Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 04/03/2020
Format: 04/03/2020
Rhonda Willeford, Et Al. v. Timothy P. Klepper, M. D., Et Al. - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2016-01491-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

I concur in much of the majority’s excellent analysis, in its framing of the issues, and in its stated decision to adopt a substantive-versus-procedural test for whether a statute violates the separation of powers clause. I write separately because I must dissent from the majority’s holding that Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(f) is unconstitutional only to the limited extent that it makes ex parte interviews mandatory instead of permissive. I see no way to avoid holding that the statute is unconstitutional in its entirety.

Overton County Supreme Court 02/28/20
Rhonda Willeford, Et Al. v. Timothy P. Klepper, M. D., Et Al.
M2016-01491-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jonathan L. Young

We granted review in this case to determine whether Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(f) violates the separation of powers clause in the Tennessee Constitution. The statutory provision allows defense counsel to conduct ex parte interviews with patients’ non-party treating healthcare providers in the course of discovery in a healthcare liability lawsuit. We hold that section 29-26-121(f) is unconstitutional as enacted, to the limited extent that it divests trial courts of their inherent discretion over discovery. We also conclude that the statute can be elided to make it permissive and not mandatory upon trial courts. As such, we hold that the elided statute is constitutional. We vacate the trial court’s qualified protective order entered in this case and remand the case to the trial court for reconsideration based on the guidance set forth in this opinion. 

Overton County Supreme Court 02/28/20
Jodi McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC - Dissenting
M2019-00511-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Eli Richardson

The Tennessee Constitution guarantees that the “right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate.” Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102 (2012) (“the damages cap statute”), which forbids awards for noneconomic damages that exceed $750,000 (or $1,000,000 in catastrophic injury cases), is an unconstitutional invasion of the right to trial by jury. Thus, it cannot stand.  

Supreme Court 02/26/20
Jodi McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC - Dissenting
M2019-00511-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Eli Richardson

I dissent. I would hold that Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102(e) (2012) violates article I, section 6 of the Tennessee Constitution by usurping the jury’s essential and constitutionally protected fact-finding function.  

Supreme Court 02/26/20
Jodi McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC - Concurring
M2019-00511-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Eli Richardson

I join fully in the majority’s conclusion that the statutory cap on noneconomic damages enacted by our legislature does not violate either the separation of powers clause or the equal protection clause in the Tennessee Constitution. A much closer question is presented on whether the statutory cap violates the clause in the Tennessee Constitution guaranteeing a right to trial by jury. I agree with the majority’s analysis and conclusion on this issue but write separately to further explain my reasoning. 

Supreme Court 02/26/20
Jodi McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC
M2019-00511-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Eli J. Richardson

We accepted certification of the following questions of law from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee regarding the constitutionality of Tennessee’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102: “(1) Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate a plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury, as guaranteed in Article I, section 6, of the Tennessee Constitution?; (2) Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate Tennessee’s constitutional doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative branch and the judicial branch?; (3) Does the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-39-102 violate the Tennessee Constitution by discriminating disproportionately against women?” Upon review, we answer each of the District Court’s questions in the negative.

Supreme Court 02/26/20
State of Tennessee v. Alexander R. Vance and Damonta M. Meneese
M2017-01037-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt

We granted permission to appeal to the Defendant, Alexander R. Vance, to determine whether the trial court committed reversible error by permitting the State to elicit testimony about a statement made by a non-testifying codefendant whose trial was severed and whose statements were the subject of a motion in limine the trial court had granted. The trial court permitted the testimony after determining that defense counsel had “opened the door” during cross-examination and that the doctrine of curative admissibility permitted the testimony in order to correct a misleading impression created by the cross-examination. The defense objected to the testimony on various grounds. Those grounds did not include constitutional claims under the state and federal confrontation clauses. After the close of proof, the jury convicted the Defendant of one count of second degree murder, an alternative count of first degree felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, and three counts of aggravated assault. The trial court merged the second degree murder conviction into the first degree murder conviction and imposed an effective sentence of life imprisonment plus twenty-one years. In his motion for new trial, the Defendant reiterated his arguments against the admission of the “curative” testimony and raised for the first time a contention that the testimony violated his constitutional rights of confrontation. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgments. Applying plain error review to the Defendant’s constitutional claims, we hold that, while the trial court erred in admitting the contested testimony, substantial justice does not require that plain error relief be granted. We also hold that the Defendant is not entitled to relief on the claims he preserved for plenary review. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Davidson County Supreme Court 02/25/20
State of Tennessee v. Abbie Leann Welch - Concurring
E2018-00240-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Presiding Judge G. Scott Green

I write separately in this case because I respectfully disagree with one point in the majority’s analysis, namely, the conclusion that Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-14-402(a) is clear and unambiguous.

Knox County Supreme Court 02/19/20
State of Tennessee v. Abbie Leann Welch
E2018-00240-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

This appeal concerns the propriety of the defendant’s burglary conviction.  A Knox County grand jury indicted the defendant, Abbie Leann Welch, for misdemeanor theft in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-103, and burglary, a Class D felony, in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-402, for her involvement in a scheme to enter a Walmart retail store, steal merchandise, and have another individual return the merchandise for a gift card.  The defendant previously had been banned from Walmart retail stores for prior acts of shoplifting.  In this case, because the defendant entered Walmart without the effective consent of the owner—said consent having been revoked by letter—and committed a theft therein, the State sought an indictment for burglary rather than criminal trespass.  We hold that the plain language of the burglary statute does not preclude its application to the scenario presented in this case and that, because the statute is clear and unambiguous on its face, we need not review the legislative history to ascertain its meaning.  Application of the burglary statute in these circumstances does not violate due process or prosecutorial discretion.  We affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals. 

Knox County Supreme Court 02/19/20
Board of Professional Responsibility v. James S. MacDonald
E2018-01699-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri Bryant

The Board of Professional Responsibility (“the Board”) filed a Petition for Discipline against James MacDonald (“Attorney”) based on a single complaint arising from his representation of Michael Huddleston.  A hearing panel (“the Panel”) was appointed and, after an evidentiary hearing, the Panel dismissed the Petition for Discipline and concluded that the Board “failed to sustain its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Attorney violated” any Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”).  Thereafter, the Board filed a petition for review of the Panel’s decision in the Knox County Chancery Court.  The chancery court reversed the Panel’s dismissal of all six rule violations and determined that the Panel’s conclusions were arbitrary and capricious and unsupported by the evidence.  In addition, the chancery court held that the Panel abused its discretion by applying an incorrect legal standard.  The chancery court found that Attorney violated all six rules alleged in the Board’s petition and imposed a public censure as punishment.  Attorney sought review in this Court, arguing that the chancery court incorrectly substituted its own judgment for that of the Panel’s and abused its discretion.  Upon review of the record and applicable law, we reverse the chancery court’s conclusion that Attorney violated RPC 3.3(b) and (c), 3.4(a) and (b), and 8.4(a), and we reinstate the Panel’s dismissal of those allegations.  Additionally, we hold that the chancery court was without authority to conclude that Attorney violated RPC 8.4(c), and this Court must treat the Panel’s failure to make a conclusion as a dismissal of the allegation.  Therefore, the Petition for Discipline against Attorney is dismissed in its entirety.

Knox County Supreme Court 02/14/20
James A. Dunlap, Jr. v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2018-01919-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel decided that an attorney should be suspended for one year for violating Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3 (candor toward the tribunal), 3.5(a) (impartiality and decorum of the tribunal), 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation), and 8.4(d) (conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). The attorney appealed, and the trial court affirmed. After careful review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 02/07/20
State of Tennessee v. Carl Allen a/k/a Artie Perkins
W2017-01118-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula L. Skahan

We granted this appeal to determine whether the criminal court had authority to grant motions filed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) and to modify an order dismissing criminal prosecutions several years after the order became final.  Carl Allen (“Mr. Allen”) was indicted in November 2010 and February 2011 for violating certain reporting provisions of the Tennessee Sexual Offender Registration, Verification, and Tracking Act (“the Registration Act”) applicable to violent sexual offenders.  By a written order filed on February 3, 2012, the criminal court granted Mr. Allen’s motion to dismiss the indictments based on its determination that Mr. Allen’s 1995 Florida sexual battery conviction required him to comply only with the Registration Act’s reporting provisions relating to sexual offenders and not those relating to violent sexual offenders.  The State did not appeal the February 3, 2012 order; therefore, it became final thirty days after entry.  Almost three years later, in December 2014, the TBI returned to the criminal court and filed a motion to intervene in the dismissed criminal cases, citing Rule 24.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, and a motion for relief from the February 3, 2012 order, citing Rule 60.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure.  The TBI argued that, in expressing the basis of its decision to dismiss the indictments, the criminal court exercised civil jurisdiction by ruling on Mr. Allen’s offender classification under the Registration Act.  The TBI asserted that the criminal court lacked authority to determine Mr. Allen’s offender classification and that the portion of its February 3, 2012 order doing so was void and should be vacated.  The criminal court agreed with the TBI’s arguments, and by a May 3, 2017 order, partially vacated its February 3, 2012 order.  Mr. Allen appealed.  The Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed his appeal without ruling on the merits after concluding that Mr. Allen had no right of appeal in these circumstances.  State v. Allen, No. W2017-01118-CCA-R3-CD, 2018 WL 6595352, at *4 (Tenn. Crim. App. Dec. 13, 2018), appeal granted, (Tenn. May 24, 2019).  We hold, as the TBI now concedes, that Mr. Allen had a right to appeal from the criminal court’s May 3, 2017 order that partially vacated its February 3, 2012 order.  We also hold that the criminal court was not exercising civil jurisdiction in its February 3, 2012 order when it granted Mr. Allen’s motion to dismiss the criminal indictments.  We further conclude that the criminal court had no authority to modify or partially vacate its February 3, 2012 order, except to correct clerical errors, oversights, or omissions in accordance with Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.  Because the criminal court exceeded the authority Rule 36 provides, we vacate the May 3, 2017 order and confirm that the February 3, 2012 order remains intact and final.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/29/20
Bonnie Harmon, Et Al. v. Hickman Community Healthcare Services, Inc.
M2016-02374-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

In this healthcare liability action, the trial court held that the plaintiffs’ sole expert witness was not competent to testify on causation and for that reason granted summary judgment to the defendant. The plaintiffs then filed a motion to alter or amend, proffering causation testimony from a new expert witness. The trial court denied the motion to alter or amend, and the plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeals, in a split decision, reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to alter or amend. This Court granted permission to appeal. A trial court’s decision on a motion to alter or amend is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard; this standard of review does not permit the appellate court to substitute its judgment for that of the trial court. We hold that the trial court’s decision in this case was within the range of acceptable alternative dispositions of the motion to alter or amend and was not an abuse of the trial court’s discretion. For this reason, we reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the decision of the trial court.

Hickman County Supreme Court 01/28/20
In Re: Rader Bonding Company, Inc.
M2017-01687-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mark J. Fishburn

We granted this appeal to determine whether a surety remains obligated under a bond agreement entered on the defendant’s arrest for driving under the influence second offense when a subsequent indictment charged the defendant with driving under the influence fourth offense.  We conclude that sureties remain obligated pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated sections 40-11-130(a)(1), -138(b) and this Court’s holding in Young v. State, 121 S.W.2d 533 (Tenn. 1938).  We hold, therefore, that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it entered the final judgment of forfeiture against Rader Bonding Company, Inc. (“Rader”) for the total amount of the bond and declined to grant Rader’s motion to alter or amend.  Accordingly, we reverse that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision holding that Rader should have been relieved from forfeiture on the $7,500 bond in connection with the defendant’s DUI charge and affirm its conclusion that Rader remains obligated on the $2,500 bond in connection with the defendant’s driving on a revoked license charge.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/23/19
State of Tennessee v. Reuben Eugene Mitchell
E2017-01739-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven W. Sword

The defendant, Reuben Eugene Mitchell, was convicted of one count of arson and one count of presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the defendant’s arson conviction but reversed his conviction for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim.  We granted the State’s application to appeal to address whether the proof at trial was sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim.  Our review leads us to conclude that the evidence was sufficient.  Accordingly, we reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the defendant’s conviction for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim. 

Knox County Supreme Court 12/20/19
Jeffery Todd Burke v. Sparta Newspapers, Inc.
M2016-01065-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

This appeal requires us to determine whether the fair report privilege applies to a nonpublic, one-on-one conversation between a newspaper reporter and a detective of a county sheriff’s department, who also served as the public information officer for the sheriff’s department. The plaintiff sued the newspaper alleging that it had published defamatory statements the detective made about the plaintiff during the nonpublic, one-on-one conversation with the reporter. The newspaper moved for summary judgment based on the fair report privilege. The trial court granted the newspaper summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the fair report privilege applies only to public proceedings or official actions of government that have been made public and does not apply to the nonpublic, one-on-one conversation at issue here. On this basis alone we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals reversing the trial court’s decision granting the defendant summary judgment and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.  

White County Supreme Court 12/05/19
State of Tennessee v. Charles Keese
E2016-02020-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

This is the second in a succession of three cases concerning Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016, which took effect on January 1, 2017, and amended Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses.  In 2016, before the amended version of the statute took effect, Charles Keese, the defendant, was convicted of theft of property in the amount of $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, a Class D felony at the time of the offense.  In sentencing the defendant before the amendment’s effective date, the trial court applied the amended version of the statute, which graded theft of more than $1,000 but less than $2,500 as a Class E felony, and sentenced the defendant accordingly.  Both the State and the defendant filed notices of appeal.  The Court of Criminal Appeals, after determining that appellate jurisdiction over the sentencing issue raised by the State was proper, vacated the sentence and remanded for entry of a sentence reflecting a conviction of a Class D felony.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case in order to consider (1) whether the State had the right to appeal the trial court’s sentencing decision, and (2) whether the Criminal Savings Statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-112, should apply to the amendments of the theft grading statute where, as here, the offense occurred and the defendant was sentenced before the statute’s effective date.  We conclude that the State had a statutory right to appeal the sentence pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-402(b)(1).  In addition, we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ determination that the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105.  We also agree with its ultimate conclusion that the trial court erred in sentencing the defendant under the amended version of the statute prior to its effective date.  We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand to the trial court for the entry of a modified judgment consistent with this opinion.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Ashley N. Menke
M2017-00597-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Thompson

This appeal concerns Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016, which took effect on January 1, 2017, and amended Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses.  In 2016, before the amended statute took effect, Ashley N. Menke, the defendant, entered a guilty plea without a recommended sentence for, among other things, theft of property in the amount of $1,000 or more but less than $10,000, a Class D felony at the time of the offense.  In sentencing the defendant after the amendment’s effective date, the trial court applied the amended version of the statute, which graded theft in the amount of $1,000 or less as a Class A misdemeanor, and sentenced the defendant accordingly for her theft of exactly $1,000.  The State appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals vacated the sentence and remanded to the trial court for resentencing within the applicable range for a Class D felony and consecutive alignment with the sentences for some of the defendant’s other charges.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case with direction to the parties to particularly address the following issues: (1) whether the State was entitled to pursue an appeal as of right from the trial court’s decision, and (2) whether the Criminal Savings Statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-112, should apply to the amendments of the theft grading statute.  We conclude that the State had a statutory right to appeal the sentence pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-402(b)(1).  We further conclude, unlike the Court of Criminal Appeals, that the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105.  Thus, the amended theft grading statute was appropriately applied by the trial court even though the offense occurred before the amendment’s effective date.  Therefore, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Sumner County Supreme Court 11/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Michael Eugene Tolle
E2017-00571-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee

This is the third in a succession of three cases concerning Section 5 of the Public Safety Act of 2016, which took effect on January 1, 2017, and amended Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, the statute providing for grading of theft offenses.  In 2012, before the amended version of the statute took effect, Michael Eugene Tolle, the defendant, pleaded guilty to theft of property in the amount of more than $500 but less than $1,000, a Class E felony at the time of the offense, and he was sentenced accordingly.  In 2017, following the revocation of his probation, the trial court applied the amended version of the statute, which graded theft in the amount of $1,000 or less as a Class A misdemeanor, and imposed a Class A misdemeanor sentence.  The State appealed.  The Court of Criminal Appeals, after determining that it had authority to consider the issue raised by the State, vacated the sentence and remanded for entry of a sentence reflecting his conviction for a Class E felony.  We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case in order to consider (1) whether the State had the right to appeal the trial court’s revocation order, and (2) whether the defendant, who was originally sentenced under the prior version of the statute, may benefit from the lesser punishment under the amended version of the theft grading statute following the revocation of his probation.  We conclude that, pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 35, the intermediate appellate court acquired jurisdiction of the State’s claim when the defendant, in effect, filed a Rule 35 motion for reduction of sentence.  In addition, while we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ determination that the Criminal Savings Statute applies to the amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105, we also agree with its ultimate conclusion that the trial court exceeded its authority in modifying the offense class and sentence pursuant to the amended version of the statute following the revocation of his probation.  We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand to the trial court for the entry of a modified judgment consistent with this opinion.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/27/19
State of Tennessee v. Angela Carrie Payton Hamm and David Lee Hamm - Dissenting
W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham

I respectfully dissent from the majority’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the warrantless and suspicionless search of Angela Payton Hamm’s home. In so holding, the majority erroneously equates the privacy interests of probationers and parolees despite statements by the United States Supreme Court and this Court that probationers have greater expectations of privacy than parolees. Samson v. California, 547 U.S. 843, 850 (2006); State v. Stanfield, 554 S.W.3d 1, 10 (Tenn. 2018); State v. Turner, 297 S.W.3d 155, 162 (Tenn. 2009). I would hold that the state and federal constitutional safeguards against unreasonable searches and seizures require law enforcement officers to establish reasonable suspicion for a warrantless search of a probationer. Here, as the courts below concluded, the State failed to establish reasonable suspicion for the search. Accordingly, I would hold that the search violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution and affirm the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment upholding the trial court’s decisions granting the defendant’s motion to suppress and dismissing the indictments.  

Obion County Supreme Court 11/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Angela Carrie Payton Hamm and David Lee Hamm - Dissenting
W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham

One afternoon in November 2015, while David and Angela Hamm were not at home, four law enforcement officers entered and conducted a search of their home. The officers had neither a warrant nor reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Ms. Hamm was on probation; the officers used her probationary status to justify the intrusive home search. The majority’s decision to uphold this unreasonable search deprives Ms. Hamm and her husband of their rights to be free from unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution. The majority’s decision also casts a cloud over the lives of more than 65,000 Tennessee probationers and thousands of citizens living with probationers, all of whom are at risk of having their homes searched by law enforcement lacking reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. 

Obion County Supreme Court 11/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Angela Carrie Payton Hamm and David Lee Hamm
W2016-01282-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham

The Obion County Drug Task Force conducted a warrantless search of the residence of probationer Angela Hamm and her husband, David Hamm, which yielded illegal drugs and drug-related contraband.  Defendant Angela Hamm had agreed, pursuant to probation conditions imposed in a prior case, to a warrantless search of her person, property, or vehicle at any time.  We granted the State’s appeal in this case to consider whether the warrantless search of a probationer’s residence who is subject to a search condition requires officers to have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity prior to conducting the search.  We conclude that it does not and therefore reverse the trial court’s judgment and the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision affirming the same.

Obion County Supreme Court 11/21/19
State of Tennessee v. Denton Jones
E2017-00535-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge G. Scott Green

The State charged the Defendant, Denton Jones, with five separate misdemeanor thefts aggregated into a single felony count pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-105(b)(1) (2014) which provides that “[i]n a prosecution for theft of property, . . . the state may charge multiple criminal acts committed against one (1) or more victims as a single count if the criminal acts arise from a common scheme, purpose, intent or enterprise.”  The Defendant proceeded to trial, and the jury convicted him as charged.  The jury aggregated the values of the separate misdemeanor thefts as totaling more than $1,000 but less than $10,000.  Accordingly, the Defendant was convicted of a Class D felony.[1]  The Defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment.  We granted the Defendant’s application for permission to appeal in order to determine whether the separate misdemeanor thefts were properly aggregated into a single felony charge and whether the evidence sufficiently established that the separate thefts arose from a common scheme, purpose, intent, or enterprise.  Answering both of these questions in the affirmative, we affirm the Defendant’s conviction.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/13/19
State of Tennessee v. Brandon Cole-Pugh
W2017-00469-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The defendant, Brandon Cole-Pugh, was convicted of being a felon in possession of a handgun, in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1307(b)(1).  The evidence presented at trial suggested that the defendant obtained a handgun during a physical altercation, during which the handgun became loose, fell from another individual’s possession, and dropped to the floor.  Prior to the trial court’s instructions to the jury, defense counsel orally requested an instruction on the defense of necessity.  The trial court denied the request.  Based upon the evidence presented at trial, the briefs of the parties, the arguments of counsel, and the applicable law, we hold that the defense of necessity was fairly raised by the evidence and that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury accordingly.  We further hold that Tennessee law does not preclude plenary review of a claim of error based on a trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on a general defense when the request was not made in writing.  We, therefore, reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Madison County Supreme Court 10/25/19
Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. Brandon Debruce
E2017-02078-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

We granted review to determine whether a trial court had authority in a declaratory judgment action to resolve coverage issues between an insurance company and its insured when a claimant, who had sued the insured but did not have a judgment against him, was not a party to the action. Here, the claimant sued the insured for damages arising from an automobile accident. The insured did not cooperate with his insurance company. The insurance company sued its insured, seeking a declaratory judgment that the company did not have to provide liability coverage based on the insured’s lack of cooperation. The trial court awarded the insurance company a default judgment, holding that the company did not have to provide coverage under the policy. Nearly two years later, the claimant moved the trial court to set aside the default judgment and allow her to intervene, asserting that she was a necessary party. The trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the declaratory judgment action because the claimant was a necessary party, and the insurance company had not joined the claimant in the action. We hold that the insurance company and its insured—not the claimant—were necessary parties to the declaratory judgment action. The trial court could decide the coverage dispute between the insurance company and its insured with finality and certainty without the claimant’s participation in the action. The claimant, who had no judgment against the insured and could not bring a direct action against the insurance company to collect any damages caused by the insured, had no interest affected by the dispute between the company and its insured. The trial court had authority to grant declaratory relief because all necessary parties were before the court. 

Bradley County Supreme Court 10/16/19