Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 09/20/2021
Format: 09/20/2021
In Re: Loring Edwin Justice
E2020-01089-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge:

An attorney who had been disbarred was assessed costs associated with his disbarment proceedings pursuant to pre-2014 Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 24.3. The attorney timely filed a petition seeking relief from costs, and a panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility conducted a hearing on the petition. The panel reduced the costs for 11.2 hours of disciplinary counsel time and otherwise denied the petition. The attorney has appealed to this Court, as permitted by pre-2014 Rule 9, section 24.3. Having carefully and thoroughly considered the record and each of the issues raised, we affirm the panel’s decision.

Supreme Court 08/16/21
Milan Supply Chain Solutions, Inc. F/K/A Milan Express, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc. Et Al.
W2018-00084-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

We granted permission to appeal primarily to consider how, if at all, the economic loss doctrine, which generally precludes recovery for purely economic losses in tort actions, applies in Tennessee to claims of fraudulent inducement. We hold that when, as here, a fraud claim seeks recovery of only economic losses and is premised solely on misrepresentations or nondisclosures about the quality of goods that are the subject of a contract between sophisticated commercial parties, the economic loss doctrine applies. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the economic loss doctrine bars the plaintiff’s fraudulent inducement claim. We also affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the plaintiff’s claim under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) is barred as a matter of law because the trucks at issue are not “goods” as that term is defined by the portion of the TCPA on which the plaintiff relied. Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-104(b)(7) (2013 & Supp. 2020). We, therefore, set aside the plaintiff’s award of attorney’s fees and costs based on the TCPA. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the separate grounds stated herein.  

Madison County Supreme Court 08/02/21
Regions Bank v. Nathan I. Prager
W2019-00782-SC-R11
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

The issue in this appeal is whether the Plaintiff’s lawsuit is barred by the doctrine of res judicata.  The Plaintiff originally filed suit against the Defendant in the Circuit Court for Shelby County in May 2014.  Unbeknownst to the parties, the trial court sua sponte dismissed the lawsuit for failure to prosecute.  Upon learning of the dismissal over ten months later, the Plaintiff moved to set aside the dismissal.  The trial court denied the Plaintiff’s request to set aside the dismissal but, articulating an erroneous reading of Rule 41.02(3) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, entered an order that stated the dismissal did not bar the Plaintiff from refiling its lawsuit.  When the Plaintiff refiled its lawsuit in August 2017, the Defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on the doctrine of res judicata.  Despite language to the contrary in its prior order, the trial court granted the Defendant’s motion, holding that the dismissal of the original lawsuit operated as an adjudication on the merits.  A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the second lawsuit.  We conclude that the doctrine of res judicata does not bar the Plaintiff’s lawsuit.  Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, vacate the trial court’s judgment, and reinstate the Plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Shelby County Supreme Court 07/08/21
Snake Steel, Inc. v. Holladay Construction Group, LLC - Concurring
M2019-00322-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark with whom Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivens, and Sharon G. Lee Join, Concurring Separately
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

We fully concur in the opinion of the Court but write separately to urge the General Assembly to clarify an issue that this decision does not address: whether Holladay Construction Group, LLC (“Holladay”), had a statutory obligation to deposit the retainage it received from 2200 Charlotte Avenue, LLC, (“Owner”) on May 27, 2015, into a separate, interest-bearing escrow account, or was obligated at that point only to pay subcontractors, such as Snake Steel, within ten days of receipt of the retainage from Owner.  

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/30/21
Snake Steel, Inc. v. Holladay Construction Group, LLC
M2019-00322-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This appeal requires us to interpret provisions in the Prompt Pay Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 66-34-101 to -704, regarding retainage withheld on construction projects. The Prompt Pay Act requires the party withholding retainage—a percentage of total payment withheld as incentive for satisfactory completion of work—to deposit the funds into a separate, interest-bearing escrow account. Failure to do so results in a penalty of $300 per day. In this case, both parties agree the subcontractor’s retainage was not placed into an interest-bearing escrow account, and the retainage was not timely remitted to the subcontractor. Three years after completing its work on the contract, the subcontractor sued the contractor for unpaid retainage plus amounts due under the Prompt Pay Act. The contractor soon tendered the retainage; consequently, only the statutory penalty is at issue in this appeal. Tennessee Code Annotated section 66-34-104(c) states that, for persons required to deposit retainage into a separate interest-bearing escrow account, the penalty is assessed “per day for each and every day” retainage is not so deposited. Consonant with the statute’s language, its objective, the wrong the Prompt Pay Act seeks to prevent, and the purpose it seeks to accomplish, we hold that the $300 per day penalty is assessed each day retainage is not deposited in a statutorily-compliant escrow account. Consequently, while the subcontractor’s claim for the statutory penalty is subject to the one-year statute of limitations, if the subcontractor can establish that the contractor was required to deposit the retainage into an escrow account, the subcontractor is not precluded from recovering the penalty assessed each day during the period commencing 365 days before the complaint was filed. Accordingly, we reverse in part the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the contractor and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/30/21
Cynthia E. Yebuah, Et Al. v. Center For Urological Treatment, PLC - Dissenting
M2018-01652-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee with whom Justice Cornelia A. Clark, joins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This case illustrates how the damages cap statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102, deprives injured plaintiffs of fair compensation by arbitrarily limiting their awards for noneconomic damages. Cynthia Yebuah and her husband, Eric Yebuah, suffered noneconomic damages because of the carelessness of Mrs. Yebuah’s surgeon. Based on the evidence at trial, a jury awarded Mrs. Yebuah more than $750,000 in noneconomic damages for her pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and awarded Mr. Yebuah less than $750,000 for his loss of consortium. The issue here is whether the trial court must apply the $750,000 statutory cap on noneconomic damages separately to each of the Yebuahs’ awards or to the combined total of their awards. If the cap is applied separately to each award, the trial court must slash the jury’s verdict to Mrs. Yebuah by 81% and allow Mr. Yebuah to recover all of the damages the jury awarded him. If the cap is applied to the combined total of the awards, then the trial court must cut the total award to the Yebuahs by 83%. Neither application can withstand constitutional scrutiny. I decline to choose between these two alternatives; both are unconstitutional violations of the Yebuahs’ right to trial by jury. See McClay v. Airport Mgmt. Servs., LLC, 596 S.W.3d 686, 701–09 (Tenn. 2020) (Lee, J., dissenting). 

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/02/21
Cynthia E.Yebuah, Et Al. v. Center For Urological Treatment, PLC
M2018-01652-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This is a healthcare liability action involving the application of the statutory cap on noneconomic damages to loss of consortium claims. The issue before the Court is whether the statutory cap on noneconomic damages applies separately to a spouse’s loss of consortium claim pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102, thus allowing each plaintiff to receive an award of up to $750,000 in noneconomic damages. Here, the surgery patient filed suit for noneconomic damages resulting from the defendant physicians’ negligence, namely that a portion of a Gelport device was unintentionally left in her body after surgery. In the same suit, the patient’s spouse claimed damages for loss of consortium. The jury awarded the patient $4,000,000 in damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded her husband $500,000 in damages for loss of consortium. The trial court initially applied the statutory cap on noneconomic damages by entering a judgment in favor of both plaintiffs collectively for a total judgment of $750,000. However, the trial court subsequently granted the plaintiffs’ motion to alter or amend and applied the statutory cap to each plaintiff separately, thereby entering a judgment of $750,000 for the patient and $500,000 for her husband. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that the language of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102 allows both plaintiffs to recover only $750,000 in the aggregate for noneconomic damages. We therefore reverse the holding of the Court of Appeals and the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/02/21
Ritchie Phillips, Et Al. v. Mark Hatfield
E2019-00628-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor E. G. Moody

The issue in this case is whether restrictive covenants executed and recorded by the developers of a subdivision after they had sold the parties’ lots apply to the Defendant’s property. The developers platted a subdivision and sold the vast majority of lots with time-limited restrictions against non-residential use expressly stated in the deeds that conveyed the lots. Thereafter, the developers recorded a declaration of more fulsome, non-time-limited restrictive covenants—including a restriction against non-residential use—that purported to apply to all lots in the subdivision. Decades later, well after the expiration of the time-limited deed restrictions, the Defendant purchased lots and proposed to build a structure for the operation of a retail business. The Plaintiffs, who reside in a home on lots adjacent to the Defendant’s property, brought a declaratory judgment action to enforce the non-time-limited restriction against non-residential use contained in the recorded declaration. The trial court enjoined the Defendant’s proposed commercial use, concluding that the Defendant’s property was—through the declaration—subject to an implied negative reciprocal easement that prohibited non-residential use. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that the developers lacked the authority to impose the declaration’s restrictions upon the Defendant’s property because they did not own those lots when they executed and recorded the declaration. We further hold that the developers’ mere re-acquisition and re-sale of some of the Defendant’s lots after the recording of the declaration did not retroactively restrict the Defendant’s property through the declaration. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Sullivan County Supreme Court 06/01/21
Affordable Construction Services, Inc. Et Al. v. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, Et Al.
M2020-01417-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge S. Thomas Anderson

Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-111 provides that when an insured property owner’s home or other structure sustains more than $1,000 in damages, the property or casualty insurance company shall name the general contractor of an uncompleted construction contract as a payee when issuing payment to the owner for the loss. Here, an insurance company issued a check to the insured owner but did not name the general contractor as a payee. The general contractor sued the insurance company, alleging noncompliance with section 56-7-111. We accepted three certified questions of law from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, one of which requires us to determine whether a general contractor has a private right of action against an insurance company for violating section 56-7-111. We hold that section 56-7-111 does not expressly grant a private right of action to the general contractor, and the general contractor failed to prove that the legislature intended to imply a private right of action. Thus, the general contractor has no right to sue the insurance company for noncompliance with section 56-7-111.

Supreme Court 04/26/21
State of Tennessee v. Michael Rimmer - Concurring
W2017-00504-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

 I concur in the Court’s opinion except for the analysis of 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) (2018 & Supp. 2020) by limiting consideration to only those cases in which the State sought the death penalty. 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). 

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/16/21
State of Tennessee v. Michael Rimmer
W2017-00504-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

This is a direct appeal in a capital case. The defendant had one prior trial. In the second trial, a Shelby County jury found the defendant guilty of first degree premeditated murder, murder in the perpetration of robbery, and aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to death plus a consecutive eighteen years of incarceration. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and the sentence. We now consider the appeal on automatic review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(a)(1). We hold the following: (1) based on sequential jury instructions given in the first trial, the first jury did not have a full opportunity to consider the felony murder count, so double jeopardy principles did not bar retrial on the felony murder count; (2) alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the first trial did not trigger double jeopardy protections and did not bar retrial of the defendant; (3) because the State did not have a duty to preserve the defendant’s vehicle, the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress DNA evidence from the vehicle; (4) the trial court did not err under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b) in admitting evidence of the defendant’s prior convictions for rape and assault of the victim; and (5) the trial court did not err under Rule 404(b) in admitting evidence of the defendant’s escape attempts and corroborating evidence of homemade shanks in his cell. We hold further that imposition of the death penalty is not arbitrary, given the circumstances of the crime; that the evidence supports the jury’s finding that the State proved one aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt; that the evidence supports the jury’s conclusion that the aggravating circumstance outweighed any mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt; and that the sentence of death is neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. As to the remaining issues raised by the defendant, we agree with the conclusions of the Court of Criminal Appeals and attach as an appendix to this opinion the relevant portions of the intermediate court’s decision. We affirm the convictions and the sentence.  Note:  See "Rehear Order May 21, 2021".

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/16/21
State of Tennessee v. Terrell Lamont Reid
W2019-00636-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle C. Atkins

On June 24, 2015, Terrell Lamont Reid (“the Petitioner”) pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to sell and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Pursuant to the criminal gang enhancement statute, the firearm offense was enhanced from a Class C to a Class B felony. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-121(b) (2014). On April 7, 2016, the Court of Criminal Appeals declared the criminal gang enhancement statute unconstitutional as a violation of substantive due process. See State v. Bonds, 502 S.W.3d 118, 158-60 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2016), perm. app. denied, (Tenn. Aug. 18, 2016). The Petitioner did not file a post-conviction petition challenging his guilty plea. Instead, the Petitioner filed a motion to correct an illegal sentence under Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 (“Rule 36.1”), arguing that the intermediate appellate court’s decision declaring the criminal gang enhancement statute unconstitutional rendered his sentence illegal. The trial court denied his motion, concluding it did not state a claim for relief, but the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, holding that the Bonds decision rendered the Petitioner’s sentence for the firearm conviction void and, thus, illegal under Rule 36.1. In accordance with this Court’s holding in Taylor v. State, 995 S.W.2d 78, 83-85 (Tenn. 1999), we hold that the Petitioner’s sentence was voidable, not void and illegal. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’s decision and reinstate the trial court’s order denying the Petitioner’s motion.

Madison County Supreme Court 03/26/21
In Re Larry E. Parrish
W2020-00907-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge:


This Court suspended an attorney from practicing law for six months, with one month on active suspension. The discipline resulted from a report of misconduct received by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility in 2013. In 2018, we reinstated the attorney to the practice of law based on his eligibility for reinstatement and his compliance with the order of discipline. Before being reinstated, the attorney agreed to a monthly payment plan to satisfy the Board’s assessed costs from the disciplinary case. Soon after he was reinstated, the attorney petitioned the Board to revoke the agreed costs. The attorney argued he did not owe the costs because the Board improperly assessed costs under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9 in effect when the 2013 disciplinary proceeding was initiated instead of Rule 9 in effect when he was reinstated. A hearing panel found the Board had properly assessed costs based on Rule 9 in effect when the disciplinary proceeding began. The attorney appealed. We affirm. Based on this Court’s Order promulgating revised Rule 9 and our subsequent decisions, the version of Rule 9 that was in effect when the disciplinary case was initiated in 2013 governs the assessment of costs regardless of when this Court reinstated the attorney to the practice of law. Thus, we hold the Board followed the correct procedure in assessing costs. We order the attorney to pay the costs assessed against him within forty-five days of the filing of this opinion. Failure to timely pay the costs may serve as a ground for revocation of the attorney’s reinstatement to practice law.

Supreme Court 03/08/21
State of Tennessee v. Shalonda Weems
M2018-02288-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

This case examines a trial court’s decision to grant, in part, a motion for judgment of acquittal in a criminal case. A Davidson County jury convicted Shalonda Weems of aggravated child neglect and reckless homicide following the death of her six-month-old daughter, Kar’mn. The autopsy investigation determined that Kar’mn’s primary cause of death was malnutrition and dehydration and that the circumstances of her death were neglect. Ms. Weems was adamant in her statements to law enforcement that she fed Kar’mn, and medical records showed Ms. Weems took Kar’mn to all of her regularly scheduled doctors’ appointments. After the jury’s verdict, Ms. Weems filed a motion for judgment of acquittal as to both charges. The trial court granted the motion as to the aggravated child neglect charge but denied the motion as to the reckless homicide charge. The State appealed the trial court’s decision to partially grant the acquittal, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Because we conclude that a reasonable jury could have found all the necessary elements of the crime of aggravated child neglect, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-15-402 (2003), beyond a reasonable doubt, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and vacate the trial court’s decision to grant the motion for judgment of acquittal as to the aggravated child neglect charge. As a result, Ms. Weems’ conviction for aggravated child neglect is reinstated. We remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/01/21
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