Supreme Court Opinions

Format: 05/19/2022
Format: 05/19/2022
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al. v. Tennessee Department of Education et al. - Concurring in Part & Dissenting in Part
M2020-00683-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

SHARON G. LEE, J., with whom HOLLY KIRBY, J., joins, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
In this interlocutory appeal, the issues we address are whether the Plaintiffs,Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) and Shelby County, have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program,2 (“the ESA Act”), and, if so, whether the ESA Act violates the Home Rule Amendment.
I agree with the Court that the Plaintiffs have standing to bring this action. The ESA Act causes a distinct and palpable injury to the Plaintiffs’ sovereignty—their right to control their local affairs—as guaranteed by the Home Rule Amendment. As we have held, the Home Rule Amendment was adopted “to strengthen local self-government” and “to fundamentally change” the relationship with the General Assembly. Civil Serv. Merit Bd.of Knoxville v. Burson, 816 S.W.2d 725, 728 (Tenn. 1991); S. Constructors, Inc. v. Loudon Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 58 S.W.3d 706, 714 (Tenn. 2001). Based on the Home Rule Amendment, Tennessee’s counties and home-rule municipalities “derive their power from sources other than the prerogative of the legislature,” and they enjoy constitutional protection against local legislation enacted without their consent. S. Constructors, 58 S.W.3d at 714; Tenn. Const. art. XI, § 9, cl. 2. Thus, the Plaintiffs’ standing is based on the ESA Act’s impairment of their ability to self-govern regarding school funding.
I disagree with the Court that the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment. The Court’s decision ignores the acknowledged harm to the Plaintiffs’ sovereignty caused by the ESA Act.3 It is this established injury to the Plaintiffs’ ability to self-govern that the Home Rule Amendment was intended to protect. While the ESA Act facially refers only to a Local Education Agency (“LEA”),4 the Act substantially affects the Plaintiffs’ ability to decide issues of local concern. That is enough under our previous decisions to implicate the Home Rule Amendment. Without a provision of local approval as required by the Amendment, the ESA Act is unconstitutional.
 
Davidson County Supreme Court 05/18/22
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County et al. v. Tennessee Department of Education et al.
M2020-00683-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Anne C. Martin

This case is before us on an interlocutory appeal limited to a single claim: Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenge to the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program (the “ESA Act” or the “Act”), Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 49-6-2601 to -2612, under article XI, section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution (the “Home Rule Amendment” or the “Amendment”).  The trial court held that Plaintiffs had standing to pursue this claim and denied Defendants’ motions to dismiss on that basis.  The court held that the ESA Act is unconstitutional under the Home Rule Amendment and granted Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on this claim.  The trial court then sua sponte granted Defendants an interlocutory appeal, and the Court of Appeals granted their application for an interlocutory appeal by permission pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment with respect to the issue of standing and the issue of the constitutionality of the ESA Act under the Home Rule Amendment.  We hold that Plaintiffs have standing to bring their Home Rule Amendment claim and affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that issue.  However, we hold that the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment such that the Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Amendment, and we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals with respect to that issue.  Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court with respect to Plaintiffs’ claim under the Home Rule Amendment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the trial court for entry of a judgment dismissing that claim, for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, and for consideration of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims. 

Davidson County Supreme Court 05/18/22
Tyree B. Harris, IV v. Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
M2020-01113-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree

In this appeal from attorney disciplinary proceedings, the hearing panel found that the attorney’s testimony about his income in a juvenile court proceeding to reduce his child support obligation violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8, RPC 8.4(c).  The hearing panel said that the attorney’s answers were carefully crafted to give the appearance of literal truth but were in fact dishonest in that they intentionally omitted relevant information fairly called for in the questions.  The hearing panel found that the presumptive sanction was disbarment, but it reduced the sanction to a one-year suspension in light of the attorney’s prior unblemished forty-year legal career.  The attorney appealed the hearing panel’s decision to the circuit court, which affirmed.  The attorney now appeals to this Court.  He maintains that, in context, his answers were truthful and responsive to the specific questions asked, and that there was no violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.  He also contends that the sanction imposed by the hearing panel is overly harsh and an abuse of discretion.  We affirm the trial court’s judgment upholding the hearing panel’s decision.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/29/22
State of Tennessee v. William Eugene Moon
M2019-01865-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge L. Craig Johnson

William Eugene Moon (“Defendant”) was convicted of attempted second degree murder and unlawful employment of a firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony. Defendant appealed his conviction and asserted, among other things, that he had been denied the right to a speedy trial and that the trial court erred by allowing improper impeachment of a defense witness. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgments of the trial court, holding that Defendant was not denied a speedy trial and, although the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to improperly impeach a defense witness, the error was harmless.  This Court granted Defendant’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether the Court of Criminal Appeals applied the proper standard of review to Defendant’s claim that he was denied a speedy trial, to address the merits of Defendant’s speedy trial claim, and to determine whether the trial court committed reversible error in allowing improper impeachment of a defense witness. We hold that the standard of review for an alleged speedy trial violation is de novo with deference to the trial court’s findings of fact unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. When reviewed under this standard, we determine that the Court of Criminal Appeals properly held that the Defendant was not denied a speedy trial. Further, we agree with the intermediate court that the trial court erred in allowing improper impeachment of a defense witness. However, we hold that this error was not harmless and is reversible error. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and vacate the judgments of the trial court. The case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Coffee County Supreme Court 04/20/22
Akilah Moore et al. v. William Lee et al.
M2022-00434-SC-RDO-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins, Judge J. Michael Sharp and Chancellor Steven W. Maroney

Sharon G. Lee, J., dissenting.

On April 6, 2022, a three-judge panel granted a temporary injunction enjoining the defendants, William Lee, as Governor of Tennessee, in his official capacity, Tre Hargett, as Tennessee Secretary of State, in his official capacity, and Mark Goins, as Tennessee Coordinator of Elections, in his official capacity, from enforcing or giving effect to the reapportionment plan for the Tennessee Senate. The Senate reapportionment plan creates four senatorial districts within Davidson County that are not consecutively numbered (the districts are numbered 17, 19, 20, and 21). Yet article II, section 3, of the Tennessee Constitution requires that in a county with more than one senatorial district, the districts have to be numbered consecutively. The three-judge panel gave the General Assembly fifteen days (until April 21, 2022) to remedy the constitutional defect and extended the qualifying deadline for prospective Senatorial candidates from April 7, 2022, to May 5, 2022.

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/13/22
Akilah Moore et al. v. William Lee et al.
M2022-00434-SC-RDO-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Russell T. Perkins, Judge J. Michael Sharp and Chancellor Steven W. Maroney

The Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the reapportionment plan for the districts of the Tennessee Senate that the Tennessee General Assembly enacted after the 2020 census.  Specifically, the Plaintiffs alleged that the reapportionment plan violates article II, section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution because it fails to consecutively number the four Senatorial districts included in Davidson County.  The Plaintiffs requested declaratory and injunctive relief.  The trial court granted a temporary injunction enjoining the Defendants from enforcing or giving any effect to the boundaries of the Senatorial districts.  The trial court provided the General Assembly with fifteen days to remedy the defect pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 20-18-105, stating that if the defect was not remedied, the trial court would impose an interim plan for the 2022 election.  Tennessee Code Annotated section 2-5-101(a)(1) sets the deadline for filing candidate nominating petitions as the first Thursday in April at noon.  Thus, the trial court further extended the statutory April 7, 2022 filing deadline for Senatorial candidates until May 5, 2022.  The Defendants filed an application for extraordinary appeal in the Court of Appeals pursuant to Rule 10 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure.  This Court assumed jurisdiction over the case pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 16-3-201(d)(3).  We conclude that the trial court erred by granting the injunction because it failed to adequately consider the harm the injunction will have on our election officials who are detrimentally impacted by the extension of the candidate filing deadline, as well as the public interest in ensuring orderly elections and avoiding voter confusion.  We vacate the injunction and remand to the trial court.  

Davidson County Supreme Court 04/13/22
State of Tennessee v. Craig Dagnan
M2020-00152-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Justin C. Angel

This appeal concerns the revocation of a criminal defendant’s probation. We granted Defendant’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether revocation proceedings are a one-step or two-step process on the part of the trial court and the appropriate appellate standard of review to be employed in reviewing such determinations. Defendant in this case pleaded guilty to theft of property over $1,000 but less than $10,000 and received a six-year sentence, which the trial court suspended to supervised probation. A series of revocation proceedings ensued. At Defendant’s fifth and final revocation hearing, the trial court fully revoked his probation. Defendant took issue with the consequence imposed for his probation violation; however, the Court of Criminal Appeals found no abuse of discretion on the part of the trial court and affirmed its decision. Judge Timothy L. Easter filed a separate concurring opinion in which he emphasized his belief that a trial court, after it has determined probation should be revoked, is not statutorily required to hold an additional hearing or make any additional findings to determine the manner in which the original sentence should be served. We granted Defendant’s application for permission to appeal. While we do not agree with Defendant that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering him to serve the balance of his six-year sentence in prison, we do take this opportunity to clarify and bring uniformity to the standards and principles applied by the trial courts and appellate courts in probation revocation proceedings. We conclude that a probation revocation proceeding ultimately involves a two-step inquiry. A trial court, upon finding by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant violated the conditions of his or her probation, must determine (1) whether to revoke probation, and (2) the appropriate consequence to impose upon revocation. On appeal, the appellate court must review both decisions separately for abuse of discretion. More specifically, if the trial court has properly placed its findings on the record, the standard of review for probation revocations is abuse of discretion with a presumption of reasonableness. Considering this Court’s prior opinions establishing the appellate standard of review of a trial court’s sentencing decisions, we expressly extend the same principles to appellate review of a trial court’s decision to revoke probation. Because we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in Defendant’s case, we affirm the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Marion County Supreme Court 03/04/22
Donna Cooper et al. v. Dr. Mason Wesley Mandy et al.
M2019-01748-SC-R1-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge James G. Martin, III

The issue presented in this interlocutory appeal is whether the Health Care Liability Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 29-26-101 to -122, applies to medical battery and intentional misrepresentation claims against health care providers for injuries arising from a surgical procedure. The defendant doctor told the plaintiff he was an experienced board-certified plastic surgeon, and the plaintiff consented to surgery. But the doctor was not a board-certified plastic surgeon, and the surgery did not go well. The plaintiff and her husband sued the doctor and his medical practice for her injuries, alleging medical battery and intentional misrepresentation. The defendants moved to dismiss because the plaintiffs had not complied with the pre-suit notice and filing requirements of the Health Care Liability Act. The plaintiffs, conceding their noncompliance, argued the Act did not apply to their medical battery and intentional misrepresentation claims. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that the defendants’ misrepresentations were made before any health care services were rendered and thus did not relate to the provision of health care services. On interlocutory review, the Court of Appeals affirmed. We reverse and hold that the Health Care Liability Act applies to the plaintiffs’ claims. The Act broadly defines a “health care liability action” to include claims alleging that a health care provider caused an injury that related to the provision of health care services, regardless of the theory of liability. Based on the allegations in the complaint, the plaintiffs’ medical battery and intentional misrepresentation claims fall within the definition of a “health care liability action” under the Act. We remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Williamson County Supreme Court 01/20/22
Steven Kampmeyer et al v. State of Tennessee
M2019-01196-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Commissioner Robert N. Hibbett

This case involves claims against the State of Tennessee asserted by a husband and wife. The claimant husband suffered injuries when his car collided with a Tennessee state vehicle parked in the roadway. He gave written notice of his claim to the Tennessee Division of Claims and Risk Management. The Division did not resolve it, so the Division transferred the claim to the Tennessee Claims Commission. The husband and wife then filed a complaint with the Claims Commission. The complaint contained a loss of consortium claim by the wife that was not in the written notice the husband gave to the Division of Claims and Risk Management. The Claims Commission complaint was filed within the applicable one-year statute of limitations. The Claims Commission granted the State’s motion to dismiss the wife’s loss of consortium claim as time-barred because she did not give the Division of Claims and Risk Management written notice of her claim within the limitations period. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The claimants appeal, relying on the holding in Hunter v. State, No. 01-A-01-9210-BC00425, 1993 WL 133240 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 28, 1993), that a complaint filed with the Claims Commission within the statute of limitations fulfills the requirement in Tennessee Code Annotated § 9-8-402(a)(1) that claimants give timely written notice of their claim against the State to the Division of Claims and Risk Management. We reject this argument, overrule Hunter v. State, and affirm the Claims Commission’s dismissal of the wife’s claim for loss of consortium.

Sequatchie County Supreme Court 01/13/22
State of Tennessee v. Urshawn Eric Miller- Concurring in part and Dissenting in part
W2019-00197-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

Sharon G. Lee, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part.

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects all citizens, including Urshawn Eric Miller, from being subjected to punishment that is cruel and unusual. A sentence is cruel and unusual, and thus constitutionally prohibited, when it is excessive or disproportionate as compared with sentences imposed in similar cases. Miller was sentenced to death for shooting and killing a store clerk during an attempted robbery. The loss of the store clerk’s life is tragic, and Miller deserves to be punished. But Miller and the crime he committed do not fall into the rare category of the “worst of the bad.”When compared with other first-degree murder cases, including capital cases, Miller’s case is more like cases in which a sentence of life or life without parole was imposed rather than a death sentence.Thus, Miller’s death sentence is out of line with the punishment imposed in similar cases, making his punishment cruel and unusual.   

Miller’s convictions for first-degree murder and other offenses should be affirmed. Under the Eighth Amendment, Miller should not be put to death but should spend the rest of his life in prison.

Madison County Supreme Court 12/07/21
State of Tennessee v. Urshawn Eric Miller
W2019-00197-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Donald H. Allen

A Madison County jury convicted the defendant, Urshawn Eric Miller, of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder for fatally shooting a convenience store employee during an attempted robbery of the store. The jury also convicted the defendant of the attempted second-degree murder of another store employee and of attempted especially aggravated robbery, aggravated assault, employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, evading arrest, and resisting arrest. The jury imposed the death penalty for the first-degree murder convictions. The trial court merged the felony murder conviction into the premeditated murder conviction and the aggravated assault conviction into the attempted second-degree murder conviction, and it imposed an effective thirty-year sentence for the remaining convictions to run concurrently with the death sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences but vacated the application of the felony murder aggravating circumstance as to the felony murder conviction. Upon our automatic review, we conclude: (1) the trial court properly ruled on challenges to certain jurors for cause during individual voir dire; (2) the evidence was sufficient to establish the defendant’s identity as the perpetrator and his guilt of the convicted offenses; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State to introduce a video recording of the defendant’s prior aggravated robbery during the penalty phase; (4) the death penalty generally, and lethal injection specifically, do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment; and (5) the death sentence satisfies our mandatory review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206. Accordingly, we affirm the defendant’s convictions and sentence of death; however, we reverse the portion of the intermediate court’s judgment vacating the application of the felony murder aggravating circumstance.   

Madison County Supreme Court 12/07/21
State of Tennessee v. Jeremy Reynolds
E2018-01732-SC-R11-CD
Authoring Judge: Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Barry A. Steelman

Jeremy Reynolds was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder at the conclusion of a jury trial in which the State was permitted to introduce evidence related to gang membership. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that the evidence of premeditation was legally insufficient and reversed the conviction. The intermediate appellate court noted that the evidence was legally sufficient to support a conviction for the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder, but it nevertheless remanded for a new trial based on its determination that the trial court had abused its discretion in admitting certain pieces of evidence related to gang membership. We accepted the State’s appeal. After a thorough review of the record, we conclude that the evidence was legally sufficient to support the conviction for premeditated first-degree murder. We further conclude that there was no reversible error on the part of the trial court in admitting evidence related to gang membership. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals and reinstate Reynolds’s conviction for premeditated first-degree murder.

Hamilton County Supreme Court 11/29/21
Brett Rosasco v. West Knoxville Painters, LLC
E2020-01656-SC-R3-WC
Authoring Judge: Judge William B. Acree, Sr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Pamela Johnson

Brett Rosasco (“Employee”) was injured when he was struck by a falling tree after he tried to use a portable restroom near his worksite. The Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims determined that Mr. Rosasco’s injury did not “arise primarily out of and in the course and scope of [his] employment” and granted summary judgment for West Knoxville Painters, LLC (“Employer”). See Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-6-102(14). Mr. Rosasco’s appeal has been referred to this Panel for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. After reviewing the evidence, we affirm the judgment.

Supreme Court 11/18/21
Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Charles Edward Walker
M2021-00099-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge Robert E. Lee Davies

A Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel found that an attorney should be suspended from the practice of law for three years for violating multiple provisions of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct. The trial court affirmed, finding that the hearing panel’s decision was supported by substantial and material evidence and was neither arbitrary nor an abuse of discretion.Finding no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Supreme Court 11/18/21
In Re: Loring Edwin Justice
E2020-01089-SC-R3-BP
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge:

An attorney who had been disbarred was assessed costs associated with his disbarment proceedings pursuant to pre-2014 Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 24.3. The attorney timely filed a petition seeking relief from costs, and a panel of the Board of Professional Responsibility conducted a hearing on the petition. The panel reduced the costs for 11.2 hours of disciplinary counsel time and otherwise denied the petition. The attorney has appealed to this Court, as permitted by pre-2014 Rule 9, section 24.3. Having carefully and thoroughly considered the record and each of the issues raised, we affirm the panel’s decision.

Supreme Court 08/16/21
Milan Supply Chain Solutions, Inc. F/K/A Milan Express, Inc. v. Navistar, Inc. Et Al.
W2018-00084-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark
Trial Court Judge: Judge Roy B. Morgan, Jr.

We granted permission to appeal primarily to consider how, if at all, the economic loss doctrine, which generally precludes recovery for purely economic losses in tort actions, applies in Tennessee to claims of fraudulent inducement. We hold that when, as here, a fraud claim seeks recovery of only economic losses and is premised solely on misrepresentations or nondisclosures about the quality of goods that are the subject of a contract between sophisticated commercial parties, the economic loss doctrine applies. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the economic loss doctrine bars the plaintiff’s fraudulent inducement claim. We also affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the plaintiff’s claim under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) is barred as a matter of law because the trucks at issue are not “goods” as that term is defined by the portion of the TCPA on which the plaintiff relied. Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-104(b)(7) (2013 & Supp. 2020). We, therefore, set aside the plaintiff’s award of attorney’s fees and costs based on the TCPA. In all other respects, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the separate grounds stated herein.  

Madison County Supreme Court 08/02/21
Regions Bank v. Nathan I. Prager
W2019-00782-SC-R11
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Judge James F. Russell

The issue in this appeal is whether the Plaintiff’s lawsuit is barred by the doctrine of res judicata.  The Plaintiff originally filed suit against the Defendant in the Circuit Court for Shelby County in May 2014.  Unbeknownst to the parties, the trial court sua sponte dismissed the lawsuit for failure to prosecute.  Upon learning of the dismissal over ten months later, the Plaintiff moved to set aside the dismissal.  The trial court denied the Plaintiff’s request to set aside the dismissal but, articulating an erroneous reading of Rule 41.02(3) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, entered an order that stated the dismissal did not bar the Plaintiff from refiling its lawsuit.  When the Plaintiff refiled its lawsuit in August 2017, the Defendant filed a motion to dismiss based on the doctrine of res judicata.  Despite language to the contrary in its prior order, the trial court granted the Defendant’s motion, holding that the dismissal of the original lawsuit operated as an adjudication on the merits.  A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the second lawsuit.  We conclude that the doctrine of res judicata does not bar the Plaintiff’s lawsuit.  Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals, vacate the trial court’s judgment, and reinstate the Plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Shelby County Supreme Court 07/08/21
Snake Steel, Inc. v. Holladay Construction Group, LLC - Concurring
M2019-00322-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Cornelia A. Clark with whom Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivens, and Sharon G. Lee Join, Concurring Separately
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

We fully concur in the opinion of the Court but write separately to urge the General Assembly to clarify an issue that this decision does not address: whether Holladay Construction Group, LLC (“Holladay”), had a statutory obligation to deposit the retainage it received from 2200 Charlotte Avenue, LLC, (“Owner”) on May 27, 2015, into a separate, interest-bearing escrow account, or was obligated at that point only to pay subcontractors, such as Snake Steel, within ten days of receipt of the retainage from Owner.  

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/30/21
Snake Steel, Inc. v. Holladay Construction Group, LLC
M2019-00322-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This appeal requires us to interpret provisions in the Prompt Pay Act, Tennessee Code Annotated sections 66-34-101 to -704, regarding retainage withheld on construction projects. The Prompt Pay Act requires the party withholding retainage—a percentage of total payment withheld as incentive for satisfactory completion of work—to deposit the funds into a separate, interest-bearing escrow account. Failure to do so results in a penalty of $300 per day. In this case, both parties agree the subcontractor’s retainage was not placed into an interest-bearing escrow account, and the retainage was not timely remitted to the subcontractor. Three years after completing its work on the contract, the subcontractor sued the contractor for unpaid retainage plus amounts due under the Prompt Pay Act. The contractor soon tendered the retainage; consequently, only the statutory penalty is at issue in this appeal. Tennessee Code Annotated section 66-34-104(c) states that, for persons required to deposit retainage into a separate interest-bearing escrow account, the penalty is assessed “per day for each and every day” retainage is not so deposited. Consonant with the statute’s language, its objective, the wrong the Prompt Pay Act seeks to prevent, and the purpose it seeks to accomplish, we hold that the $300 per day penalty is assessed each day retainage is not deposited in a statutorily-compliant escrow account. Consequently, while the subcontractor’s claim for the statutory penalty is subject to the one-year statute of limitations, if the subcontractor can establish that the contractor was required to deposit the retainage into an escrow account, the subcontractor is not precluded from recovering the penalty assessed each day during the period commencing 365 days before the complaint was filed. Accordingly, we reverse in part the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the contractor and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/30/21
Cynthia E. Yebuah, Et Al. v. Center For Urological Treatment, PLC - Dissenting
M2018-01652-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee with whom Justice Cornelia A. Clark, joins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This case illustrates how the damages cap statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102, deprives injured plaintiffs of fair compensation by arbitrarily limiting their awards for noneconomic damages. Cynthia Yebuah and her husband, Eric Yebuah, suffered noneconomic damages because of the carelessness of Mrs. Yebuah’s surgeon. Based on the evidence at trial, a jury awarded Mrs. Yebuah more than $750,000 in noneconomic damages for her pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life and awarded Mr. Yebuah less than $750,000 for his loss of consortium. The issue here is whether the trial court must apply the $750,000 statutory cap on noneconomic damages separately to each of the Yebuahs’ awards or to the combined total of their awards. If the cap is applied separately to each award, the trial court must slash the jury’s verdict to Mrs. Yebuah by 81% and allow Mr. Yebuah to recover all of the damages the jury awarded him. If the cap is applied to the combined total of the awards, then the trial court must cut the total award to the Yebuahs by 83%. Neither application can withstand constitutional scrutiny. I decline to choose between these two alternatives; both are unconstitutional violations of the Yebuahs’ right to trial by jury. See McClay v. Airport Mgmt. Servs., LLC, 596 S.W.3d 686, 701–09 (Tenn. 2020) (Lee, J., dissenting). 

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/02/21
Cynthia E.Yebuah, Et Al. v. Center For Urological Treatment, PLC
M2018-01652-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Justice Roger A. Page
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joseph P. Binkley, Jr.

This is a healthcare liability action involving the application of the statutory cap on noneconomic damages to loss of consortium claims. The issue before the Court is whether the statutory cap on noneconomic damages applies separately to a spouse’s loss of consortium claim pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102, thus allowing each plaintiff to receive an award of up to $750,000 in noneconomic damages. Here, the surgery patient filed suit for noneconomic damages resulting from the defendant physicians’ negligence, namely that a portion of a Gelport device was unintentionally left in her body after surgery. In the same suit, the patient’s spouse claimed damages for loss of consortium. The jury awarded the patient $4,000,000 in damages for pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. The jury also awarded her husband $500,000 in damages for loss of consortium. The trial court initially applied the statutory cap on noneconomic damages by entering a judgment in favor of both plaintiffs collectively for a total judgment of $750,000. However, the trial court subsequently granted the plaintiffs’ motion to alter or amend and applied the statutory cap to each plaintiff separately, thereby entering a judgment of $750,000 for the patient and $500,000 for her husband. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that the language of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-39-102 allows both plaintiffs to recover only $750,000 in the aggregate for noneconomic damages. We therefore reverse the holding of the Court of Appeals and the trial court.

Davidson County Supreme Court 06/02/21
Ritchie Phillips, Et Al. v. Mark Hatfield
E2019-00628-SC-R11-CV
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor E. G. Moody

The issue in this case is whether restrictive covenants executed and recorded by the developers of a subdivision after they had sold the parties’ lots apply to the Defendant’s property. The developers platted a subdivision and sold the vast majority of lots with time-limited restrictions against non-residential use expressly stated in the deeds that conveyed the lots. Thereafter, the developers recorded a declaration of more fulsome, non-time-limited restrictive covenants—including a restriction against non-residential use—that purported to apply to all lots in the subdivision. Decades later, well after the expiration of the time-limited deed restrictions, the Defendant purchased lots and proposed to build a structure for the operation of a retail business. The Plaintiffs, who reside in a home on lots adjacent to the Defendant’s property, brought a declaratory judgment action to enforce the non-time-limited restriction against non-residential use contained in the recorded declaration. The trial court enjoined the Defendant’s proposed commercial use, concluding that the Defendant’s property was—through the declaration—subject to an implied negative reciprocal easement that prohibited non-residential use. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that the developers lacked the authority to impose the declaration’s restrictions upon the Defendant’s property because they did not own those lots when they executed and recorded the declaration. We further hold that the developers’ mere re-acquisition and re-sale of some of the Defendant’s lots after the recording of the declaration did not retroactively restrict the Defendant’s property through the declaration. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Sullivan County Supreme Court 06/01/21
Affordable Construction Services, Inc. Et Al. v. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, Et Al.
M2020-01417-SC-R23-CV
Authoring Judge: Judge Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge S. Thomas Anderson

Tennessee Code Annotated section 56-7-111 provides that when an insured property owner’s home or other structure sustains more than $1,000 in damages, the property or casualty insurance company shall name the general contractor of an uncompleted construction contract as a payee when issuing payment to the owner for the loss. Here, an insurance company issued a check to the insured owner but did not name the general contractor as a payee. The general contractor sued the insurance company, alleging noncompliance with section 56-7-111. We accepted three certified questions of law from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, one of which requires us to determine whether a general contractor has a private right of action against an insurance company for violating section 56-7-111. We hold that section 56-7-111 does not expressly grant a private right of action to the general contractor, and the general contractor failed to prove that the legislature intended to imply a private right of action. Thus, the general contractor has no right to sue the insurance company for noncompliance with section 56-7-111.

Supreme Court 04/26/21
State of Tennessee v. Michael Rimmer - Concurring
W2017-00504-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Sharon G. Lee
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

 I concur in the Court’s opinion except for the analysis of 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) (2018 & Supp. 2020) by limiting consideration to only those cases in which the State sought the death penalty. 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). 

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/16/21
State of Tennessee v. Michael Rimmer
W2017-00504-SC-DDT-DD
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Judge Chris Craft

This is a direct appeal in a capital case. The defendant had one prior trial. In the second trial, a Shelby County jury found the defendant guilty of first degree premeditated murder, murder in the perpetration of robbery, and aggravated robbery. He was sentenced to death plus a consecutive eighteen years of incarceration. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and the sentence. We now consider the appeal on automatic review pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206(a)(1). We hold the following: (1) based on sequential jury instructions given in the first trial, the first jury did not have a full opportunity to consider the felony murder count, so double jeopardy principles did not bar retrial on the felony murder count; (2) alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the first trial did not trigger double jeopardy protections and did not bar retrial of the defendant; (3) because the State did not have a duty to preserve the defendant’s vehicle, the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress DNA evidence from the vehicle; (4) the trial court did not err under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404(b) in admitting evidence of the defendant’s prior convictions for rape and assault of the victim; and (5) the trial court did not err under Rule 404(b) in admitting evidence of the defendant’s escape attempts and corroborating evidence of homemade shanks in his cell. We hold further that imposition of the death penalty is not arbitrary, given the circumstances of the crime; that the evidence supports the jury’s finding that the State proved one aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt; that the evidence supports the jury’s conclusion that the aggravating circumstance outweighed any mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt; and that the sentence of death is neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. As to the remaining issues raised by the defendant, we agree with the conclusions of the Court of Criminal Appeals and attach as an appendix to this opinion the relevant portions of the intermediate court’s decision. We affirm the convictions and the sentence.  Note:  See "Rehear Order May 21, 2021".

Shelby County Supreme Court 04/16/21