Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 10/02/2014
Format: 10/02/2014
George Ernest Skouteris, Jr. v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
W2013-01254-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Ben H. Cantrell

This is a direct appeal of an attorney disciplinary proceeding involving six complaints of professional misconduct. The trial court affirmed the hearing panel’s decision that the attorney had violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct and should be disbarred from the practice of law. After review of the evidence presented and the applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Supreme Court 02/21/14
State of Tennessee v. David Dwayne Bell
E2011-01241-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Rex Henry Ogle

This appeal involves the weight that should be given to a motorist’s performance on field sobrietytests in determining whether probable cause existed to arrest the motorist for driving under the influence of an intoxicant (“DUI”). A law enforcement officer stopped a motorist who was driving in the wrong direction on a divided highway in Sevier County. Another officer administered several field sobriety tests, and arrested the motorist for DUI because the motorist had been driving in the wrong direction on a divided highway, smelled of alcohol, and admitted that he had been drinking. When the grand juryreturned a presentment charging the motorist with DUI and DUI per se, he filed a motion in the Circuit Court for Sevier County to suppress the evidence and to dismiss the charges. The trial court dismissed the charges on the ground that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest the motorist in light of his performance on the field sobriety tests. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. State v. Bell, No. E2011-01241-CCA-R3-CD, 2012 WL 3776695 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 31, 2012). We granted the State’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application for permission to appeal and now hold that the officer had probable cause to arrest the motorist for DUI without a warrant. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and the trial court, reinstate the charges, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings

Sevier County Supreme Court 02/20/14
Doris Cannon ex rel. Juanita E. Good v. Bhaskar Reddy, M.D.
M2012-01332-SC-S10-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jim T. Hamilton

The plaintiff filed a health care liability action against the defendant. During the pendency of her action, the General Assembly enacted the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-121 and -122. The plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her original action. The plaintiff then filed two successive actions. First, the plaintiff filed a second action that did not comply with the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith statutes. The plaintiff then filed a third action that complied with Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-121 and -122. The plaintiff moved to consolidate her second and third actions, and the defendant moved to dismiss. The defendant contended that the plaintiff’s second action should be dismissed for failure to comply with the pre-suit notice and certificate of good faith requirements and that her third action should be dismissed based on the doctrine of prior suit pending. The trial court consolidated the lawsuits and denied the defendant’s motions to dismiss. The defendant moved for permission to file an interlocutory appeal, which the trial court denied. We granted the defendant’s application for extraordinary appeal pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. During the pendency of the appeal, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her second action. As a result of the plaintiff’s voluntary dismissal and our recent holding in Rajvongs v. Wright, ___ S.W.3d ___, 2013 WL 6504425 (Tenn. Dec. 12, 2013), we hold that the plaintiff, who properly provided pre-suit notice of her claim prior to filing her third action, was entitled to a 120-day extension in which to refile her complaint pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(c). The plaintiff’s third complaint was therefore timely filed. We affirm the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for further proceedings.

Maury County Supreme Court 01/29/14
Derrick Brandon Bush v. State of Tennessee
M2011-02133-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dee David Gay

This appeal concerns the retroactive application of Ward v. State, 315 S.W.3d 461 (Tenn. 2010), in which this Court held that trial courts have an affirmative duty, before accepting a guilty plea to a crime carrying a mandatory sentence of community supervision for life, to inform the defendant desiring to plead guilty of the consequence of lifetime supervision. In April 2011, a prisoner, who pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted rape in December 2000, filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Criminal Court for Sumner County alleging that his guilty pleas were not knowingly or intelligently entered because he had not been informed that he would be subject to lifetime community supervision following his release from prison. The trial court decided that the Post-Conviction Procedure Act’s statute of limitations should be tolled on due process grounds and that the prisoner was entitled to post-conviction relief because Ward v. State should be applied retroactively. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, finding no grounds for due process tolling and that Ward v. State did not announce a new rule of constitutional law requiring retroactive application. Bush v. State, No. M2011-02133-CCA-R3-PC, 2012 WL 2308280 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 15, 2012). We granted the prisoner’s appeal to clarify the standards governing retroactive application of this Court’s authoritative interpretations of the Tennessee Constitution and to resolve related issues in the interpretation of the Post-Conviction Procedure Act. In accordance with the retroactivity framework for post-conviction proceedings the Tennessee General Assembly codified in Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-122 (2012), we have determined that our holding in Ward v. State does not require retroactive application and, therefore, that the prisoner is not entitled to tolling under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-102(b)(1) (2012). We also hold that the prisoner’s case does not warrant due process tolling. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Sumner County Supreme Court 01/28/14
E. Ron Pickard et al. v. Tennessee Water Quality Control Board et al. - REHEAR
M2011-02600-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

E. Ron Pickard and Linda Pickard have filed a timely Tenn. R. App. P. 39 petition requesting this Court to revisit its opinion filed in this case on December 17, 2013. This petition is premised on the Pickards’ erroneous conclusion that the focal point of the Court’s analysis was their April 6, 2009 petition for a declaratory order, to the exclusion of their January 16, 2009 petition for a declaratory order.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/06/14
State of Tennessee v. Marcus Pope
W2012-00033-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge John T. Fowlkes, Jr.

The defendant, convicted of aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary, and sentenced to concurrent terms of ten and six years respectively, appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences, holding that the evidence of identification was sufficient as to both convictions and, as to the aggravated burglary, holding that the victim had not given his “effective consent” to the entry of the residence. We granted the application for permission to appeal to determine whether the evidence, circumstantial or direct, was sufficient to establish both convictions. Because the jury had the prerogative to reject the alibi testimony offered by the defendant, the identification evidence was sufficient as to both offenses. The aggravated robbery conviction is, therefore, affirmed. As to the aggravated burglary, however, the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to support the conviction because there was no evidence that the Defendant engaged in an act of “deception,” as defined by statute, in the context of “effective consent.” The aggravated burglary conviction is, therefore, reversed and the charge dismissed. We remand for a new trial on the lesser included offenses of aggravated criminal trespass and criminal trespass.

Shelby County Supreme Court 12/30/13
Westgate Smoky Mountains at Gatlinburg v. Burns Phillips, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development et al.
E2011-02538-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety

The claimant is a licensed time-share salesperson who sold time-share interests at a resort owned by Westgate in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. When resort management terminated the business relationship, the claimant filed for state unemployment benefits with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The initial agency decision, the Appeals Tribunal, and the Board of Review affirmed an award of benefits to the claimant, concluding that a time-share salesperson is not a licensed real estate agent and therefore is not subject to the Tennessee Employment Security Law’s exclusion for services performed by a “qualified real estate agent.” Westgate sought judicial review of the Board’s decision. The chancery court reversed, finding that a time-share salesperson is a “licensed real estate agent” and that the claimant was ineligible for unemployment benefits as a “qualified real estate agent.” The Court of Appeals reversed the chancery court’s findings, and Westgate appealed. We reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstate the judgment of the chancery court.

Sevier County Supreme Court 12/23/13
Zoyle Jones v. State of Tennessee
M2012-02546-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Robert Hibbett

The issue presented in this case is one of first impression: whether cabinet-level state executive officials are absolutely immune from defamation claims arising out of statements made while performing their official duties. An employee of the Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”) was disciplined for double-billing claims for his job-related travel expenses to both the state and a private organization. After the TDOC Commissioner responded to media inquiries about the employee’s demotion for violating the state’s travel billing policy, the employee sued the State of Tennessee and the TDOC for defamation. The State moved for summaryjudgment, asserting that the TDOC Commissioner had an absolute privilege to make the allegedly defamatory statements to the media. The Tennessee Claims Commission denied the State’s motion. Upon review, we hold that the State is absolutely immune from the employee’s defamation claims that relate to the TDOC Commissioner’s statements in response to media inquiries about the employee’s demotion. This ruling allows cabinet-level officials to perform their governmental duties free from legal harassment and uninhibited by the fear of potential lawsuits arising out of their job-related speech. It also furthers the vital free-expression principle that the public has a right to receive critical information from the government and its public officials, who must be free to speak with complete candor about matters of public importance. The judgment of the Claims Commission is reversed.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/23/13
Juan Alberto Blanco Garcia v. State of Tennessee
M2012-01058-SC-R11-PC
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley

In this post-conviction proceeding the petitioner alleged ineffective assistance of counsel based upon trial counsel’s failure to advise him of the immigration consequences of his plea as required by Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010). The petitioner also alleged that his plea was involuntary and unknowing because the trial court failed to comply with Tennessee Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(b)(1)(J). The post-conviction trial court denied post-conviction relief, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We conclude that the record fully supports the post-conviction court’s findings that trial counsel advised the petitioner he would be deported upon pleading guilty and that his guilty plea could have an adverse effect upon his ability to return legally to the United States. We also agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals that the trial court’s failure to comply with Rule 11(b)(1)(J) was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the proof shows that the petitioner was aware his guilty plea would result in his deportation and could adversely affect his ability to return legally to the United States. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the post-conviction court’s denial of post-conviction relief.

Warren County Supreme Court 12/23/13
State of Tennessee v. James Allen Pollard
M2011-00332-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

The defendant was convicted of felony murder, first degree premeditated murder, and especially aggravated robbery. After merging the murder convictions, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences of life for the murder and eighteen years for the especially aggravated robbery. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions but remanded to the trial court for a proper determination of whether the sentences should be served consecutively or concurrently. We hold that, when a trial court places findings on the record to support its sentencing decision, the applicable standard of appellate review for a challenge to the imposition of consecutive sentences is abuse of discretion with a presumption of reasonableness. Because, however, the trial court failed to address the factors required to impose consecutive sentences based on the dangerous offender classification, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and remand to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/20/13
Erik Hood v. Casey Jenkins et al.
E2011-02749-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Telford E. Forgety, Jr.

The minor beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy filed suit against his financial guardian and the insurance company after the guardian misappropriated the insurance proceeds. The trial court entered judgments in favor of the minor against both the guardian and the insurance company. On appeal by the insurance company, the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the insurance company breached its contractual duties by entrusting the proceeds to the guardian. The insurance company then applied for permission to appeal to this Court, contending that it could not be held liable for the loss to the minor because it had relied upon the validity of a juvenile court order of guardianship. Because the insurance company acted in good faith when it relied upon a facially valid court order establishing a financial guardianship in making payment of the life insurance proceeds, it is not liable for breach of contract. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is, therefore, reversed, and the claim against the insurance company is dismissed.

Grainger County Supreme Court 12/19/13
Edith Johnson et al. v. Mark C. Hopkins et al.
M2012-02468-SC-S09-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

We granted permission to appeal to determine whether a provision of the unlawful detainer statute, which requires that a tenant appealing to the circuit court from a general sessions court’s judgment in favor of a landlord must post a bond equal to one year’s rent of the premises, applies regardless of whether the tenant has surrendered possession of the property prior to the appeal. We hold that the plain language of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-18-130(b)(2) (2012) does not require that a tenant appealing to the circuit court from an adverse general sessions court judgment in an unlawful detainer action post a bond corresponding to one year’s rent of the premises if the tenant has surrendered possession of the premises prior to the appeal. Accordingly, the cost bond that the tenants have already posted pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-5-103(a) (2000) is sufficient to perfect their appeal and confer subject matter jurisdiction on the Circuit Court. We affirm the Circuit Court’s judgment denying the landlords’ motion to dismiss and remand the case to the Circuit Court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/19/13
Jolyn Cullum et al. v. Jan McCool et al. - Concur / Dissent
E2012-00991-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

I fully concur in the majority’s conclusion that Wal-Mart owed a duty of reasonable care to its customers to prevent them from suffering harm and that the trial court erred in granting Wal-Mart’s motion to dismiss. I write separately, however, to reaffirm my view that “any discussion of foreseeability in the context of duty encroaches upon the role of the finder of fact.” Giggers v. Memphis Hous. Auth., 277 S.W.3d 359, 372 (Tenn. 2009) (Holder, J., concurring and dissenting) (quoting Satterfield v. Breeding Insulation Co., 266 S.W.3d 347, 375 (Tenn. 2008) (Holder, J., concurring and dissenting)). See also Hale v. Ostrow, 166 S.W.3d 713, 720 (Tenn. 2005) (Holder, J., concurring and dissenting); Burroughs v. Magee, 118 S.W.3d 323, 338 (Tenn. 2003) (Holder, J., concurring and dissenting); Staples v. CBL & Assocs., Inc., 15 S.W.3d 83, 92 (Tenn. 2000) (Holder, J., concurring).

Hamilton County Supreme Court 12/18/13