Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 04/18/2014
Format: 04/18/2014
Joshua Cooper et al. v. Logistics Insight Corp. et al.
M2010-01262-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Robert E. Corlew, III

An employee was injured at work as a result of the actions of a third-party tortfeasor. The employee suffered permanent injuries that required future medical care. The injured employee filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and filed a lawsuit against the third-party tortfeasor. The employer intervened in the lawsuit pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-112 (2008) to protect its subrogation lien against any recovery from the third-partytortfeasor. The employee settled the lawsuit with the third-partytortfeasor and voluntarily dismissed the case. The employer requested that the case be set for trial, claiming that it was entitled to a lien against the settlement proceeds for the cost of future medical benefits that may be paid on behalf of the injured employee. We hold that the employer’s subrogation lien provided by Tennessee Code Annotated section 50-6-112 does not include the cost of future medical benefits that may be provided to an injured employee.

Rutherford County Supreme Court 01/16/13
Saundra Thompson v. Memphis City Schools Board of Education
W2010-02631-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Arnold B. Goldin

We granted this appeal to determine whether a tenured teacher’s failure to return from sick leave amounts to a constructive resignation or a forfeiture of tenure. We hold that, although a tenured teacher’s failure to return from sick leave may constitute cause for termination, there is no statute authorizing a board of education to deem it a constructive resignation or a forfeiture of tenure. Accordingly, by dismissing the plaintiff tenured teacher without providing her with written charges or an opportunity for a hearing, the defendant board of education violated her rights under the Tennessee Teacher Tenure Act and her constitutional right to due process of law protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Thus, the plaintiff is entitled to reinstatement, back pay consisting of her full salary, compensatory damages for the actual harm she sustained, and attorney’s fees. Accordingly, we reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals, reinstate the judgment of the trial court, and remand to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this decision.

Shelby County Supreme Court 12/21/12
David Keen v. State of Tennessee - Dissent
W2011-00789-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

In Van Tran v. State, 66 S.W.3d 790, 792 (Tenn. 2001), this Court held that “the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, § 16 of the Tennessee Constitution prohibit the execution of [intellectually disabled] individuals because such executions violate evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society, are grossly disproportionate, and serve no valid penological purpose in any case.” The next year, the United States Supreme Court reached the same conclusion:
We are not persuaded that the execution of [intellectually disabled] criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty. Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our “evolving standards of decency,” we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution “places a substantive restriction on the State’s power to take the life” of a[n intellectually disabled] offender.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 12/20/12
David Keen v. State of Tennessee
W2011-00789-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

This appeal involves a prisoner who was sentenced to death in 1991. Nineteen years later, he filed a petition in the Criminal Court for Shelby County seeking to reopen his post-conviction proceeding on the ground that he possessed new scientific evidence of his actual innocence. His evidence consisted of a newly-obtained I.Q. test score purportedly showing that he could not be executed by virtue of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-203 (2010) because he was intellectually disabled. The trial court declined to hold a hearing and denied the prisoner’s petition. The trial court determined, as a matter of the law, that the prisoner’s newly-obtained I.Q. test score was not new scientific evidence of his actual innocence of the offenses to which he earlier pleaded guilty. The prisoner filed an application for permission to appeal the denial of his petition to reopen in the Court of Criminal Appeals. In addition to asserting that the newly-obtained I.Q. test score was new scientific evidence of his actual innocence, the prisoner asserted that this Court’s decision in Coleman v. State, 341 S.W.3d 221 (Tenn. 2011), announced a new constitutional right and, therefore, provided another basis for reopening his petition for post-conviction relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals entered an order on June 29, 2011, affirming the trial court’s denial of the petition to reopen because the I.Q. test score did not amount to scientific evidence of actual innocence for the purpose of Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2) (2006) and because Coleman v. State did not announce a new rule of constitutional law under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(1). We granted the prisoner’s application for permission to appeal to address whether the phrase “actually innocent of the offense” in Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2) encompasses ineligibility for the death penalty in addition to actual innocence of the underlying crime and whether our holding in Coleman v. State established a new constitutional right to be applied retroactively under Tenn. Code Ann.§ 40-30-117(a)(1). We hold that the Tennessee General Assembly, when it enacted Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2), did not intend for the phrase “actually innocent of the offense” to include ineligibility for the death penalty because of intellectual disability. We also hold that Coleman v. State did not establish a new rule of constitutional law that must be applied retroactively under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30117(a)(1). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals denying the prisoner’s petition to reopen his post-conviction petition.
 

Shelby County Supreme Court 12/20/12
State of Tennessee v. Robert Jason Burdick
M2010-00144-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Seth W. Norman

In 2000, an affidavit of complaint was issued charging “John Doe” with an aggravated rape that had occurred in 1994. The affidavit, which included a detailed DNA profile of “John Doe,” led to the issuance of an arrest warrant. In 2008, police officers discovered that fingerprints taken from the scene of the crime matched those of the defendant. Later, police determined that the DNA profile was that of the defendant,and a superseding indictmentwas issued in his name. The defendant was tried and convicted of attempted aggravated rape, and the trial court imposed a ten-year sentence. The Court  of Criminal  Appeals affirmed, holding that the “John Doe” warrant with the DNA profile was adequate to identify the defendant and commence prosecution within the applicable statute of limitations. Because the issue is one of first impression in this state, this Court granted an application for permission to appeal. We hold that a criminal prosecution is commenced if, within the statute of limitations for a particular offense, a warrant is issued identifying the defendant by gender and his or her unique DNA profile. Furthermore, a superseding indictment in the defendant’s proper name provides the requisite notice of the charge. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

Davidson County Supreme Court 12/18/12
Patricia Carlene Mayfield v. Phillip Harold Mayfield
M2010-01383-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Larry B. Stanley, Jr.

We granted review in this divorce case to determine whether the Court of Appeals erred by reversing the trial court’s denial of transitional alimony. The trial court divided the parties’ real and personal property, awarded custody of their children to the wife, and declined to award spousal support to the husband. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s custody determination and, except for the trial court’s refusal to divide the wife’s post-separation income, upheld the classification and division of the marital estate. However, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment regarding spousal support and ordered the wife to pay the husband transitional alimony in the amount of $2000 per month for thirty-six months. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to award the husband transitional alimony. Accordingly, we reverse that portion of the Court of Appeals’ judgment awarding the husband transitional alimony but affirm in all other respects the intermediate appellate court’s decision.

Warren County Supreme Court 12/03/12
State of Tennessee v. Christine Caudle
M2010-01172-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter

The defendant pled guilty to reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon and theft of merchandise over five hundred dollars. The trial court sentenced the defendant as a Range II, multiple offender to three years on each count, to be served concurrently. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to apply certain mitigating factors and byfailing to grant probation or an alternative sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals, after declining to review the sentences because the defendant had failed to provide a transcript of the hearing on the guilty pleas, affirmed the judgment of the trial court based upon a presumption that the evidence was sufficient to support the sentences. After granting the defendant’s application forpermission to appealbecause of conflicting opinions bythe Court of Criminal Appeals as to whether the absence of a transcript of a guilty plea submission hearing precludes appellate review on the merits, we ordered that the record be supplemented. In this instance, the record was adequate for a meaningful review of the sentences either with or without the transcript of the hearing on the guilty pleas. By use of the recently adopted abuse of discretion standard for the review of sentences, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Williamson County Supreme Court 11/27/12
BSG, LLC v. Check Velocity, Inc.
M2011-00355-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Janice M. Holder
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

A contract required payment of “fee residuals” from customers referred by BSG, LLC to Check Velocity, a company providing check re-presentment services. The contract provided that payment of fee residuals survived the termination of the agreement between the parties and continued until the “expiration of the Customer agreements as they may be renewed.” Two agreements were executed between a referred customer and Check Velocity. The first agreement, which expired by its own terms, provided for check re-presentment services. The second agreement continued the re-presentment services required by the first agreement and added additional services. In addition, other terms of the first agreement were changed, including a choice of law provision. We hold that the second agreement with additional services and changed terms was not a renewal of the first agreement. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Check Velocity.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/20/12
Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Thomas Ewing Cowan
E2012-00377-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Walter C. Kurtz

This appeal involves a determination of the proper final discipline for an attorney who pleaded guilty to willful tax evasion. We hold that because ABA Standard for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions 5.11(b)applies to criminal acts such as those admitted by the attorney here, the trial court’s order of disbarment is affirmed.

Carter County Supreme Court 11/19/12
R. Douglas Hughes et al. v. New Life Development Corporation et al.
M2010-00579-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas W. Graham

This appeal involves the validity and effect of amendments to restrictive covenants for a residential development and amendments to the charter and bylaws for the homeowners’ association serving the development. After the death of the president of the original corporate developer, a successor developer purchased the original developer’s remaining property with the intent to continue to develop the property. Several homeowners filed suit in the Chancery Court for Franklin County, alleging that the successor developer’s new development plan violated restrictive covenants. The trial court granted the successor developer a judgment on the pleadings, and the homeowners appealed. The Court of Appeals remanded the case for further proceedings, principally on the question of whether a general plan of development, or the plat for the subdivision, gave rise to certain implied restrictive covenants. Hughes v. New Life Dev. Corp., No. M2008-00290-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 400635, at *9-10 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 17, 2009). While the successor developer’s application for permission to appeal was pending, the homeowners’ association amended its charter and the restrictive covenants to address certain issues identified by the Court of Appeals. Thereafter, the homeowners filed a second suit, principally contesting the validity of the amendments. The trial court consolidated the two suits and granted the successor developer a summary judgment on all claims in both suits. However, the trial court also enjoined the successor developer from acting contrary to its corporate charter. The homeowners appealed a second time. On this occasion, the Court of Appeals concluded that the procedure used to amend the charter and restrictive covenants was valid but remanded the case with directions to determine whether these amendments were reasonable and to determine whether the plat supported the existence of implied restrictive covenants. Hughes v. New Life Dev. Corp., No. M2010-00579-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 1661605, at *9-11 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2011). The successor developer filed an application for permission to appeal, asserting that Tennessee law did not support the Court of Appeals’ reasonableness inquiry and that the plat provided no basis for the existence of implied restrictive covenants. We have determined that the amendments were properly adopted and that there is no basis for implied restrictive covenants arising from a general plan of development or from the plat.

Franklin County Supreme Court 11/19/12
Jeanette Rea Jackson v. Bradley Smith
W2011-00194-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William C. Cole

This appeal involves the efforts of a grandmother to obtain court-ordered visitation with her granddaughter in accordance with Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-6-306 (2010). Shortly after the death of her daughter, the grandmother filed a petition in the Chancery Court for McNairy County seeking visitation with her granddaughter. Following a two-day hearing, the trial court denied the grandmother’s request for visitation because she had failed to prove the statutory grounds necessary to permit a court to order grandparental visitation over a parent’s objection. The grandmother did not appeal this decision. After the decision became final, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the burden of persuasion in the grandparental visitation statute by creating a new rebuttable presumption that a child whose parent dies will be substantially harmed by the cessation of an existing relationship with a grandparent who is the parent of the deceased parent. Without alleging new facts and relying solely on the change in the statutory burden of persuasion, the grandmother filed a second petition in the trial court seeking visitation with her granddaughter. The trial court granted the child’s father’s motion to dismiss on the ground of res judicata. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order. Jackson v. Smith, No. W2011-00194-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 3963589 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 9, 2011). We granted the grandmother’s application for permission to appeal to determine whether the intervening change in the burden of persuasion in the grandparental visitation statute provided an exception to the operation of the res judicata doctrine. We have determined that it does not and that, without some material change in the facts, the doctrine of res judicata bars relitigation of the grandmother’s petition for grandparental visitation.

McNairy County Supreme Court 11/16/12
In Re: Estate of Thomas Grady Chastain
E2011-01442-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Jerri S. Bryant

The issue in this appeal is whether the statutory requirements for execution of an attested will prescribed by Tennessee Code Annotated section 32-1-104(1) (2007) were satisfied when the decedent failed to sign the two-page will but signed a one-page affidavit of attesting witnesses. We conclude that the decedent’s signature on the separate affidavit of attesting witnesses does not satisfy the statute requiring the testator’s signature on the will. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the judgment of the trial court that the will was not properly executed is reinstated.

Polk County Supreme Court 11/16/12
M. Josiah Hoover, III v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
E2011-02458-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Gary R. Wade
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Donald Harris

This is an appeal from a judgment affirming the disbarment of an attorney. After considering evidence presented incident to five complaints against the attorney, a hearing panel designated by the Board of Professional Responsibility concluded that disbarment was warranted. On appeal, the trial court affirmed. In this appeal, the attorney has raised the following issues for review: (1) whether the panel erred by denying his motion to continue the hearing; (2) whether the panel erred by considering the attorney’s conduct in a case based upon a complaint by another attorney who had no involvement in the case; (3) whether the evidence supports the panel’s findings; (4) whether disbarment is an appropriate punishment; and (5) whether the trial court erred by denying the attorney’s post-judgment motion to supplement the record. We affirm the judgment.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/16/12