Tennessee Supreme Court To Hear Oral Arguments For November In Jackson

November 4, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on November 6, 2019.  The details of the cases are as follows:

  • Paul Zachary Moss v. Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board – This case was initiated after Paul Zachary Moss was terminated from his position as a firefighter with the Shelby County Fire Department.  While off-duty, Mr. Moss was arrested and charged with aggravated assault arising from an altercation at a political rally where Mr. Moss allegedly pulled out a gun and pointed it at two individuals.  Mr. Moss subsequently entered a best-interest plea to aggravated assault, for which he received judicial diversion.  Shortly thereafter, the Fire Department sent Mr. Moss a Notice of Proposed Major Discipline, which cited two charges: (1) that he had been convicted of a felony and (2) that he failed to give notice regarding his arrest.  Following a hearing, Mr. Moss was terminated.  In the termination letter, the Fire Department Chief referenced the two previously cited charges but also that Mr. Moss was dishonest during the hearing, failed to report a prior arrest, and engaged in troublesome conduct involving firearms, alcohol, and aggression towards others.  Mr. Moss appealed to the Shelby County Civil Service Merit Board, which affirmed the termination on the basis that there was adequate “cause” for Mr. Moss’s termination as required by the Shelby County Civil Service Merit Act.  The Merit Board upheld the termination, citing the conduct outlined by the Fire Chief in its reasoning.  Mr. Moss then sought review in the Chancery Court for Shelby County, which also affirmed the termination on the basis that, as a whole, the termination and review processes comported with due process and there was substantial and material evidence to support the decision of the Merit Board.  The Court of Appeals reversed the chancery court and held that the initial Notice of Proposed Major Discipline did not give Mr. Moss adequate notice or an opportunity to respond to the allegations against him, and that the deficiency was not cured when the termination letter or Merit Board decision referenced conduct unrelated to the political rally arrest that also contributed to Mr. Moss’s termination.  On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Merit Board argues that Mr. Moss was afforded due process because the proceedings as a whole provided him with adequate notice of the charges against him and an opportunity to refute those charges at different stages.  Mr. Moss argues that the charges in the initial Notice failed to give him adequate opportunity to respond to the additional conduct referenced by the Fire Chief in his termination letter and affirmed by the Merit Board, which violated his due process rights.  Additionally, Mr. Moss contends that he was not given the opportunity to confront his accusers or present evidence of unequal application of discipline across employee discipline cases.
  • Stephen P. Geller v. Henry County Board of Education This case involves the transfer of a Henry County Assistant Principal, Stephen Geller, from his position as assistant principal to a lower-paid position at an alternative school, based on Mr. Geller’s failure to hold an administrator’s license.  Mr. Geller brought suit and claimed his transfer violated Tennessee law regarding teacher transfers.  The Henry County Director of Schools (“the Director”) stated that he transferred Mr. Geller on the basis that it was “necessary to the efficient operation of the school system,” as provided by Tennessee statute.  The trial court upheld the transfer and determined that it was reasonable for the Director to conclude, based on his interpretation of “instructional leadership,” that all assistant principals required the license.  The Court of Appeals reversed and held that the Director’s decision was unreasonable and arbitrary because he failed to examine Mr. Geller’s actual responsibilities before determining he was required to obtain the license.  On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Henry County Board of Education contends that the transfer was proper because Mr. Geller was required to obtain the license because Mr. Geller spent at least 50% of his time on instructional leadership, and that even if Mr. Geller was not required to obtain the administrator’s license, the transfer was still proper under the teacher transfer statute.  The Board also argues that the Court of Appeals applied an incorrect standard of review on appeal.  Mr. Geller argues that transfer was not proper under the statute.  Specifically, Mr. Geller argues that the transfer was not necessary for the efficient operation of the school system and was not made according to the Board’s policies.
  • State of Tennessee v. Antonio Benson The defendant, Antonio Benson, was convicted by a jury of first degree premeditated murder and received a life sentence.  Evidence at trial established that the victim punched Mr. Benson in the nose after he made multiple advances on her and demanded she perform oral sex on him.  Mr. Benson then shot the victim five to six times, killing her.  At trial, Mr. Benson requested a jury instruction on self-defense.  The trial court denied the request, holding that self-defense had not been fairly raised by the proof.  The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, concluding that self-defense had been fairly raised by the evidence because it was “uncontroverted that the victim hit [Mr. Benson] in the nose before he shot her.”   Further, the intermediate court held that trial court should have given the instruction to allow the jury to determine whether the victim’s actions of punching Mr. Benson in the face raised a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to Mr. Benson. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the State argues that the trial court is responsible for making the decision whether to charge the jury with self-defense based on whether the issue has been raised by the evidence, and, in this case, the evidence does not give rise to a reasonable or honest belief that Mr. Benson imminently feared for his life or the victim attempted or caused serious bodily injury to him.  Mr. Benson argues that even the slightest evidence of self-defense requires the trial court to give the jury instruction.
  • Roy Franks et al. v. Tiffany Sykes et al. –The appellants, Roy Franks and Cindy Edwards, filed two separate claims under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) related to undiscounted hospital liens filed against them by Professional Account Services, Inc., on behalf of two different hospitals that provided medical treatment to the appellants for injuries sustained in unrelated car accidents.  The trial court dismissed the claim raised by Ms. Edwards on the basis of improper venue and the claim raised by Mr. Franks on the basis of failure to state a claim under the TCPA because the claim should have been brought under the Hospital Lien Act (“HLA”).  On appeal, the Court of Appeals modified the trial court’s order as to Mr. Franks’ claim “to reflect that the HLA is not the exclusive remedy” for the cause of action.  However, the court remanded for further proceedings on the basis that the underlying transaction, the medical treatment, is not a consumer transaction as defined by the TCPA.  As to Ms. Edwards’s claim, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court with respect to venue but directed the trial court, on remand, to dismiss based on the failure to state a claim under the TCPA.  On appeal to the Supreme Court, the appellants argue that the TCPA applies to professionals, including medical doctors, in their business practices, and the transactions complained of in this case were taken by for-profit and debt-collection companies in exchange for drugs (goods) and medical treatment (services), within the scope of the TCPA.  Further, the appellants argue that their claims do not relate to the medical treatment per se but rather to the debt collection activity, which is a business practice and within the scope of the TCPA.  The appellees argue that the TCPA does not apply because the appellants were not consumers at the time the liens were filed and the hospital liens or debt collection activities were not created through fraudulent means.  The appellees also contend that any federal authority relied on by the appellants is not persuasive because Tennessee courts have a narrower interpretation of the Federal Trade Commission Act (“FTC Act”).  On behalf of the appellants as amicus curiae, the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services argues that, because the TCPA explicitly states it should be construed consistently with the FTC Act, the TCPA also should be interpreted to include actions of original and third-party creditors and commercial aspects of the medical profession.
  • State of Tennessee v. Carl Allen - This appeal stems from issues pertaining to the classification of the defendant, Carl Allen, on the Tennessee sexual offender registry (SOR) after his 1995 plea to sexual battery in the state of Florida.  In Tennessee, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (“TBI”) has the authority to determine whether a person is a sexual offender or violent sexual offender if convicted in another jurisdiction.  In 2010, charges were brought against Mr. Allen for failing to comply with statutory requirements of the SOR.  In 2012, the trial court dismissed the charges and ordered the TBI to reclassify Mr. Allen as a sexual offender, rather than a violent sexual offender, based on the facts of his underlying guilty plea.  In 2015, the TBI sought to intervene in the case, arguing that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to alter Mr. Allen’s classification.  Without conducting a hearing, the trial court vacated its 2012 order and reclassified Mr. Allen as a violent sexual offender based on the TBI’s argument that the TBI was the only agency with authority to change Mr. Allen’s classification.  Mr. Allen appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the case for a hearing.  Following the hearing, the trial court granted the TBI’s motion to intervene and vacated the portion of its 2012 order that ordered the TBI to reclassify Mr. Allen as a sexual offender.  Again Mr. Allen appealed, but the Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed the case on the basis that Mr. Allen did not have a right to appeal under Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 3(b) but could challenge his classification directly with the TBI.  On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Allen argues that Tennessee’s method for classifying out-of-state sexual offenders on the SOR violates due process and is unconstitutional ex post facto legislation.  Additionally, Mr. Allen contends that the TBI does not have standing to intervene in this matter and that the trial court was without authority to amend its 2012 order after it became final.  The TBI argues that it has standing to intervene under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 24.01, despite the 2012 case being criminal, because the TBI was intervening solely as to the civil nature of the trial court order which directed the TBI to classify Mr. Allen as a sexual rather than violent sexual offender.  Similarly, the TBI contends that the trial court had authority to amend its 2012 order after 30 days because it was not changing the disposition of the dismissal in the criminal case, only the requirement that the TBI reclassify Mr. Allen.  Additionally, the TBI argues that it did not waive its right to appeal the trial court’s order in 2012 because it did not have notice of and was not a party to the proceedings.  The Supreme Court also has asked the parties to address how, under either Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-39-201, et, seq., or any published regulations: 1) the TBI classifies out-of-state sexual offenders for registration on the SOR; 2) the TBI notifies offenders of changes in classification; and 3) an offender, once classified or re-classified, can challenge a classification.

Media members planning to attend oral arguments should review Supreme Court Rule 30 and file any required request.