Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 12/27/2014
Format: 12/27/2014
State of Tennessee v. Carl J. Wagner
M2010-00992-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve Dozier

We granted the State’s application for permission to appeal to determine whether the Court of Criminal Appeals erred by finding the evidence insufficient to support the defendant’s convictions of especially aggravated robbery and felony murder. Affording the State the strongest legitimate view of the evidence presented at trial and the reasonable and legitimate inferences that may be drawn from the evidence, we conclude that the evidence is sufficient to support the defendant’s convictions. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 10/12/12
State of Tennessee v. Travis Kinte Echols
E2009-01697-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee

The defendant, convicted of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison, appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals alleging a number of errors in the conduct of the trial, particularly the trial court’s failure to suppress a statement the defendant had made to the police. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the statement was the product of an unlawful arrest, but held that the admission of the statement qualified as harmless error. This Court granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in order to determine the propriety of the defendant’s arrest and to consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals had used the appropriate standard of review in its harmless error analysis. Because the arrest of the defendant was supported by probable cause and there was no other prejudicial error during the course of the trial, the judgment is affirmed.

Knox County Supreme Court 10/10/12
Daniel Renteria-Villegas et al. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al.
M2011-02423-SC-R23-CQ
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kevin H. Sharp

We accepted a question of law certified by the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to determine whether the October 2009 Memorandum of Agreement between the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, by and through the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, violates the Charter of Nashville and Davidson County or other state law. We conclude that the Memorandum of Agreement does not violate the Charter or any other state law cited by the plaintiffs.

Supreme Court 10/04/12
Curtis Myers v. Amisub (SFH), Inc., d/b/a St. Francis Hospital, et al.
W2010-00837-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jerry Stokes

The plaintiff filed a medical malpractice action against several health care providers and subsequently dismissed the lawsuit. He re-filed the action after the legislature enacted Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121, which requires a plaintiff who files a medical malpractice suit to give health care providers who are to be named in the suit notice of the claim sixty days before filing the suit; and Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-122, which requires a plaintiff to file with the medical malpractice complaint a certificate of good faith confirming that the plaintiff has consulted with an expert who has provided a signed written statement that there is a good-faith basis to maintain the action. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on the plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-121 and 122. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the plaintiff’s original suit constituted substantial compliance with the statutes’ requirements and that extraordinary cause existed to excuse compliance with the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121. Upon interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the statutory requirements that a plaintiff give sixty days presuit notice and file a certificate of good faith with the complaint are mandatory requirements and not subject to substantial compliance. The plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-122 by filing a certificate of good faith with his complaint requires a dismissal with prejudice.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/04/12
Tina Marie Hodge v. Chadwick Craig
M2009-00930-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jim T. Hamilton

This appeal requires the Court to determine whether current Tennessee law permits the
former husband of a child’s mother to pursue a claim against his former spouse for
intentional or negligent misrepresentation regarding the identity of the child’s biological
father. Following the dissolution of their nine-year marriage, the former husband of the
child’s mother discovered that he was not the child’s biological father. He filed suit against
the child’s mother in the Chancery Court for Maury County, alleging that she had
intentionally misled him into believing that he was the child’s biological father. Following
a bench trial, the trial court found that the mother’s former husband had proved that his
former wife had intentionally misrepresented the parentage of the child and awarded him
$134,877.90 in compensatory damages for the child support, medical expenses, and
insurance premiums he had paid following the divorce, emotional distress, and attorney’s
fees. The child’s mother appealed. Even though the Court of Appeals determined that the
evidence supported the trial court’s finding that the child’s mother had intentionally
misrepresented the identity of the child’s biological father, it (1) reversed the damage award
based on the post-divorce payments for child support, medical expenses, and insurance
expenses on the ground that these damages amounted to a prohibited retroactive modification
of a child support order, (2) reversed the damage award for emotional distress, and (3)
reversed the award for attorney’s fees. Hodge v. Craig, No. M2009-00930-COA-R3-CV,
2010 WL 4024990, at *12 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 13, 2010). The former husband filed an
application for permission to appeal arguing that Tennessee should permit recovery in cases
of this sort for intentional or negligent misrepresentation of a child’s paternity. We have
determined that the existing common-law action for intentional misrepresentation
encompasses the claims made in this case by the former husband and that the trial court’s
damage award based on the former husband’s post-divorce payments for child support,
medical expenses, and insurance premiums is not an improper retroactive modification of the
former husband’s child support obligation.

Maury County Supreme Court 10/01/12
State of Tennessee v. Wanda F. Russell
M2010-00852-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge David M. Bragg

A defendant was indicted on four counts of theft. At trial, the trial court ruled that the defendant’s prior misdemeanor convictions for passing worthless checks were admissible to impeach her credibility pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 609, which states that a conviction punishable by less than one year of imprisonment is admissible if the crime involves dishonesty or false statement. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-121 (2010). The defendant elected not to testify, and the jury convicted her on three of the four counts of theft. We hold that the crime of passing worthless checks involves an element of dishonesty or false statement and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the defendant’s prior convictions could be used to impeach her credibility if she testified. We affirm the decision of the trial court.
 

Rutherford County Supreme Court 10/01/12
Fred T. Hanzelik v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
E2011-01886-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Walter C. Kurtz

This direct appeal involves a disciplinary proceeding against a Chattanooga lawyer arising out of his representation of two clients. A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that the lawyer should be suspended from the practice of law for forty-five days. Following the lawyer’s appeal to the Chancery Court for Hamilton County, the trial court upheld the lawyer’s forty-five-day suspension after finding that the record supported the hearing panel’s findings that the lawyer had attempted to bill one client twice, had breached his ethical obligations to another client, and had failed to cooperate with the Board of Professional Responsibility during its extended investigation into his conduct. On this appeal, the lawyer insists (1) that the evidence does not support the hearing panel’s findings, (2) that the hearing panel erred by receiving into evidence a videotaped deposition given by one of his clients, (3) that the hearing panel failed to properly apply the American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions, and (4) that the hearing panel failed to consider the discipline imposed on other lawyers for similar infractions. Based on our review of the record, we, like the trial court, affirm the hearing panel’s decision to suspend the lawyer’s license to practice law for forty-five days.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 09/27/12
Christian Heyne et al. v. Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education
M2010-00237-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This appeal involves the scope of the procedural due process rights of a public high school student facing discipline for an infraction of school rules of conduct. After injuring a younger student with his automobile on school property, the student was cited for an infraction of the student conduct rule proscribing reckless endangerment. The principal’s decision to suspend the student for ten days was upheld by a hearing board and a designee of the director of schools, and the school board declined to review the matter. Thereafter, the student and his family filed a petition for common-law writ of certiorari in the Chancery Court for Davidson County seeking judicial review of the disciplinary decision. Following a hearing during which the trial court  permitted the student and his family to present evidence regarding allegedly arbitrary, capricious, and illegal conduct by school officials that was not reflected in the record of the disciplinary proceedings, the trial court found that the school officials had violated the student’s procedural due process rights because one official had performed both prosecutorial and decision-making functions and because this official was biased against the student. The trial court also determined that the evidence did not support the conclusion that the student’s conduct amounted to reckless endangerment. Accordingly, the trial court directed the school system to expunge the student’s record and awarded the student and his family $371,845.25 in attorneys’ fees and $25,626.27 in costs. The Board of Education appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgments. Heyne v. Metropolitan Nashville Bd. of Pub. Educ., No. M2010-00237-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 1744239 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 6, 2011). We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/27/12
State of Tennessee v. Susan Renee Bise
E2011-00005-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Dugger, Jr.

Following a burglary in Greene County, the defendant was charged with two counts of aggravated burglary and two counts of theft of property. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned verdicts of guilt for one count of facilitation of aggravated burglary and for two counts of theft of property. After finding the presence of one enhancement factor, the trial court imposed concurrent three-year sentences for each offense. The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the enhancement factor did not apply and reduced each of the sentences to two years. Because we find that a sentence imposed by a trial court should be upheld so long as it is within the appropriate sentencing range and is otherwise in compliance with the purposes and principles of the sentencing statute, we reverse the sentence modification by the Court of Criminal Appeals and, upon review under an abuse of discretion standard with a presumption of reasonableness, reinstate the sentence imposed by the trial court.

Greene County Supreme Court 09/26/12
Rondal Akers et al. v. Prime Succession of Tennessee, Inc. et al.
E2009-02203-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge William Neil Thomas, III, by interchange

Dr. Rondal D. Akers, Jr. and Lucinda Akers sued T. Ray Brent Marsh for the alleged
mishandling of their deceased son’s body, which had been sent to Mr. Marsh’s crematorium
for cremation. Following a jury verdict for the Akerses, the trial court entered judgment
against Mr. Marsh based on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim but granted
his motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the Akerses’ Tennessee Consumer
Protection Act (“TCPA”) and bailment claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold the
trial court did not err in (1) holding Mr. Marsh liable for intentional infliction of emotional
distress in the amount of the jury verdict; (2) instructing the jury that they were permitted to
draw a negative inference resulting from Mr. Marsh’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment
privilege during questioning; and (3) dismissing the TCPA and bailment claims. The
judgments of the trial court and the Court of Appeals are affirmed.

Bradley County Supreme Court 09/21/12
Lacey Chapman v. Davita, Inc.
M2011-02674-SC-R10-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge F. Lee Russell

An employee filed a request for assistance with the Tennessee Department of Labor after she was injured at her workplace. After approximately six months of inaction by the Department, the employee filed a complaint for workers’ compensation benefits against her employer in Marshall County Circuit Court. The employer responded with a motion to dismiss asserting that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the parties had not participated in the benefit review conference process. The trial judge did not dismiss the complaint but ordered the case to be held in abeyance pending further orders of the court. On extraordinary appeal to this Court, we hold that the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction of the case because the employee did not exhaust the benefit review conference process before filing suit as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-203 (2008). The judgment of the trial court is reversed, and the employee’s complaint is dismissed without prejudice.

Marshall County Supreme Court 09/21/12
Ready Mix, USA, LLC v. Jefferson County, Tennessee
E2010-00547-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

The plaintiff, a producer of construction aggregates, acquired property with proven reserves for mining and quarrying operations. Afterward, Jefferson County enacted a comprehensive zoning ordinance limiting the use of the property to agricultural purposes. Before the passage of the ordinance, the plaintiff undertook various activities designed to establish business operations. When the county issued a stop work order, the plaintiff, without first receiving a decision from the county’s board of zoning appeals, filed a declaratory judgment action arguing that the portion of the property not previously subject to zoning qualified as a pre-existing non-conforming use, protected by Tennessee Code Annotated section 13-7-208 (1992). After concluding that the plaintiff was not required to exhaust its administrative remedies, the trial court ruled that the business activities on the property were “in operation” at the effective date of the ordinance for purposes of grandfather protection under section 137-208. Because the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies, the judgment was set aside. We hold that the trial court, under these circumstances, did not err by ruling that the plaintiff was not required to exhaust the administrative remedies. We further hold that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that the plaintiff had established operations sufficient to qualify for protection under Tennessee Code Annotated section 13-7-208.

Jefferson County Supreme Court 08/30/12
Ready Mix, USA, LLC v. Jefferson County, Tennessee - Concur
E2010-00547-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

I concur with the Court’s conclusion that the evidence does not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that Ready Mix, USA, LLC’s activities on its property established pre-existing use and, therefore, qualify for protection under Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-7-208 (2011). I base my decision entirely on our prior precedents construing Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-7-208 without any consideration, directly or indirectly, of the diminishing assets doctrine.
 

Jefferson County Supreme Court 08/30/12