Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 09/20/2014
Format: 09/20/2014
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
Larry Kenneth Hale v. Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, et al
M2011-00504-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Special Judge E. Riley Anderson
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor C. K. Smith

Pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51, this workers’ compensation appeal has been referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law. The employee fell and struck both knees on a concrete landing in the course of his employment with the employer. His left knee required surgery and his right knee received limited medical treatment. The treating physician assigned 8% permanent impairment to the left leg. Employee’s evaluating physician assigned 13% impairment to the left leg and 20% impairment to the right leg. The trial court adopted the evaluating physician’s opinions and awarded 50% permanent partial disability to both legs. Employer argues on appeal that the trial court erred by finding that Employee sustained a permanent injury to his right knee, by adopting the impairment rating of Dr. Landsberg over that of Dr. Gavigan for the left knee injury, by failing to find that Employee had a meaningful return to work, and by granting an excessive award of benefits. We affirm the judgment.
 

Wilson County Supreme Court 02/16/12
State of Tennessee v. Brian David Thomason
W2007-02910-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayburn Peeples

We granted the State’s applications for permission to appeal in these two cases to clarify the remedy that should be applied when there is an abuse of prosecutorial discretion in the denial of an application for pretrial diversion. In each case, the prosecutor denied the defendant’s petition for pretrial diversion and the trial court ruled there was no abuse of discretion. The Court of Criminal Appeals decided in each case that there was an abuse of discretion because the prosecutor failed to weigh all the relevant factors in reaching his decision to deny pretrial diversion to the defendant and remanded the case to the trial court to order the prosecutor to approve the defendant’s pretrial diversion application. We hold that when a prosecutor has abused his or her discretion byfailing to consider and weigh all the relevant pretrial diversion factors or by considering and relying upon an irrelevant factor, the appropriate remedy is to vacate the prosecutor’s ruling and remand to the prosecutor to consider and weigh all of the relevant factors. Accordingly, the judgments of the Court of Criminal Appeals are reversed, and the cases are remanded to the trial courts with directions to remand the case to the district attorney general to consider and weigh all of the relevant pretrial diversion factors.

Gibson County Supreme Court 01/20/12
State of Tennessee v. Heather Richardson
M2010-01360-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge David Bragg

We granted the State’s applications for permission to appeal in these two cases to clarify the remedy that should be applied when there is an abuse of prosecutorial discretion in the denial of an application for pretrial diversion. In each case, the prosecutor denied the defendant’s petition for pretrial diversion and the trial court ruled there was no abuse of discretion. The Court of Criminal Appeals decided in each case that there was an abuse of discretion because the prosecutor failed to weigh all the relevant factors in reaching his decision to deny pretrial diversion to the defendant and remanded the case to the trial court to order the prosecutor to approve the defendant’s pretrial diversion application. We hold that when a prosecutor has abused his or her discretion byfailing to consider and weigh all the relevant pretrial diversion factors or by considering and relying upon an irrelevant factor, the appropriate remedy is to vacate the prosecutor’s ruling and remand to the prosecutor to consider and weigh all of the relevant factors. Accordingly, the judgments of the Court of Criminal Appeals are reversed, and the cases are remanded to the trial courts with directions to remand the case to the district attorney general to consider and weigh all of the relevant pretrial diversion factors.

Rutherford County Supreme Court 01/20/12
In Re DeAndre C. et al.
W2011-00037-SC-R11-JV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Karen R. Williams

This appeal involves the status of six children between the ages of four and fourteen who had been in the custody of their biological mother. After one of the children was severely injured, the Shelby County Juvenile Court determined that all six children are dependent and neglected. The juvenile court also determined not only that the injured child but also the other five children are victims of severe child abuse. The children’s biological mother perfected a de novo appeal to the Circuit Court for Shelby County. The trial court likewise found that all six children are victims of severe child abuse and are dependent and neglected. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Harris v. Tennessee Dep’t of Children’s Servs., No. W2011-00037-COA-R3-JV, 2011 WL 3890341 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 6, 2011). The biological mother filed a Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application taking issue with the sufficiency of the evidence to support the findings that the children are dependent and neglected and that they are victims of severe child abuse. In its response, the Department conceded that the evidence is not sufficient to support a finding that the five uninjured children are victims of severe child abuse. Having determined that no further briefing or argument is necessary for the disposition of this matter, we grant the biological mother’s application for permission to appeal and find (1) that the injured child is a victim of severe child abuse, (2) that the evidence does not support the lower courts’ conclusion that the remaining five uninjured children are also victims of severe child abuse, and (3) that the evidence demonstrates clearly and convincingly that all six children are dependent and neglected.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/19/12
Sheila Brown v. Rico Roland
M2009-01885-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas Brothers

This appeal involves the amount of damages a plaintiff may seek on a de novo appeal from a general sessions court to a circuit court. The plaintiff filed suit in the Davidson County General Sessions Court seeking damages sustained in an automobile accident. She also notified her uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier of her suit. After deciding that her damages exceeded the general sessions court’s jurisdictional limit, the plaintiff requested the general sessions court to dismiss her suit. The general sessions court obliged, and the plaintiff perfected a de novo appeal to the Circuit Court for Davidson County. After the plaintiff accepted the defendant’s $25,000 settlement offer, the plaintiff’s insurance carrier moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s underinsured motorist claim because her settlement with the defendant equaled the amount of damages she had sought in general sessions court. The trial court granted the insurance company’s motion to dismiss because the plaintiff failed to file an amended complaint increasing the amount of her damages claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. Brown v. Roland, No. M2009-01885-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 3732169 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 23, 2010). The plaintiff filed a Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application for permission to appeal, asserting that she was not limited to the amount of damages she sought in general sessions court after she perfected a de novo appeal to the circuit court. We disagree and affirm the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Appeals.
 

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/18/12
Dave Brundage, et al. v. Cumberland County, et al.
E2010-00089-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ronald Thurman

This appeal calls into question the proper procedure for obtaining judicial review of a local legislative body’s land use decision under the “Jackson Law,” Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 68-211-701 to -707 (2011). The opponents of a coal ash landfill, approved by the Cumberland County Commission, filed a petition for a statutory writ of certiorari in the Chancery Court for Cumberland County seeking judicial review of the Commission’s decision. The trial court dismissed the petition because it was not verified as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 27-8-106 (2000). The Court of Appeals affirmed. Brundage v. Cumberland Cnty., No. E2010-00089-COA-R3-CV, 2010 WL 3025538, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 4, 2010). We granted the petitioners’ application for permission to appeal because the Jackson Law does not specifically define the procedure for seeking judicial review of a local legislative body’s decisions. We have determined (1) that a local legislative body’s decision under the Jackson Law may be challenged either by a petition for a statutory writ of certiorari or by a complaint for declaratory judgment and (2) that the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred by failing to treat the statutory petition for writ of certiorari as a complaint for declaratory judgment.

Cumberland County Supreme Court 12/19/11
Leonard Edward Smith v. State of Tennessee
E2007-00719-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge O. Duane Slone

In this post-conviction appeal Petitioner Leonard Edward Smith challenges his 1985 conviction and life sentence for the first degree felony murder of John Pierce, his 1989 conviction for the first degree felony murder of Novella Webb, and his 1995 death sentence for the Webb murder. We affirm Smith’s conviction and sentence for the Pierce murder, holding that Smith’s post-conviction claims in the Pierce case were barred by the statute of limitations and that the statute should not be equitably tolled. We affirm Smith’s conviction for the Webb murder, holding that Smith did not demonstrate that he suffered prejudice resulting from his counsel’s ineffective assistance in failing to adequately question the potential jurors during voir dire at his 1989 trial in the Webb case regarding their past experiences either as a victim or with a victim of crime. We vacate Smith’s death sentence, holding that Smith’s counsel provided ineffective assistance in failing to adequately investigate and present evidence supporting his motion to recuse the judge at his resentencing hearing, which resulted in a denial of Smith’s due process right to a fair trial before an impartial tribunal. We further hold that Smith is entitled to a new hearing on the question of whether he was intellectually disabled at the time of the Webb murder because the post-conviction court and the Court of Criminal Appeals applied an incorrect legal standard in determining Smith’s functional intelligence quotient (I.Q.) under the principles recently espoused in Coleman v. State, 341 S.W.3d 221, 230 (Tenn. 2011).

Hamblen County Supreme Court 12/19/11
Michael Lind v. Beaman Dodge, Inc., d/b/a Beaman Dodge Chrysler Jeep, et al.
M2010-01680-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

The plaintiff, who had purchased a truck from an automobile dealership, filed a products liability suit in 2007 against not only the manufacturer, but also the dealership, as seller. Later, the plaintiff entered a voluntary nonsuit as to the seller and proceeded only against the manufacturer. Over one year after the order granting nonsuit, the manufacturer declared bankruptcy, and, in 2009, the plaintiff again sued the seller, alleging both negligence and strict liability in tort. The seller filed a motion to dismiss, contending that the suit was barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court denied the motion but granted an interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals denied the appeal. This Court granted the seller’s application for permission to appeal to consider the application of the saving statute to these unique circumstances. We hold that the plaintiff may proceed under the strict liability claim because that cause of action did not accrue until the manufacturer was judicially declared insolvent. Because, however, the second suit alleged acts of negligence on the part of the seller, an exception to the statutory rule prohibiting products liability suits against sellers, and could have been brought in 2007, the statute of limitations is a bar to recovery under that theory. The judgment of the trial court is, therefore, affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the cause is remanded for trial.
 

Rutherford County Supreme Court 12/15/11