Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 07/30/2014
Format: 07/30/2014
Arlene R. Starr v. Paul B. Hill, Sr., et al.
W2009-00524-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

A father and his sixteen-year-old son were sued after the son was involved in an accident while driving a vehicle owned, insured, and provided to him by his father. The basis for the suit against the father was the family purpose doctrine, which imposes vicarious liability on the owner of a vehicle for the negligent operation of the vehicle by a family member. Whether the family purpose doctrine applies to the father requires us to address these issues: (1) whether the father, who does not reside in the same household as the son, was a head of the household under the family purpose doctrine; (2) whether the vehicle was maintained for the comfort or pleasure of the family or solely for use by the son; and (3) whether the vehicle was being driven with the father’s permission such that he had control over its use. The essential elements of the family purpose doctrine are that the owner must be a head of the household who furnishes and maintains the vehicle for the purpose of providing pleasure or comfort for the family, and at the time of the injury, the vehicle must have been driven in furtherance of that purpose with the head of the household’s express or implied permission. The trial court granted summary judgment to the father, finding that the family purpose doctrine did not apply. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the family purpose doctrine applied to the father as a matter of law. We hold that the father was a head of the household because he had a family relationship with his son and a duty to support his son and the father furnished and maintained the vehicle for the purpose of providing pleasure or comfort to the family. However, a genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether the father had sufficient control over the vehicle. We vacate the decision of the Court of Appeals and remand for trial.

Shelby County Supreme Court 08/31/11
William H. Mansell v. Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire, LLC
M2010-02093-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge John D. Wootten, Jr.

In June of 2008, William Mansell (the “Employee”) suffered a compensable injury to his right shoulder while working for Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, LLC (the “Employer”). Dr. Sean Kaminsky, an orthopaedic surgeon, served as the authorized treating physician and assigned an impairment rating of 3% to the body as a whole. The Employee obtained an Independent Medical Evaluation from another orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Robert Landsberg, who assigned a 10% impairment rating. When the Benefit Review Conference at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (“DOL”) ended in an impasse, the Employee filed suit.

Smith County Supreme Court 08/25/11
State of Tennessee v. David Nagele
E2009-01313-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bobby R. McGee

The defendant pled guilty to attempted aggravated sexual battery and was sentenced to six years of enhanced probation. At the time, the trial court did not warn the defendant that, upon the expiration of his sentence, he would be subjected to lifetime community supervision,which is mandated by statute upon a conviction for attempted aggravated sexual battery and other sex offenses. Just before the sentence expired, the State filed a petition to amend the judgment to include lifetime community supervision. On the same day that the trial court corrected the judgment, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, which the trial court denied. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, holding that the defendant had been adequately informed of the lifetime community supervision requirement by his trial counsel. We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal to determine the effect of our decision in Ward v. State, 315 S.W.3d 461 (Tenn. 2010), which was filed after the release of the opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Because the trial court failed to warn the defendant of the mandatory nature of lifetime community supervision, as is required by our ruling in Ward, and the State was unable to establish that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed and the cause is remanded to the trial court to permit the defendant to withdraw his plea of guilt.

Knox County Supreme Court 08/25/11
Randall D. Kiser v. Ian J. Wolfe, et al. - Concurring/Dissenting
E2009-01529-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

I concur with the majority’s conclusion that our review should include all three pages of the insurance application appended to the summary judgment motion. I, however, would construe Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-1201 (2008) to require more than merely the insured’s signature at the end of an application for insurance in order for the insured to effectively reject “in writing” the amount of uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage otherwise mandated by the statute.

Bradley County Supreme Court 08/24/11
Randall D. Kiser v. Ian J. Wolfe, et al.
E2009-01529-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

The plaintiff, an employee of the insured, was injured while driving the insured’s tow truck. He filed suit against the defendant and later sought to invoke the insured’s uninsured motorist policy in an amount equal to the liability coverage for bodily injury. The insurer filed a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking to limit uninsured motorist coverage to the amount listed on the first page of the policy rather than the amount otherwise fixed by statute. The trial court denied the motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, holding that the insured was entitled to a partial summary judgment. When the insured signs an application indicating the selection of uninsured motorist coverage lower than the liability limits, but neglects to initial a provision designed to confirm the selection of coverage less than the standard provided by statute, the “in writing” requirement under Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-1201(a)(2) (2008) has been satisfied. The cause is remanded to the trial court for the entry of partial summary judgment and such other proceedings, as may be necessary.
 

Bradley County Supreme Court 08/24/11
State of Tennessee v. L.W.
M2009-02132-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge J. Randall Wyatt, Jr.

In these two cases, consolidated for oral argument, defendants entered guilty pleas to one count in their respective indictments in exchange for dismissal of other counts. In both cases, the trial court denied their subsequent requests for expungement of the dismissed charges. Both defendants filed petitions for writ of certiorari. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed both cases and remanded for entry of orders requiring the requested partial expungement. We granted the State’s applications for permission to appeal and ordered supplemental briefing on the issue of whether the Court of Criminal Appeals lacked subject matter jurisdiction. We hold that the procedural requirements for petitions for writ of certiorari set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-8-106 (2000) do not apply in criminal cases. We further hold that a conviction for one count in an indictment does not preclude expungement of the records relating to a dismissed charge in a separate count. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals in both cases.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/17/11
K.F. v. State of Tennessee
M2009-00700-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steve R. Dozier

In these two cases, consolidated for oral argument, defendants entered guilty pleas to one count in their respective indictments in exchange for dismissal of other counts. In both cases, the trial court denied their subsequent requests for expungement of the dismissed charges. Both defendants filed petitions for writ of certiorari. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed both cases and remanded for entry of orders requiring the requested partial expungement. We granted the State’s applications for permission to appeal and ordered supplemental briefing on the issue of whether the Court of Criminal Appeals lacked subject matter jurisdiction. We hold that the  procedural requirements for petitions for writ of certiorari set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-8-106 (2000) do not apply in criminal cases. We further hold that a conviction for one count in an indictment does not preclude expungement of the records relating to a dismissed charge in a separate count. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals in both cases.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/17/11
Donna Faye Shipley, et al. v. Robin Williams - Concurring/Dissenting
M2007-01217-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barbara N. Haynes

We originally granted the application for permission to appeal in this case to address a question regarding summary judgments in medical malpractice cases that was left unanswered in Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008). That question is whether a defendant in a medical malpractice case who does not present evidence that his or her conduct complied with the applicable standard of care is entitled to a summary judgment when he or she demonstrates that the expert witness or witnesses the plaintiff plans to present at trial do not satisfy the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-115 (Supp. 2010).

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/11/11
Donna Faye Shipley, et al. v. Robin Williams
M2007-01217-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barbara N. Haynes

In medical malpractice actions, Tennessee adheres to a locality rule for expert medical witnesses. Claimants are required by statute to prove by expert testimony the recognized standard of acceptable professional practice in the community where the defendant medical provider practices or a similar community. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-115 (2000 & Supp. 2010). Since the locality rule was enacted in 1975, Tennessee courts have reached different conclusions in interpreting it. The rule does not define "similar community," nor does it provide guidance as to how a community is determined to be "similar" to the defendant’s community. In this case, we address and clarify the applicable standards that courts should use in determining whether a medical expert is qualified to testify as an expert witness in a medical malpractice case. Applying these standards, we hold that the trial court’s exclusion of the claimant’s two proffered medical experts under the locality rule was error. The trial court’s grant of summary judgment is affirmed in part and vacated in part.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/11/11
Alicia D. Howell v. Nissan North America, Inc., et al.
M2009-02567-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge F. Lee Russell

The issue presented in this workers’ compensation case is whether the employee made a meaningful return to work. Upon being released by her physician to return to work, she resigned her employment after her employer told her that she would have to return to a production line job that, based on her work experience and personal knowledge of the work conditions and her physical abilities and limitations, she did not believe she could perform. The trial court awarded her additional benefits, ruling that she did not have a meaningful return to work and was eligible for reconsideration of her earlier settlement for workers’ compensation benefits pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-241 (Supp. 2010). The Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel reversed. We hold that the employee did not have a meaningful return to work following her injuries and that the evidence does not preponderate against the trialcourt’s award of increased permanent partial disability benefits. The judgment of the Appeals Panel is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court is reinstated.

Moore County Supreme Court 08/11/11
Donna Faye Shipley, et al. v. Robin Williams - Concurring
M2007-01217-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barbara N. Haynes

I concur in the majority opinion but write separately to address the dissenting opinion’s assertion that the “sky is falling.” The majority opinion has not substantially altered “the standard of review of summary judgments based on the inadmissibility of evidence relating to an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case.” Despite Justice Koch’s statements to the contrary, after the release of this opinion, appellate courts will continue to review evidentiary determinations using an abuse of discretion standard. Stating otherwise does not advance this discussion.

Davidson County Supreme Court 08/11/11
David Cantrell v. Joe Easterling, Warden - Concurring
W2009-00985-SC-R11-HC
Authoring Judge: Judge Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Walker

I can concur that the petitioner’s sentence is illegal and void because it directly contravenes the multiple rapist sentencing statute. By granting limited habeas corpus relief and remanding to the trial court for entry of a corrected sentence, the majority has essentially adopted the position of the State. While this result is proper under these specific circumstances, I would submit that the ruling today is inconsistent with the opinion in Edwards v. State, 269 S.W.3d 915 (Tenn. 2008), a case I continue to believe was wrongly decided. Moreover, in an apparent effort to conform its decision today with rulings in our previous habeas corpus cases, the majority has created new and heightened standards for relief which, in my assessment, will serve to further confuse this area of the law. Finally, I believe that this case offered an opportunity to overrule altogether our decision in Edwards and, by doing so, reconcile a series of our prior opinions on the subject of habeas corpus.

Hardeman County Supreme Court 08/01/11
David Cantrell v. Joe Easterling, Warden
W2009-00985-SC-R11-HC
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Walker

We granted this appeal to determine if the defendant’s four sentences for aggravated rape are illegal because each of the four uniform judgment documents designates the defendant as a “Multiple 35% Range 2” offender and does not designate the defendant as a “Multiple Rapist.” Because the four uniform judgment documents indicate that the defendant is eligible for early release on parole, which is in direct contravention of a statutory provision, we hold that the four sentences are illegal and void. The defendant’s underlying convictions of aggravated rape, which arose from a jury verdict before a court of competent jurisdiction, remain intact. We remand this matter to the sentencing court for the entry of four amended judgment orders, each to set forth the legal sentence on each of the defendant’s four convictions of aggravated rape, including the designation that the defendant is a “Multiple Rapist.”

Hardeman County Supreme Court 08/01/11