Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 08/31/2014
Format: 08/31/2014
Elliot H. Himmelfarb, M.D., et al. v. Tracy R. Allain
M2010-02401-SC-S10-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robbie T. Beal

A patient discovered that a guide wire had been left in her vein during a prior medical procedure. She filed a medical malpractice action against the doctors who performed the procedure and the hospital where the procedure was performed. The patient voluntarily dismissed the medical malpractice suit pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41 when she was informed that another party was responsible for the presence of the guide wire. The doctors named in the original suitf iled a malicious prosecution action against the patient. The patient filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that the doctors could not prove that the prior suit had been terminated in their favor. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial. We hold that a voluntary nonsuit taken pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 41 is not a favorable termination on the merits for purposes of a malicious prosecution claim. We reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for entry of summary judgment in favor of the patient and for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Williamson County Supreme Court 08/28/12
State of Tennessee v. Charles E. Lowe-Kelley
M2010-00500-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella Hargrove

A defendant was sentenced following his conviction on two counts of first degree murder and nine counts of attempted first degree murder. Eighteen days later, his attorney filed a motion requesting a new trial and withdrew as counsel. The motion contained no specific grounds for relief. The trial court appointed replacement counsel. Several months later, replacement counsel amended the motion for new trial to allege specific grounds for relief. The trial court denied the amended motion for new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the original motion for new trial was a nullity because it contained no grounds for relief and that the trial court therefore did not have jurisdiction to permit the amendment of the motion for new trial. The Court of Criminal Appeals therefore considered the defendant’s specific grounds for relief as waived. We hold that the original motion for new trial met the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 despite its failure to allege specific grounds for relief and that the trial court retained jurisdiction to permit the amendment of the motion. The cause is remanded to the Court of Criminal Appeals to consider the defendant’s appeal of the denial of his amended motion for new trial.
 

Maury County Supreme Court 08/28/12
State of Tennessee v. Wayne Donaldson
M2010-00690-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl A. Blackburn

An officer stopped the defendant for a traffic violation. When the officer ordered the defendant out of his vehicle to sign the citation, he observed what appeared to be a bag of cocaine on the floorboard of the driver’s side. Charged with possession with intent to sell or deliver twenty-six grams or more of cocaine in a school zone, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence as the product of an unlawful seizure. The trial court sustained the motion, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. This Court granted the State’s application for permission to appeal. Because an officer, after making a lawful stop for a traffic violation, may routinely direct the driver outside of the vehicle, the order of suppression is reversed, and the cause is remanded for trial.
 

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/24/12
State of Tennessee v. Michael Farmer and Anthony Clark - Concur
W2009-02281-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John T. Fowlkes, Jr.

I concur with the Court’s conclusions that all gunshot wounds do not necessarily cause bodily injury that involves a “substantial risk of death” for the purpose of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-106(a)(34)(A) (2010). I also agree that the State failed to present sufficient evidence that the particular gunshot wound Mr. Westbrooks received involved a substantial risk of death. Accordingly, I join the Court’s decision to vacate Messrs. Farmer’s and Turner’s convictions for especially aggravated robbery and to remand for resentencing for aggravated robbery. I have chosen to write separately to highlight the important role that expert medical testimony must play in many cases in which the State must establish that the injury to the victim carried with it a substantial risk of death.

Shelby County Supreme Court 08/22/12
State of Tennessee v. Michael Farmer and Anthony Clark
W2009-02281-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge John T. Fowlkes, Jr.

During a robbery, one of the defendants shot the victim in the leg. Although the bullet passed through the victim’s leg, the wound required minimal medical treatment and did not cause the victim to suffer a loss of consciousness, extreme pain, disfigurement, or impairment. The defendants were convicted of especially aggravated robbery and aggravated robbery. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions. We modify the convictions for especially aggravated robbery to convictions for aggravated robbery because the victim did not suffer a serious bodily injury as required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-403 (2010) and remand to the trial court for resentencing.

Shelby County Supreme Court 08/22/12
Porsha Perkins v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County
M2010-02021-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barbara N. Haynes

An employee of an agency of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) was discharged after she filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a lawsuit against Metro alleging employment discrimination. The employee appealed her termination to the Metro Civil Service Commission and eventually settled the appeal, receiving backpay and other consideration in exchange for her agreement not to apply for or accept future employment with the agencythat discharged her. The employee subsequently filed a complaint against Metro alleging, among other things, retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Metro filed a motion seeking summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion, reasoning that the employee could not establish that her termination constituted an adverse employment action because she had accepted backpay and agreed not to be reinstated as part of the settlement of her Civil Service Commission appeal. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We conclude that the employee’s acceptance of the settlement does not preclude her from establishing that her termination constituted an adverse employment action for purposes of her federal retaliatory discharge claims. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, vacate the judgment of the trial court granting Metro summary judgment, and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
 

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/22/12
Jerry Garrison et al. v. Rita Bickford et al.
E2010-02008-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Buddy D. Perry

Following an accident which claimed the life of their teenage son, the deceased’s parents filed claims for wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the driver and owner of the car that struck their son. The parents also sought to recover from their own insurance company under the uninsured motorist provisions of their policy. The driverof the car settled, paying the deceased’s parents $25,000 for their wrongful death claim and $25,000 for their negligent infliction of emotional distress claim. The parents’ insurer paid them an additional $75,000 for the wrongful death claim but refused to pay any damages for their emotional injuries. The insurer contended that (1) emotional distress did not constitute “bodily injury” as defined in the policy, and (2) the “Each Person” limit in the policy had been met, here by exhausting any available coverage. The parents maintained that recovery for emotional harm was not precluded under the policy definition of “bodily injury” and that the “Each Person” limit had not been met. The trial court agreed with the parents and ruled in favor of coverage. The Court of Appeals reversed. We granted the parents’ application for permission to appeal to decide whether “bodily injury” as defined in the policy includes mental injuries standing alone. It does not. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.
 

Bledsoe County Supreme Court 08/22/12
Walter Word v. Metro Air Services, Inc., et al.
M2011-02675-SC-R9-WC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor C. K. Smith

In this interlocutory appeal, we must decide whether a trial court has subject matter jurisdiction over a workers’ compensation case when the time stamp on the complaint is earlier than the “time noted” on the Benefit Review Conference Report, pursuant to Benefit Review Process Rule 0800-2-5-.09(2). Because a workers’ compensation action may not be filed under Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-225(a)(2)(A) (2008) until exhaustion of the benefit review conference process, we hold that when subject matter jurisdiction over a workers’ compensation case depends upon the issuance of a Benefit Review Conference Report, the “time noted on the Report” is controlling. Moreover, we hold that the time stamp on the complaint,if unambiguous,maynotbe impeached with extrinsic evidence. Therefore, we reverse the trial court’s denial of the employer’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismiss this action.
 

Wilson County Supreme Court 08/21/12
Davey Mann et al. v. Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity et al.
W2010-02316-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge John R. McCarroll, Jr.

We accepted this appeal of a personal injury action to determine whether the dismissal of a defendant pursuant to a written order not made final under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02 renders that defendant “not a party to the suit” for purposes of Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119. We answer this question in the affirmative. Because the Court of Appeals upheld the judgment of the trial court dismissing the appellees from the Manns’ second amended complaint as time-barred, we reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Shelby County Supreme Court 07/03/12
William S. Lockett, Jr. v. Board of Professional Responsibility
E2011-01170-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Walter C. Kurtz

While working for a law firm in which he was a shareholder, an attorney performed legal services for clients and failed to remit fees owed to the law firm. Members of the law firm confronted the attorney about the misappropriated legal fees shortly after the attorney resigned his position at the law firm to assume elected public office. As a result of his conduct, the attorney pleaded guilty to theft and to willful failure to file income tax returns. During a subsequent investigation, the Board of Professional Responsibility discovered that the attorney had accepted loans from the law firm’s clients while he was employed at the law firm. A hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility found that the attorney should be suspended for four years. The attorney appealed, and the chancery court applied additional mitigating factors to reduce the suspension to two years. We hold that the chancery court erred in modifying the judgment without finding that any of the circumstances in Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 1.3 applied. We also hold that the hearing panel erred in imputing a conflict of interest to the attorney with respect to the loan from the law firm’s client and in misapplying aggravating and mitigating factors. Despite these errors, we conclude that the length of suspension imposed by the hearing panel is consistent with the sanctions imposed on attorneys for similar conduct. We therefore reverse the chancery court’s reduction of the suspension to two years and affirm the hearing panel’s imposition of a four-year suspension.

Knox County Supreme Court 07/03/12
Gerdau Ameristeel, Inc. v. Steven Ratliff
W2011-00381-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

An employee viewed the bodies of co-workers who had died as a result of work accidents on two separate occasions in February and April 2008. On June 23, 2008, the employee was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the two incidents. On June 23,2009, the employee requested a benefit review conference. The employer filed a complaint to determine the amount of workers’ compensation benefits due. The employer subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment contending that the statute of limitations commenced on the date of the second accident and that the claim was therefore barred. The employee contended that the statute did not begin to run until the date of his diagnosis and that his claim was timely. The trial court granted the employer’s motion. The employee appealed. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for entry of a judgment consistent with the trial court’s alternative findings.
 

Madison County Supreme Court 06/07/12
State of Tennessee v. Guy Alvin Williamson
W2011-00049-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph H. Walker

After an investigatory stop and frisk, the defendant was charged with the unlawful possession of a handgun after a felony conviction and the unlawful possession of a handgun while under the influence of alcohol and was convicted on both counts. The trial court imposed probationary sentences of three years and eleven months, twenty-nine days, respectively. The defendant appealed, arguing that his motion to suppress evidence should have been granted. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. This Court granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal. Because the investigatory stop and frisk of the defendant was not supported by specific and articulable facts establishing reasonable suspicion that a criminal act was being or about to be committed, the trial court erred by failing to suppress the handgun found by the police and presented as evidence at trial. The judgments of conviction are, therefore, reversed and the cause dismissed.
 

Tipton County Supreme Court 05/31/12
In Re Estate of Ardell Hamilton Trigg
M2009-02107-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John J. Maddux, Jr.

In this case, we address the following two matters: (1) the proper procedure for obtaining appellate review of a judgment of a probate court created by private act upholding a claim filed by the Bureau of TennCare against the estate of a TennCare recipient and (2) the right of TennCare to obtain reimbursement for properlypaid TennCare benefits from real property owned by the recipient at the time of her death. After the decedent’s will was admitted to probate in the Putnam County Probate Court, TennCare filed a claim against her estate seeking reimbursement for services provided through theTennCare program. The decedent’s personal representative filed an exception to this claim. After the probate court upheld TennCare’s claim, the estate appealed to the Circuit Court for Putnam County. The circuit court determined that the decedent’s real property was not subject to TennCare’s claim, and TennCare appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals held that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal from the probate court and that the appeal should have been filed with the Court of Appeals. Accordingly, it vacated the circuit court’s judgment and affirmed the judgment of the probate court. In re Estate of Trigg, No. M200902107-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 497459, at *3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 9, 2011). We granted the estate’s application for permission to appeal to determine whether the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over the estate’s appeal from the probate court’s order upholding TennCare’s claim and whether real property owned by the recipient at the time of her death is subject to TennCare’s claims. We have determined that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over the estate’s appeal from the probate court’s judgment regarding TennCare’s disputed claim and that the real property owned by the decedent at the time of her death is subject to TennCare’s claims for reimbursement.
 

Putnam County Supreme Court 05/30/12