Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 03/06/2015
Format: 03/06/2015
R. Douglas Hughes et al. v. New Life Development Corporation et al.
M2010-00579-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Graham

This appeal involves the validity and effect of amendments to restrictive covenants for a residential development and amendments to the charter and bylaws for the homeowners’ association serving the development. After the death of the president of the original corporate developer, a successor developer purchased the original developer’s remaining property with the intent to continue to develop the property. Several homeowners filed suit in the Chancery Court for Franklin County, alleging that the successor developer’s new development plan violated restrictive covenants. The trial court granted the successor developer a judgment on the pleadings, and the homeowners appealed. The Court of Appeals remanded the case for further proceedings, principally on the question of whether a general plan of development, or the plat for the subdivision, gave rise to certain implied restrictive covenants. Hughes v. New Life Dev. Corp., No. M2008-00290-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 400635, at *9-10 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 17, 2009). While the successor developer’s application for permission to appeal was pending, the homeowners’ association amended its charter and the restrictive covenants to address certain issues identified by the Court of Appeals. Thereafter, the homeowners filed a second suit, principally contesting the validity of the amendments. The trial court consolidated the two suits and granted the successor developer a summary judgment on all claims in both suits. However, the trial court also enjoined the successor developer from acting contrary to its corporate charter. The homeowners appealed a second time. On this occasion, the Court of Appeals concluded that the procedure used to amend the charter and restrictive covenants was valid but remanded the case with directions to determine whether these amendments were reasonable and to determine whether the plat supported the existence of implied restrictive covenants. Hughes v. New Life Dev. Corp., No. M2010-00579-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 1661605, at *9-11 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2011). The successor developer filed an application for permission to appeal, asserting that Tennessee law did not support the Court of Appeals’ reasonableness inquiry and that the plat provided no basis for the existence of implied restrictive covenants. We have determined that the amendments were properly adopted and that there is no basis for implied restrictive covenants arising from a general plan of development or from the plat.

Franklin County Supreme Court 11/19/12
Jeanette Rea Jackson v. Bradley Smith
W2011-00194-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal involves the efforts of a grandmother to obtain court-ordered visitation with her granddaughter in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-306 (2010). Shortly after the death of her daughter, the grandmother filed a petition in the Chancery Court for McNairy County seeking visitation with her granddaughter. Following a two-day hearing, the trial court denied the grandmother’s request for visitation because she had failed to prove the statutory grounds necessary to permit a court to order grandparental visitation over a parent’s objection. The grandmother did not appeal this decision. After the decision became final, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the burden of persuasion in the grandparental visitation statute by creating a new rebuttable presumption that a child whose parent dies will be substantially harmed by the cessation of an existing relationship with a grandparent who is the parent of the deceased parent. Without alleging new facts and relying solely on the change in the statutory burden of persuasion, the grandmother filed a second petition in the trial court seeking visitation with her granddaughter. The trial court granted the child’s father’s motion to dismiss on the ground of res judicata. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order. Jackson v. Smith, No. W2011-00194-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 3963589 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 9, 2011). We granted the grandmother’s application for permission to appeal to determine whether the intervening change in the burden of persuasion in the grandparental visitation statute provided an exception to the operation of the res judicata doctrine. We have determined that it does not and that, without some material change in the facts, the doctrine of res judicata bars relitigation of the grandmother’s petition for grandparental visitation.

McNairy County Supreme Court 11/16/12
In Re: Estate of Thomas Grady Chastain
E2011-01442-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

The issue in this appeal is whether the statutory requirements for execution of an attested will prescribed by Tennessee Code Annotated section 32-1-104(1) (2007) were satisfied when the decedent failed to sign the two-page will but signed a one-page affidavit of attesting witnesses. We conclude that the decedent’s signature on the separate affidavit of attesting witnesses does not satisfy the statute requiring the testator’s signature on the will. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court that the will was not properly executed is reinstated.

Polk County Supreme Court 11/16/12
M. Josiah Hoover, III v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
E2011-02458-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Donald Harris

This is an appeal from a judgment affirming the disbarment of an attorney. After considering evidence presented incident to five complaints against the attorney, a hearing panel designated by the Board of Professional Responsibility concluded that disbarment was warranted. On appeal, the trial court affirmed. In this appeal, the attorney has raised the following issues for review: (1) whether the panel erred by denying his motion to continue the hearing; (2) whether the panel erred by considering the attorney’s conduct in a case based upon a complaint by another attorney who had no involvement in the case; (3) whether the evidence supports the panel’s findings; (4) whether disbarment is an appropriate punishment; and (5) whether the trial court erred by denying the attorney’s post-judgment motion to supplement the record. We affirm the judgment.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/16/12
State of Tennessee v. James Beeler
E2010-00860-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lynn W. Brown

We accepted this appeal to determine whether a lawyer’s potential violation of the ethical rule governing communications with a person represented by another lawyer constitutes criminal contempt pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-9-102(1), (2). Although a lawyer’s violation of an ethical rule may in some circumstances constitute criminal contempt, the evidence in this case is insufficient to support the “willful misbehavior” element of the offense of criminal contempt. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, and we vacate Mr. Beeler’s conviction.

Washington County Supreme Court 11/15/12
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