Tennessee Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments at Lipscomb University for Volunteer Girls State

May 29, 2019

Lipscomb University will host the Tennessee Supreme Court this week as part of the American Legion Auxiliary’s Volunteer Girls State program, which provides Tennessee’s high school female leaders the opportunity to experience and learn about civic engagement.  On Thursday morning, the Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for two cases before the Girls State participants.  The program participants receive study materials to learn in-depth details about the cases.  Following oral arguments, the students will participate in a Q&A session with the attorneys who argued the cases.

The Tennessee Supreme Court oral arguments are just one part of the weeklong program that provides a first-hand glimpse into how our government operates in Tennessee.  The program allows student delegates to elect leaders and conduct legislative sessions, all the while emphasizing the importance of citizenship and collaboration.  In addition to learning about the judicial process and studying the cases heard before the Court, they also will hear from a number of other elected officials in Tennessee.

Oral arguments begin at 8:30 a.m. in A.M. Burton Health Sciences Center on Lipscomb’s campus for the following cases:

  • State of Tennessee v. Brandon Cole-Pugh – The defendant, Brandon Cole-Pugh, was convicted of being a felon in possession of a handgun, stemming from an altercation at a convenience store in which Mr. Cole-Pugh wrestled an aggressor and took control of the aggressor’s weapon that fell out of the aggressor’s pocket.  At the close of proof at trial, Mr. Cole-Pugh requested that the trial court instruct the jury that Mr. Cole-Pugh only possessed the weapon out of necessity to prevent further harm.  The trial court declined to do so.  On appeal, the Tennessee Supreme Court has asked the parties to address whether the trial court erred in denying Mr. Cole-Pugh’s oral request for a necessity instruction.  Additionally, the parties are to address whether Mr. Cole-Pugh waived this issue on appeal by failing to request the jury instruction in writing or whether the trial court, even without a written request, has a duty to include the instruction if it is fairly raised by the evidence. 
  • Tennessee Farmer’s Mutual Insurance Company v. Brandon DeBruce – This appeal stems from a personal injury case in which the defendant’s insurance company sought a declaratory judgment that the company had no duty to defend or indemnify the defendant based on the defendant’s alleged breach of the insurance contract.  The insurance company did not name the personal injury plaintiff as a party and later obtained a default judgment against its insured without the knowledge of the personal injury plaintiff.  The plaintiff in the personal injury suit sought to set aside the declaratory judgment action and requested to intervene, arguing that she was an indispensable party to the declaratory judgment case.  The trial court denied the plaintiff’s petition, and she appealed.  The Court of Appeals set aside the declaratory judgment action as lacking subject matter jurisdiction based on the plaintiff’s being an indispensable party.  The insurance company now asks the Supreme Court to determine the following: whether persons asserting claims against the insured are considered indispensable parties under Tennessee law and whether non-joinder of parties asserting claims against an insured deprives the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Court also will hear three cases later on Thursday, May 30, 2019, and two cases on Friday, May 31, 2019, at the Supreme Court Building in Nashville.  The details for those cases are as follows:

  • In Re: Petition to Stay Effectiveness of Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163 – On March 15, 2018, the Board of Professional Responsibility issued a formal ethics opinion, Formal Ethics Opinion 2017-F-163, which pertains to the ethical responsibilities of prosecutors.  The two main conclusions of the opinion were that a prosecutor’s ethical duties extend beyond his or her legal duties under current federal case law and that the timing for fulfilling the disclosure requirement under Tennessee Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8(d) is “as soon as reasonably practicable.”  The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference filed a petition to vacate the formal ethics opinion with the Tennessee Supreme Court and requested the Court stay the effectiveness of the opinion pending adjudication of the petition.  The Court granted the stay, ordered briefing, and set the matter for oral argument. In addition to hearing oral argument by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference and the Board of Professional Responsibility, the Court also will hear oral arguments from amici curiae the United States of America, for the petitioner, and the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the three Federal Public Defenders for the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts of Tennessee, for the respondent.
  • Melissa Martin, et al. v. Rolling Hills Hospital, LLC, et al. – In this healthcare liability case, the plaintiff appealed from the trial court’s dismissal of the case for the plaintiff’s failure to comply with Tennessee statute by failing to provide the defendants with HIPAA-compliant authorizations for release of medical records.  Accordingly, the trial court barred the action because it held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to an extension of the statute of limitations.  The Court of Appeals determined that the plaintiff substantially complied with Tennessee law and that the defendants failed to establish that they were prejudiced by any deficiencies.  The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the defendants’ applications for permission to appeal and ordered the parties to address, in addition to the issues raised in their applications, the following: the proper role of prejudice in the substantial compliance analysis and determination; and the proper burden of production and/or proof with respect to the presence or absence of prejudice for purposes of the substantial compliance analysis and determination, including whether the Court should consider the adoption of a rebuttable presumption of prejudice when the pre-suit notice is not accompanied by a medical authorization which is facially compliant with HIPAA.
  • Jennifer Elizabeth Meehan v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee – This case involves an attorney, Ms. Jennifer Meehan, who pleaded guilty to bank fraud.  As a result, the Tennessee Supreme Court summarily suspended Ms. Meehan and referred the matter to the Board of Professional Responsibility to appoint a hearing panel to determine the extent of final discipline.  Following a final hearing on the matter, the Hearing Panel in this case determined that disbarment was the appropriate discipline.  Ms. Meehan appealed to the Circuit Court for Davidson County which modified Ms. Meehan’s sanction, instead imposing a five-year suspension.  The Board now appeals the trial court’s decision, arguing that the trial court substituted its judgment for that of the Hearing Panel and erred in modifying the sanction.  Furthermore, the Board also argues that the trial court should not have ordered the suspension to be imposed retroactively to the date of Ms. Meehan’s summary suspension.
  • Bonnie Harmon, et al. v. Hickman Community Healthcare Services, Inc. – In this case, the children of a female inmate brought suit under the Health Care Liability Act when their mother died after receiving medical treatment for symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal while incarcerated at the Hickman County Jail.  The plaintiffs claim negligence, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision against the defendant contractor that provides medical services at the jail.  The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs appealed.  The Court of Appeals reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the trial court, holding that summary judgment was not appropriate in this case.  As provided in the defendant’s application for permission to appeal, the issues before the Supreme Court are whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying the plaintiffs’ motion to revise its summary judgment decision and whether the plaintiffs’ level of diligence and reasons for submitting new evidence in response to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment were sufficient to require the trial court to consider this late-filed evidence.
  • Board of Professional Responsibility v. Loring Edwin Justice This attorney-discipline matter stems from claims by the Board that Mr. Justice, upon an award for discovery sanctions and attorney’s fees and expenses, submitted a false itemized accounting of services and a false declaration in support of that accounting, and that he testified falsely as to that accounting.  Furthermore, the Board alleged that the amount requested was “grossly exaggerated and unreasonable.”  The hearing panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility determined that Mr. Justice violated various rules of professional conduct and imposed as his sanction a one-year suspension and twelve additional hours of continuing legal education on the subject of ethics.  Both parties appealed to the Chancery Court for Knox County, which modified Mr. Justice’s sanction to disbarment.  On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice argues, among several other issues, that issues with the trial court record deprive Mr. Justice of his right to appeal and to due process, that substantial and material evidence does not support the hearing panel’s determination that Mr. Justice violated several Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct, that the hearing panel and trial court violated Mr. Justice’s right against self-incrimination, and that the trial court erred in modifying Mr. Justice’s sanction to disbarment.

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