Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 10/30/2014
Format: 10/30/2014
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
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