Nashville, Tenn. The Tennessee Supreme Court has six cases set for its October 4, 2023 docket. The first two cases will be heard in Nashville, Tennessee, beginning at 10:00 a.m., CDT. The next two cases will be heard beginning at 1:30 p.m., CDT. The remaining two cases case will be submitted on briefs. The cases will be livestreamed to the TNCourts YouTube page at: www.youtube.com/@TNCourts/featured. The details of the cases are as follows:
- Bill Charles v. Donna McQueen – This case involves claims of defamation and false light brought by a real estate developer and consultant alleging injury from an online review posted by Ms. McQueen. In response, Ms. McQueen filed a petition to dismiss under the Tennessee Public Participation Act. The trial court found Mr. Charles was a limited-purpose public figure and ultimately granted the petition and dismissed the case. On appeal, the Court of Appeals found the trial court erred in considering certain inadmissible evidence and in finding that Mr. Charles was a limited-purpose public figure. As such, the Court of Appeals found the trial court erred in using the actual malice standard and reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the defamation claim. The intermediate court declined to consider Ms. McQueen’s alternative argument that the statement was not capable of defamatory meaning because she had not raised it as a separate issue in her brief. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the false light claim finding the actual malice standard did apply because the statements at issue involved a matter of public concern. The Court of Appeals also held that the defendant’s request to send the case back to the trial court for a determination of attorney’s fees was not properly raised as an issue on appeal. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Ms. McQueen’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the trial court, refusing to consider her alternative argument, and refusing to remand for consideration of attorney’s fees. In addition, Mr. Charles asks the Supreme Court to consider whether the Court of Appeals erred by finding he failed to establish that the statements were made with actual malice.
- Melissa Binns v. Trader Joe’s East, Inc. – In December 2018, Melissa Binns slipped and fell at a Trader Joe’s in Nashville. Ms. Binns filed a complaint, alleging Trader Joe’s was negligent and that the fall occurred due to her slipping on a wet substance from a produce cart. Her complaint asserted negligent training and supervision, along with premises liability claims. Ms. Binns then amended her complaint, alleging that Trader Joe’s was vicariously liable for the negligent acts and or omissions of its employees. Trader Joe’s filed an answer admitting it would be vicariously liable for any negligent conduct of its employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior. It also asserted in defense that Ms. Binn’s claims for negligent training and supervision cannot be asserted concurrently with her premises liability claims. It then filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings pertaining to the direct negligence claim for negligent training and supervision arguing first, the “preemption rule” bars a direct negligence claim against an employer when the employer admits it will be liable for any negligence of its employees, and second, a plaintiff cannot assert both a direct negligence claim against an employer and a premises liability claim concurrently. The trial court denied Trader Joe’s motion because the “preemption rule” has not been adopted in Tennessee. Trader Joe’s filed a motion for interlocutory appeal, which the trial court granted, finding among other things, inconsistency in the federal and state trial courts as to whether the preemption rule applies in Tennessee cases such as this. The Court of Appeals denied Trader Joe’s application for interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Trader Joe’s motion for permission to appeal to address whether the preemption rule applies in Tennessee and whether direct negligence claims can be asserted against a premises owner concurrently with a premises liability theory of recovery.
- Vanessa Colley v. John S. Colley, III – The parties divorced in 2012 by a final decree that included a Marital Dissolution Agreement (“MDA”) entitling the “prevailing party” to attorney’s fees incurred in any subsequent litigation. In January 2019, Mr. Colley filed a “Petition to Terminate Transitional Alimony, Modify MDA and Enter Judgment for IRS Reimbursement.” A trial date was set for November 18, 2020. On November 6, 2020, Mr. Colley filed a notice of nonsuit of “all causes of action from the instant litigation,” and on November 8, 2020, before the order of nonsuit was entered, Ms. Colley filed a “Motion for damages and/or sanctions for an abusive lawsuit, or in the alternative to alter or amend order of dismissal.” On January 7, 2021, the trial court entered an order denying Ms. Colley’s motion for abusive lawsuit, but granted her motion to alter or amend the order of dismissal, allowing her to file a motion for attorney’s fees. She filed the motion arguing that she was entitled to attorney’s fees as the prevailing party under the MDA as well as Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-5-103(c), that allows attorney’s fees for the “prevailing party” in alimony actions. The trial court granted Ms. Colley’s motion but did not make a finding that she was a “prevailing party.” Mr. Colley appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed the award of attorney’s fees finding that a voluntary nonsuit did not render Ms. Colley a “prevailing party.” The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Ms. Colley’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether the Court of Appeals erroneously reversed the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees.
- Family Trust Services LLC et al. v. Greenwise Homes LLC et al. – This case involves claims by four plaintiffs against an attorney, his business partner, and their limited liability company. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants fraudulently redeemed properties sold at tax sales using forged or fraudulent documents. Prior to trial, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims for unjust enrichment and theft of the right of redemption. The remaining claims were tried before a jury. The jury returned a verdict in favor of all remaining defendants, except for a claim of one plaintiff against the attorney defendant which resulted in a verdict for damages in the amount of $53,450. The plaintiffs moved for a new trial, asking the trial court to exercise its role as the thirteenth juror and set aside the jury’s verdict. The trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding found the trial court utilized the wrong standard of review as the thirteenth juror, and remanded to the trial court for a new trial. It affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims for unjust enrichment and theft of the right of redemption claims. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the defendants’ application for permission to appeal to consider whether remand for a new trial is the appropriate remedy when the trial court fails to properly perform its role as thirteenth juror. The plaintiffs contend the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the unjust enrichment and right of redemption claims.
- Colleen Ann Hyder v. Board of Professional Responsibility – This is an attorney-discipline case against Colleen Ann Hyder for continuing to practice law after her law license was suspended for failing to pay the professional privilege tax. Both the Supreme Court order of suspension and the Board of Professional Responsibility email containing the order were received by Ms. Hyder and both stated the suspension was effective immediately. However, Ms. Hyder continued to practice law until she paid the tax and fees and her license was reinstated. At her disciplinary hearing, Ms. Hyder argued that she was not required to cease practicing law immediately because other Supreme Court Rules pertaining to suspensions for other reasons allow attorneys to continue practicing law for 30 days after the suspension. The hearing panel disagreed. The panel imposed the discipline of “public admonition” for the violation of Rule 5.5 (Unauthorized Practice of Law). On appeal, the Chancery Court for Montgomery County affirmed the hearing panel although it revised the discipline terminology to “public censure.” Ms. Hyder has appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 33.1(d), challenging the finding that attorneys who are summarily suspended for the failure to pay the professional privilege tax must immediately cease practicing law, the exclusion of the deposition testimony proposed during the hearing, and the discipline imposed.
- Robert Allen Doll, III v. Board of Professional Responsibility – Robert Allen Doll, III, an attorney licensed in Tennessee, was convicted in the Criminal Court of Williamson County, Tennessee of two counts of subornation of aggravated perjury and one count of criminal simulation stemming from his litigation of a post-divorce matter. On June 1, 2017, the Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition for discipline against Mr. Doll and a hearing was held after the appeals of the criminal convictions became final. The hearing panel found ABA Standard 5.1 established the baseline sanction of disbarment and considered aggravating and mitigating factors. It recommended permanent disbarment which was affirmed by the Chancery Court for Davidson County. Mr. Doll has appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 33.1(d). The appeal concerns when in the disciplinary process it is appropriate to consider sanctions imposed in other analogous cases of attorney misconduct.
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