TBALL Class of 2013 Kicks Off Program

The TBA’s Leadership Law program this week begins its 10th year with an opening retreat for the class of 2013. Programming started Thursday afternoon and continues through Saturday at Montgomery Bell State Park. The 32 members of the class have already heard from some of the leading lawyers in the state, including Byron Trauger, Houston Gordon, Lewis Donelson, Randy Kinnard and TBA presidents Jackie Dixon, Gail Ashworth, Pam Reeves, Charles Swanson and John Tarpley. The group will meet monthly until graduating during the 2013 TBA Convention in Nashville June 12-15.

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
02 - 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

CORRECTION: On page 7 of the opinion at line 2 "958 S.W.3d at 734" has been changed to "958 S.W.2d at 734".

Court: TN Supreme Court


Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; Mark A. Fulks, Senior Counsel; Victor S. Johnson, III, District Attorney General; and Bret Gunn, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellant, the State of Tennessee.

James Bryan Lewis, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Wayne Donaldson.

Judge: WADE

An officer stopped the defendant for a traffic violation. When the officer ordered the defendant out of his vehicle to sign the citation, he observed what appeared to be a bag of cocaine on the floorboard of the driver’s side. Charged with possession with intent to sell or deliver twenty-six grams or more of cocaine in a school zone, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence as the product of an unlawful seizure. The trial court sustained the motion, and the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. This Court granted the State’s application for permission to appeal. Because an officer, after making a lawful stop for a traffic violation, may routinely direct the driver outside of the vehicle, the order of suppression is reversed, and the cause is remanded for trial.

TN Court of Appeals


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Stephen A. Lund, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Creekside Partners.

Dan E. Huffstutter, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Albert Nathan Scott.


This is an action to recover damages for breach of a commercial lease from an individual whom the lessor claims guaranteed the obligations of the corporate tenant. The only issue on appeal is whether the individual defendant signed the lease solely in his capacity as the president of and on behalf of the corporate tenant, or whether the parties also intended to bind the individual defendant as a guarantor of the tenant’s obligations. The trial court distinguished the facts of this case from those in the recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision in 84 Lumber Co. v. Smith, 356 S.W.3d 380 (2011), and summarily dismissed the claims against the individual defendant. We affirm.


Court: TN Court of Appeals


James T. Higdon, pro se appellant.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; William E. Young, Solicitor General; and, R. Mitchell Porcello, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellees, the State of Tennessee; Commissioner Richard Roberts, State of Tennessee Department of Revenue; and, M. Bernadette Welch, State of Tennessee Department of Revenue.


The State of Tennessee Department of Revenue rendered an assessment against James T. Higdon (“Higdon”) for certain business taxes owed. Higdon, challenging the actions taken by the department, sued the State of Tennessee; Commissioner Richard Roberts of the Department of Revenue; and, M. Bernadette Welch of the Department of Revenue (“the Defendants,” collectively), in the Chancery Court for Campbell County (“the Trial Court”). The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the Trial Court granted. The Trial Court held, among other things, that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case as Higdon had not satisfied the statutory requirements for seeking relief regarding state tax claims. Higdon appeals to this Court. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court in its entirety.

With Concurring Opinion

Court: TN Court of Appeals


Tarsila Crawford and James Widrig, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Justin M. and Lauren B. M.

Daniel Lyn Graves, II, for the appellees, William and Jessica H.


The biological father of the child at issue appeals the termination of his parental rights and the dismissal of Father and Step-Mother’s petition for custody and counter-petition for stepparent adoption. The petition for termination was filed by the partial guardians who were seeking to adopt the minor child. The trial court determined that there was clear and convincing evidence that Father willfully failed to support the mother for the four months prior to the birth of the child and willfully failed to support the child for the four months prior to the filing of the petition. The trial court also found that termination was in the best interest of the child. We have determined that one ground for abandonment was established by clear and convincing evidence, however, we have also determined that the evidence does not clearly and convincingly demonstrate that termination of Father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Accordingly, we reverse the termination of Father’s parental rights. We have also determined the trial court erred in dismissing Father and Step-Mother’s petition for custody and counter-petition for step-parent adoption and remand this issue for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Court: TN Court of Appeals


Gerald C. Russell, Rockford, Tennessee, for the appellant, Stephen S. Patterson, II.

Christopher W. Martin, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Suntrust Bank, East Tennessee.


This case was filed pursuant to the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. Customer sought reimbursement from Bank for unauthorized transactions made using a debit card linked to his account. Bank limited reimbursement to the transactions that occurred prior to and within 60 days of the transmittal of the bank statement that revealed the first unauthorized transaction. Customer filed suit. The trial court upheld Bank’s denial of recovery, finding that Customer’s failure to review his bank statements resulted in losses beyond the 60-day time period. Customer appeals. We affirm the decision of the trial court.

TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Douglas A. Trant and Troy S. Weston, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Barry C. Melton.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; and Cameron L. Hyder, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee

Judge: WITT

The petitioner, Barry C. Melton, appeals the Wayne County Circuit Court’s summary dismissal of his petition for the writ of habeas corpus in which he challenged the legality of the sentences imposed for his Sevier County Criminal Court guilty-pleaded convictions of aggravated sexual battery. We reverse the habeas corpus court’s rejection of all forms of habeas corpus relief and hold that the petitioner is entitled to have his illegal sentences corrected. The habeas corpus court, however, correctly ruled that the petitioner failed to establish a basis for withdrawing his guilty pleas. We do not reach the issue whether the 2009 amendments to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-21-101 violate Article I, section 15, and/or Article II, section 2, of the Tennessee Constitution. Accordingly, the judgment of the habeas corpus court is reversed in part and affirmed in part.


Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals


Richard Kenneth Mabee (on appeal); and Blake Murchison (at trial), Assistant District Public Defenders, for the appellant, James D. Morgan

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Clarence E. Lutz, Assistant Attorney General; William H. Cox, District Attorney General; and Matthew Rogers, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge: WITT

The defendant, James D. Morgan, appeals the revocation of the probationary sentence imposed for his Hamilton County Criminal Court conviction of vandalism. Discerning no error, we affirm.

8 Apply for 1st District Criminal Court

Eight attorneys have applied to fill the First Judicial District Criminal Court vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Lynn W. Brown. The Judicial Nominating Commission will hold a public hearing Feb. 8 to interview Kenneth C. Baldwin, Jonesborough; Dennis Dwayne Brooks, Elizabethton; Steven R. Finney, Johnson City; James Collins Landstreet II, Johnson City; Washington County Judge Robert Graham Lincoln; Gene Gilmer Scott Jr., Jonesborough; Danny R. Smith, Jonesborough; and Stacy Lee Street, Elizabethton.

Varlan Sworn in as Eastern District's Chief Federal Judge

U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan yesterday accepted the gavel as chief judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee in a ceremony packed with fellow judges, politicians, lawyers and prosecutors, reports Knoxnews.com. Varlan is the first Greek-American to be appointed to a federal judgeship in the district and, now, as chief judge of that same district. Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe served as master of ceremonies. Varlan was Knoxville's law director from 1988 to 1998 during Ashe's tenure and served as a legislative intern for Ashe. U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, spoke and said he played a "small role" in pushing for Varlan's appointment to the federal bench in 2003. He called Varlan "a man of integrity" with "the heart of a servant."

Commissioners Seek Legal Opinions on Juvenile Settlement

Shelby County commissioners met this week to air criticisms with a settlement agreement reached between the county Juvenile Court and the U.S. Department of Justice several weeks ago. The commission is questioning whether the agreement can be enacted without its input and approval. Commission chairman Mike Ritz has requested an opinion from the county attorney on that issue. Another commissioner, Terry Roland, has asked the Tennessee attorney general for a ruling as well. Read the latest in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

U.S. Attorney Names New Civil Rights Chief

Ed Stanton, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, has appointed veteran federal prosecutor Larry Laurenzi as the new chief of the office’s Civil Rights Unit, The Memphis Daily News reports. Laurenzi replaces Steve Parker who left the office to join a U.S. Justice Department detail in New Orleans. Stanton created the Civil Rights Unit in 2011 to investigate traditional civil rights violations as well as government corruption, human trafficking and hate crimes cases.

Social Security Judge Joins Chattanooga Firm

Richard Gordon, former chief judge of the Social Security Administration Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Hearing Office in Chattanooga, has joined the law firm of Dale Buchanan and Associates as general counsel. According to Chattanoogan.com, Gordon served as an administrative law judge for 25 years, deciding over 10,000 Social Security disability cases. He also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, as a judge with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission and as a Judge Advocate General in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Station Showcases Nashville Legal Clinics

A story on WZTV Fox 17 in Nashville extols the benefits provided by the Legal Aid Society and the Nashville Bar Association through the groups’ free legal clinics. Clinic volunteer John Farringer, a lawyer with Sherrard and Roe, explains how the clinic works and why lawyers are willing to donate their time and expertise to such endeavors. Learn more here.

Court Names ADR Commission Members

The Tennessee Supreme Court has reappointed Hayden D. Lait of Memphis, Howard H. Vogel of Knoxville, and C. Suzanne Landers of Memphis to its Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission. Tracy Shaw, a lawyer with Howell & Fisher in Nashville, joins the panel for the first time and replaces Judge Ben Cantrell. There is one vacancy on the body following the death of Harold Archibald. Download the full roster

Court Rejects Medicare Challenge, Considers Class Action Limits

The U.S. Supreme Court this week turned away a challenge from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and other Social Security recipients who say they have the right to reject Medicare in favor of continuing health coverage from private insurers. The justices did not comment in letting the federal appeals court ruling stand, reports The Memphis Daily News. Also this week, the court considered what limitations could be placed on class-action lawsuits. The issue is whether plaintiff lawyers reduce estimates of the damages they seek or use procedural loopholes to keep cases in state court, where according to Justice Antonin Scalia, “generous juries” and “very favorable judges” can be common. The justices appeared receptive to the argument that lawyers artificially lower the amount of money at stake to keep suits in state courts, reports the Washington Post.

TBI Accepting Citizen's Academy Applications

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is accepting applications for its Citizen’s Academy, which is designed to develop better understanding and awareness of the agency in the community. It offers citizens a close look at the TBI’s work investigating crime scenes and cyber crime, tracking terrorism information and conducting forensics examinations. The program runs May 7-28 at the TBI headquarters in Nashville. Applicants must be at least 21 years old and be physically able to meet training and scheduling requirements. Those interested should fill out the application by Feb. 28.


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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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