Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 04/16/2014
Format: 04/16/2014
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
Robert Lazar v. J.W. Aluminum
W2010-00659-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor James F. Butler

An employee settled his claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The settlement stated that the award of vocational disability benefits to which the parties agreed was not based on the medical impairment rating of either the treating physician or the employee’s independent medical examiner. After the employee was laid off, he sought reconsideration of his benefits pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-241(d)(1)(B)(iv) (2008). The chancery court declined to use the impairment rating of the treating physician or the independent medical examiner. The court further declined to base its increased award on a rating from an independent medical evaluation of the employee conducted after the settlement by a physician listed in the Medical Impairment Rating registry of the Tennessee Department of Labor. The chancery court instead awarded additional permanent partial disability benefits based on an impairment rating computed from the percentage of permanent partial disability reflected in the settlement. The employer appealed. We affirm the chancery court.

Madison County Supreme Court 07/26/11
Pam Webb v. Nashville Area Habitat for Humanity, Inc.
M2009-01552-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barbara N. Haynes

In this action alleging retaliatory discharge, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6). The Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s judgment, holding that the amended complaint sufficiently stated a cause of action for retaliatory discharge. We address the issue of the proper standard for Tennessee courts to apply in ruling on a Rule 12.02(6) motion to dismiss in light of the United States Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009). We decline to adopt the new Twombly/Iqbal “plausibility” pleading standard and affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Davidson County Supreme Court 07/21/11
Knox County ex rel. Environmental Termite & Pest Control, Inc. v. Arrow Exterminators, Inc. et al.
E2007-02827-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Daryl Fansler

This appeal involves a claim under Tennessee’s False Claims Act. A local vendor of termite control services became suspicious that two of its competitors had overbilled Knox County for termite control services provided to Knox County’s public schools. After confirming its suspicions by obtaining and reviewing public records and by hiring an attorney and private investigator, the vendor presented a detailed report of its findings to county officials who were unaware that the overbilling had occurred. When the County delayed taking remedial action, the vendor filed a qui tam suit authorized by Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-18-104(c) (2005) in the Chancery Court for Knox County. The County joined the vendor’s lawsuit and eventually settled with both of the companies named as defendants in the vendor’s lawsuit. When the qui tam plaintiff sought a share of the County’s settlement with one of the defendants, the County asserted that the qui tam plaintiff was not eligible to receive any of the settlement proceeds. The trial court heard the matter without a jury and held that the qui tam plaintiff was an “original source” for the purpose of Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-18-104(d)(3)(A) and, therefore, was entitled to receive 28% of the settlement proceeds or $71,546.46. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the qui tam plaintiff was entitled to recover 28% of the value of the settlement proceeds but remanded the case for the purpose of redetermining the value of the settlement proceeds. In re Knox Cnty., Tenn. ex rel. Envtl. Termite & Pest Control, Inc., No. E2007-02827-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 2144478 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 20, 2009). The County filed a Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application on the sole issue of whether the qui tam plaintiff is eligible to recover a portion of the settlement proceeds. We affirm the decisions of both the trial court and the Court of Appeals that the qui tam plaintiff is an “original source” and, therefore, is eligible to receive a portion of the proceeds from the County’s settlement with one of the vendors.

Knox County Supreme Court 07/20/11
Timmy Sykes et al. v. Chattanooga Housing Authority et al.
E2008-00525-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

The plaintiffs, former employees of the Chattanooga Housing Authority (“CHA”), brought retaliatory discharge actions against the CHA and the Chief of the CHA Public Safety Department, pursuant to the Tennessee Public Protection Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-1-304 (2008 & Supp. 2010), and the Tennessee Human Rights Act (“THRA”), Tennessee Code Annotated section 4-21-301 (2005). The trial court granted the defendants summary judgment on all claims. On appeal, the Court of Appeals vacated summary judgment on the THRA claim, finding genuine issues of material fact, and affirmed the trial court’s judgment in all other respects. We affirm the grant of summary judgment on the Tennessee Public Protection Act claims because the undisputed facts establish that the plaintiffs cannot prove the essential element of an exclusive causal relationship between the plaintiffs’ whistleblowing activity and their discharge, as required by the statute. We also affirm the Court of Appeals’ ruling vacating summary judgment in defendants’ favor on the THRA claims because there are genuine issues of disputed fact making summary judgment improper.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 06/24/11
Timmy Sykes et al. v. Chattanooga Housing Authority et al. - Concurring
E2008-00525-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Jeffrey Hollingsworth

The Court has reached a result in this case that is consistent with Kinsler v. Berkline, LLC, 320 S.W.3d 796 (Tenn. 2010) and Gossett v. Tractor Supply Co., 320 S.W.3d 777 (Tenn. 2010). However, as reflected in Chief Justice Clark’s separate opinions in both Kinsler and Gossett, I continue to believe that abandoning the McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) framework that had served Tennessee’s courts well for many years in both Whistleblower Act claims and claims under the Tennessee Human Rights Act was a mistake.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 06/24/11
James Crowley et al. v. Wendy Thomas
M2009-01336-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

The plaintiff obtained a judgment against the defendant in the general sessions court. The defendant appealed to the circuit court. In the circuit court, the plaintiff amended his complaint to add an additional plaintiff and an additional cause of action and to seek additional damages. Shortly before trial, the defendant filed a notice dismissing her appeal. The circuit court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the judgment of the general sessions court pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-5-107 (2000). We hold that the circuit court properly dismissed the defendant’s appeal and affirmed the general sessions judgment. To preserve the plaintiff’s original cause of action after such dismissal, the plaintiff must perfect an appeal to the circuit court as prescribed by Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-5-108 (2000). We therefore affirm the judgment of the lower courts.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/17/11
Rudolph Powers v. State of Tennessee
W2008-01346-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lee V. Coffee

In separate trials, the petitioner was convicted of aggravated rape for an incident occurring in March of 1980 and of aggravated rape and robbery by use of a deadly weapon for an incident occurring in May of the same year. In 2007, the petitioner sought to have deoxyribonucleic acid (“DNA”) analysis performed on the remaining evidence pursuant to the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act of 2001, arguing that exculpatory results would create a reasonable probability that he would not have been prosecuted or convicted on either charge. The petitioner contended that he could conclusively establish his innocence if the DNA profile developed from the evidence was uploaded into a DNA database and matched another profile in the system. The post-conviction court denied relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, holding that DNA analysis was limited to a comparison between the petitioner’s DNA and that collected as a part of the evidence in the case. We granted the petitioner’s application for permission to appeal to determine (1) whether the General Assembly intended to permit petitioners proceeding under the Act to use DNA database matches to satisfy their burden and (2) whether the Court of Criminal Appeals’ interpretation of the statute served to preclude the development of scientific evidence supportive of actual innocence. We hold that the Post-Conviction DNA Analysis Act permits access to a DNA database if a positive match between the crime scene DNA and a profile contained within the database would create a reasonable probability that a petitioner would not have been prosecuted or convicted if exculpatory results had been obtained or would have rendered a more favorable verdict or sentence if the results had been previously available. Because the criteria for ordering DNA analysis under the Act are established, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed and the cause is remanded to the post-conviction court for entry of an order granting DNA analysis.

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/16/11