Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 11/22/2017
Format: 11/22/2017
State of Tennessee v. Antoine Perrier
W2015-01642-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge W. Mark Ward

We granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal in this case with direction to the parties to particularly address the following issues:  (1) the meaning of the phrase “not engaged in unlawful activity” in the self-defense statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-611, and (2) whether the trial court or the jury decides whether the defendant was engaged in unlawful activity.  We hold that the legislature intended the phrase “not engaged in unlawful activity” in the self-defense statute to be a condition of the statutory privilege not to retreat when confronted with unlawful force and that the trial court should make the threshold determination of whether the defendant was engaged in unlawful activity when he used force in an alleged self-defense situation.  We further conclude that the defendant’s conduct in this case constituted unlawful activity for the purposes of this statute.  The defendant has also presented four other issues to this Court, arguing that the trial court erred by failing to properly instruct the jury on the lesser-included offenses of employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, that the second count of the indictment was deficient, that the trial court should have given the jury an instruction on the defense of necessity, and that the evidence was insufficient to support the defendant’s conviction for assault.  We affirm the judgments of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, albeit on separate grounds. 

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/21/17
Charles Grogan v. Daniel Uggla, Et Al. - Dissenting
M2014-01961-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

The primary issue is whether a home inspector owes a duty of reasonable care to a homeowner’s guest. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the guest, as is required at the summary judgment stage, it was foreseeable that a negligent inspection of the home, and particularly the second-story deck railing, could result in a significant injury to a guest. The foreseeability and gravity of the harm outweighs the burden on the home inspector to protect against the harm. Due to the importance of home inspections, public policy favors the imposition of a duty of care on the home inspector. Therefore, a home inspector, as a matter of law, owes a duty of reasonable care to a guest of the homeowner. Here, a jury should have had the opportunity to decide whether the home inspector breached his duty of care. For these reasons, I dissent from the dismissal of the guest’s claim against the home inspector.

Williamson County Supreme Court 11/21/17
Charles Grogan v. Daniel Uggla, Et Al. - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
M2014-01961-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

I write separately in this case because I concur with part of the majority’s analysis and disagree with other parts of it. 

Williamson County Supreme Court 11/21/17
Charles Grogan v. Daniel Uggla, Et Al.
M2014-01961-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

In this case, the plaintiff Charles Grogan was injured when he fell from a second story deck that had not been properly constructed but had recently been inspected by the defendant Jerry Black, a home inspector hired by homeowner Daniel Uggla. Defendant Black was a franchisee of defendant Pillar to Post, Inc. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. We granted this appeal to consider as a matter of first impression in this state whether a home inspector is subject to liability for the physical harm suffered by a social guest of the home inspector’s client. We conclude that the defendants successfully negated essential elements of the claims of negligent misrepresentation and negligent inspection such that summary judgment was appropriate in this case. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals and the trial court judgments are affirmed.

Williamson County Supreme Court 11/21/17
State of Tennessee v. Sedrick Clayton - Concurring
W2015-00158-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carolyn W. Blackett

I concur in the Court’s opinion except for the analysis 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 narrowed 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).

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/20/17
State of Tennessee v. Sedrick Clayton
W2015-00158-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Carolyn W. Blackett

A Shelby County jury convicted the defendant of the first degree murders of Arithio Fisher (Count I), Patricia Fisher (Count II), and Pashea Fisher (Count III), and the attempted first degree murder of A’reco Fisher (Count IV), as well as possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony (Count V), employing a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony (Count VI), and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (Count VII). The jury sentenced the defendant to death for each of the first degree murders. The trial court imposed agreed-upon sentences of fifteen years for the attempted murder and three years, six years, and eleven months, twenty-nine days, respectively, for the remaining convictions, with the sentences for Counts I, II, III, IV, and VII to be served concurrently with each other and the sentences for Counts V and VI to be served concurrently with each other but consecutively to the previous sentences, for an effective sentence of death plus six years. On appeal, we hold that: (1) the evidence is sufficient to support the jury’s finding that the defendant acted with premeditation in commission of the offenses; (2) the defendant waived his Fourth Amendment challenge to the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress his statements; and (3) each of the death sentences satisfies our mandatory statutory review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206. As to the remaining issues raised by the defendant, we agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals’ conclusions and attach as an appendix to this opinion the relevant portions of that court’s decision. The defendant’s convictions and sentences, as merged by the Court of Criminal Appeals, are affirmed.

Shelby County Supreme Court 11/20/17
Jean Dedmon v. Debbie Steelman, Et Al.
W2015-01462-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Clayborn Peeples

We granted this appeal to address whether our holding in West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corp., 459 S.W.3d 33 (Tenn. 2014), applies in personal injury cases. We hold that it does not. West held that “reasonable charges” for medical services under Tennessee’s Hospital Lien Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-22-101 to –107 (2012), are the discounted amounts a hospital accepts as full payment from patients’ private insurers, not the full, undiscounted amounts billed to patients. West, 459 S.W.3d at 46. West defined “reasonable charges” in the context of interpreting the Hospital Lien Act, and its holding is limited to that Act. As an alternative argument, we are asked in this appeal to consider applying the principles in West to the determination of reasonable medical expenses in personal injury cases. Doing so involves the collateral source rule, which excludes evidence of benefits to the plaintiff from sources collateral to the tortfeasor and precludes the reduction of the plaintiff’s damage award by such collateral payments. The rule is based on the principles that tortfeasors should be responsible for all of the harm they cause and that payments from collateral sources intended to benefit an injured party should not be used to reduce the liability of the party who inflicted the injury. After a thorough review of court decisions in Tennessee and across the country on the collateral source rule, we decline to alter existing law in Tennessee. We hold that the collateral source rule applies in this personal injury case, in which the collateral benefit at issue is private insurance. Consequently, the plaintiffs may submit evidence of the injured party’s full, undiscounted medical bills as proof of reasonable medical expenses. Furthermore, the defendants are precluded from submitting evidence of discounted rates accepted by medical providers from the insurer to rebut the plaintiffs’ proof that the full, undiscounted charges are reasonable. The defendants remain free to submit any other competent evidence to rebut the plaintiffs’ proof on the reasonableness of the medical expenses, so long as that evidence does not contravene the collateral source rule. The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings

Crockett County Supreme Court 11/17/17
State of Tennessee v. Susan Jo Walls - Concurring in result only
M2014-01972-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

I concur only in the result in this case. The defendant is not entitled to a new trial based on waiver and the absence of plain error. The majority errs by proceeding further and establishing the appellate standard of review regarding late-night court proceedings. By addressing the appellate standard of review under the guise of a plain error analysis, the majority overreaches and violates longstanding, conservative prohibitions on issuing advisory opinions. 

Bedford County Supreme Court 11/09/17
State of Tennessee v. Susan Jo Walls
M2014-01972-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Forest A. Durard, Jr.

We granted this appeal by the State of Tennessee to consider whether the trial court erred by allowing the jury in this case to deliberate late into the night and early morning on the last day of trial before convicting the defendant of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder. The Court of Criminal Appeals granted the defendant relief on this issue, reasoning that absent a showing of unusual circumstances, late-night trial proceedings should be avoided and that such circumstances were not presented in this case. We accepted this appeal to examine this issue and clarify the applicable standard of review on appeal. Following our review, we conclude that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in concluding that the trial court’s conducting late-night trial proceedings requires reversal of the defendant’s convictions. Accordingly, the Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed and the judgments of the trial court are affirmed.  

Bedford County Supreme Court 11/09/17
State of Tennessee v. Kevin E. Trent
E2015-00753-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge John McAfee

Kevin E. Trent pled guilty to one count of vehicular homicide by intoxication. He was sentenced by agreement as a Range I standard offender to eight years with the manner of service to be determined by the trial court after a hearing. The trial court subsequently ordered the Defendant to serve his sentence in confinement. On direct appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling and, additionally, affirmatively ordered the Defendant to be placed on full probation. We granted the State’s application for permission to appeal to review the Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision to reverse the trial court’s order that the Defendant serve his sentence in confinement and to affirmatively order that the Defendant be placed on full probation. We agree with the Court of Criminal Appeals that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings for the appellate courts to review the sentence with a presumption of reasonableness. Moreover, our review of the record reveals it is inadequate to conduct an independent review of the sentence imposed by the trial court. As a result, we also hold that the record is not sufficient to support the Court of Criminal Appeals’ modification of the Defendant’s sentence to order full probation. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals, vacate the sentencing determination of the trial court, and remand this matter to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.   

Claiborne County Supreme Court 11/03/17
Wade Harvey, Ex Rel. Alexis Breanna Gladden v. Cumberland Trust And Investment Company, Et Al.
E2015-00941-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

In this interlocutory appeal, the trustee of a trust executed an investment/brokerage account agreement that included a provision requiring the arbitration of disputes. The trust beneficiary filed a lawsuit asserting claims against the investment broker, and the defendant broker sought to compel arbitration under the arbitration provision in the account agreement. The trial court granted the motion to compel arbitration and granted permission for this interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals reversed. On appeal, we are asked to determine whether the signature of the trustee on the account agreement binds the beneficiary of the trust to the predispute arbitration provision. We hold that the Tennessee Uniform Trust Code is intended to give trustees broad authority to fulfill their duties as trustee. We also hold that the Tennessee Uniform Trust Code gives trustees the power to enter into predispute arbitration agreements, so long as doing so is not prohibited under the operative trust instrument. We hold that the trust instrument in this case gives the named trustee broad authority and does not prohibit the trustee from entering into a predispute arbitration agreement. As a result, we interpret the trust instrument as authorizing the trustee to execute the account agreement with the defendant broker, including the predispute arbitration provision therein. Thus, under both the Tennessee Uniform Trust Code and the operative trust instrument, the trustee had authority to enter into the arbitration agreement contained within the account agreement. The question of whether the trust beneficiary in this case is bound by the arbitration provision is governed by the principle that a third party who seeks the benefit of a contract must also bear its burdens. Applying this principle, the trust beneficiary in this case may be bound to arbitrate claims against the investment broker that seek to enforce the account agreement. We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and vacate the trial court order compelling arbitration of all claims. We remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings, including a determination as to which if any of the claims asserted by the trust beneficiary seek to enforce the account agreement.

Hamblen County Supreme Court 10/20/17
Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc - Concurring in Part and Dissenting in Part
W2013-01949-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert S. Weiss

I concur in the majority’s decision regarding the pretrial agreement. I dissent from the majority’s analysis regarding superseding cause. The trial court did not err in declining to give an instruction on superseding cause; the majority’s analysis confuses causation in fact with superseding cause. Further, I dissent from the majority’s analysis of the remittitur issue and its remand to the trial court. The majority, in five lengthy footnotes, attempts to defend its decision. The reasoning in this separate opinion is clearly stated; I will not debate with the majority in a series of footnotes.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/20/17
Donriel A. Borne v. Celadon Trucking Services, Inc.
W2013-01949-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert S. Weiss

This appeal arises out of sequential rear-end collisions involving three tractor trailer vehicles. The plaintiff’s tractor trailer was rear-ended by a tractor trailer owned by the defendant, which was in turn rear-ended by a third tractor trailer. The plaintiff sued the owners and drivers of both of the other tractor trailers, seeking compensation for personal injuries. Before trial, the plaintiff entered into an agreement with the owner of the third tractor trailer that neither would take any action adverse to the other and that the owner of the third tractor trailer would only owe the plaintiff half of any judgment entered against it. The owner of the third tractor trailer was later dismissed on a directed verdict. The jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff against the defendant. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion for new trial and, with little explanation, also suggested a remittitur of the jury’s verdict in all four categories of damages awarded. After the defendant appealed, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s rulings regarding the pretrial agreement between the plaintiff and the owner of the third tractor trailer. Regarding the trial court’s remittitur, the Court of Appeals reinstated the jury’s award for lost earning capacity, suggested a further remittitur to the award for loss of enjoyment of life, and affirmed the remitted award in the remaining two categories of damages. On appeal, we affirm the trial court’s rulings regarding the pretrial agreement. We find no error in the trial court’s decision not to give the jury a special instruction on superseding cause. We hold that the Court of Appeals had no authority to suggest a further remittitur absent a finding that the jury’s award—as remitted by the trial court—exceeds the uppermost boundary of the range of reasonableness under the evidence at trial, and so we reverse the Court of Appeals’ remittitur of the award for loss of enjoyment of life. As to the trial court’s remittitur, in view of the sharply conflicting evidence on the plaintiff’s damages, the trial court’s failure to indicate the reasons for its suggested remittitur leaves us unable to determine whether the evidence preponderates against the remittitur and, consequently, unable to conduct a proper appellate review of the trial court’s remittitur decision. Accordingly, we remand the case to the trial court for explanation of its reasons for suggesting remittitur of the jury’s award. For the same reason, the Court of Appeals was without sufficient information to perform a meaningful review of the trial court’s suggested remittitur, so we vacate the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the trial court’s remittitur of the award on lost earning capacity. The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/20/17
Regions Bank v. Thomas D. Thomas, Et Al.
W2015-00798-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

We granted this appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals correctly applied the statutory “rebuttable presumption rule” under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code, as codified at Tennessee Code Annotated section 47-9-626, in reversing the trial court and concluding that the Plaintiff, Regions Bank, was not entitled to recover a deficiency from the Defendants, Thomas D. Thomas, Helen L. Thomas, and The Thomas Family Living Trust. We conclude that both the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred in their respective applications of the “rebuttable presumption rule.” Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, the judgment of the trial court is vacated, and this matter is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings as set forth herein.

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/16/17
State of Tennessee v. Antonio Henderson
W2015-00151-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Paula Skahan

We granted the application for permission to appeal of the Defendant, Antonio Henderson, in this case to determine whether the evidence is sufficient to support his conviction for especially aggravated robbery. The Defendant contends that the serious bodily injury to the victim occurred after the robbery was complete and that, as a result, he could have committed only an aggravated robbery. We hold that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the victim’s serious bodily injury was inflicted before the Defendant had completed robbing the victim with a deadly weapon. Accordingly, the evidence supports the Defendant’s conviction of especially aggravated robbery. Therefore, albeit for different reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.  

Shelby County Supreme Court 10/05/17
In Re Gabriella D., Et Al.
E2016-00139-SC-R11-PT
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) removed three children from the custody of their parents and placed them with foster parents in March 2012 because one of the children, an infant, was severely malnourished. By July 2012, the children’s mother was cooperating with DCS and complying with a permanency plan that set the goal for the children as reunification with their mother or another relative. The mother continued to comply with the permanency plan for the next sixteen months that the children were in foster care. On the day the children were scheduled to begin a trial home visit with the mother, July 31, 2013, the foster parents filed a petition in circuit court seeking to terminate the mother’s parental rights and to adopt the children. After the foster parents filed their petition in circuit court, the juvenile court, which had maintained jurisdiction over the dependency and neglect proceeding, ordered DCS to place the children with the mother for the trial home visit. The circuit court trial on the foster parents’ petition did not occur until September 2015. By that time, the children had resided with the mother on a trial basis for two years without incident. The mother, DCS, and the guardian ad litem appointed by the juvenile court in the dependency and neglect proceeding opposed the foster parents’ petition. The foster parents and a guardian ad litem appointed by the circuit court sought termination of the mother’s parental rights. After the multi-day trial, the trial court dismissed the petition, finding that the foster parents had proven a ground for termination by clear and convincing proof but had failed to establish by clear and convincing proof that termination is in the children’s best interests. The foster parents appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We granted the mother’s application for permission to appeal and now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s judgment dismissing the foster parents’ petition. We conclude that the trial court correctly determined that the proof does not amount to clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights is in the children’s best interests.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 09/29/17
Church Of God In Christ, Inc., Et Al. v. L. M. Haley Ministries, Inc., Et Al. - Concurring
W2015-00509-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

I am pleased to concur in the well-written majority opinion but write separately on the question of whether the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine is a bar to subject matter jurisdiction or an affirmative defense.

Fayette County Supreme Court 09/21/17
Church Of God In Christ, Inc., Et Al. v. L. M. Haley Ministries, Inc., Et Al.
W2015-00509-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Martha Brasfield

We granted this appeal to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly affirmed the trial court’s decision dismissing this lawsuit involving a dispute over the right to use and control church property for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. This doctrine derives from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and prohibits civil courts from resolving church disputes on the basis of religious doctrine and practice. We conclude that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine does not apply in this lawsuit. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals affirming the trial court’s dismissal is reversed. Furthermore, we conclude that the undisputed facts establish that the plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment, and we remand this matter to the trial court for any other further proceedings and orders that may be necessary to afford the plaintiffs possession and control of the disputed church real property and to address the plaintiffs’ requests for an accounting and control of the disputed church personal property.

Fayette County Supreme Court 09/21/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al. - dissenting
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

The majority’s decision misapplies Tennessee statutory and case law and creates practical problems for candidates for public office. For these reasons, I join in Justice Clark’s dissent and write separately to express my concerns. 

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al. - dissenting
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

I cannot join the majority’s decision affirming the dismissal of William Thomas McFarland’s election contest lawsuit. No statute expressly authorizes a county election commission to convene a quasi judicial hearing and resolve a pre-election challenge to a circuit judge candidate’s satisfaction of constitutional residency requirements. Furthermore, the majority’s conclusion that county election commissions implicitly have such authority ignores the fact that, where the General Assembly intends for a county election commission to exercise such authority, it has enacted statutes expressly providing such authority. The majority compounds this error by applying its holding recognizing implicit authority in a manner that negates a statute explicitly granting Mr. McFarland the right to file this election contest lawsuit challenging Michael S. Pemberton’s satisfaction of constitutional residency requirements. Because the majority’s decision is inconsistent with relevant statutes, with longstanding decisions of this Court, and with commonsense, practical considerations, I dissent.

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
William Thomas McFarland v. Michael S. Pemberton, et al.
E2014-02176-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood

This appeal addresses the authority of a county election commission to make a factual determination on the qualifications of a candidate seeking to be placed on a ballot. In this case, the defendant filed a petition to run for circuit court judge. A registered voter filed a complaint with the county election commission arguing that the defendant did not reside in the judicial district and, consequently, should not be placed on the ballot. The election commission held a hearing on the complaint and voted unanimously to place the defendant on the ballot. The defendant won the election. The plaintiff, the defendant’s defeated opponent in the election, filed this election contest based solely on the defendant’s alleged failure to meet the residency requirement. The trial court and the Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint. Both held that the substance of the plaintiff’s complaint was a challenge of the election commission’s administrative decision on the defendant’s residency, governed by the 60-day statute of limitations in Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-102 for a petition for a writ of certiorari. Because the complaint was not filed within sixty days of the county election commission’s final decision, it was dismissed as untimely. On appeal to this Court, we hold that, by necessary implication, the county election commission had the authority under Tennessee’s election statutes to hold a quasi-judicial hearing to make a factual determination to resolve the voter’s complaint challenging the defendant’s residency. We also hold that the county election commission’s decision to certify the defendant as a qualified candidate on the ballot was a final administrative decision subject to judicial review by common-law writ of certiorari. The plaintiff, who had actual notice of the county election commission’s actions, was “aggrieved” by the election commission’s final administrative decision within the meaning of Tennessee Code Annotated section 27-9-101 and, thus, had standing to file a petition for a writ of certiorari. Though the plaintiff’s complaint was styled as an election contest, the gravamen of the complaint is a request for judicial review of the county election commission’s decision, reviewable through a petition for a writ of certiorari and subject to the 60-day statute of limitations for such a petition. Because the plaintiff’s complaint was filed well after expiration of the 60-day period, we affirm the lower courts’ dismissal of the complaint as untimely

Roane County Supreme Court 09/20/17
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc. - Dissenting
E2016-02178-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

I maintain that the Court of Appeals properly concluded that recusal was necessary in this case. While I adhere to the position expressed by both the appellate court’s majority and concurring opinions that “[n]othing in the record on appeal leads this Court to believe that the trial judge holds a prejudice or bias against any party or that the trial judge cannot remain impartial despite this communication,” Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc., No. E2016-02178-COA-T10B-CV, 2016 WL 7364901, at *8 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 19, 2016), perm. app. granted (Tenn. Feb. 17, 2017), I nonetheless perceive an appearance of impropriety that is expressly disfavored by the Canons of Judicial Conduct, see Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 10, Canon 1.2 (“A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”). Therefore, I respectfully disagree with the decision of the majority of this Court that recusal is unnecessary.

Carter County Supreme Court 09/19/17
Jeanie Holsclaw v. Ivy Hall Nursing Home, Inc.
E2016-02178-SC-T10B-CV
Authoring Judge: Per Curiam
Trial Court Judge: Judge Jean A. Stanley

This case is on appeal from a trial court judge’s decision not to recuse herself based on a telephone call to a university department director concerning a potential expert witness’ qualifications. Upon the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion for recusal of the trial court judge, the defendant filed an accelerated interlocutory appeal in the Court of Appeals pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 10B, section 2. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that recusal of the trial judge was necessary. We granted the plaintiff’s accelerated application for permission to appeal to this Court. Having thoroughly reviewed the filings of both parties and the applicable law, we conclude that the trial court’s denial of the motion to recuse was appropriate in this case. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Carter County Supreme Court 09/19/17
Tennessee Department of Correction v. David Pressley
M2015-00902-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Claudia C. Bonnyman

We granted this appeal to determine whether a “preferred service” state employee has a protected property interest in his or her employment and whether due process or specific statutory language requires the State to bear the ultimate burden of proof in a post-termination administrative appeal under section 8-30-318 of the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management Act of 2012, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 8-30-101 through -407. The Respondent, David Pressley, was employed by the Petitioner, Tennessee Department of Correction, as a correctional officer at the Morgan County Correctional Complex. Mr. Pressley was dismissed from his employment and challenged his termination pursuant to the TEAM Act’s appeals process. Mr. Pressley’s termination was upheld by the Commissioner of TDOC at Step I of the TEAM Act’s appeals process and at Step II by the Commissioner of Human Resources. At Step III of the appeals process, the Board of Appeals reinstated Mr. Pressley and reduced his discipline to a 14-day suspension. The Board of Appeals also determined that the State bore the ultimate burden of proof in the Step III appeal. The State appealed to chancery court, challenging the assignment of the burden of proof. The chancery court reversed the Board of Appeals’ decision on the burden of proof issue and remanded the matter to the Board of Appeals. Mr. Pressley appealed to the Court of Appeals which, in turn, reversed the chancery court’s decision and determined that “preferred service” state employees have a protected property interest in their employment and that the State bore the ultimate burden of proof in the Step III appeal. We reverse the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remand this matter to the Board of Appeals for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 09/14/17
Linda Beard v. James William Branson, et al.
M2014-01770-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert E. Burch

We granted permission for this appeal to determine whether a surviving spouse who files a wrongful death lawsuit is acting as a legal representative of the decedent and whether a wrongful death lawsuit filed pro se by the surviving spouse is void ab initio based on the spouse’s pro se status. In this case, the decedent’s surviving spouse filed a pro se wrongful death health care liability lawsuit shortly before the one-year statute of limitations lapsed. After expiration of the limitations period, the spouse retained an attorney and filed an amended complaint. In the ensuing discovery, the defendants learned that the decedent had two daughters, both of whom were statutory beneficiaries in the wrongful death action. The defendants filed motions for summary judgment. They argued that the spouse’s initial pro se complaint was filed in a representative capacity on behalf of the decedent and the other statutory beneficiaries and that it was, therefore, void ab initio; thus, the filing of the amended complaint could not relate back to the date of the initial complaint, and the lawsuit was time-barred. The trial court denied the summary judgment motions and permitted the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial pro se complaint. It then conducted a jury trial; the jury found both defendants liable and awarded damages. The defendant hospital appealed the denial of summary judgment. Adopting the defendant’s argument, the Court of Appeals reversed. The plaintiff now appeals. Under the plain language of Tennessee’s wrongful death statutes, the decedent’s right of action “pass[es] to” the surviving spouse upon the decedent’s death, and the surviving spouse asserts the right of action for the benefit of himself and other beneficiaries. Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-106(a) (2009 & Supp. 2016). Consequently, we hold that the surviving spouse did not file the initial pro se complaint as the legal representative of either the decedent or the decedent’s estate. As we construe our wrongful death statutes, in filing the pro se complaint, the surviving spouse was acting to a large extent on his own behalf and for his own benefit pursuant to his right of self-representation. Under the facts of this case, we hold that the initial pro se complaint was not void ab initio, it served to toll the statute of limitations, and the trial court did not err in allowing the filing of the amended complaint to relate back to the date of the initial complaint. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, affirm the trial court’s denial of summary judgment, and remand to the Court of Appeals for consideration of the other issues that were properly raised on appeal but not addressed. 

Houston County Supreme Court 08/30/17