Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 10/18/2018
Format: 10/18/2018
State of Tennessee v. Jimmy Williams
W2016-00946-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

We accepted this appeal to determine whether a notice that the State intended to seek enhanced sentencing in one case is sufficient to provide notice that the State intended to seek enhanced sentencing in a subsequent unrelated case involving the same defendant. The defendant, Jimmy Williams, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced as a career offender to serve fifteen years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. At trial, the defendant unsuccessfully objected to his classification as a career offender based on the State’s failure to file a timely notice of its intent to seek enhanced sentencing, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the trial court’s ruling. He now appeals the sentencing issue and also argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. We hold that the State must file a timely and proper notice in each case for which it intends to seek enhanced punishment. Consequently, the defendant in this case did not receive proper notice of the State’s intention, and therefore, the trial court should have sentenced him as a Range I, standard offender. However, the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction; therefore, we affirm the defendant’s judgment of conviction for aggravated assault but modify his sentence and remand for entry of a corrected judgment form in accordance with this opinion. 

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/12/18
Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, ET Al. v. Tony Parker, Et Al. - Dissenting
M2018-01385-SC-RDO-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle
The Petitioners, who have been sentenced to death, contend that the State's recently adopted lethal injection protocol violates their federal and state constitutional rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. On this important issue, the Petitioners are entitled to a fair and meaningful opportunity to be heard at trial and on appeal without regard to 1) the constitutionality of other lethal injection protocols the State has no plans to use; 2) the execution dates previously set by this Court for Petitioners Billy Ray Irick (already executed), Edmund Zagorksi, and David Earl Miller and 3) the length of the Petitioners' briefs or the extra minutes granted for oral argument.
 
Davidson County Supreme Court 10/08/18
Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, ET Al. v. Tony Parker, Et Al.
M2018-01385-SC-RDO-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

This appeal represents the third time, each after a trial on the merits, that we have addressed the facial constitutionality of Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol. In both prior appeals, we upheld the particular protocol at issue. In this most recent litigation, the death-sentenced inmates challenge Tennessee’s current three-drug protocol, which calls for the administration of midazolam followed by vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The trial court dismissed the inmates’ complaint for declaratory judgment. This Court, upon its own motion, assumed jurisdiction over the appeal. After our review of the record and applicable authority, we conclude that the inmates failed to carry their burden of showing availability of their proposed alternative method of execution—a onedrug protocol using pentobarbital—as required under current federal and Tennessee law.  For this reason, we hold that the inmates failed to establish that the three-drug protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or article I, section 16 of the Tennessee Constitution. This holding renders moot the majority of the other issues before us. The expedited appellate procedure has not denied the inmates due process, and they are not entitled to relief on their remaining issues. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Davidson County Supreme Court 10/08/18
State of Tennessee v. Charlotte Lynn Frazier And Andrea Parks
M2016-02134-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Burch

The question in this appeal is whether the courts below erred by holding that evidence seized from the defendants’ residences in the 19th Judicial District of Tennessee should be suppressed because the warrants were signed by a Circuit Court Judge of the 23rd Judicial District of Tennessee. We hold that, in the absence of interchange, designation, appointment, or other lawful means, a circuit court judge in Tennessee lacks jurisdiction to issue search warrants for property located outside the judge’s statutorily assigned judicial district. Nothing in the record on appeal establishes that the 23rd Judicial District Circuit Court Judge obtained jurisdiction to issue search warrants for property in the 19th Judicial District by interchange, designation, appointment, or other lawful means. As a result, the courts below correctly held that the 23rd Judicial District Circuit Court Judge lacked authority to issue the search warrants, and that, as a result, the searches were constitutionally invalid. Furthermore, although the issue was not raised in the trial court, in the exercise of our supervisory authority, we have considered the State’s argument that the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies in these circumstances and conclude that it does not. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal
Appeals, which upheld the trial court’s order granting the defendants’ motions to suppress.

Dickson County Supreme Court 09/26/18
State of Tennessee v. Rosemary L. Decosimo
E2017-00696-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Paul G. Summers

In this appeal of a certified question of law, the defendant challenges the constitutionality of a statute that imposes a fee upon persons convicted of certain drug and alcohol offenses when forensic scientists employed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) have conducted chemical tests to determine blood alcohol or drug content. The challenged statute earmarks the fees imposed to an intoxicant testing fund, and monies within this fund do not revert to the State’s general fund but “remain available for appropriation to the [TBI] as determined by the [G]eneral [A]ssembly.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-413(f)(3)(B) (2017). The defendant argues that this statutory scheme provides TBI forensic scientists with a personal and institutional financial incentive to produce blood alcohol test results that secure convictions, which, in turn, increases fees and funding for the TBI. Relying on Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927); Ward v. Vill. of Monroeville, 409 U.S. 57 (1972); and Connally v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 245 (1977), the defendant asserts that these financial incentives create an appearance of impropriety and deprive her of the federal and state constitutional right to a fair and impartial trial. We conclude that, under both the federal and state constitutions, the standards of neutrality announced in Tumey, Ward, and Connally apply only to persons exercising judicial or quasi-judical authority and do not apply to TBI forensic scientists, who do not exercise such authority. Furthermore, even if the Tumey standards applied to TBI forensic scientists, the defendant’s constitutional claim would fail because, as salaried employees, the TBI forensic scientists have no direct, personal, substantial pecuniary interest in fees imposed pursuant to the statute, and any institutional financial interest the TBI forensic scientists may have as a result of the statute is too remote to give rise to an appearance of impropriety. We also disagree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ holding that the statute violates substantive due process by creating a situation analogous to an expert witness contingency fee arrangement. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 08/23/18
Board of Professional Responsibility of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Larry Edward Parrish
W2017-00889-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies
This is a direct appeal of a disciplinary proceeding involving a Memphis attorney who filed motions to recuse containing pejorative statements about three appellate judges. A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility found that the attorney had violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct and that his sanction should be a public censure. The trial court agreed that the attorney was guilty of misconduct but modified the hearing panel’s decision, determining that the appropriate sanction was a six-month suspension, with thirty days served on active suspension and the remainder on probation.  We hold that the attorney’s pejorative statements in the motions to recuse were not protected by the First Amendment and there was material and substantial evidence of noncompliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, we hold that the hearing panel acted arbitrarily and capriciously in determining that the attorney should receive a public censure rather than suspension. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
Shelby County Supreme Court 08/14/18
Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Michael Gibbs Sheppard
M2017-00804-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones

This is a direct appeal of a disciplinary proceeding against a Brentwood attorney arising out of the mismanagement of client funds held in trust. A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that the attorney had violated Rules 1.15 (safekeeping property and funds) and 8.4 (misconduct) of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct. The hearing panel recommended that the attorney be suspended for sixty days, to be followed by two years of probation under the supervision of a practice monitor, and that he complete fifteen hours of continuing legal education on law office management and trust accounting procedures. The chancery court modified the hearing panel’s decision by increasing the periods of suspension and probation and by imposing additional conditions of probation. We hold that the hearing panel’s decision was supported by material and substantial evidence and was not arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. The chancery court, therefore, erred in modifying the hearing panel’s decision. We reverse the judgment of the chancery court and affirm the hearing panel’s decision.

Williamson County Supreme Court 08/13/18
State of Tennessee v. Janet Michelle Stanfield, Tony Alan Winsett and Justin Bradley Stanfield - Dissenting in Part and Concurring in Part
W2015-02503-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham

The warrantless search of the home of Tony Winsett, Janet Stanfield, and her son, Justin Stanfield, violated their rights under Article I, section 7 of the Tennessee constitution to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Mr. Winsett’s parolee status should not subject him, Ms. Stanfield or Mr. Stanfield to a warrantless and suspicionless search. The trial court did not err in suppressing evidence from the illegal search of the Winsett/Stanfield home. The majority does not err in suppressing the evidence as to Mr. Stanfield, although I do not agree with the majority’s reasoning. 

Obion County Supreme Court 08/07/18
State of Tennessee v. Janet Michelle Stanfield, Tony Alan Winsett and Justin Bradley Stanfield
W2015-02503-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jeff Parham

An Obion County grand jury indicted Tony Alan Winsett, Janet Michelle Stanfield, and Justin Bradley Stanfield for multiple drug and weapons charges based on the warrantless search of their home and the subsequent automobile stop involving defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield.  The defendants filed motions to suppress the evidence against them based on an allegedly improper search.   Following a suppression hearing, the trial court granted the defendants’ motions and dismissed the charges against them.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling.  The State then filed an application for permission to appeal to this Court.  See Tenn. R. App. P. 11(a).  We granted the State’s application and, upon review, hold that, with respect to defendants Winsett and Janet Stanfield, the warrantless search of the residence was constitutionally permissible based on defendant Winsett’s status as a parolee and the doctrine of common authority.  However, we conclude that the warrantless search with respect to defendant Justin Stanfield was constitutionally unreasonable because he retained a reasonable expectation of privacy in his bedroom and the State failed to carry its burden of proving that defendant Winsett exercised common authority over Justin Stanfield’s bedroom.  Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Obion County Supreme Court 08/07/18
State of Tennessee v. Angela Faye Daniel
M2015-01073-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Deanna B. Johnson

We granted permission to appeal in this case in order to determine whether the exclusionary rule should be applied to a blood sample drawn from an individual pursuant to a search warrant because the arresting officer failed to leave a copy of the warrant with the individual. The Defendant, Angela Faye Daniel, was arrested for driving under the influence. The arresting officer obtained a search warrant and transported the Defendant to a medical facility for a blood draw. The officer failed to give the Defendant a copy of the search warrant. The trial court granted the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained pursuant to the warrant on the basis of the exclusionary rule set forth in Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41. The State sought and was granted an interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We hold that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, a good-faith exception should be applied to Rule 41’s exclusionary rule. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment below and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.  

Williamson County Supreme Court 07/20/18
State of Tennessee v. Lindsey Brooke Lowe
M2014-00472-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

A jury convicted the Defendant, Lindsey Brooke Lowe, of two counts of first degree premeditated murder, two counts of first degree felony murder, and two counts of aggravated child abuse, all arising from the Defendant’s smothering to death her newborn infant twins. The trial court merged the alternative counts of first degree murder as to each victim and sentenced the Defendant to two terms of life imprisonment for the murders and two terms of twenty-five years for the aggravated child abuse convictions, all to be served concurrently. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the Defendant’s convictions and sentences. We granted the Defendant’s application for permission to appeal in order to address the following issues raised by the Defendant: (1) whether the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act, codified at Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-6-108 (“the ERRA”), violates the Tennessee Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause; (2) whether the trial court erred by relying on the ERRA to deny the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence gathered at her house pursuant to a search warrant that did not conform with the technical requirements of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 41; (3) whether the trial court erred by ruling inadmissible certain expert testimony proffered by the defense during the hearing on the Defendant’s motion to suppress her statement to Detective Malach; (4) whether the trial court erred by denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress her statement; and (5) whether the trial court erred by prohibiting the Defendant’s expert witness from testifying at trial about the reliability of her responses to Detective Malach’s questions. We also directed the parties to address the additional issue of whether the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule adopted by this Court in State v. Davidson, 509 S.W.3d 156, 185-86 (Tenn. 2016), should be expanded to include clerical errors made by the issuing magistrate when the search in question is otherwise constitutional. We hold that the ERRA represents an impermissible encroachment by the legislature upon this Court’s authority and responsibility to adopt exceptions to the exclusionary rule and, therefore, violates the Tennessee Constitution’s Separation of Powers Clause; that the exclusionary rule should not be applied to suppress evidence gathered pursuant to a search warrant that is technically defective under Rule 41 due to the magistrate’s simple and good-faith clerical error of incorrectly indicating on one of three copies of the warrant that it was issued at 11:35 “PM” while correctly indicating on the other two copies that it was issued at 11:35 “AM”; that the trial court did not err in ruling inadmissible the defense expert’s testimony at the hearing on the Defendant’s motion to suppress her statement, although the trial court should have allowed defense counsel to proffer the testimony in a question and answer format; that the trial court did not err in ruling that the Defendant was not in custody at the time she made her statement to Detective Malach, rendering moot any claimed defects in the administration of Miranda warnings prior to her statement being made; and that the trial court did not commit reversible error in ruling inadmissible at trial certain proffered expert testimony by a defense witness. In sum, we affirm the Defendant’s convictions and sentences. 

Sumner County Supreme Court 07/20/18
Tommy Nunley v. State of Tennessee
W2016-01487-SC-R11-ECN
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Wheeler Campbell

This appeal arises out of the appellant prisoner’s petition for a writ of error coram nobis. The petitioner, convicted of aggravated rape in 1998, asserted in his petition that the State violated his constitutional right to due process of law by withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense in his trial, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Without asking the State for a response to the coram nobis petition and without an evidentiary hearing, the trial court dismissed the petition in part because it was filed long after expiration of the one-year statute of limitations and demonstrated no reason for equitable tolling of the statute of limitations. The Court of Criminal Appeals declined to consider the statute of limitations because the State had not pled it as an affirmative defense, but affirmed the dismissal because the petition did not present newly discovered evidence warranting coram nobis relief. On appeal, we initially clarify that an error coram nobis proceeding is not the appropriate procedural vehicle for obtaining relief on the ground that the petitioner suffered a constitutional due process violation under Brady. As to the petition, we hold that (1) coram nobis petitions with insufficient allegations are susceptible to summary dismissal on the face of the petition, without discovery or an evidentiary hearing; (2) Tenn. R. Civ. P 8.03 does not apply to a petition for writ of error coram nobis; (3) timeliness under the statute of limitations is an “essential element” of a coram nobis claim that must be demonstrated on the face of the petition; and (4) if the petitioner seeks equitable tolling of the statute of limitations, the facts supporting the tolling request must likewise appear on the face of the petition. Applying this standard, we find no error in the trial court’s decision to dismiss the coram nobis petition and affirm.

Shelby County Supreme Court 07/19/18
Drayton Beecher Smith, II v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court Of Tennessee
W2017-00247-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge William B. Acree

Drayton Beecher Smith, II (“Attorney”) pled guilty in 2007 to federal charges of receipt and possession of images depicting child pornography and was sentenced to five years of imprisonment. In conjunction with these charges, Attorney consented to his disbarment, which was ordered in 2008. In August 2014, after being discharged from prison and while on probation, Attorney petitioned to be reinstated to the practice of law in Tennessee. The Board of Professional Responsibility (“BPR”) opposed Attorney’s petition, and a hearing panel was appointed (“the Panel”). After an evidentiary hearing, the Panel denied Attorney’s petition. Attorney sought review in chancery court, and the chancery court reversed the Panel’s decision and ordered Attorney reinstated. The BPR sought review in this Court. Initially, we hold that the chancery court had subject-matter jurisdiction of Attorney’s petition in spite of the BPR’s untimely filing of its application for costs. We further hold that the chancery court misapplied the applicable standard of review and thereby committed reversible error. Accordingly, we reverse the chancery court’s ruling and reinstate the Panel’s decision.

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/26/18
David R. Smith v. The Tennessee National Guard
M2016-01109-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Brothers

In 2014, the General Assembly enacted a statute waiving Tennessee’s sovereign immunity for claims brought against the State pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301 to 4335 (“USERRA”). The waiver of sovereign immunity became effective on July 1, 2014, and applied to USERRA claims “accruing on or after” that date. After passage of the statute, the plaintiff brought a USERRA claim against the defendant, an entity of the State, but his claim was based on facts that occurred prior to August 8, 2011. The trial court dismissed the claim, explaining that the claim accrued prior to July 1, 2014, and remained barred by sovereign immunity. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the claim accrued on July 1, 2014, when the plaintiff gained a judicial remedy by the enactment of the statute waiving sovereign immunity. We conclude that the claim accrued prior to July 1, 2014, and remains barred by sovereign immunity. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/22/18
Rose Coleman v. Bryan Olson
M2015-00823-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ross H. Hicks

When a divorce complaint is filed and served, a statutory injunction goes into effect prohibiting both parties from changing the beneficiary on any life insurance policy that names either party as the beneficiary without the consent of the other party or a court order. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-106(d)(2) (2010). Jessica Olson sued her husband, Bryan Olson, for divorce. A week later, Ms. Olson, while seriously ill, changed the beneficiary on her life insurance policy from her husband to her mother. Ms. Olson died a few days later. Her mother, Rose Coleman, collected the life insurance benefits. Ms. Coleman sued Mr. Olson for grandparent visitation under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-6-306 (2010). Mr. Olson responded that he did not oppose visitation, and therefore, Ms. Coleman was not entitled to court-ordered visitation. In addition, Mr. Olson countersued to recover the life insurance benefits. The trial court awarded the insurance benefits to the Olsons’ child, finding that Ms. Olson had intended to remove Mr. Olson and substitute their child as the insurance beneficiary. The trial court ordered Ms. Coleman to pay the remaining life insurance funds into the court registry, to account for her expenditures, and to pay a judgment for expenditures that did not benefit the child. The trial court also granted Ms. Coleman’s petition for grandparent visitation. The Court of Appeals reversed, awarding the life insurance benefits to Mr. Olson based on Ms. Olson’s violation of the statutory injunction and its consideration of Mr. Olson’s financial needs. In addition, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s award of visitation to Ms. Coleman. We hold that (1) Ms. Olson violated the statutory injunction under Tennessee Code Annotated section 36-4-106(d)(2) when she removed Mr. Olson as her life insurance beneficiary; (2) the Olsons’ divorce action abated when Ms. Olson died and the statutory injunction became ineffective; (3) a trial court, after the abatement of a divorce action, may remedy a violation of the statutory injunction after considering the equities of the parties; (4) the trial court erred by awarding the life insurance benefits to the Olsons’ child based on the pleadings and the evidence; (5) the Court of Appeals erred by awarding the life insurance benefits to Mr. Olson without sufficient evidence of the equities of the parties; (6) the trial court, on remand, may remedy the violation of the statutory injunction by awarding all or a portion of the life insurance benefits to either or both parties after hearing additional evidence and considering the equities of the parties; and (7) Ms. Coleman was not entitled to court-ordered grandparent visitation absent Mr. Olson’s opposition to visitation. We affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals; we reverse and vacate the judgment of the trial court and remand to the trial court for further proceedings. 

Montgomery County Supreme Court 06/15/18
Athlon Sports Communications, Inc. v. Stephen C. Duggan, et al
M2015-02222-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen H. Lyle

We granted permission to appeal in this case to address the methods by which a trial court may determine the “fair value” of the shares of a dissenting shareholder under Tennessee’s dissenters’ rights statutes, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 48-23-101, et seq. In doing so, we overrule Blasingame v. American Materials, Inc., 654 S.W.2d 659 (Tenn. 1983), to the extent that Blasingame implicitly mandates use of the Delaware Block method for determining the fair value of a dissenting shareholder’s stock. We adopt the more open approach espoused in Weinberger v. UOP, Inc., 457 A.2d 701, 712-13 (Del. 1983), in which the Delaware Supreme Court departed from the Delaware Block method and permitted trial courts to determine fair value by using any technique or method that is generally acceptable in the financial community and admissible in court. This approach allows trial courts to utilize valuation methods that incorporate projections of future value, so long as they are susceptible of proof as of the date of the corporate action and not the product of speculation. In this dissenters’ rights case, the defendant minority shareholders were forced out of the corporation as a result of a merger, and the corporation petitioned the trial court to determine the fair value of the minority shareholders’ stock. Both parties presented expert testimony regarding the valuation of the dissenting shareholders’ stock, and both experts assumed that Blasingame required use of the Delaware Block method to value the stock. However, both experts also valued the dissenting shareholders’ stock under more modern approaches, such as the discounted cash flow method. After a bench trial, the trial court discredited the testimony of the dissenting shareholders’ expert and credited the testimony of the corporation’s expert. The trial court’s order indicates that it may have based its decision on the premise that Blasingame compelled use of the Delaware Block method to determine stock value. Consequently, we remand to the trial court to reconsider its determination on valuation in light of our decision to partially overrule Blasingame

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/08/18
Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Charles Edward Daniel
E2017-01170-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia S. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford G. Forgety, Jr.

This direct appeal arises from a disciplinary proceeding against a Knoxville attorney. A hearing panel (“Hearing Panel”) of the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) found that the attorney had violated Rule 8.4(b) and (c) of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) by misappropriating funds from his law partnership in a manner intended to conceal his actions from his law partners. The Hearing Panel suspended him from the practice of law for three years but ordered the entire suspension served on probation. We conclude that the Hearing Panel did not abuse its discretion by suspending rather than disbarring the lawyer but did abuse its discretion by probating the entire suspension. Accordingly, we modify the Hearing Panel’s judgment to include one year of active suspension. In all other respects, the Hearing Panel’s judgment is affirmed.

Knox County Supreme Court 06/08/18
Tiffinne Wendalyn Gail Runions, Et Al. v. Jackson -Madison County General Hospital District, Et Al.
W2016-00901-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The Tennessee Health Care Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 29 26 121(a)(1) (2012 & Supp. 2017), requires a person who asserts a potential health care liability claim to give written pre-suit notice of the claim to each health care provider that will be named a defendant at least sixty days before the complaint is filed. The question we address is whether the trial court erred by allowing the plaintiff to amend her complaint, after the expiration of the statute of limitations, to substitute as a defendant a health care provider to which the plaintiff had not sent pre-suit notice. The health care provider the plaintiff sought to substitute had knowledge of the claim based on pre-suit notice the plaintiff had mistakenly sent to another potential defendant. We hold that the plaintiff did not comply with the mandatory pre-suit notice provision of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1) because she did not give written pre suit notice of the potential claim to the health care provider she later sought to substitute as a defendant after the expiration of the statute of limitations. Although the health care provider learned about the claim based on the pre-suit notice the plaintiff sent to another potential defendant, this form of notification did not comply with the notice requirement of section 29-26-121(a)(1). Because the plaintiff did not comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(1), the 120-day filing extension under Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c) is not applicable. Under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 15.03, the filing date of the proposed amended complaint may relate back to the filing date of the original complaint. The plaintiff, however, filed the original complaint after the expiration of the statute of limitations. As a result, the plaintiff’s motion to substitute the health care provider is futile because the amended suit would be subject to dismissal based on the expiration of the one-year statute of limitations. The trial court erred by allowing the plaintiff to amend her complaint. We reverse the trial court and the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings. 

Madison County Supreme Court 06/06/18
In Re: James Carl Cope, BPR #03340
M2016-02144-SC-BAR-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge:

This Court suspended attorney James Carl Cope pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 22.3, based on his federal felony conviction for insider trading and referred the matter to the Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) to initiate proceedings to determine his final discipline. A hearing panel (“Panel”) imposed a final discipline of twenty-five months’ suspension, retroactive to the date of his initial suspension by this Court, which was on October 25, 2016. Neither the Board nor Mr. Cope appealed this judgment. The Board petitioned this Court for an order enforcing the Panel’s judgment. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 15.4(b) and (c), we determined that the punishment imposed by the Panel appeared inadequate and proposed that it be increased. Mr. Cope subsequently requested oral argument, which we granted. We now consider whether the punishment imposed by the Panel is appropriate under the circumstances of this case and is in uniformity with prior disciplinary decisions in this state. Following a thorough review of the record and the law, we conclude that it is not. Therefore, we modify the Panel’s judgment to impose the twenty-five-month suspension prospectively from the filing of this opinion.

Supreme Court 05/04/18
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Minor - Concurring
W2016-00348-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan

Christopher Minor was sentenced to serve additional time in prison for violations of the criminal gang offense statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-121(b) (2014). While his case was on appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals in State v. Bonds, 502 S.W.3d 118, 157 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2016), declared that a portion of the criminal gang offense statute was unconstitutional. Today, the Court vacates Mr. Minor’s convictions for violating the criminal gang offense statute. It is only fair that Mr. Minor should not have to serve additional time in prison for violating a statute that an appellate court declared unconstitutional while his appeal was pending. 

Madison County Supreme Court 04/11/18
State of Tennessee v. Christopher Minor
W2016-00348-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan

We granted this appeal to clarify the interplay among appellate review preservation requirements, the plain error doctrine, and the retroactive application of new rules. We conclude that a new rule applies retroactively to cases pending on direct review when the new rule is announced but does so subject to other jurisprudential concepts, such as appellate review preservation requirements and the plain error doctrine. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in State v. Bonds, 502 S.W.3d 118 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2016), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Aug. 18, 2016), declaring the criminal gang offense statute, see Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-35-121(b) (2014), unconstitutional applies to the defendant’s appeal because it was pending on direct review when Bonds was decided. Nevertheless, we evaluate the defendant’s entitlement to relief by applying the plain error doctrine because the defendant failed to challenge the constitutionality of the statute in the trial court. We conclude that the defendant has established the criteria necessary to obtain relief pursuant to the plain error doctrine. Therefore, we reverse that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision denying the defendant relief and vacate the defendant’s convictions under the criminal gang offense statute. We remand this matter to the trial court for resentencing on the defendant’s remaining convictions in accordance with the sentencing classification ranges established by the specific statutes creating the offenses, without any classification or sentence enhancement pursuant to the criminal gang offense statute.

Madison County Supreme Court 04/11/18
Brittany Noel Nelson, et al v. Charles W. Myres, et al.
M2015-01857-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

The primary issue in this appeal is whether a surviving spouse maintains priority to file a wrongful death action when the decedent’s child has also filed a wrongful death action in which the child alleges that the surviving spouse negligently caused the decedent’s death. The trial court dismissed the daughter’s wrongful death complaint, but the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, ruling that under the circumstances presented in this case, the surviving spouse was disqualified from filing the wrongful death action. Because the wrongful death statutes do not include an exception to the spousal priority rule and because the surviving spouse did not waive his right to file the wrongful death action, we hold that the trial court properly dismissed the daughter’s wrongful death action. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed and the cause remanded to the trial court. 

Sumner County Supreme Court 03/05/18
Board of Professional Responsibility of The Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Robin K. Barry
M2016-02003-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell

This is an appeal from attorney disciplinary proceedings based on the attorney’s knowing conversion of client funds. In this case, disputed insurance funds were placed in the attorney’s trust account pending resolution of the dispute. Shortly after the disputed insurance funds were deposited, the attorney began to comingle funds in her trust account and use the insurance proceeds for her own purposes. At about the time the dispute over the insurance funds was resolved, the attorney moved out of state. In response to her client’s repeated inquiries about disbursement of the client’s share of the funds, the attorney stalled, made misrepresentations, and finally stopped communicating with the client altogether. After the client filed a complaint with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility against the attorney, the hearing panel found violations of RPC 1.4, RPC 1.15(a) and (d) and RPC 8.4, which included the knowing conversion of client funds and the failure to communicate. The hearing panel found five aggravating circumstances and no mitigating circumstances. It suspended the attorney’s Tennessee law license for eighteen months, two months of which were to be served on active suspension. After the Board appealed, the chancery court held that the hearing panel’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and that disbarment was the only appropriate sanction. The attorney now appeals to this Court, arguing that disbarment is not warranted. In the alternative, the attorney argues that the disbarment should be made retroactive to the date of her original temporary suspension. Under the circumstances of this case, we affirm the chancery court and disbar the attorney from the practice of law in Tennessee, and we decline to make the disbarment retroactive.

Davidson County Supreme Court 02/16/18
Sean K. Hornbeck v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2016-01793-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Special Judge Ben H. Cantell

In this attorney disciplinary appeal, upon petition by the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, this Court ordered the temporary suspension of the attorney from the practice of law based on the threat of substantial harm he posed to the public. For a time, the attorney was placed on disability status; later he was reinstated to suspended status. Subsequently, after an evidentiary hearing, a hearing panel found multiple acts of professional misconduct, including knowing conversion of client funds with substantial injury to clients, submitting false testimony and falsified documents in court proceedings, engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, violating Supreme Court orders, and defrauding clients. The hearing panel determined that the attorney should be disbarred. On appeal to the chancery court, the attorney argued inter alia that the disbarment should be made retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension. The chancery court affirmed the decision of the hearing panel. On appeal to this Court, the attorney does not question the disbarment but argues that it would be arbitrary and capricious not to make his disbarment retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension, in order to advance the date on which he may apply for reinstatement of his law license. We disagree. In contrast to suspension, which contemplates that the lawyer will return to law practice, disbarment is not a temporary status. Disbarment is a termination of the individual’s license to practice law in Tennessee. Therefore, we decline to make the effective date of the attorney’s disbarment retroactive to the date of his temporary suspension. Accordingly, we affirm.

Davidson County Supreme Court 02/16/18
Chuck's Package Store Et Al. v. City of Morristown
E2015-01524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

From 2011–2014, a municipality charged alcoholic beverage retailers higher inspection fees than was authorized by the municipality’s ordinance. A group of alcoholic beverage retailers paid the excess fees, but not under protest. After the municipality denied the retailers’ requests for refunds, they sued the municipality for recovery of the excess collections and other damages. The municipality moved to dismiss, arguing that Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-1-901, et seq., required the retailers to have paid under protest any disputed taxes before filing suit to recover the overpayments. The trial court disagreed and awarded the retailers a judgment for the overpayments, ruling that Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-1-1801, et seq., applied and payment under protest was not required. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that Tennessee Code Annotated sections 67-1-901, et seq., rather than sections 67 1-1801, et seq., apply to a suit to recover municipal taxes. Under section 67-1-901(a), the retailers were required to have paid under protest the disputed taxes before filing suit. Because the retailers did not pay the taxes under protest, they are not entitled to refunds.

Hamblen County Supreme Court 02/06/18