Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 08/27/2014
Format: 08/27/2014
Allstate Insurance Company v. Diana Lynn Tarrant et al. - Dissent
E2009-02431-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford Forgety

We granted the Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application in this case to determine whether an insured,who requested replacementinsurancecoverageonhispersonalandbusiness vehicles in order to reduce his premiums, is entitled to more coverage than that provided in his new personal policy when he failed to read the amended policy declarations and to notify the insurance company that he desired different coverage on one of his vehicles. Applying settled legal principles to the essentially undisputed facts of this case, I would hold that the insured accepted the new coverage by failing to review the amended policy declarations and to give the insurance company timely notice that the coverage was less than he desired.
 

Sevier County Supreme Court 03/26/12
Allstate Insurance Company v. Diana Lynn Tarrant et al.
E2009-02431-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford Forgety

After an automobile accident between the insured’s van and a motorcycle, the insurer filed a declaratory judgment action to determine whether the van was covered under a commercial policy with a liability limit of $500,000 or a personal policy with liability limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. The insurer alleged that before the accident the insured had instructed his insurance agent to transfer the van from the commercial policy to the personal policy. The insured denied this and alleged that he had instructed the agent to retain the van on the commercial policy. The trial court ruled that because the insurer had sent the insured a letter and premium bills showing the change in coverage and the insured had paid the bills without objection, he had ratified the transfer and the van was covered under the personal policy. The Court of Appeals reversed. We hold that the action of the insurance agent in transferring the van to the personal policy was not subject to ratification by the insured because the insurance agent was not acting in the insured’s stead or for his benefit when it made the transfer. We further hold that the insurer is estopped from denying coverage under the commercial policy. We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, although on different grounds.
 

Sevier County Supreme Court 03/26/12
SNPCO, Inc. v. City of Jefferson City et al.
E2009-02355-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. McAfee

This appeal involves the question of whether a city’s ordinance banning the sale of fireworks within its city limits implicates Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-7-208(b) (Supp. 2008) which permits pre-existing nonconforming businesses to continue to operate despite a “zoning change.” After the Cityof Jefferson Cityannexed the propertyon which a fireworks retailer’s business was located, the retailer filed suit in the Circuit Court for Jefferson County seeking compensation for a regulatory taking or, in the alternative, for a declaration that Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-7-208(b) permitted it to continue to sell fireworks. The trial court dismissed the retailer’s complaint in accordance with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(6), and the Court of Appeals affirmed. SNPCO, Inc. v. City of Jefferson City, No. E2009-02355-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 4272744, at *11 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 29, 2010). We granted the retailer’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application to clarify the application of the “substantial interference” test in Cherokee Country Club, Inc. v. City of Knoxville, 152 S.W.3d 466 (Tenn. 2004) to ordinances such as the one involved in this case. We have determined that our decision in Cherokee Country Club, Inc. v. City of Knoxville requires consideration of both the terms and effects of the challenged ordinance. Thus, the courts must first determine whether the challenged ordinance relates to the city’s “general plan of zoning.” If the courts determine that the challenged ordinance relates to the city’s general plan of zoning, then, and only then, may the courts ascertain whether the ordinance results in a “substantial interference” with the use of land. Based on this record, we have determined that Jefferson City’s challenged ordinance banning the sale of fireworks within its city limits is not related to the city’s general plan of zoning. Accordingly, we affirm the judgments of the courts below.
 

Jefferson County Supreme Court 03/26/12
State of Tennessee v. Jason Lee White
M2009-00941-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Michael R. Jones

After robbing a Clarksville restaurant, the defendant was indicted for burglary, aggravated robbery, and especially aggravated kidnapping. A jury convicted the defendant on all three counts, after which he filed a motion to set aside the conviction for especially aggravated kidnapping as violative of due process, relying on State v. Anthony, 817 S.W.2d 299 (Tenn. 1991). The trial court denied the motion and sentenced the defendant to an effective twenty-five year term. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed and dismissed the conviction for especially aggravated kidnapping on due process grounds. This Court granted the State’s application for permission to appeal. Following briefing and oral argument, we ordered additional briefing and argument addressing the application of due process principles to dual convictions for kidnapping and an accompanying felony, such as rape or robbery. We hold that the legislature did not intend for the kidnapping statutes to apply to the removal or confinement of a victim that is essentially incidental to an accompanying felony, such as rape or robbery. This inquiry, however, is a question for the jury after appropriate instructions, which appellate courts review under the sufficiency of the evidence standard as the due process safeguard. Because the defendant is entitled to a new trial with specific instructions as to the especially aggravated kidnapping charge, the cause is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
 

Montgomery County Supreme Court 03/09/12
State of Tennessee v. Nigel Kavic Watkins
M2009-00348-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge John Wootten

We granted the State permission to appeal to determine whether the defendant’s dual convictions for reckless homicide and aggravated child abuse violate either the federal or state constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. Following briefing, oral argument, and a careful study of Tennessee law governing the issue presented, we ordered the parties in this appeal, and two other pending appeals involving related issues, to submit additional briefs addressing certain specific questions concerning the analyses that Tennessee courts apply in single prosecution cases when determining whether separate convictions under different statutes constitute the same offense for purposes of the double jeopardy protection against multiple punishments. We also scheduled consolidated reargument of these three appeals and invited certain prosecutorial and defense organizations to submit amicus curiae briefs. Having thoroughly reviewed relevant federal and state precedent and carefully considered the briefs provided by the parties and by the amici curiae, we have concluded that the four-factor test set forth in State v. Denton, 938 S.W.2d 373 (Tenn. 1996) should be abandoned. Furthermore, we have not found, nor have we been provided with, any textual reason or historical basis for interpreting the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Tennessee Constitution differently from the Double Jeopardy Clause of the United States Constitution. Accordingly, we adopt the same elements test enunciated in Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304 (1932) as the test for determining whether multiple convictions under different statutes constitute the same offense for purposes of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Tennessee Constitution. Applying this test, we conclude that reckless homicide and aggravated child abuse are not the same offense because their elements differ. Thus, the defendant’s dual convictions do not violate either the federal or the state constitutional double jeopardy prohibition. Accordingly, we reverse that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment merging the reckless homicide conviction into the aggravated child abuse conviction, and we reinstate the reckless homicide conviction. However, we affirm that portion of the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment remanding this matter to the trial court for resentencing.

Smith County Supreme Court 03/09/12
State of Tennessee v. Lonnie Cross
E2008-02792-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy Reedy

This appeal presents, among other issues, an issue regarding the application of the federal and state constitutional double jeopardy protections to a single prosecution for multiple offenses arising out of a high speed chase involving a motorist who was attempting to avoid arrest for driving on a revoked license. A Bradley County grand jury returned a seven-count indictment against the motorist. Following a jury trial, the motorist was convicted of five of the offenses and received an effective sentence of eight years. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld four of the motorist’s convictions but, on its own motion, vacated the remaining conviction after determining that it violated the double jeopardy protections in the federal and state constitutions. State v. Cross, No. E2008-02792-CCA-R3-CD, 2010 WL 2432022, at *12 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 17, 2010). We granted both the State’s and the motorist’s applications for permission to appeal. In accordance with our opinion in State v. Watkins, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tenn. 2012), released contemporaneously with this opinion, we find that the defendant’s convictions do not run afoul of the double jeopardy protections in the federal and state constitutions. We also find that the motorist’s conviction under count one of the indictment must be vacated because the trial court committed plain error in its instruction regarding the lesser-included offenses of that charge. With regard to the remaining convictions, we find that the evidence supports the motorist’s convictions and that the sentences imposed by the trial court are not excessive. Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
 

Bradley County Supreme Court 03/09/12
Roger Dale Williamson v. Baptist Hospital of Cocke County, Inc.
E2010-01282-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Ben W. Hooper, II

The employee, a certified nursing assistant, sustained an injury to his shoulder while moving a patient. Six months later, the employee returned to work with significant restrictions on the use of his right arm. After two weeks of on-the-job training as a phlebotomist, which offered a higher pay grade, the employee notified the employer of his resignation, believing that he would be unable to handle the duties associated with his new position. When he made a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, the trial court, accrediting the testimony of the employee, held that he did not have a meaningful return to work and applied a multiplier of six to the assigned impairment rating. A special workers’ compensation panel reversed, concluding that the evidence preponderated against the trial court’s ruling that the employee had not made a meaningful return to work and reducing the award to one-and-one-half times the impairment rating. Because the evidence demonstrates that the employee did have a meaningful return to work, the judgment of the panel is affirmed.
 

Cocke County Supreme Court 02/28/12
Norman Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Memphis
W2009-00986-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge D'Army Bailey

This appeal involves a dispute regarding the civil liability of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis for acts of child sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by one of its priests in the 1970s. A victim of this alleged abuse filed suit against the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis in the Circuit Court for Shelby County seeking monetary damages. The Diocese moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine deprived state courts of subject matter jurisdiction and that the victim’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court denied the Diocese’s motion. The Court of Appeals held that the statute of limitations had run on the victim’s claims and that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine barred state courts from considering the victim’s negligent hiring and retention claims but not the negligent supervision claims. Redwing v. Catholic Bishop for Diocese of Memphis, No. W2009-00986-COA-R10-CV, 2010 WL 2106222 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 27, 2010). We granted the victim’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application for permission to appeal. We have concluded that the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that the state courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over the victim’s claims and that the victim’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/27/12
Calvin Gray Mills, Jr. et al. v. Fulmarque, Inc. - Dissent
W2010-00933-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lorrie K. Ridder

Because I would have affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, I respectfully dissent. Unlike the majority, I do not interpret Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119 as precluding successive ninety-day windows for the purpose of adding additional parties identified as comparative tortfeasors by defendants already in the lawsuit.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/24/12
Calvin Gray Mills, Jr. et al. v. Fulmarque, Inc.
W2010-00933-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lorrie K. Ridder

We accepted this appeal to determine whether the phrase “a defendant named . . . within the applicable statute of limitations” in Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-1-119(a) (2009) refers only to a defendant sued within the statute of limitations applicable to the plaintiff’s claim or also refers to defendants not sued within the statute of limitations applicable to the plaintiff’s claim, but added to the lawsuit during the ninety-day period provided by section 20-1-119(a). Whether section 20-1-119(a) affords successive ninety-day windows during which a plaintiff may amend a complaint to add a new nonparty defendant as a comparative tortfeasor is an issue of first impression. Because we answer that question in the negative, we reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court granting Fulmarque’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing this action.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/24/12
Stephen Bernard Wlodarz v. State of Tennessee
E2008-02179-SC-R11-CO
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Dugger, Jr.

The petitioner, charged with first degree premeditated murder and other crimes, entered best interest guilty pleas and received an effective sentence of life without parole. After an unsuccessful petition for post-conviction relief challenging the effectiveness of his trial counsel, he filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis alleging newly discovered, exculpatory ballistic evidence. The trial court denied the petition, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Wlodarz v. State, No. E2008-02179-CCA-R3-CO, 2010 WL 1998766 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 19, 2010). We granted the application for permission to appeal to consider whether a petitioner who has entered guilty pleas may challenge his convictions by writ of error coram nobis pursuant to the terms of our statute. Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-26105(b) (2006). While we have determined that the petitioner did not forfeit the procedural remedy of writ of error coram nobis based on newly discovered evidence by entering the guiltypleas,the evidence in this instance does notqualifyas newlydiscovered. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is affirmed.
 

Hawkins County Supreme Court 02/23/12
Stephen Bernard Wlodarz v. State of Tennessee - Concur
E2008-02179-SC-R11-CO
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John F. Dugger, Jr.

I concur with the majority’s conclusion that Mr. Wlodarz has not presented newly discovered evidence to support his effort to use a writ of error coram nobis to set aside his guilty plea. I write separately, however, because I cannot concur with the majority’s conclusion that Mr. Wlodarz is entitled to challenge his guilty plea using a writ of error coram nobis.
 

Hawkins County Supreme Court 02/23/12
Danneil Edward Keith v. Western Express, Inc., et al
M2011-00653-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Robert E. Burch

The employee, a truck driver, was injured in the course and scope of his employment when his vehicle left the road and turned over. His employer denied his claim for workers’ compensation benefits, contending that the accident and resulting injuries were the direct result of the employee’s willful violation of the employer’s safetyrules. The trialcourt found that the employee had willfully and intentionally disregarded the safety rules and entered judgment for the employer. On appeal,the employee contends that the trial court erred because the evidence did not establish the perverseness of his conduct, a necessary element of the misconduct affirmative defense. We affirm the judgment.

Houston County Supreme Court 02/16/12