Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 12/08/2016
Format: 12/08/2016
The Tennessean, et al v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al - Concurring
M2014-00524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

I fully concur in the majority opinion in this case but write separately to respond to the dissent. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/17/16
The Tennessean, et al v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al
M2014-00524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

The issue in this case is whether a coalition of media groups and a citizens organization, relying on the Tennessee Public Records Act, have the right to inspect a police department’s criminal investigative file while the criminal cases arising out of the investigation are ongoing. Four Vanderbilt University football players were indicted for aggravated rape and other criminal charges arising out of the alleged rape of a university student in a campus dormitory. Following the indictments, the Petitioners, a group of media organizations and a citizens group, made a Public Records Act request to inspect the police department’s files regarding its investigation of the alleged criminal conduct by the football players. The request was denied. We hold that the Public Records Act allows access to government records, but there are numerous statutory exceptions, including a state law exception in Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-503(a)(2), that shield some records from disclosure. Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure falls within the state law exception. Rule 16 provides for the release of certain information to the defendant in a criminal case, but does not authorize the release of any information to a nonparty to the case. Therefore, during the pendency of the criminal case and any collateral challenges to any conviction, Rule 16 governs the disclosure of information and only the defendant has the right to receive certain information. We hold that, based on Rule 16, the Petitioners have no right to the requested information during the pendency of the criminal cases and any collateral challenges. Jane Doe, the victim of the alleged criminal acts, intervened in this action to prevent disclosure of the investigative file, and particularly photographs and video images of the alleged assault. Based on our ruling today, these records are protected from disclosure until the conclusion of the criminal cases and all collateral challenges. At the conclusion of the criminal cases and following any guilty plea or conviction and sentencing, Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-504(q)(1) applies to block the release of Ms. Doe’s personal information and any photographic or video depiction of her. This requires no action on the part of Ms. Doe and no further court proceedings.      

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/17/16
Rashe Moore v. State of Tennessee
W2013-00674-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Otis Higgs, Jr.

In this post-conviction case, we clarify the appropriate prejudice analysis for ineffective assistance of counsel claims arising from the failure to properly request jury instructions on lesser-included offenses where, as here, the jury was given no option to convict of any lesser-included offense. The jury convicted the petitioner as charged of one count of aggravated burglary and multiple counts of aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated robbery in connection with a home invasion. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and declined to address the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on lesser-included offenses because the petitioner’s trial counsel did not request the instructions in writing as required by statute. Thereafter, the post-conviction court denied relief. On appeal, a majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals granted a new trial on the especially aggravated kidnapping charges based on ineffective assistance of counsel. We hold that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in concluding that the petitioner was prejudiced by his trial counsel’s failure to request a jury instruction on aggravated kidnapping as a lesser-included offense of especially aggravated kidnapping. We conclude that no reasonable probability exists that a properly instructed jury would have convicted the petitioner of any of his asserted lesser-included offenses instead of the charged offenses. Because the petitioner suffered no prejudice, he did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel as to any of his convictions. We reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment granting a new trial on the especially aggravated kidnapping charges and reinstate the post-conviction court’s judgment denying relief on these convictions. We further hold that the Court of Criminal Appeals properly affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief on the petitioner’s other convictions.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 03/16/16
Circle C. Construction, LLC v. D. Sean Nilsen, et al.
M2013-02330-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.


The issue we address is whether the savings statute applies to save an action that was filed within the extended statute of limitations set by a tolling agreement, was voluntarily nonsuited, and was refiled within one year, but after the extended statute of limitations in the tolling agreement. The trial court granted summary judgment, ruling that the case was not timely filed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the tolling agreement precluded application of the savings statute. We hold that the party filing the suit complied with the tolling agreement by filing the first suit within the extended statute of limitations set by the agreement. The savings statute applies to save the action; therefore, the refiled suit was timely filed. We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 03/07/16
State of Tennessee v. Linzey Danielle Smith
M2013-02818-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether the traffic stop of the Defendant, Linzey Danielle Smith, violated the constitutional rights of the Defendant.  The arresting officer initiated the stop after observing the Defendant once cross and twice touch the fog line marking the outer right lane boundary on an interstate highway.  After being pulled over, the Defendant was charged with alternative counts of driving under the influence.  The Defendant filed a motion to suppress, contending that the traffic stop was unconstitutional.  After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress.  The Defendant then pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and reserved a certified question of law regarding the legality of her traffic stop.  The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment.  We hold that the traffic stop was supported by reasonable suspicion and therefore met constitutional requirements.  Accordingly, we affirm the Defendant’s judgment of conviction.  

Williamson County Supreme Court 02/11/16
State of Tennessee v. William Whitlow Davis, Jr.
E2013-02073-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Dugger, Jr.

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether the traffic stop of the Defendant, William Whitlow Davis, Jr., violated the constitutional rights of the Defendant. The arresting officer initiated the stop after observing the Defendant cross the double yellow center lane lines with the two left wheels of the Defendant’s car. The Defendant subsequently was charged with driving under the influence and a traffic violation. The Defendant filed a motion to suppress, contending that the traffic stop was unconstitutional. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress. The Defendant then pleaded guilty to driving under the influence and reserved a certified question of law regarding the legality of his traffic stop. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment. We hold that the traffic stop was supported by probable cause. Therefore, we affirm the Defendant’s judgment of conviction.

Knox County Supreme Court 02/11/16
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Lee Hutchison
E2012-02671-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

A jury convicted the defendant of three counts of facilitation of first degree murder and one count of facilitation of aggravated robbery. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and the sentence. On appeal to this Court, the defendant contends, inter alia, that the admission into evidence of an autopsy report through the testimony of a medical examiner who did not perform the autopsy violated his right to confront the witnesses against him under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. The defendant also argues that the warrantless search of his home by officers who entered the home after the first responding officer constituted an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution, so the trial court should have suppressed the evidence seized in that search. We hold that, under the circumstances of this case, the autopsy report is not testimonial under Williams v. Illinois, 132 S. Ct. 2221 (2012), so its admission into evidence did not violate the Defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause. We further hold that, where the responding officer’s initial entry into the home was justified by exigent circumstances, the subsequent entry into the home by other officers constituted a mere continuation of the initial officer’s lawful entry into the home. Consequently, the trial court did not err by denying the Defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence that was in plain view and within the scope of the exigent circumstances search. Finally, we hold that the admission into evidence of items that were not in plain view, even if erroneous, constituted harmless error. Accordingly, we affirm. 

Knox County Supreme Court 02/05/16
In re Robert Lee Vogel, BPR #023374
M2015-00350-SC-BAR-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge:


The Board of Professional Responsibility (“Board”) initiated disciplinary proceedings against attorney Robert Lee Vogel based upon two unrelated complaints of professional misconduct. A hearing panel (“Panel”) determined that Mr. Vogel had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) and entered a judgment suspending Mr. Vogel from the practice of law. The Panel subsequently clarified the sanction in an “Agreed Order Amending the Hearing Panel’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” (“Agreed Order”). The Agreed Order provided that Mr. Vogel would be suspended from the practice of law for one year, with all but thirty days of the suspension to be served on probation. Mr. Vogel’s probation would be conditioned upon his compliance with the terms of his Tennessee Lawyer’s Assistance Program (“TLAP”) agreement, completion of his treatment and counseling program, and weekly attendance at two twelve-step meetings. The Board petitioned this Court for an order enforcing the Panel’s judgment and the Agreed Order. Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 8.4, we determined that the punishment imposed by the Panel appeared inadequate and proposed that it be increased. Mr. Vogel subsequently requested oral argument, which we granted. The issue before the Court is whether the punishment imposed by the Panel is in uniformity with prior disciplinary decisions in this state and appropriate under the circumstances of this case. Upon a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we hold that it is not. Accordingly, we modify the Panel’s judgment to impose a one-year suspension from the practice of law, with the entire suspension to be served on active suspension.

Supreme Court 02/04/16
In re Carrington H. et al - Concurring In Part and Dissenting In Part
M2014-00453-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge George L. Lovell

The Court has decided that an indigent parent has the right to assistance of counsel—but not the right to effective assistance of counsel—in a parental termination proceeding. I believe that the vast majority of lawyers provide competent representation as required by our Rules of Professional Conduct. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 8, RPCs 1.1 & 1.3. But in those rare situations where a lawyer makes a mistake or fails to do his or her duty to such an extent that the termination proceeding is not fundamentally fair, I favor providing the parent with an opportunity to seek relief. In my view, providing counsel for an indigent parent but not requiring counsel to render effective representation is an empty gesture.  

Maury County Supreme Court 01/29/16
In re Carrington H. et al.
M2014-00453-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge George L. Lovell

We granted review in this case to decide (1) whether an indigent parent’s right to appointed counsel in a parental termination proceeding includes the right to challenge an order terminating parental rights based on ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel; and (2) whether the Court of Appeals must review any ground the trial court relied on to terminate parental rights when a parent fails to raise all grounds for termination on appeal. We hold that parents are constitutionally entitled to fundamentally fair procedures in parental termination proceedings. Nevertheless, this constitutional mandate does not require us to adopt a procedure by which parents may collaterally attack orders terminating parental rights based on ineffective assistance of counsel. Additionally, we hold that appellate courts must review a trial court’s findings regarding all grounds for termination and whether termination is in a child’s best interests, even if a parent fails to challenge these findings on appeal. Having reviewed the record on appeal in accordance with these holdings, we affirm the trial court’s judgment terminating the mother’s parental rights.

Maury County Supreme Court 01/29/16
State of Tennessee v. Jimmy Dale Qualls
W2013-01440-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Weber McCraw

The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the election of offenses doctrine, articulated in Burlison v. State, 501 S.W.2d 801 (Tenn. 1973), and reaffirmed in State v. Shelton, 851 S.W.2d 134 (Tenn. 1993), requires the prosecution to identify a single incident of sexual battery in cases, such as this one, where the child victim testifies to repeated incidents of sexual contact occurring over a substantial period of time but does not furnish any specific details, dates, or distinguishing characteristics as to individual incidents of sexual battery. We hold, as have courts in other jurisdictions, that where a prosecution is based on such nonspecific or “generic” evidence, requiring the prosecution to elect a single specific incident is not possible. However, to prevent infringement upon the defendant’s right to a unanimous verdict, the trial court must give a modified unanimity instruction which informs the jury that it must unanimously agree the defendant committed all the acts described by the victim in order to convict the defendant. Although the trial court did not have the benefit of this decision and therefore did not provide the modified unanimity instruction to the jury in this case, we conclude, based on the record in this appeal, that the omission of this instruction was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment vacating the defendant’s convictions of sexual battery by an authority figure and reinstate the trial court’s judgment approving the jury’s verdict.

Hardeman County Supreme Court 01/28/16
Board of Professional Responsibility v. Connie Reguli
M2015-00406-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Jones


A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel determined that an attorney violated multiple rules of professional conduct and imposed a suspension to be served on probation subject to certain conditions. The trial court affirmed the hearing panel’s findings but modified the sanction by requiring the attorney to pay restitution, shortening the term of the suspension and probation, and eliminating and modifying other conditions of probation. Upon careful consideration, we affirm the trial court’s order of restitution, but otherwise reinstate the decision of the hearing panel.
 

Williamson County Supreme Court 12/28/15
First Community Bank, N. A. v. First Tennessee Bank, N. A., et al
E2012-01422-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Wheeler A. Rosenbalm

First Community Bank, N.A. (“Plaintiff”), brought suit against multiple defendants for fraud, constructive fraud, negligent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, unjust enrichment, and violation of the Tennessee Securities Act, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated sections 48-1-101—126. Three non-resident defendants, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., Moody’s Investors Service, Inc., and Fitch, Inc. (“Ratings Agencies”), filed motions to dismiss based on lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim, which the trial court granted. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal based on lack of personal jurisdiction as to the Ratings Agencies, and the Plaintiff requested permission to appeal. We granted review in this case to determine whether the trial court erred in determining that it lacked personal jurisdiction over the Ratings Agencies and thereby dismissing the Plaintiff’s case as against the Ratings Agencies. Upon our thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we conclude that the Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction under a theory of general jurisdiction or specific jurisdiction. Therefore, we affirm the decisions of the trial court and the Court of Appeals on these issues. With regard to the Plaintiff’s attempt to establish personal jurisdiction under a theory of conspiracy jurisdiction, we likewise conclude that the Plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of conspiracy jurisdiction at this point. However, we vacate the dismissal of the Plaintiff’s action against the Ratings Agencies on this theory and remand this case to the trial court to determine if the Plaintiff should be allowed to conduct jurisdictional discovery on the conspiracy theory of personal jurisdiction in a manner consistent with the guidelines set forth in this opinion.

Knox County Supreme Court 12/14/15
Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. v. Carlton J. Ditto, et al.
E2012-02292-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chacellor W. Frank Brown, III

Petitioner Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) brought this action to set aside a tax sale of real property. MERS argues that the county’s failure to provide it with notice of the tax sale violated its rights under the Due Process Clause of the federal Constitution. The defendant purchaser of the real property filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings; he argued that MERS did not tender payment of the sale price plus the accrued taxes before bringing suit, as is required by statute in a suit challenging the validity of a tax sale. The defendant purchaser also argued that MERS did not have an interest in the subject property that is protected under the Due Process Clause. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that MERS did not have an interest in the property. The Court of Appeals affirmed, though based on MERS’s lack of standing to file suit. We hold that when a plaintiff who claims a protected interest in real property files suit to have a tax sale declared void for lack of notice, the pre-suit tender requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated section 67-5-2504(c) does not apply, so MERS was not required to tender payment before filing this lawsuit. We further conclude that MERS acquired no protected interest in the subject property through either the deed of trust’s designation of MERS as the beneficiary solely as nominee for the lender and its assigns or its reference to MERS having “legal title” to the subject property for the purpose of enforcing the lender’s rights. Because MERS had no protected interest in the subject property, its due process rights were not violated by the county’s failure to notify it of the tax foreclosure proceedings or the tax sale. Accordingly, we affirm the grant of judgment on the pleadings in favor of the tax sale purchaser, albeit on a different basis from the Court of Appeals’ decision.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 12/11/15
Daniel Sungkook Chong v. Tennessee Board of Law Examiners
M2015-00982-SC-BAR-BLE
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge:

The petitioner appeals from a decision of the Board of Law Examiners denying his application to take the Tennessee bar examination. The denial was based on Mr. Chong’s noncompliance with Supreme Court Rule 7, section 7.01. We affirm the judgment of the Board of Law Examiners.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/04/15
Paul J. Walwyn v. Board of Professional Responsibility Of The Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2015-00565-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Don R. Ash

A Hearing Panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility (the “Hearing Panel”) found that an attorney’s handling of three separate criminal appeals violated certain ethical rules. See Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 8, RPC 1.3, 1.4, 3.2, and 8.4(a), (d). The Hearing Panel suspended the attorney from the practice of law for six months and ordered him to serve thirty days’ active suspension and five months’ probation. The attorney appealed, and the trial court affirmed the Hearing Panel’s judgment. On appeal to this Court, the attorney contends that the Hearing Panel abused its discretion and acted arbitrarily and capriciously. Additionally, the attorney argues that the attorney disciplinary process in Tennessee is unconstitutional. After carefully reviewing the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court upholding the Hearing Panel’s decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/03/15
State of Tennessee v. Adrian R. Brown
E2014-00673-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carroll L. Ross

We granted this appeal to determine whether Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 (“Rule 36.1”) permits parties to seek correction of expired illegal sentences. We hold that Rule 36.1 does not expand the scope of relief available for illegal sentence claims and therefore does not authorize the correction of expired illegal sentences. We also conclude that a Rule 36.1 motion alleging that a trial court failed to award pretrial jail credit is insufficient to state a colorable claim for relief from an illegal sentence. Applying these holdings, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the trial court’s dismissal of the defendant’s Rule 36.1 motion.

McMinn County Supreme Court 12/02/15
State of Tennessee v. James D. Wooden
E2014-01069-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carroll L. Ross

We granted this appeal to determine whether a party filing a motion under Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 36.1 (“Rule 36.1”) states a colorable claim for relief for correction of an illegal sentence by alleging that the trial court increased his sentence above the statutory presumptive minimum sentence but failed to find enhancement factors justifying the increase. Answering this question requires us to determine the meaning of two terms used in Rule 36.1—“colorable claim” and “illegal sentence.” We hold that the definition of “colorable claim” in Rule 28, section 2(H) of the Rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court applies to the term “colorable claim” in Rule 36.1. Additionally, we conclude that the definition of “illegal sentence” in Rule 36.1 is coextensive with, and actually mirrors, the definition this Court has applied to the term for purposes of habeas corpus proceedings. Compare Tenn. R. Crim. P. 36.1(a), with Cantrell v. Easterling, 346 S.W.3d 445, 452 (Tenn. 2011). Taking the allegations of the Rule 36.1 motion in this case as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the moving party, we conclude that the moving party has failed to allege a colorable claim for correction of an illegal sentence. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals affirming the trial court’s denial of the Rule 36.1 motion is affirmed.

Bradley County Supreme Court 12/02/15
The Metropolitan Government of Nashville And Davidson County, Tennessee v. The Board of Zoning Appeals Of Nashville And Davidson County, Tennessee, et al.
M2013-01283-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee (“Metro”) has standing to file a petition for a writ of certiorari against The Board of Zoning Appeals of Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee (“BZA”) in chancery court in order to challenge a BZA decision. We hold that Metro does have standing in this case. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals, and this matter is remanded to the chancery court for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/10/15
The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority, D/B/A Erlanger Health System
M2013-00942-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

We granted permission to appeal to address whether exhaustion of administrative remedies is required in this lawsuit brought by a hospital against a TennCare managed care organization (MCO). The hospital alleged in its complaint that the MCO had not paid the hospital all of the monies due for emergency services provided to the MCO’s TennCare enrollees. In its answer, the MCO asserted that it had paid the hospital in accordance with TennCare regulations; the MCO also filed a counterclaim regarding overpayments made pursuant to the TennCare regulations. The MCO filed a motion for partial summary judgment. It argued that the hospital’s allegations implicitly challenged the applicability and/or validity of the TennCare regulations, so the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (UAPA) required the hospital to exhaust its administrative remedies by bringing those issues to TennCare prior to filing suit. Absent exhaustion of administrative remedies, the MCO argued, the trial court was without subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case. The trial court agreed; it dismissed the hospital’s lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the MCO’s counterclaim as well. The Court of Appeals reversed; it concluded that the hospital’s lawsuit was simply a dispute regarding the interpretation of statutes and regulations, over which the trial court had jurisdiction. The MCO appeals. Looking at the substance of the parties’ dispute rather than simply the face of the hospital’s complaint, we hold that the UAPA requires exhaustion of administrative remedies in this matter to the extent that resolution of the parties’ claims would necessarily require the trial court to render a declaratory judgment concerning the validity or applicability of TennCare regulations. While the UAPA prohibits the trial court from rendering such declaratory relief absent exhaustion of administrative remedies, it does not address claims for damages. In this case, both parties have asserted damage claims that hinge on the issues to be addressed in the administrative proceedings. Under these circumstances, we reverse the dismissal of the complaint and the counterclaim and remand the case to the trial court with directions to hold the parties’ damage claims in abeyance pending resolution of administrative proceedings regarding the validity or applicability of the TennCare regulations at issue.   

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/05/15
Lea Ann Tatham v. Bridgestone Americas Holding, Inc., et al - Concurring in Part, Concurring in the Judgment
W2013-02604-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

The majority has resolved the summary judgment issue by applying the federal standard recently adopted by this Court in Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis, MPLLC, No. W2013-00804-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. 2015). As explained in my dissent in Rye, I disagree with the adoption of the federal standard and would instead retain our former summary judgment standard. In this instance, however, I would reach the same conclusion as the majority pursuant to the former standard. Accordingly, I concur in the judgment.

Madison County Supreme Court 10/30/15
Lea Ann Tatham v. Bridgestone Americas Holding, Inc., et al.
W2013-02604-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

This products liability case arises out of an accident which resulted from the failure of a tire purchased less than three months before the accident. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff’s vehicle was totaled. Subsequently, the entire vehicle, including the tire, was destroyed. This case presents the following issues for review: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to dismiss this case as a sanction for spoliation of evidence; (2) whether the trial court erred in denying summary judgment to the Defendants on the issues of causation and whether the tire was defective or unreasonably dangerous; and (3) whether the trial court erred in denying summary judgment on the issue of the application of the apparent manufacturer doctrine. Upon a thorough review of the record and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial court did not err with respect to any of these issues. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Madison County Supreme Court 10/30/15
Michelle Rye, et al v. Women Center of Memphis, MPLLC, et al - Concurring in Part, Dissenting in Part
W2013-00804-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

The majority opinion accurately recounts the development of this area of the law but ultimately concludes that the summary judgment standard first articulated in Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d 208 (Tenn. 1993), and later refined in Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008), and other decisions of this Court, must now be overruled. In my view, the principles articulated in Hannan, when interpreted in light of the history of summary judgment in Tennessee, set forth the preferable standard for shifting the burden of proof at summary judgment—one that is fully consistent with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56. By granting Rule 11 review in a case which pre-dated the passage of a statute purporting to set a new standard for summary judgment, by rejecting the well-established doctrine of stare decisis, and by acquiescing to the standard proposed by the General Assembly, my colleagues have preempted the future consideration of an important constitutional issue—whether the General Assembly, by its enactment of Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-16-101 (Supp. 2014), has violated the separation-of-powers doctrine. In the interest of consistent, predictable procedural guidelines of adjudication, I would hold that Byrd, Hannan, and their progeny should be reaffirmed as the standard for summary judgment in Tennessee and should be applied to the facts before us. Moreover, in my assessment, even the federal standard, as adopted in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), does not warrant dismissal on all of the claims. I must, therefore, respectfully dissent.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/26/15
Michelle Rye, et al v. Women Center of Memphis, MPLLC, et al - Concurring
W2013-00804-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

I concur in all respects with the excellent opinion in this case authored by Justice Clark. I write separately solely to address from a somewhat different perspective some of the points raised by the dissent. The dissent claims that Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008) simply “refined” the summary judgment standard adopted by this Court dating back to 1993 in Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d 208 (Tenn. 1993). Based in part upon my first-hand experiences in the trenches as a trial court judge, I beg to differ.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/26/15
Michelle Rye, et al v. Women Center of Memphis, MPLLC, et al - Concurring
W2013-00804-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Gina C. Higgins

I was not serving on the Supreme Court in 2008 when Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008) was argued. Had I participated in the Hannan decision, I would have joined in the majority opinion. However, after observing the application of the unique Hannan standard over the past seven years, I conclude that the Hannan standard is unworkable and should be replaced. Although it is often easier to maintain the status quo rather than admit that a mistake was made, we do not have this option. We must change course when we realize we are headed in the wrong direction. 

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/26/15