Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 10/31/2014
Format: 10/31/2014
Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. v. State of Tennessee
M2009-00360-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Cheryl Blackburn

This appeal raises the question of whether a prisoner facing the death penalty has the mental capacity to abandon the pursuit of post-conviction relief in his three murder cases. After the prisoner decided not to seek a new trial in any of these cases, one of his sisters, in cooperation with the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender, filed a “next friend” petition in each of the prisoner’s three murder cases, requesting the courts to declare the prisoner incompetent, thereby enabling her to pursue post-conviction relief on his behalf. The Criminal Court for Davidson County and the Circuit Court for Montgomery County conducted separate hearings in 2008. Each court denied the petitions after determining that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed both of these judgments. Reid v. State, Nos. M2009-00128-CCA-R3-PD, M200900360-CCA-R3-PD, M2009-01557-CCA-R3-PD, 2011 WL 3444171 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 8, 2011). We granted the prisoner’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application. We have determined that both trial courts employed the correct legal standard for determining whether the prisoner possessed the mental capacity to rationally forego seeking post-conviction relief and also that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. For the sake of consistency, we further hold that, in all future cases, Tennessee’s courts should employ the mental competency standard of Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 28, § 11(B) whenever the issue of a prisoner’s competency to pursue post-conviction relief is properly raised.

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/24/13
Paul Dennis Reid, Jr. ex rel. Linda Martiniano v. State of Tennessee
M2009-00128-SC-R11-PD
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

This appeal raises the question of whether a prisoner facing the death penalty has the mental capacity to abandon the pursuit of post-conviction relief in his three murder cases. After the prisoner decided not to seek a new trial in any of these cases, one of his sisters, in cooperation with the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender, filed a “next friend” petition in each of the prisoner’s three murder cases, requesting the courts to declare the prisoner incompetent, thereby enabling her to pursue post-conviction relief on his behalf. The Criminal Court for Davidson County and the Circuit Court for Montgomery County conducted separate hearings in 2008. Each court denied the petitions after determining that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed both of these judgments. Reid v. State, Nos. M2009-00128-CCA-R3-PD, M200900360-CCA-R3-PD, M2009-01557-CCA-R3-PD, 2011 WL 3444171 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 8, 2011). We granted the prisoner’s Tenn. R. App. P. 11 application. We have determined that both trial courts employed the correct legal standard for determining whether the prisoner possessed the mental capacity to rationally forego seeking post-conviction relief and also that the prisoner’s sister and the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the prisoner lacked the capacity to make rational decisions regarding the pursuit of post-conviction relief. For the sake of consistency, we further hold that, in all future cases, Tennessee’s courts should employ the mental competency standard of Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 28, § 11(B) whenever the issue of a prisoner’s competency to pursue post-conviction relief is properly raised.
 

Montgomery County Supreme Court 01/24/13
Sidney S. Stanton III v. State of Tennessee
M2010-01868-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge E. Shayne Sexton

The defendant was indicted on sixteen counts of animal cruelty for intentionally or knowingly failing to provide necessary food and care to horses on his farm in Warren County. The defendant applied for pretrial diversion, but the assistant district attorney general, acting for the district attorney general, determined that the defendant was not an appropriate candidate for pretrial diversion. The defendant filed a petition for writ of certiorari seeking a review by the trial court. The trial court found no abuse of discretion. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal. Finding no abuse of discretion, we affirm.

Warren County Supreme Court 01/23/13
Timmy Dale Britt v. Dyer's Employment Agency, Inc. et al.
W2011-00929-SC-WCM-WC
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge C. Creed McGinley

The employer, a temporary staffing agency, assigned the employee to work temporarily at a manufacturing facility. The employee sustained a compensable work-related injury three weeks into the assignment and reported the injury to the employer. At about the same time, the manufacturing facility notified the employer that employee’s assignment had ended. Consistent with its business practice, the employer terminated the employee’s employment and did not return the employee to work after the injury. The employee sought workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court awarded benefits; however, citing the temporary nature of the employment, the trial court applied the statute capping the award at one and one-half times the medical impairment rating. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-241(d)(1)(A) (2008 & Supp. 2012). The Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel vacated the judgment of the trial court and remanded for a determination of whether the employee had a meaningful return to work. We hold that because the employer neither returned the employee to work after his injury, nor offered him an opportunity to return to work, nor terminated his employment for misconduct, the award of benefits is governed by the statute authorizing benefits up to six times the medical impairment rating, see id. § 50-6241(d)(2)(A), not by the statute capping benefits at one and one-half times the medical impairment rating, see id. § 50-6-241(d)(1)(A). The judgments of the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel and trial court are vacated, and this case is remanded to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this decision

Decatur County Supreme Court 01/22/13
Dick Broadcasting Company, Inc. of Tennessee v. Oak Ridge FM, Inc. et al. - Concur
E2010-01685-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

I concur with the Court’s decision to apply the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing to the three contracts involved in this case. I also concur with the Court’s decision that neither party is entitled to a summary judgment because the current record reflects genuine disputes regarding the facts material to their claims and defenses. However, because there is no consensus regarding the scope of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing in the context of arm’s length commercial transactions, I write separately to address this important point.

Knox County Supreme Court 01/17/13
Dick Broadcasting Company, Inc. of Tennessee v. Oak Ridge FM, Inc. et al.
E2010-01685-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Michael W. Moyers

The legal issues in this appeal revolve around the assignment of three agreements. The first is a Right-of-First-Refusal Agreement that allowed for an assignment with the consent of the non-assigning party. The agreement was silent as to the anticipated standard of conduct of the non-assigning party in withholding consent. The other two agreements—a Time Brokerage Agreement and a Consulting Agreement—were assignable without consent. The primary issue we address is whether the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing applies to the non-assigning party’s conduct in refusing to consent to an assignment when the agreement does not specify a standard of conduct. Oak Ridge FM, Inc. (“Oak Ridge FM”) contractually agreed for Dick Broadcasting Company (“DBC”) to have a right of first refusal to purchase Oak Ridge FM’s WOKI-FM radio station assets. The agreement was assignable by DBC only with the written consent of Oak Ridge FM. When DBC requested Oak Ridge FM to consent to the assignment of the Right-of-First-Refusal agreement to a prospective buyer, Oak Ridge FM refused to consent. Oak Ridge FM also refused to consent to the assignment of the Consulting Agreement and Time Brokerage Agreement, neither of which contained a consent provision. DBC sued Oak Ridge FM and the other defendants, alleging breach of contract and violation of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The trial court granted the defendants a summary judgment. DBC appealed, and the Court of Appeals vacated the summary judgment. We hold that where the parties have contracted to allow assignment of an agreement with the consent of the non-assigning party, and the agreement is silent regarding the anticipated standard of conduct in withholding consent, an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing applies and requires the non-assigning party to act with good faith and in a commercially reasonable manner in deciding whether to consent to the assignment. Because there are genuine issues of material fact in dispute, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court.

Knox County Supreme Court 01/17/13
Joshua Cooper et al. v. Logistics Insight Corp. et al. - Dissent
M2010-01262-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice William C. Koch, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Robert E. Corlew, III

Employees’work-related injuries are, on occasion, caused by the fault of third parties. Approximately fifty years ago, the Tennessee General Assembly addressed how recoveries from these third parties should be apportioned between the employee and the employer. This appeal requires us to interpret and apply Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-112(c) (2008), one of these fifty-year-old statutes. Rather than applying the plain statutory language, the Court has undertaken to harmonize Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-112 with other changes in the Workers’ Compensation Law that were made after Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-112 was enacted. There is no doubt that the Tennessee General Assembly should revisit Tenn.Code Ann.§ 50-6-112. However, until the General Assembly does, I would interpret and apply the statute according to its plain meaning. Accordingly, I must respectfully dissent.

Rutherford County Supreme Court 01/16/13
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