Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 01/18/2017
Format: 01/18/2017
Rogelynn Emory v. Memphis City Schools Board of Education, Now Known As Shelby County Board Of Education
W2014-01293-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Walter L. Evans

This case arises out of the termination of a tenured teacher. After a three-day hearing, the school board concluded that there was ample evidence of the teacher’s unsatisfactory job performance, so it terminated her employment. In the trial court review of the school board’s decision, the teacher argued that she should be reinstated with back pay because her school board hearing occurred well beyond the thirty-day period set forth in the Teachers’ Tenure Act. The trial court affirmed the termination and the teacher appealed. The Court of Appeals declined to reinstate the teacher based on the untimeliness of the school board hearing but it awarded her partial back pay. On appeal, we first clarify the standard of judicial review for the termination of a tenured teacher under the Tenure Act. Second, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ award of partial back pay to the teacher because the relief ordered is without basis in the Tenure Act. Finally, because the teacher failed to raise to the school board any objection as to the timeliness of her hearing, we hold that the issue is not properly before this Court. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s decision to uphold the termination of the teacher’s employment.

Shelby County Supreme Court 01/13/17
Joseph Brennan, et al v. Board of Parole For The State of Tennessee
M2014-01591-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Carol L. McCoy

The Tennessee Board of Parole denied parole to a prisoner who was serving a twenty year sentence for convictions of attempted rape of a child. The Board determined that the prisoner’s release from custody would depreciate the seriousness of the crime for which he was convicted or promote disrespect for the law. The prisoner filed a petition of certiorari challenging the Board’s decision. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision, and the prisoner appealed. The Court of Appeals did not review the issues raised on appeal. Instead, it calculated the date the prisoner should have been considered for parole and concluded that the Board acted arbitrarily by conducting a parole hearing prematurely. The Court of Appeals vacated and remanded with instructions for the Board to give the prisoner an immediate parole hearing. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to calculate the date the prisoner could be considered for parole and did so incorrectly. The Tennessee Department of Correction has the statutory authority to determine the date a prisoner may be considered for parole by the Board. On review, we affirm the trial court’s decision. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 01/10/17
State of Tennessee v. Nicole Flowers
M2014-01744-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert Lee Holloway, Jr.

Nicole Flowers (“the defendant”) was convicted of the criminal offense of stalking, see Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-315, based, in part, on her posting disparaging signs about the victim on the victim's private property and on the property of his employer, which was a public place. We granted this appeal to consider whether the signs placed by the defendant amounted to an exercise of her right to free speech, as protected by the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. We also consider whether the evidence presented at the bench trial was sufficient to sustain the defendant's conviction. We conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that the evidence underlying the defendant's conviction for stalking is insufficient to sustain her conviction and therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals. Having determined that the evidence is insufficient, the issue of the defendant's right to free speech is pretermitted.

Maury County Supreme Court 12/30/16
State of Tennessee v. John Henry Pruitt
M2013-02393-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter

We granted this appeal to consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals incorrectly held in State v. Hayes, No. M2012-01768-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 3378320, at *7 (Tenn. Crim. App. July 1, 2013), no perm. app. filed, that retroactive application of the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-6-108, would violate constitutional protections against ex post facto laws and to re-evaluate the ex post facto analysis in Miller v. State, 584 S.W.2d 758 (Tenn. 1979), in light of Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37 (1990). Having concluded that Miller was wrongly decided, we overrule Miller and hold that the ex post facto clause of the Tennessee Constitution has the same definition and scope as the federal ex post facto clause. To be an ex post facto violation, a law must be retroactive in its application and must fall within one of the four categories set forth in Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 390 (1798) (opinion of Chase, J.). We conclude that the Exclusionary Rule Reform Act is not an ex post facto statute as applied in this case and that as a result, the Defendant‟s motion to suppress the evidence against him was not well-taken. In addition, we conclude that the Defendant's issues regarding the sufficiency of the evidence to convict him and to sentence him to life without the possibility of parole do not entitle him to relief. Accordingly, the judgments of the Court of Criminal Appeals are affirmed on the separate grounds stated herein.

Hickman County Supreme Court 12/30/16
Sandra L. Wallis v. Brainerd Baptist Church, et al
E2015-01827-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

The plaintiff’s husband collapsed and died after participating in a cycling class at a fitness and recreation facility owned and operated by the church. Although the cycling class instructor and others present at the fitness facility attended the plaintiff’s husband and called 911 soon after his collapse, they did not utilize the automated external defibrillator (“AED”) on site at the facility. The plaintiff filed a wrongful death action against the church, alleging, among other things, that the church had negligently failed to utilize the onsite AED, to train facility personnel on the proper use of the AED, and to comply with applicable state statutes. The church denied negligence and subsequently filed a third-party complaint against the company that sold it the AED, asserting that the seller had contractually agreed to provide a physician oversight program, which, among other things, included oversight of the church’s compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. The church alleged that, should the plaintiff recover a judgment against it for failing to comply with statutes, the seller should be solely responsible for the judgment. The plaintiff then filed a second amended complaint naming the seller as a defendant and alleging, as relevant to this interlocutory appeal, that: (1) the seller had negligently breached a duty it owed to her husband and others using the fitness facility to properly maintain the AEDs, to ensure that they were accessible, and to ensure that the church’s employees had the knowledge, training, and ability to operate the AEDs; (2) the seller had breached its contract with the church; (3) her husband was a third-party beneficiary of the contract; and (4) the seller’s negligence and breaches of contract caused her husband’s death, entitling her to recover against the seller on her wrongful death and loss of consortium claims.

 The seller moved for summary judgment against the plaintiff and the church, arguing that: (1) it owed no duty of care to the plaintiff or her husband; (2) the church had no common law or statutory duty to acquire or use an AED; (3) neither the plaintiff nor her husband were third-party beneficiaries of the seller’s contract with the church; (4) the undisputed facts established that the seller had not breached its contract with the church; and (5) the undisputed facts failed to establish that any of the alleged breaches of contract caused the plaintiff’s husband’s death. The trial court denied the seller’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that disputes of material fact remained, but it granted the seller permission to seek an interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals denied the seller’s application for an interlocutory appeal, but this Court granted the seller permission to appeal pursuant to Rule 11 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. We conclude that the seller did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff’s husband or other users of the fitness facility independent of its contract with the church and that the church had no statutory or common law duty to acquire or use the AED it purchased from the seller, and as a result, the plaintiff’s husband was not a third-party beneficiary of the church’s contract with the seller. For these reasons, the seller is entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff’s second amended complaint and the church’s third-party complaint. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for entry of summary judgment in favor of the seller on all claims and for any other necessary and appropriate proceedings consistent with this decision.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 12/22/16
State of Tennessee v. Lemaricus Devall Davidson
E2013-00394-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Walter C. Kurtz

A jury imposed two sentences of death on the defendant after convicting him of multiple counts of first degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape, and facilitation of aggravated rape. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences. State v. Davidson, No. E2013 00394 CCA-R3-DD, 2015 WL 1087126, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 10, 2015). We have carefully considered the defendant’s claims of error and conducted the review mandated by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206. We hold that the trial court did not err by admitting evidence obtained during searches of the defendant’s house and of his person; the trial court did not err by admitting the defendant’s statement to law enforcement officers; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the victims’ family members to wear buttons containing images of the victims; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence post-mortem photographs of the victims; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the jury to view the defendant’s video recorded statement in the courtroom during deliberations; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting expert testimony regarding ballistics and fingerprint evidence; the defendant’s convictions were supported by sufficient evidence; and the trial court properly effectuated merger of the convictions. We affirm the Court of Criminal Appeals on the remaining issues and include relevant portions of its opinion in the appendix. We hold the sentences of death were not imposed in an arbitrary fashion; the evidence fully supports the jury’s findings of aggravating circumstances in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-13-204(i)(5), (6), (7), and (13); the evidence supports the jury’s finding that these aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances presented by the defendant; and the defendant’s death sentences are neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. We affirm the defendant’s convictions and sentences of death and vacate the Court of Criminal Appeals’ remand to the trial court for correction of the judgment documents.

Knox County Supreme Court 12/19/16
State of Tennessee v. Stanley Bernard Gibson
M2014-00598-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Monte Watkins

The primary issue presented is whether the Drug-Free School Zone Act, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-432, applies when a defendant is convicted of facilitation of an offense listed in Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-417. The defendant was convicted of facilitation of possession with intent to deliver .5 grams or more of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school. The trial court applied the Act to increase the defendant’s felony classification and to require service of the entire minimum sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence. State v. Gibson, No. M2014 00598-CCA-R3-CD, 2015 WL 3867567, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 23, 2015). We granted review to address whether the Act applies to a conviction for facilitation and whether the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction. The State concedes the trial court erred by applying the Act to require service of the entire minimum sentence but argues the Act is a separate criminal offense and supports the higher felony classification. Based on the clear language of the Drug-Free School Zone Act, we hold the Act does not apply to a conviction for facilitation. Therefore, the trial court erred by increasing the felony classification and by requiring service of the entire minimum sentence. Further, we hold the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction for facilitation.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/16/16
State of Tennessee v. Thomas Whited
E2013-02523-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

A jury convicted the defendant on nine counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of attempt to commit that offense, thirteen counts of observation without consent, and one count of attempt to commit that offense. The convictions arose out of the defendant’s hidden-camera videotaping of his twelve-year-old daughter and her teenage friend while they were in various stages of undress. The trial court sentenced the defendant to an effective sentence of twenty-two years. In a divided opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentence. In determining that the hidden-camera videos constituted prohibited child pornography under the child sexual exploitation statutes, the Court of Criminal Appeals relied in part on the six specific factors set forth in United States v. Dost, 636 F. Supp. 828 (S.D. Cal. 1986), sometimes referred to as the “Dost factors.” The defendant now appeals his nine convictions for especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, and he also challenges his sentence. We hold that, under the three child sexual exploitation statutes, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-17-1003, -1004, and -1005 (2014), the content of the prohibited material is judged by the same standard, regardless of whether the accused produced it, distributed it, or merely possessed it. In assessing whether material is prohibited under these statutes, we reject the use of the Dost factors as a “test” or an analytical framework. The material at issue must be evaluated based on what is depicted, without reference to the defendant’s subjective intent, because the Tennessee statutes on the production of child pornography do not include the accused’s subjective intent or purpose of experiencing sexual arousal or gratification as an element of the offense. Assessing the surreptitious videos taken by the defendant in the instant case, we conclude that the videos do not depict a minor engaged in “sexual activity,” defined by statute as the lascivious exhibition of a minor’s private body areas. For this reason, the videos are insufficient to support the defendant’s convictions for especially aggravated child sexual exploitation. Accordingly, we reverse and dismiss the defendant’s convictions for especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. In light of this holding, we remand to the trial court for resentencing based on the convictions that were not challenged on appeal. On remand, the State may, if it so chooses, retry the defendant on the lesser-included offense of attempt.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/07/16
State of Tennessee v. Corrin Kathleen Reynolds - Dissenting
E2013-02309-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

I agree with the Court’s conclusion that the warrantless blood draw violated Ms. Reynolds’ right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution. I dissent from the Court’s decision to excuse these constitutional violations by adopting a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The adoption of this exception for a constitutional violation erodes our citizens’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as guaranteed by the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. Therefore, I would hold that the test results of Ms. Reynolds’ warrantless blood draw must be suppressed. Moreover, given the unusual facts of this case, the adoption of a good-faith exception for a constitutional violation based on an officer’s good-faith reliance on binding judicial precedent, as set forth in Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 241 (2011), is ill-conceived for many reasons. 

Knox County Supreme Court 11/03/16
State of Tennessee v. Corrin Kathleen Reynolds
E2013-02309-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Steven Wayne Sword

We granted this appeal to determine whether the warrantless blood draw violated the defendant’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 7 of the Tennessee Constitution, and, if so, whether the exclusionary rule applies and requires suppression of the evidence. We conclude that the warrantless blood draw violated the defendant’s federal and state constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Nevertheless, we adopt the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229 (2011), and as a result, hold that any evidence derived from testing the defendant’s blood need not be suppressed because the warrantless blood draw was obtained in objectively reasonable good-faith reliance on binding precedent. On this basis, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Knox County Supreme Court 11/03/16
Edward Martin v. Gregory Powers, et al.
M2014-00647-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

This case arises out of an incident in which the Defendant, Gregory Powers, drove a car he had rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car (“Enterprise”) into the Plaintiff, Edward Martin. The Plaintiff sued the Defendant, the Defendant’s automobile liability insurer, and Enterprise. Additionally, the Plaintiff provided notice of the lawsuit to his own automobile liability insurance carrier, IDS Property Casualty Insurance Company (“IDS”), in order to recover through the uninsured motorist coverage provision of the Plaintiff’s policy (“the Policy”). IDS denied coverage and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the rental car (“the Rental Car”) did not qualify as an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the Policy. The trial court granted IDS’s motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. We granted review to determine whether the Rental Car qualified as an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the Policy. We hold that the Rental Car was an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the Policy. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment to IDS and remand this matter for further proceedings.  

Williamson County Supreme Court 10/24/16
State of Tennessee v. Rhakim Martin
W2013-02013-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

A jury convicted the defendant of carjacking and employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The trial court imposed an effective sixteen-year sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. In this Court, the defendant presents the following issues: (1) whether the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the victim’s identification of him because the victim previously viewed his photograph on a county-operated “mug shot” website; (2) whether the trial court committed plain error in failing to instruct the jury on possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony as a lesser-included offense of employment of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony; (3) whether the failure to name the predicate felony of the firearm offense voids that count of the indictment; (4) whether the defendant’s conviction for the firearm offense violates the prohibitions against double jeopardy and the terms of Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(c); and (5) whether the evidence was insufficient to support the convictions. We hold that the victim’s prior viewing of the defendant’s booking photograph on the county-operated website did not constitute state action and that the trial court therefore properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the victim’s identification of him. We further hold that the defendant failed to establish that the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offense of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony affected a substantial right, so the defendant is not entitled to plain error relief. Based on our holding in State v. Duncan, No. W2013-02554-CCA-R3-CD, 2016 WL ____, at * _ (Tenn. ___ ___, 2016), released on the same date as this opinion, we conclude that the failure to name the predicate felony of the firearm offense does not void that count of the indictment. We hold that the defendant’s convictions for carjacking and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony did not violate either double jeopardy or Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-17-1324(c). Finally, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/14/16
State of Tennessee v. Willie Duncan
W2013-02554-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

In this appeal, we consider the sufficiency of an indictment. The five-count indictment charged the defendant with several felonies and also with employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The count for the firearm charge recited the statute listing the offenses that can constitute a “dangerous felony” but did not designate one of the accompanying charges as the predicate dangerous felony. After a trial, a jury found the defendant guilty on all five counts. On appeal, the defendant argues that the indictment for the firearm charge must be dismissed because, by not designating the predicate felony for the firearm charge, it violated his constitutional right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him. We hold that, considering the entire five-count indictment, the count of the indictment charging the defendant with employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony sufficiently apprised the defendant of the nature and cause of the accusation against him and enabled him to adequately prepare a defense to the charge, and therefore is sufficient to meet the constitutional requirement. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals on that issue. However, because the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the charge of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, we remand for a new trial on that charge.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/14/16
State of Tennessee v. Glen Howard
E2014-01510-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

We granted this appeal to consider whether our decision in State v. Burns, 6 S.W.3d 453 (Tenn. 1999), wherein we set forth the test for determining whether a criminal offense constitutes a lesser-included offense of a charged offense, remains viable following the 2009 amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-18-110, which codified Burns parts (a) and (c) but excluded part (b). Having determined that the statute did not abrogate part (b) of the Burns test, we reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ conclusion that aggravated sexual battery is not a lesser-included offense of rape of a child because the legislature did not include it in the 2009 amendments to the statute. Upon further consideration, we hold that aggravated sexual battery is, in fact, a lesser-included offense of rape of a child. Lesser-included offenses are to be determined by referring to the express provisions of the statute, and if not specifically mentioned therein, by further applying the guidance of Burns part (b). We also conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that defendant’s conviction for aggravated sexual battery as a lesser-included offense of rape of a child was supported by the evidence and should be reinstated. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals vacating this conviction is reversed and his conviction stands. The remaining issues decided by the Court of Criminal Appeals are affirmed.  

Hamilton County Supreme Court 10/12/16
Ms. Bowen Ex Rel. John Doe, "N" v. William E. Arnold, Jr. et al.
M2015-00762-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Hamilton V. Gayden, Jr.

The determinative question in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in ruling that a person convicted of rape and aggravated sexual battery is collaterally estopped in a subsequent civil lawsuit filed by the victim of the criminal offenses from relitigating the issue of whether he raped and sexually battered the victim. The trial court applied collateral estoppel, explaining that, although the victim was not a party to the criminal prosecution, the victim was in privity with the State, which satisfied the party mutuality requirement necessary for collateral estoppel to apply. The trial court therefore granted the plaintiffs partial summary judgment but permitted the defendant to seek an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 9. After the Court of Appeals declined to accept the interlocutory appeal, the defendant filed an application for permission to appeal in this Court, which we granted. We hereby abolish the strict party mutuality requirement for offensive and defensive collateral estoppel and adopt sections 29 and 85 of the Restatement (Second) of Judgments as the guidelines for courts to follow when determining whether nonmutual collateral estoppel applies. Having applied these guidelines to the undisputed facts in this appeal, we affirm the trial court’s decision granting partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/29/16
MLG Enterprises, LLC v. Richard Johnson
M2014-01205-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Timothy L. Easter

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether the individual who signed a commercial lease agreement on behalf of the corporate tenant also agreed to be personally liable for the tenant’s obligations when he signed the agreement a second time. Over a dissenting opinion, the Court of Appeals held that the individual’s second signature did not personally bind him because he handwrote “for Mobile Master Mfg. LLC” after his name. We hold that the second signature, which followed a paragraph clearly indicating that the parties agreed that the individual would be personally responsible for the tenant’s obligations, was effective to bind the individual. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remand this matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.   

Williamson County Supreme Court 09/02/16
State of Tennessee v. Gary Hamilton
E2014-01585-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Bob R. McGee

This appeal is one of two similar appeals that were consolidated for oral argument because they involve related questions of law concerning Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-15-105 (2013) (“the pretrial diversion statute”), which allows a district attorney general to suspend prosecution of a qualified defendant for a period of up to two years. See State v. Stephens, No. M2014-01270-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 2016). We granted review in this case to emphasize once again the process the district attorney general, trial court, and appellate courts must follow when reviewing a prosecutor’s denial of pretrial diversion. The defendant was indicted for assault after he allegedly attacked a student at the school where he worked as a teacher’s assistant, and the prosecutor denied his application for pretrial diversion. After the trial court refused to overturn the prosecutor’s decision, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the defendant’s interlocutory appeal and held that the trial court failed to review properly the district attorney general’s decision. Conducting its own review, the intermediate court concluded that the record lacked substantial evidence supporting the denial of pretrial diversion and remanded with instructions that the defendant be granted pretrial diversion. We granted review and conclude that the district attorney general considered all relevant factors. Although the trial court improperly reviewed the district attorney general’s action, the trial court reached the correct result. Therefore, we vacate the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment and reinstate the trial court’s judgment affirming the denial of pretrial diversion.

Knox County Supreme Court 08/23/16
State of Tennessee v. Susan Gail Stephens
M2014-01270-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Vanessa Jackson

This appeal is one of two similar appeals that were consolidated for oral argument because they involve related questions of law involving Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-15-105 (2006) (“the pretrial diversion statute”), which allows a district attorney general to suspend prosecution of a qualified defendant for a period of up to two years. See State v. Hamilton, No. E2014-01585-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 2016). We granted this appeal to emphasize once again the process the district attorney general, trial court, and appellate courts must follow when reviewing a prosecutor’s denial of pretrial diversion. The defendant was indicted for two counts of statutory rape and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The defendant applied for pretrial diversion three times, and the district attorney general’s office denied her application each time. The trial court likewise denied each of the defendant’s three petitions for writ of certiorari. The defendant was granted permission to file an interlocutory appeal after each denial, and the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision in the first two appeals. After the district attorney general’s office denied the defendant’s application for a third time and the trial court denied the defendant’s petition, the Court of Criminal Appeals held that the record does not contain substantial evidence to support the denial of pretrial diversion and remanded with instructions that the district attorney general’s office grant the defendant pretrial diversion. We granted review. We reverse the Court of Criminal Appeals’ judgment, finding that the district attorney general acted properly and the trial court properly found no abuse of discretion, and we reinstate the trial court’s judgment affirming the denial of pretrial diversion.

Coffee County Supreme Court 08/23/16
Stephanie Keller, et al v. Estate of Edward Stephen McRedmond, et al
M2013-02582-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins

This case involves an internecine conflict among siblings who were shareholders in a closely-held family corporation. The dispute resulted in dissolution of the original family corporation, the formation of two new competing corporations, and a long-running lawsuit in which one group of shareholder siblings asserted claims against the other group of shareholder siblings. After a trial, the trial court awarded damages to the plaintiff shareholder siblings. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the plaintiff shareholder siblings did not have standing because their claims were derivative in nature and belonged to their new corporation. We granted permission to appeal to consider the standard for determing whether a shareholder’s claim is a direct claim or a derivative claim. In this Opinion, we set aside the approach for determining whether a shareholder claim is direct or derivative described by this Court in Hadden v. City of Gatlinburg, 746 S.W.2d 687, 689 (Tenn. 1988), and adopt in its stead the analytical framework enunciated by the Delaware Supreme Court in Tooley v. Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette, Inc., 845 A.2d 1031, 1039 (Del. 2004). Under the Tooley framework, the analysis of whether a shareholder claim is direct or derivative is based solely on who suffered the alleged harm—the corporation or the suing shareholder individually—and who would receive the benefit of the recovery or other remedy. In light of this holding, we affirm in part and reverse in part the decision of the Court of Appeals, and we remand to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 07/11/16
Clark D. Frazier v. State of Tennessee - Dissenting
M2014-02374-SC-R11-ECN
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

I respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision. In my view, this Court should apply the doctrine of stare decisis, adhere to its previous reasoning in Wlodarz v. State, 361 S.W.3d 490 (Tenn. 2012), and hold that the writ of error coram nobis under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40 26 105 (2014) may be used in a collateral attack on a guilty plea. 

Robertson County Supreme Court 07/07/16
Clark D. Frazier v. State of Tennessee
M2014-02374-SC-R11-ECN
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John H. Gasaway, III

We granted permission to appeal in this case to determine whether a criminal defendant who pleads guilty may later seek to overturn his plea via a petition for writ of error coram nobis filed pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-26-105. Although this Court held in Wlodarz v. State, 361 S.W.3d 490 (Tenn. 2012), that guilty pleas may be subject to a collateral attack via a petition for writ of error coram nobis, we now overturn that decision. We hold that the statute setting forth the remedy of error coram nobis in criminal matters does not encompass its application to guilty pleas. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals on the separate grounds stated herein.

Robertson County Supreme Court 07/07/16
State of Tennessee v. Howard Hawk Willis - Concurring
E2012-01313-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

I concur fully with the Court’s opinion except for the analysis in Section II(E)(4) regarding the proportionality review. In 1997, this Court narrowed the scope of the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D) by limiting its consideration to only those cases in which the death penalty had been sought. State v. Bland, 958 S.W.2d 651, 666 (Tenn. 1997). A majority of this Court reaffirmed this truncated approach in State v. Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d 180, 217 (Tenn. 2013). In Pruitt, I joined Justice William C. Koch, Jr. in dissenting from the Court’s decision to continue following the Bland approach, as it improperly narrows the proportionality review required by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39 13 206(c)(1)(D). Pruitt, 415 S.W.3d at 230 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting). We determined that the Court should return to its pre-Bland proportionality analysis by considering “all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death has been imposed” and focusing on whether the case under review more closely resembles cases that have resulted in the imposition of the death penalty than those that have not. Id. at 230-31 (Koch and Lee, JJ., concurring and dissenting).

Washington County Supreme Court 07/06/16
State of Tennessee v. Howard Hawk Willis
E2012-01313-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

This appeal arises from the murder of two teenagers, accompanied by the dismemberment of one of them. A jury convicted the defendant, Howard Hawk Willis, of two counts of premeditated first-degree murder and one count of felony murder in the perpetration of a kidnapping. The jury sentenced the defendant to death on each conviction. The defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed his convictions and sentences. On appeal, the defendant contends, inter alia, that certain incriminating statements he made to his ex-wife should have been excluded because she was acting as an agent of the State at the time the statements were made. He asserts that the admission into evidence of the statements violated his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. For purposes of the right against self-incrimination, we hold that this is a case of “misplaced trust” in a confidant and there was no violation of the Fifth Amendment. The defendant also argues that the admission of the statements violated his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. The incriminating statements to the ex-wife were made during in-person meetings with her at the jail and during recorded telephone calls from jail. As to statements made to the ex-wife prior to indictment, we hold that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel had not attached, so there was no violation regardless of whether the ex-wife was acting as an agent of the State. As to statements made in person to the ex-wife after indictment, the evidence shows only that the State willingly accepted information from a cooperating witness. We hold that, for a cooperating witness or informant to be deemed a “government agent” for purposes of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, the defendant must show that the principal—the State, personified by law enforcement officers—manifested assent, either explicitly or implicitly, to have the cooperating witness act as a government agent, and that the State had some level of control over the witness’s actions with respect to the defendant. Agency cannot be proven based solely on the actions of the alleged agent, so proof that the ex-wife repeatedly contacted law enforcement is not sufficient in and of itself to show that the State assented to have her act as its agent. Therefore, the admission into evidence of the statements made in person to the ex-wife after indictment did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. As to the incriminating statements made by telephone, we hold that, by placing the telephone calls to his ex-wife from jail with full knowledge that all calls were subject to monitoring and recording, the defendant implicitly consented to the monitoring and recording of his conversations and waived his Sixth Amendment rights. After full review, we affirm the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals upholding the defendant’s two convictions of first degree murder, and we affirm the sentences of death.

Washington County Supreme Court 07/06/16
State of Tennessee v. Michael Smith
W2013-01190-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James M. Lammey, Jr.

A jury convicted Michael Smith (“the Defendant”) of aggravated assault, committed by violating a protective order, and evading arrest. The trial court imposed an effective sentence of ten years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days’ incarceration. The Defendant appealed his convictions and sentences, which the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. State v. Smith, No. W2013-01190-CCA-R3-CD, 2014 WL 3954062, at *21 (Tenn. Crim. App. Aug. 13, 2014). The Defendant then requested permission to appeal to this Court, alleging the following errors: (1) the trial court’s failure to require the State to make an election of offenses; (2) the insufficiency of the indictment; (3) the trial court’s refusal to allow the Defendant to sit at counsel table; (4) the trial court’s ruling that, should he elect to testify, the Defendant could be impeached with prior convictions; (5) the trial court’s denial of a mistrial after allowing a witness to testify about a different criminal proceeding against the Defendant; (6) the admission of the victim’s testimony about the Defendant’s prior bad acts; and (7) the trial court’s failure to confine the flight instruction to the aggravated assault charge. We granted the Defendant’s request for permission to appeal. Upon our review of the record and the applicable law, we hold that the State’s failure to elect an offense as to the aggravated assault charge resulted in plain error. Accordingly, we reverse the Defendant’s conviction for aggravated assault and remand the matter to the trial court for a new trial on that charge. We affirm the Defendant’s conviction for evading arrest.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 06/24/16
State of Tennessee v. Kenneth McCormick
M2013-02189-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge David A. Patterson

We granted this appeal to reconsider our decision in State v. Moats, 403 S.W.3d 170 (Tenn. 2013), which held that the community caretaking doctrine is not an exception to the federal and state constitutional warrant requirements. Having concluded that Moats was wrongly decided, we overrule Moats and hold that the community caretaking doctrine is analytically distinct from consensual police-citizen encounters and is instead an exception to the state and federal constitutional warrant requirements which may be invoked to validate as reasonable a warrantless seizure of an automobile. To establish that the community caretaking exception applies, the State must show that (1) the officer possessed specific and articulable facts, which, viewed objectively and in the totality of the circumstances, reasonably warranted a conclusion that a community caretaking action was needed; and (2) the officer’s behavior and the scope of the intrusion were reasonably restrained and tailored to the community caretaking need. We conclude, based on the proof in the record on appeal, that the community caretaking exception applies in this case. Accordingly, the judgments of the trial court and Court of Criminal Appeals declining to grant the defendant’s motion to suppress are affirmed on the separate grounds stated herein.

White County Supreme Court 05/10/16