Tennessee Supreme Court To Hear Oral Arguments In Jackson, Nashville

April 1, 2022

The Tennessee Supreme Court has eight cases set for its April 2022 docket. The first two cases will be heard in Jackson on April 5 beginning at 9 a.m. Five cases will be heard in Nashville on April 6 beginning at 9 a.m. The final case will be submitted on briefs. Oral arguments will be livestreamed to the TN Courts YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/TNCourts/featured The details of the cases are as follows.

  • State of Tennessee v. Marvin Maurice Deberry – Officers stopped Marvin Maurice Deberry in 2018 and discovered that he had already been declared a motor vehicle habitual offender (“MVHO”). He was charged with driving after having been declared a MVHO and three other misdemeanor offenses. The jury convicted him, but before he was sentenced, the law changed, and the new law replaced the law the defendant had been convicted of violating. The defendant argued that this change in the law eliminated the penalty for his crime. In making this argument, he relied on the Criminal Savings Statute. The trial court agreed with the defendant’s argument and entered a judgment reflecting that the defendant was not subject to a penalty because the law had changed. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the State’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether the “lesser penalty” language of the Criminal Savings Statute, Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-11-112, applies where, as here, the legislature has repealed a criminal offense.     
  • State of Tennessee v. Quinton Devon Perry– Defendant Quinton Devon Perry pleaded guilty to twenty-four counts of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor after a 2017 investigation revealed that the defendant uploaded numerous child pornography files to his Dropbox account and later shared and traded the images and videos electronically with other people. Prior to the sentencing hearing, the State requested consecutive sentencing, asserting that the defendant had an extensive criminal record. Although the defendant had no prior criminal history or prior arrests, the State argued that the court could consider the offenses for which the defendant was being sentenced as proof of his extensive criminal record. The trial court agreed and ordered consecutive service of some of the sentences imposed, for an aggregate sentence of eighteen years’ imprisonment. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal to consider the issue of what constitutes prior criminal activity for the purposes of consecutive sentencing under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-35-115.          
  • Beverly Gardner v. Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital –The plaintiff filed a healthcare liability claim against a hospital asserting it was vicariously liable for injuries she suffered as a result of the negligence of anesthesia providers. The plaintiff provided the statutorily required pre-suit notice to only the hospital. The hospital moved for summary judgment arguing that the anesthesia providers were not employed by the hospital and it was not liable for the providers’ actions because the statute of limitations had run on the plaintiff’s direct claims against the providers. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim pursuant to Abshure v. Methodist Healthcare-Memphis Hospitals, 325 S.W.3d 98 (Tenn. 2010). The Court of Appeals reversed. The court acknowledged a conflict between provisions of the Tennessee Health Care Liability Act and the common law and concluded that the statute prevails. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the hospital’s application for permission to appeal to consider whether a vicarious liability claim is precluded under these circumstances.     
  • Dennis Harold Ultsch v. HTI Memorial Hospital Corporation – This wrongful death healthcare liability action concerns the same issue as the previous case. The plaintiff, next of kin of the decedent patient, filed suit against the defendant hospital after the patient died of acute respiratory distress on her way home from the hospital in January 2018. The plaintiff asserted both direct and vicarious liability claims, but the hospital moved to dismiss arguing it could not be sued as the principal for the alleged actions of employees or agents when the claims against those employees and agents were barred by the statute of limitations at the time the plaintiff filed suit. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss limited to the vicarious liability claims and granted an interlocutory appeal. The Court of Appeals granted the plaintiff’s application for permission to appeal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 9. The court recognized that the case involved the interplay between the Health Care Liability Act and the common law on vicarious liability with respect to pre-suit notice in a health care liability claim against a principal only. The Court of Appeals determined that the statute takes precedence over the common law and reversed the trial court’s decision. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the hospital’s application for permission to appeal.  
  • State of Tennessee v. Ronald Lyons, James Michael Usinger, Lee Harold Cromwell, Austin Gary Cooper, and Christopher Alan Hauser – This case involves forgery and the fraudulent filing of liens. The five defendants, who identify themselves as “sovereign citizens,” were indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury for numerous counts of forgery and fraudulently filing a lien. The indictment alleged that the defendants electronically filed 102 liens with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office against 42 different individuals, including judges, county executives, attorneys, and court clerks. After a jury trial, each defendant was convicted as charged. The trial court sentenced Defendant Lee Harold Cromwell to an effective sentence of twenty-five years; Defendant Austin Gary Cooper to fifty years; Defendant Ronald Lyons to twenty-two years; Defendant James Michael Usinger to twenty-one years; and Defendant Christopher Alan Hauser to twenty years. The trial court denied the defendants motions for a new trial, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgments and sentences. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the defendants’ applications for permission to appeal solely on the issue of whether the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions for forgery under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-14-114.   
  • State of Tennessee v. Corey Forest – After learning that narcotics were being sold from Defendant Corey Forest’s residence, a City of Columbia police officer stopped the defendant’s vehicle for speeding outside the city limits. A search of the defendant’s vehicle revealed five small bags of cocaine. At trial, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence found during the search, and the defendant was convicted of possession of over .5 grams of cocaine with intent to sell and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The court imposed an effective sentence of eleven years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the defendant’s application for permission to appeal and directed the parties to particularly address the permissible scope of activity for a law enforcement officer acting as a private citizen under Tennessee Code Annotated section 40-7-109.   
  • State of Tennessee v. Lynn Frank Bristol – Defendant Lynn Frank Bristol was charged with aggravated sexual battery and rape of a child for incidents involving his stepdaughter. A jury convicted him of the charged offense of aggravated sexual battery, and on the second charge, the jury convicted him of the lesser-included offense of aggravated sexual battery. The trial court imposed a ten-year sentence on each conviction to be served consecutively. The defendant appealed alleging multiple errors. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined that the defendant was not entitled to relief on any of the issues raised on appeal, but the appellate court, on its own motion, considered an issue neither party raised. It explained that the written jury charge included in the record and provided to the jury differed from the oral jury charge in the trial transcript. The defendant did not object to the written jury instructions at trial; however, the Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed the issue for plain error and concluded that the factors necessary to obtain relief under the plain-error doctrine had been satisfied. The court reversed the convictions and remanded for a new trial. The State filed a motion to rehear, which the Court of Criminal Appeals denied. The Supreme Court granted the State’s application for permission to appeal to address whether an appellate court should give parties notice and an opportunity for briefing before considering a dispositive issue that neither party raised.  
  • Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee v. Candes Vonniest Prewitt – This attorney-discipline case originated from attorney Candes Vonniest Prewitt’s representation of former client, Demetrius Tucker. The Board of Professional Responsibility filed a petition for discipline against Ms. Prewitt based on a complaint from Mr. Tucker. The hearing panel found that Ms. Prewitt violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8 in addition to Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1 (Competence), 1.3 (Diligence), 1.7 (Conflict of Interest), 1.16 (Declining or Termination of Representation), and 8.4(a) (Violate or Attempt to Violate the Rules of Professional Conduct). The panel imposed a thirty-day active suspension and, as conditions for reinstatement, required Ms. Prewitt to complete ten hours of continuing legal education on ethics and to obtain a practice monitor for six months. The trial court affirmed the hearing panel’s decision, and Ms. Prewitt has appealed pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 33.1(d). She challenges the ruling of the trial court affirming the hearing panel’s decision that she violated Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 8 and the Rules of Professional Conduct and the punishment imposed.

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