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Today's Opinions

Click on the category of your choice to view summaries of today’s opinions from that court, or other body. A link at the end of each case summary will let you download the full opinion in PDF format.

01 - TN Supreme Court
00 - TN Workers Comp Appeals
00 - TN Supreme Court - Rules
04 - TN Court of Appeals
04 - TN Court of Criminal Appeals
00 - TN Attorney General Opinions
00 - Judicial Ethics Opinions
00 - Formal Ethics Opinions - BPR
00 - TN Supreme Court - Disciplinary Orders









You can obtain full-text versions of the opinions two ways. We recommend that you download the Opinions to your computer and then open them from there. 1) Click the URL at end of each Opinion paragraph below. This should give you the option to download the original document. If not, you may need to right-click on the URL to get the option to save the file to your computer.


TN Supreme Court

DAVID KEEN v. STATE OF TENNESSEE
With Dissenting Opinion

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys:

Kelley Henry and Gretchen L. Swift, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, David Keen.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; Deshea Dulany Faughn, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: KOCH

This appeal involves a prisoner who was sentenced to death in 1991. Nineteen years later, he filed a petition in the Criminal Court for Shelby County seeking to reopen his postconviction proceeding on the ground that he possessed new scientific evidence of his actual innocence. His evidence consisted of a newly-obtained I.Q. test score purportedly showing that he could not be executed by virtue of Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-203 (2010) because he was intellectually disabled. The trial court declined to hold a hearing and denied the prisoner’s petition. The trial court determined, as a matter of the law, that the prisoner’s newly-obtained I.Q. test score was not new scientific evidence of his actual innocence of the offenses to which he earlier pleaded guilty. The prisoner filed an application for permission to appeal the denial of his petition to reopen in the Court of Criminal Appeals. In addition to asserting that the newly-obtained I.Q. test score was new scientific evidence of his actual innocence, the prisoner asserted that this Court’s decision in Coleman v. State, 341 S.W.3d 221 (Tenn. 2011), announced a new constitutional right and, therefore, provided another basis for reopening his petition for post-conviction relief. The Court of Criminal Appeals entered an order on June 29, 2011, affirming the trial court’s denial of the petition to reopen because the I.Q. test score did not amount to scientific evidence of actual innocence for the purpose of Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2) (2006) and because Coleman v. State did not announce a new rule of constitutional law under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(1). We granted the prisoner’s application for permission to appeal to address whether the phrase “actually innocent of the offense” in Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2) encompasses ineligibility for the death penalty in addition to actual innocence of the underlying crime and whether our holding in Coleman v. State established a new constitutional right to be applied retroactively under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(1). We hold that the Tennessee General Assembly, when it enacted Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30-117(a)(2), did not intend for the phrase “actually innocent of the offense” to include ineligibility for the death penalty because of intellectual disability. We also hold that Coleman v. State did not establish a new rule of constitutional law that must be applied retroactively under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-30- 117(a)(1). Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals denying the prisoner’s petition to reopen his post-conviction petition.


TN Court of Appeals

GATLINBURG ROADHOUSE INVESTORS, LLC., v. CHARLYNN MAXWELL PORTER, et al.

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys:

Howard B. Jackson, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Gatlinburg Roadhouse Investors, LLC.

Kevin C. Stevens and Briton S. Collins, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Charlynn Maxwell Porter.

Judge: FRANKS

In this action plaintiff charged defendant had breached the contract between them and sought specific performance. The Trial Court held the contracts were ambiguous and construed them in accordance with the actions the parties took in regard to the contracts. The Trial Court ruled in favor of the defendant and dismissed the Complaint, but refused to award the prevailing party attorney's fees as was required in the parties' contract. On appeal, we affirm the Trial Court's Judgment, but modify and remand, with instructions to the Trial Court to award the prevailing party her attorney's fees.


IN RE ISAIAH L. A.

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys:

Andrew O. Beamer, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Fredrick L. A.

N. David Roberts, Jr., Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellees, Robert L. A. and Melissa Ann D. A.

Benjamin T. Norris, Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, guardian ad litem for Isaiah L. A.

Judge: MCCLARTY

This appeal concerns a termination of parental rights. The appellees filed a petition for adoption and termination of parental rights with respect to the minor child at issue. The trial court, upon finding clear and convincing evidence of several grounds on which to base termination and concluding that termination was in the child’s best interest, revoked the biological father’s parental rights to the child. The father appeals. We affirm.


BETTY LOU LAWING v. GREENE COUNTY EMS, et al.
CORRECTION: A citation was corrected on page 2.

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys:

Jeffrey M. Ward, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Greene County/Greeneville EMS and Greene County, Tennessee.

R. Wayne Culbertson, Kingsport, Tennessee, and Wayne Ritchie, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee Betty Lou Lawing.

Arthur P. Brock and William J. Rieder, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority.

Judge: FRANKS

In this action the defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the grounds the statute of limitation had run on plaintiff's cause of action. The Trial Court overruled the Motion on the grounds that the tolling provisions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-201(c) was applicable to GTLA actions and granted permission to appeal pursuant to Tenn. R. App. P. 9. On appeal, we hold that the tolling provision does not apply because the statute did not expressly extend it to GTLA actions.


JULIO VILLASANA v. STATE OF TENNESSEE

Court: TN Court of Appeals

Attorneys:

Ryan C. Caldwell, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Julio Villasana.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. (Torry) Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Kyle Anderson, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: WOODALL

Petitioner, Julio Villasana, appeals the post-conviction court’s denial of his petition for postconviction relief. Petitioner was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury for two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and one count of leaving the scene of an accident. Petitioner entered guilty pleas to one count of aggravated vehicular homicide, a Class A felony, and one count of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, a Class E felony. Following a sentencing hearing, Petitioner was sentenced by the trial court to the maximum sentence of 25 years for aggravated vehicular homicide and two years for leaving the scene of an accident. His sentences were ordered to run concurrently. This court affirmed Petitioner’s sentence on direct appeal. In his post-conviction petition, Petitioner asserted that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel and that his pleas were involuntarily and unknowingly entered. The post-conviction court denied relief following a hearing. After a careful review of the record, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.


TN Court of Criminal Appeals

STATE OF TENNESSEE v. BRIAN LE HURST
With Concurring Opinion

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

Dawn Deaner, District Public Defender; Emma Rae Tennent (on appeal) and Jason Gichener and Chase Smith (at trial), Assistant Public Defenders; for the appellant, Brian Le Hurst.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Assistant Attorney General; Victor S. Johnson III, District Attorney General; and Rachel Sombrero, Pamela Anderson, and Rachel Thoms, Assistant District Attorneys General; for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: WILLIAMS

Defendant was convicted of first degree (premeditated) murder after a trial by jury. He was sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, the defendant claims that the evidence is insufficient to support his conviction. The defendant also claims that the trial court erred by admitting three pieces of evidence: (1) an excerpt from a 911 call made by the victim several days before his death, in which the victim claimed to be “a little . . . concerned” about the defendant’s behavior; (2) testimony from one of the defendant’s friends to the effect that the friend did not believe that any affair had occurred between the defendant and the friend’s then-wife; and (3) testimony concerning various searches performed on the defendant’s computer involving the name “Missy.” Finally, the defendant claims that the trial court erred by granting the State’s request for a special jury instruction concerning the destruction of evidence. After review, we conclude that the evidence is sufficient to support the defendant’s conviction and that the trial court did not err with respect to the evidentiary and jury instruction claims raised by the defendant. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed.


LAWRENCE RALPH, JR. v. STATE OF TENNESSEE

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

Matthew T. Colvard, McMinnville, Tennessee (at hearing and on appeal); and David Michael DiScenza, Nashville, Tennessee (on appeal), for the appellant, Lawrence Ralph, Jr.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Assistant Attorney General; Lisa Zavogiannis, District Attorney General; and Thomas J. Miner, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: THOMAS

The Petitioner, Lawrence Ralph, Jr., appeals as of right from the Warren County Circuit Court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief from his drug-related convictions and effective seventeen-year sentence. The Petitioner contends (1) that he received ineffective assistance from trial counsel; and (2) that he was denied access to legal materials that he needed to prepare to represent himself at trial. Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court.


STATE OF TENNESSEE v. ROGER A. BEU, JR.

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

Michael R. Giaimo (on appeal), Cookeville, Tennessee, and James A. H. Bell and John Barnes (at trial), Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Roger A. Beu, Jr.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Lacy Wilber, Assistant Attorney General; Russell Johnson, District Attorney General; Bill Reedy, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: WEDEMEYER

A Roane County jury convicted the Defendant, Roger A. Beu, Jr., of sexual battery by an authority figure. The trial court sentenced the Defendant to three years as a Range I, standard offender, at thirty percent, to serve thirty days in jail, with the balance on probation. On appeal, the Defendant contends: (1) the trial court erred when it denied his motion for new trial based on the prosecutor’s improper comments to the jury during closing argument; (2) the trial court erred when it admitted into evidence the written statement of the victim; and (3) there is insufficient evidence to support his conviction. After a thorough review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


STATE OF TENNESSEE v. AKEEM T. GOODMAN

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys:

J. Liddell Kirk (on appeal) and Mary Ward (at trial), Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Akeem T. Goodman.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Benjamin A. Ball, Assistant Attorney General; Randall E. Nichols, District Attorney General; and Leslie Nassios, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: TIPTON

The Defendant, Akeem T. Goodman, was convicted by a Knox County Criminal Court jury of attempted first degree murder and especially aggravated robbery, Class A felonies. See T.C.A. §§ 39-13-202, -403 (2010). The trial court sentenced the Defendant to consecutive Range I terms of twenty-two years at 100% service as a violent offender for an effective forty-four-year sentence. On appeal, the Defendant contends that (1) the evidence is insufficient to support his convictions and (2) the trial court erred by ordering consecutive sentences. We affirm the judgments of the trial court.


Unlimited FDIC Insurance for IOLTA Accounts to Expire

The American Bar Association is reporting that unless Congress takes action before Jan. 1, 2013, FDIC insurance available to IOLTA accounts will be $250,000 per owner of the funds (client), per financial institution, assuming that the account is properly designated as a trust account and proper accounting of each client's funds is maintained. Non-interest-bearing trust accounts also will have this level of coverage. For the last two years, IOLTA accounts have enjoyed unlimited FDIC insurance coverage but that protection is set to expire on Dec. 31. The ABA Governmental Affairs Office says it appears unlikely that lawmakers will take any further action on the issue this year. Learn more about the issue from the FDIC.


Rep. Carr Considering Race Against DesJarlais

Republican State Rep. Joe Carr from Lascassas announced today that he is forming an exploratory steering committee to test the viability of a campaign for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District. That seat currently is held by U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. Carr said he made the move because voters have told him their trust in DesJarlais has been violated. Chattanoogan.com reported the news.


Court to Review 2 New Cases

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently granted review to two cases. The first, a civil case, looks at whether a time-share salesperson is entitled to unemployment compensation. The second, a criminal case, calls for interpretation of the statute governing fabrication of evidence when the tampering occurs before police learn a crime may have been committed. The Raybin Perky Hotlist looks at the cases and offers a prediction as to how they may be decided. 


Leatherman Named Director of State GOP

Brent Leatherwood, spokesman for the state House Republican Caucus, has been named executive director of the state GOP, The Tennessean reports. Leatherman is a former congressional staffer and has worked on several U.S. House and Senate campaigns. He succeeds Adam Nickas who left to run the Nashville office of Mississippi-based lobbying firm Capitol Resources.


DOJ Urged to Investigate Tea Party Donation

Election watchdog organizations are urging the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission to investigate more than $12 million in campaign contributions to a prominent tea party group that passed through two Tennessee companies. The organizations said the donation was the largest anonymous political donation of the year and appeared to violate federal law prohibiting individuals from making campaign contributions in the name of another person. The groups also allege that the Knoxville lawyer who registered the companies may have violated laws by failing to identify them as political committees and file financial statements for them. The Memphis Daily News has the story.


Senator to Propose Arming Teachers

In the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Knoxville, said he plans to introduce legislation in January that will require every school in the state to have at least one armed person on campus, according to The Tennessean. A growing number of states have proposed similar legislation, including laws allowing teachers and school administrators to carry concealed firearms at school, the paper reports.


Council Approved Metro Nashville Buyout Program

The Metro Council gave final approval to a buyout program for city workers, proposed last month by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, the Nashville City Paper reports. Nearly 2,600 employees will be offered $700 for each year of credited service with the city, meaning a 25-year employee would receive $17,500. The program is billed as a chance for department heads to “reassess personnel needs and look for savings” in an effort toward a streamlined, more efficient government, Dean stated.


19 Lawyers Suspended for Fee and IOLTA Violations

The Tennessee Supreme Court this week issued two new orders suspending Tennessee-licensed attorneys who did not pay their 2012 registration fee to the Board of Professional Responsibility and/or did not file a mandatory compliance statement that eligible client funds are held in accounts participating in the Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program. Lawyers who since have complied with the requirements are noted as reinstated. See the updated lists and download the orders


Blount County Lawyer Censured

Blount County attorney Stanley R. Barnett received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility on Dec.12 for failing to file a motion for a new trial after his client was convicted. The board found that this failure resulted in the waiver of all issues for appeal except sufficiency of the evidence and sentencing. After the client filed a pro se notice of appeal, Barnett filed an appellate brief but failed to consult the client first, which created additional challenges for the client. Download the BPR notice


Davidson County Lawyer Censured

Davidson County attorney C. LeAnn Smith received a public censure from the Board of Professional Responsibility on Dec. 12. On June 11, Smith was convicted of driving under the influence. The board determined that her actions violated Rule 8.4(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Download the BPR notice


 
 

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About this publication: Today's News is a compilation of digests of news reports of interest to Tennessee lawyers compiled by TBA staff, links to digested press releases, and occasional stories about the TBA and other activities written by the TBA staff or members. Statements or opinions herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tennessee Bar Association, its officers, board or staff.


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