree shall complete twelve hours of
continuing legal education ("CLE"), with six hours focused on ethics and six hours on law
office management, in addition to the annual fifteen-hour CLE requirement. In all other
respects, including payment of restitution to his clients and reimbursement to TLFCP, the
decision of the Hearing Panel is affirmed.
McMinn County Supreme Court 11/22/22
State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker (Dissent)
E2018-01439-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins (C.J. Page, joins)
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green
I respectfully dissent from the result reached by a majority of the Court today. Quite
frankly, I find the policy adopted as a result of the plurality opinion of Justice Lee and the
concurring opinion of Justice Kirby to be sound. However, it is just that. It is a policy
decision by which the majority today has pushed aside appropriate confines of judicial
restraint and applied an evolving standards of decency/independent judgment analysis that
impermissibly moves the Court into an area reserved to the legislative branch under the
United States and Tennessee Constitutions.
Knox County Supreme Court 11/18/22
State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker (Concur)
E2018-01439-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green
Not so long ago, it was commonplace for states to require juveniles convicted of
homicide to serve sentences of over fifty years. Now, that practice has vanished. A review
of sentencing statutes enacted by state legislatures and court decisions shows that there is
now only one state where juvenile offenders face a mandatory non-aggregated sentence of
more than 50 years for first-degree murder with no aggravating factors—Tennessee. In the
entirety of the nation, Tennessee stands alone.
Knox County Supreme Court 11/18/22
State of Tennessee v. Tyshon Booker
E2018-01439-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green
Tyshon Booker challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee’s mandatory sentence of life
imprisonment when imposed on a juvenile homicide offender. In fulfilling our duty to
decide constitutional issues, we hold that an automatic life sentence when imposed on a
juvenile homicide offender with no consideration of the juvenile’s age or other
circumstances violates the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the
Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Mr. Booker stands convicted of
felony murder and especially aggravated robbery—crimes he committed when he was
sixteen years old. For the homicide conviction, the trial court automatically sentenced Mr.
Booker under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-501(h)(2) to life in prison, a
sixty-year sentence requiring at least fifty-one years of incarceration. But this sentence
does not square with the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Eighth
Amendment. When sentencing a juvenile homicide offender, a court must have discretion
to impose a lesser sentence after considering the juvenile’s age and other circumstances.
Here, the court had no sentencing discretion. In remedying this constitutional violation, we
exercise judicial restraint. We need not create a new sentencing scheme or resentence Mr.
Booker—his life sentence stands. Rather, we follow the policy embodied in the federal
Constitution as explained in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 190 (2016) and grant Mr.
Booker an individualized parole hearing where his age and other circumstances will be
properly considered. The timing of his parole hearing is based on release eligibility in the
unrepealed version of section 40-35-501(h)(1), previously in effect, that provides for a term
of sixty years with release eligibility of sixty percent, but not less than twenty-five years
of service. Thus, Mr. Booker remains sentenced to sixty years in prison, and after he has
served between twenty-five and thirty-six years, he will receive an individualized parole
hearing where his age and other circumstances will be considered. Our limited ruling,
applying only to juvenile homicide offenders, promotes the State’s interest in finality and
efficient use of resources, protects Mr. Booker’s Eighth Amendment rights, and is based
on sentencing policy enacted by the General Assembly.
Knox County Supreme Court 11/18/22
State of Tennessee v. Lynn Frank Bristol
M2019-00531-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sarah K. Campbell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson
In this appeal, we clarify the scope of an appellate court’s limited discretionary authority to consider unpreserved and unpresented issues. Appellee Lynn Frank Bristol was convicted on two counts of aggravated sexual battery. Bristol appealed his convictions to the Court of Criminal Appeals. That court determined Bristol was not entitled to relief on the issues presented, but it reversed his convictions and remanded the case for a new trial based on a supposed problem with the written jury instructions that Bristol had not raised, that no party had an opportunity to address, and that turned out to be nothing more than a clerical error by the trial court clerk’s office. Because the Court of Criminal Appeals abused its discretion by granting relief on an unpreserved and unpresented issue without giving the parties notice and an opportunity to be heard on the matter, we reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision on the jury-instruction issue and reinstate Bristol’s convictions.
Coffee County Supreme Court 10/07/22
State of Tennessee v. Tyler Ward Enix
E2020-00231-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

In this appeal, we clarify the appropriate standard of review for claims of prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument when a defendant fails to contemporaneously object but later raises the claim in a motion for a new trial.  Tyler Ward Enix was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery for the 2015 killing of Kimberly Enix.  Mr. Enix filed a motion for a new trial challenging his convictions.  As relevant to this appeal, he alleged that four instances of improper prosecutorial closing argument, which were not contemporaneously objected to at trial, constitute reversible error.  The trial court denied his motion for new trial.  The Court of Criminal Appeals, reviewing the claims under the plain error doctrine, affirmed the trial court’s judgment.  Mr. Enix sought permission to appeal, arguing that this Court should employ plenary review to address his claims because they were included in his motion for a new trial.  We granted permission to appeal and now hold that plain error review is the appropriate standard, and, furthermore, that Mr. Enix is not entitled to relief.  Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals for the separate reasons stated herein.

Knox County Supreme Court 09/13/22
State of Tennessee v. Marvin Maurice Deberry
W2019-01666-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sarah K. Campbell
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

Timing is everything. In this case, at least, that adage holds true. Marvin Maurice Deberry committed a criminal offense and was convicted. But the legislature repealed the statute creating that criminal offense before he was sentenced. Years ago, the legislature enacted a default rule to govern this situation and similar ones. That rule, known as the criminal savings statute, provides generally that an offense must be prosecuted under the law in effect at the time the offense is committed, even if the law is later repealed or amended. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-112 (2018). If the later-enacted law “provides for a lesser penalty,” however, the savings statute dictates that “any punishment imposed shall be in accordance with the subsequent act.” Id. At first, the trial court sentenced Deberry under the law in effect at the time of his offense. But Deberry eventually convinced the trial court that the “lesser penalty” exception applied, and the trial court entered an amended judgment retaining Deberry’s conviction but imposing no punishment. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We now reverse and reinstate Deberry’s original sentence. We hold that a statute that repeals a criminal offense does not “provide for a lesser penalty” within the meaning of the criminal savings statute. Rather, a person who commits an offense that is later repealed should be convicted and sentenced under the law in effect when the offense was committed unless the legislature provides otherwise.

Madison County Supreme Court 08/30/22
Elijah "Lij" Shaw et al. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County
M2019-01926-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This appeal addresses mootness when a law challenged in the trial court is altered or amended after the trial court issued its final judgment and while the appeal is pending.  The plaintiff homeowners operated businesses out of their homes.  They filed a lawsuit against the defendant municipality challenging an ordinance that prohibited them from having clients visit their home-based businesses.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant municipality, and the homeowners appealed.  While the appeal was pending, the municipality repealed the ordinance that was the subject of the complaint and enacted a new ordinance that allowed limited client visits to home-based businesses.  The Court of Appeals held that the repeal of the original ordinance rendered the homeowners’ case moot, and the homeowners were granted permission to appeal to this Court.  While the appeal to this Court was pending, the ordinance was amended again. On appeal, based on the current record, we cannot determine whether the homeowners suffer ongoing harm from the new ordinance, how the change will affect their claims, and whether they retain some residual claim under the new ordinance.  Consequently, we vacate the judgments of the lower courts and remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings in which the parties may amend their pleadings to address any claims the homeowners may assert under the new ordinance.  

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/18/22
Mindy Donovan v. Joshua R. Hastings
M2019-01396-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Patricia Head Moskal

We granted permission to appeal in this case to consider awards of attorney fees and costs after dismissal of a claim pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-12-119(c).  The plaintiff homeowner entered into a contract with the defendant contractor.  The homeowner sued the contractor, and the contractor filed a countercomplaint alleging breach of contract.  After his motion to amend was granted, the contractor filed an amended countercomplaint asserting the same breach of contract claim with revised damages.  The trial court later granted the homeowner’s motion to dismiss the countercomplaint for failure to state a claim.  The homeowner then sought attorney fees and costs pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-12-119(c).  The trial court granted the motion but excluded fees and costs incurred prior to the date the amended countercomplaint was filed.  After the homeowner appealed the amount of attorney fees awarded, a split panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed.  On appeal, we hold that the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the homeowner’s award of attorney fees and costs under Tennessee Code Annotated § 20-12-119(c) was limited to those incurred after the date the amended countercomplaint was filed.  We reverse the Court of Appeals, vacate the trial court’s award, and remand to the trial court for reconsideration of the award of reasonable attorney fees and costs.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/27/22
Tommie Phillips v. State of Tennessee
W2019-01927-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

In this post-conviction matter, we clarify the appropriate burden of proof and legal standard to be applied when a criminal defendant claims ineffective assistance of counsel based on trial counsel’s failure to move to suppress evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds.  The Petitioner, Tommie Phillips (“Petitioner”) was convicted of several offenses, including felony murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping, and especially aggravated burglary.  The Court of Criminal Appeals modified the especially aggravated burglary conviction to aggravated burglary.  The Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief, asserting, among other things, that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective by failing to seek suppression of various statements he made to police on Fourth Amendment grounds.  The post-conviction court denied the petition, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the decision of the post-conviction court.  We granted the Petitioner’s application for permission to appeal and directed the parties to discuss the applicable standard of review in this case.  Specifically, the Court sought to clarify the petitioner’s burden to establish prejudice when he or she alleges counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress on Fourth Amendment grounds.  Upon our review of the record and applicable law, we conclude that to establish prejudice with this type of claim, the petitioner must prove that “his Fourth Amendment claim is meritorious and that there is a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been different absent the excludable evidence.”  Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U.S. 365, 375 (1986).  In applying this standard to the case before us, we conclude that the Court of Criminal Appeals properly affirmed the post-conviction court’s denial of relief.  Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/10/22
Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck v. Tennessee Republican Party et al.
M2022-00735-SC-R10-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

Plaintiff Robert Starbuck Newsom a/k/a Robby Starbuck sought to be a Republican candidate for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District for the United States House of Representatives.  The Tennessee Republican Party and the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee (“Defendants”), acting under relevant statutory authority and party rules, determined that Mr. Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican and informed the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections of the decision to exclude Mr. Starbuck from the ballot.  Mr. Starbuck initially sought relief in federal court and failed to obtain injunctive relief.  After voluntarily dismissing his federal action, Mr. Starbuck filed a complaint in the Davidson County Chancery Court alleging, among other things, that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act by determining in a non-public meeting that he was not a bona fide Republican.  The chancery court granted Mr. Starbuck a temporary injunction on the basis that Defendants violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act and ordered that Mr. Starbuck be restored to the ballot.  Defendants filed an application for extraordinary appeal under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 10.  This Court assumed jurisdiction over the appeal pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d) and Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 48 and granted the application for extraordinary appeal.  We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the injunction because the Tennessee Open Meetings Act does not apply to Defendants.  We vacate the injunction and remand to the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/10/22
Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Candes Vonniest Prewitt
M2021-01141-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

This is an appeal of a trial court’s judgment affirming a decision of a hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility. The hearing panel found that an attorney had violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct and imposed a thirty-day suspension from the practice of law with conditions on reinstatement. After careful review, we affirm the decision of the hearing panel and the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/06/22
State of Tennessee v. Douglas E. Linville
W2019-02180-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Charles C. McGinley

A jury convicted Douglas E. Linville of multiple drug offenses that occurred in a drug-free zone, in this case within 1,000 feet of a city park.  Because the offenses occurred in a drug-free zone, the trial court imposed sentences that required full service of at least the minimum term within the appropriate sentencing range prior to release.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-432(c) (2014) (amended 2020 & 2022).  On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected challenges to the convictions.  However, consistent with Mr. Linville’s brief, the intermediate appellate court noted that the judgment for one of the convictions erroneously referred to the controlled substance at issue—Xanax or Alprazolam—as Schedule III when it was actually Schedule IV.  In so noting, the court also concluded sua sponte that the felony class reflected on the judgment for that conviction was incorrect because Tennessee law required a one-class enhancement for an offense that occurred in a drug-free zone.  See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-432(b)(1) (2014).  We accepted Mr. Linville’s appeal.  Based on our review of the relevant statutory provisions, we conclude that because the drug-free zone in this case related to a public park, the offenses were not subject to a one-class enhancement.  We, however, further conclude that the offenses were subject to the requirement to serve in full at least the minimum sentence for the appropriate range prior to release.  Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals in part, affirm the judgments of the trial court, and remand this matter to the trial court for correction of a clerical error in one judgment.

Hardin County Supreme Court 06/01/22
Recipient of Final Expunction Order in McNairy County Circuit Court Case No. 3279 v. David B. Rausch, Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
M2021-00438-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

In this interlocutory appeal, we address whether the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“the TBI”) may refuse to comply with a final expungement order issued by a trial court. We conclude that the TBI lacks authority to refuse to comply with a final expungement order. Thus, we reverse the trial court’s judgment, grant the Plaintiff’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, and remand this matter to the trial court for any further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Davidson County Supreme Court 05/27/22
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al. v. Tennessee Department of Education et al. - Concurring in Part & Dissenting in Part
M2020-00683-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

SHARON G. LEE, J., with whom HOLLY KIRBY, J., joins, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
In this interlocutory appeal, the issues we address are whether the Plaintiffs,Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) and Shelby County, have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program,2 (“the ESA Act”), and, if so, whether the ESA Act violates the Home Rule Amendment.
I agree with the Court that the Plaintiffs have standing to bring this action. The ESA Act causes a distinct and palpable injury to the Plaintiffs’ sovereignty—their right to control their local affairs—as guaranteed by the Home Rule Amendment. As we have held, the Home Rule Amendment was adopted “to strengthen local self-government” and “to fundamentally change” the relationship with the General Assembly. Civil Serv. Merit Bd.of Knoxville v. Burson, 816 S.W.2d 725, 728 (Tenn. 1991); S. Constructors, Inc. v. Loudon Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 58 S.W.3d 706, 714 (Tenn. 2001). Based on the Home Rule Amendment, Tennessee’s counties and home-rule municipalities “derive their power from sources other than the prerogative of the legislature,” and they enjoy constitutional protection against local legislation enacted without their consent. S. Constructors, 58 S.W.3d at 714; Tenn. Const. art. XI, § 9, cl. 2. Thus, the Plaintiffs’ standing is based on the ESA Act’s impairment of their ability to self-govern regarding school funding.
I disagree with the Court that the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment. The Court’s decision ignores the acknowledged harm to the Plaintiffs’ sovereignty caused by the ESA Act.3 It is this established injury to the Plaintiffs’ ability to self-govern that the Home Rule Amendment was intended to protect. While the ESA Act facially refers only to a Local Education Agency (“LEA”),4 the Act substantially affects the Plaintiffs’ ability to decide issues of local concern. That is enough under our previous decisions to implicate the Home Rule Amendment. Without a provision of local approval as required by the Amendment, the ESA Act is unconstitutional.
 
Davidson County Supreme Court 05/18/22
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al. v. Tennessee Department of Education et al.
M2020-00683-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This case is before us on an interlocutory appeal limited to a single claim: Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program (the “ESA Act” or the “Act”), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-6-2601 to -2612, under article XI, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution (the “Home Rule Amendment” or the “Amendment”).  The trial court held that Plaintiffs had standing to pursue this claim and denied Defendants’ motions to dismiss on that basis.  The court held that the ESA Act is unconstitutional under the Home Rule Amendment and granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on this claim.  The trial court then sua sponte granted Defendants an interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Appeals granted their application for an interlocutory appeal by permission pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment with respect to the issue of standing and the issue of the constitutionality of the ESA Act under the Home Rule Amendment.  We hold that Plaintiffs have standing to bring their Home Rule Amendment claim and affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that issue.  However, we hold that the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment such that the Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Amendment, and we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that issue.  Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court with respect to Plaintiffs’ claim under the Home Rule Amendment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the trial court for entry of a judgment dismissing that claim, for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, and for consideration of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 05/18/22
Tyree B. Harris, IV v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2020-01113-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

In this appeal from attorney disciplinary proceedings, the hearing panel found that the attorney’s testimony about his income in a juvenile court proceeding to reduce his child support obligation violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 8.4(c).  The hearing panel said that the attorney’s answers were carefully crafted to give the appearance of literal truth but were in fact dishonest in that they intentionally omitted relevant information fairly called for in the questions.  The hearing panel found that the presumptive sanction was disbarment, but it reduced the sanction to a one-year suspension in light of the attorney’s prior unblemished forty-year legal career.  The attorney appealed the hearing panel’s decision to the circuit court, which affirmed.  The attorney now appeals to this Court.  He maintains that, in context, his answers were truthful and responsive to the specific questions asked, and that there was no violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  He also contends that the sanction imposed by the hearing panel is overly harsh and an abuse of discretion.  We affirm the trial court’s judgment upholding the hearing panel’s decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/29/22
State of Tennessee v. William Eugene Moon
M2019-01865-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Craig Johnson

William Eugene Moon (“Defendant”) was convicted of attempted second degree murder and unlawful employment of a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony. Defendant appealed his conviction and asserted, among other things, that he had been denied the right to a speedy trial and that the trial court erred by allowing improper impeachment of a defense witness. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgments of the trial court, holding that Defendant was not denied a speedy trial and, although the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to improperly impeach a defense witness, the error was harmless.  This Court granted Defendant’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals applied the proper standard of review to Defendant’s claim that he was denied a speedy trial, to address the merits of Defendant’s speedy trial claim, and to determine whether the trial court committed reversible error in allowing improper impeachment of a defense witness. We hold that the standard of review for an alleged speedy trial violation is de novo with deference to the trial court’s findings of fact unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. When reviewed under this standard, we determine that the Court of Criminal Appeals properly held that the Defendant was not denied a speedy trial. Further, we agree with the intermediate court that the trial court erred in allowing improper impeachment of a defense witness. However, we hold that this error was not harmless and is reversible error. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and vacate the judgments of the trial court. The case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Coffee County Supreme Court 04/20/22
Akilah Moore et al. v. William Lee et al.
M2022-00434-SC-RDO-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins, Judge J. Michael Sharp and Chancellor Steven W. Maroney

Sharon G. Lee, J., dissenting.

On April 6, 2022, a three-judge panel granted a temporary injunction enjoining the defendants, William Lee, as Governor of Tennessee, in his official capacity, Tre Hargett, as Tennessee Secretary of State, in his official capacity, and Mark Goins, as Tennessee Coordinator of Elections, in his official capacity, from enforcing or giving effect to the reapportionment plan for the Tennessee Senate. The Senate reapportionment plan creates four senatorial districts within Davidson County that are not consecutively numbered (the districts are numbered 17, 19, 20, and 21). Yet article II, section 3, of the Tennessee Constitution requires that in a county with more than one senatorial district, the districts have to be numbered consecutively. The three-judge panel gave the General Assembly fifteen days (until April 21, 2022) to remedy the constitutional defect and extended the qualifying deadline for prospective Senatorial candidates from April 7, 2022, to May 5, 2022.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/13/22
Akilah Moore et al. v. William Lee et al.
M2022-00434-SC-RDO-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins, Judge J. Michael Sharp and Chancellor Steven W. Maroney

The Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the reapportionment plan for the districts of the Tennessee Senate that the Tennessee General Assembly enacted after the 2020 census.  Specifically, the Plaintiffs alleged that the reapportionment plan violates article II, section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution because it fails to consecutively number the four Senatorial districts included in Davidson County.  The Plaintiffs requested declaratory and injunctive relief.  The trial court granted a temporary injunction enjoining the Defendants from enforcing or giving any effect to the boundaries of the Senatorial districts.  The trial court provided the General Assembly with fifteen days to remedy the defect pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-18-105, stating that if the defect was not remedied, the trial court would impose an interim plan for the 2022 election.  Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-5-101(a)(1) sets the deadline for filing candidate nominating petitions as the first Thursday in April at noon.  Thus, the trial court further extended the statutory April 7, 2022 filing deadline for Senatorial candidates until May 5, 2022.  The Defendants filed an application for extraordinary appeal in the Court of Appeals pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.  This Court assumed jurisdiction over the case pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d)(3).  We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the injunction because it failed to adequately consider the harm the injunction will have on our election officials who are detrimentally impacted by the extension of the candidate filing deadline, as well as the public interest in ensuring orderly elections and avoiding voter confusion.  We vacate the injunction and remand to the trial court.  

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/13/22
State of Tennessee v. Craig Dagnan
M2020-00152-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Justin C. Angel

This appeal concerns the revocation of a criminal defendant’s probation. We granted Defendant’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether revocation proceedings are a one-step or two-step process on the part of the trial court and the appropriate appellate standard of review to be employed in reviewing such determinations. Defendant in this case pleaded guilty to theft of property over $1,000 but less than $10,000 and received a six-year sentence, which the trial court suspended to supervised probation. A series of revocation proceedings ensued. At Defendant’s fifth and final revocation hearing, the trial court fully revoked his probation. Defendant took issue with the consequence imposed for his probation violation; however, the Court of Criminal Appeals found no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court and affirmed its decision. Judge Timothy L. Easter filed a separate concurring opinion in which he emphasized his belief that a trial court, after it has determined probation should be revoked, is not statutorily required to hold an additional hearing or make any additional findings to determine the manner in which the original sentence should be served. We granted Defendant’s application for permission to appeal. While we do not agree with Defendant that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering him to serve the balance of his six-year sentence in prison, we do take this opportunity to clarify and bring uniformity to the standards and principles applied by the trial courts and appellate courts in probation revocation proceedings. We conclude that a probation revocation proceeding ultimately involves a two-step inquiry. A trial court, upon finding by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant violated the conditions of his or her probation, must determine (1) whether to revoke probation, and (2) the appropriate consequence to impose upon revocation. On appeal, the appellate court must review both decisions separately for abuse of discretion. More specifically, if the trial court has properly placed its findings on the record, the standard of review for probation revocations is abuse of discretion with a presumption of reasonableness. Considering this Court’s prior opinions establishing the appellate standard of review of a trial court’s sentencing decisions, we expressly extend the same principles to appellate review of a trial court’s decision to revoke probation. Because we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in Defendant’s case, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Marion County Supreme Court 03/04/22
Donna Cooper et al. v. Dr. Mason Wesley Mandy et al.
M2019-01748-SC-R1-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

The issue presented in this interlocutory appeal is whether the Health Care Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-101 to -122, applies to medical battery and intentional misrepresentation claims against health care providers for injuries arising from a surgical procedure. The defendant doctor told the plaintiff he was an experienced board-certified plastic surgeon, and the plaintiff consented to surgery. But the doctor was not a board-certified plastic surgeon, and the surgery did not go well. The plaintiff and her husband sued the doctor and his medical practice for her injuries, alleging medical battery and intentional misrepresentation. The defendants moved to dismiss because the plaintiffs had not complied with the pre-suit notice and filing requirements of the Health Care Liability Act. The plaintiffs, conceding their noncompliance, argued the Act did not apply to their medical battery and intentional misrepresentation claims. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that the defendants’ misrepresentations were made before any health care services were rendered and thus did not relate to the provision of health care services. On interlocutory review, the Court of Appeals affirmed. We reverse and hold that the Health Care Liability Act applies to the plaintiffs’ claims. The Act broadly defines a “health care liability action” to include claims alleging that a health care provider caused an injury that related to the provision of health care services, regardless of the theory of liability. Based on the allegations in the complaint, the plaintiffs’ medical battery and intentional misrepresentation claims fall within the definition of a “health care liability action” under the Act. We remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Williamson County Supreme Court 01/20/22
Steven Kampmeyer et al v. State of Tennessee
M2019-01196-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Robert N. Hibbett

This case involves claims against the State of Tennessee asserted by a husband and wife. The claimant husband suffered injuries when his car collided with a Tennessee state vehicle parked in the roadway. He gave written notice of his claim to the Tennessee Division of Claims and Risk Management. The Division did not resolve it, so the Division transferred the claim to the Tennessee Claims Commission. The husband and wife then filed a complaint with the Claims Commission. The complaint contained a loss of consortium claim by the wife that was not in the written notice the husband gave to the Division of Claims and Risk Management. The Claims Commission complaint was filed within the applicable one-year statute of limitations. The Claims Commission granted the State’s motion to dismiss the wife’s loss of consortium claim as time-barred because she did not give the Division of Claims and Risk Management written notice of her claim within the limitations period. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The claimants appeal, relying on the holding in Hunter v. State, No. 01-A-01-9210-BC00425, 1993 WL 133240 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 28, 1993), that a complaint filed with the Claims Commission within the statute of limitations fulfills the requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated § 9-8-402(a)(1) that claimants give timely written notice of their claim against the State to the Division of Claims and Risk Management. We reject this argument, overrule Hunter v. State, and affirm the Claims Commission’s dismissal of the wife’s claim for loss of consortium.

Sequatchie County Supreme Court 01/13/22
State of Tennessee v. Urshawn Eric Miller- Concurring in part and Dissenting in part
W2019-00197-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

Sharon G. Lee, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part.

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects all citizens, including Urshawn Eric Miller, from being subjected to punishment that is cruel and unusual. A sentence is cruel and unusual, and thus constitutionally prohibited, when it is excessive or disproportionate as compared with sentences imposed in similar cases. Miller was sentenced to death for shooting and killing a store clerk during an attempted robbery. The loss of the store clerk’s life is tragic, and Miller deserves to be punished. But Miller and the crime he committed do not fall into the rare category of the “worst of the bad.”When compared with other first-degree murder cases, including capital cases, Miller’s case is more like cases in which a sentence of life or life without parole was imposed rather than a death sentence.Thus, Miller’s death sentence is out of line with the punishment imposed in similar cases, making his punishment cruel and unusual.   

Miller’s convictions for first-degree murder and other offenses should be affirmed. Under the Eighth Amendment, Miller should not be put to death but should spend the rest of his life in prison.

Madison County Supreme Court 12/07/21