Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 11/22/2014
Format: 11/22/2014
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
Michael Lind v. Beaman Dodge, Inc., d/b/a Beaman Dodge Chrysler Jeep, et al.- Concurring
M2010-01680-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Royce Taylor

I concur in the judgment of the Court, but I do not join the majority’s conclusion that a product liability action based on strict liability does not accrue against a non-manufacturing seller until the manufacturer “has been judicially declared insolvent.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-106(b) (2000). Rather, I would hold that a product liability cause of action accrues “on the date of the personal injury,” as provided in Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-104(b)(1) (2000). However, I would hold that, with respect to claims against a non-manufacturing seller based on strict liability, the one-year statute of limitations is tolled until the manufacturer “has been judicially declared insolvent.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-106(b).
 

Rutherford County Supreme Court 12/15/11
State of Tennessee v. Mark Anthony McNack
W2010-00471-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

Upon the defendant’s plea of guilty to theft, the trial court imposed a three-year sentence to be served in the community corrections program. Although the defendant violated a condition of his release shortly after September 30, 2003, the revocation warrant was not filed and issued until ten months later. While revoking the community corrections sentence and ordering the defendant to serve the duration of his sentence in prison, the trial court approved credit for time served only through September 30, 2003, the estimated date of the violation. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, holding that the credit should have extended until the issuance of the revocation warrant. We hold that the filing date of the revocation warrant begins the tolling of sentence credits. The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is, therefore, affirmed.
 

Madison County Supreme Court 12/13/11
James Q. Holder et al. v. Westgate Resorts Ltd.
E2009-01312-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Richard R. Vance

During a trial of the plaintiffs’ premises liability claim, the trial court excluded as hearsay a portion of the testimony of the defendant’s expert. The expert would have testified that he consulted an authoritative source whose interpretation of the applicable building code was consistent with that of the testifying expert. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, and the defendant appealed. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred because the expert’s testimony was admissible pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Evidence 703. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s error was harmless, however, and affirmed the judgment. We hold that the Court of Appeals improperly applied an amended version of Rule 703 that was not in effect at the time of trial. We hold that the trial court properly excluded as hearsay portions of the proffered testimony of the testifying expert. We vacate the judgment of the Court of Appeals and affirm the judgment of the trial court.
 

Sevier County Supreme Court 12/12/11
Ray Bell Construction Company, Inc. v. State of Tennessee, Tennessee Department of Transportation
E2009-01803-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner William O. Shults

A construction company entered into a contract with the State of Tennessee to restructure an interstate interchange. The contract provides that the contract completion date “may be extended in accordance with the Standard Specifications, however, no incentive payment will be made if work is not completed in its entirety by December 15, 2006.” The Claims Commission found that the contract contained a latent ambiguity requiring extrinsic evidence to interpret the contract. The Claims Commission considered extrinsic evidence and concluded that the construction company was entitled to the maximum incentive payment and an extension of the contract completion date. A divided Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Claims Commission. We hold that the contract is unambiguous and does not permit an extension of the incentive date. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and remand to the Claims Commission for modification of the final judgment.
 

Supreme Court 12/12/11
84 Lumber Company v. R. Bryan Smith, et al.
E2010-00292-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

The president of a company signed a commercial credit application. The application contained language immediately above the signature line stating that the individual signing the contract personally guaranteed amounts owed to the vendor. The company defaulted on the balance of the account, and the vendor filed suit against both the company and the president. The trial court granted summary judgment to the vendor, holding that the president had signed the contract both personally and in a representative capacity. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the president had signed the contract only in a representative capacity and granted summary judgment to the president. We hold that the application contained explicit language sufficient to bind the president as an individual guarantor of the contract. We reverse the Court of Appeals.
 

Washington County Supreme Court 12/12/11
Roy E. Keough v. State of Tennessee
W2008-01916-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carolyn Blackett

We granted permission to appeal in this post-conviction capital case to consider whether the courts below erred in holding that the state and federal constitutional right against self incrimination does not afford a post-conviction petitioner who chooses to testify the right to limit the scope of the State’s cross-examination. However, we need not decide whether and in what manner the constitutional right against self-incrimination applies in the post conviction context because this appeal can be resolved on non-constitutional grounds. We have concluded that the scope of cross-examination of a post-conviction petitioner is governed by Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 28, section 8(C)(1)(d). The judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals are vacated, and this matter is remanded for a new post-conviction hearing at which Petitioner shall be afforded the right to testify subject to the limited scope cross-examination provided by Rule 28, section 8(C)(1)(d).

Shelby County Supreme Court 12/09/11