Justia Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court answered a question of law certified by the district court in the negative, holding that two video streaming services - Netflix, Inc. and Hulu, LLC - did not provide "video service" within the meaning of Tenn. Code Ann. 7-59-303(19) and thus did not qualify as "video service providers" required to pay franchise fees to localities under section 7-59-303(20).The City of Knoxville brought this action asserting that Netflix and Hulu were required to pay franchise fees because they used public rights-of-way to provide video service. Specifically, Knoxville argued that Netflix and Hulu were "video service providers" as defined in the Competitive Cable and Video Services Act, Tenn. Code Ann. 7-59-301 to -318, and were thus required to apply for a franchise and pay franchise fees to Knoxville. The district court certified a question of law to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court answered that Netflix and Hulu did not provide a "video service" within the meaning of section -303(19) and thus did not qualify as "video service providers" under section -303(20). View "City of Knoxville, Tenn. v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of criminal appeals reversing Defendant's convictions and remanding the case for a new trial based on a purported problem with the jury instructions that had not been preserved or presented properly.Defendant was convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual battery. The court of criminal appeals held that Defendant was not entitled to relief on the issues he presented but reversed and remanded the case for a new trial by finding plain error on an issue that Defendant had not raised, no party had an opportunity to address, and that turned out to be a mere clerical error by the trial court clerk's office. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated Defendant's convictions, holding that the court of criminal appeals abused its discretion by granting relief on an unpreserved and unpresented issue without giving the parties notice and an opportunity to be heard on the matter. View "State v. Bristol" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of criminal appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of premeditated first-degree murder and especially aggravated robbery, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error.After he was convicted Defendant filed a motion for a new trial alleging that four instances of improper prosecutorial closing argument, which he failed to object to at trial, constituted reversible error. The court of criminal appeals affirmed after reviewing Defendant's claims under the plain error doctrine. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) plain error review was the appropriate standard in this case; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief via the plain error doctrine. View "State v. Enix" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court held that a statute that repeals a criminal offense does not "provide for a lesser penalty" within the meaning of the criminal savings statute, but rather, a person who commits an offense that is later repealed should be convicted and sentenced under the law in effect when the offense was committed.Defendant was convicted of multiple traffic-related offenses, including driving after being declared a motor vehicle habitual offender (MVHO), in violation of the Motor Vehicle Habitual Offenders Act (MVHO Act), Tenn. Code Ann. 55-10-616(a). Before Defendant was sentenced, the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law the MVHO Repeal Act, which repealed the MVHO Act. After the MVHO Repeal Act went into effect Defendant was sentenced under the MVHO Act. The trial court subsequently entered an amended judgment retaining Defendant's conviction but imposing no punishment. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated Defendant's original sentence, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in granting Defendant's Tenn. R. Crim. P. 35 motion based on an erroneous based on an erroneous interpretation of the criminal savings statute. View "State v. Deberry" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the lower courts in this appeal addressing mootness when a law challenged in the trial court is altered or amended after the trial court issued its final judgment and while the appeal is pending, holding that remand was required in this case.Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Metro) challenging an ordinance prohibiting them from having clients in their home-based businesses. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Metro. While Plaintiffs' appeal was pending, Metro repealed the ordinance at issue and enacted a new ordinance allowing limited client visits to home-based businesses. The court of appeals determined that Plaintiffs' case was moot. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments below and remanded the case to give the parties an opportunity to amend their pleadings to address any claims asserted under the new ordinance, holding that, based on the current record, it could not be determined whether Plaintiffs would suffer ongoing harm from the new ordinance, how the change could affect their claims, and whether they retained a residual claim under the new ordinance. View "Shaw v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals upholding that trial court's determination that the plaintiff homeowner's award of attorneys fees and costs under Tenn. Code Ann. 20-12-119(c) was limited to those incurred after the date the defendant contractor filed an amended countercomplaint, holding that the lower courts erred.Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a contract for the renovation of a residence. Plaintiff later filed a complaint alleging breach of contract and violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. Defendant filed an amended countercomplaint asserting breach of contract. The trial court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims and then dismissed the countercomplaint. On appeal, Plaintiff challenged the attorney fee and costs award granted by the trial court. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court's award of attorney fees and costs, holding that the fees and costs recoverable by Plaintiff in connection with the dismissal of Defendant’s breach of contract claim are not limited to those incurred after the amended countercomplaint was actually filed. View "Donovan v. Hastings" on Justia Law

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Phillips was convicted of offenses, including felony murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated rape, especially aggravated kidnapping, and especially aggravated burglary. The Court of Criminal Appeals modified the especially aggravated burglary conviction to aggravated burglary. Phillips sought post-conviction relief, asserting that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective by failing to seek suppression of various statements he made to police. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the denial of relief.The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed, clarifying the petitioner’s burden to establish prejudice when he alleges counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress on Fourth Amendment grounds: The petitioner must prove that his Fourth Amendment claim is meritorious and that there is a reasonable probability that the verdict would have been different absent the excludable evidence. Despite the Fourth Amendment concerns brought about by the Memphis Police Department’s use of a 48-hour hold policy, there is no proof that the probable cause determination was unreasonably delayed and Phillips’s arrest was supported by probable cause. Given the proof of his guilt, Phillips has not established a reasonable probability that his verdict would have been different had his statements to the police been suppressed. View "Phillips v. State of Tennessee" on Justia Law

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Starbuck filed a nominating petition seeking to be placed on the ballot for the Republican primary for Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District for the U.S. House of Representatives. The Tennessee Republican Party, through the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee (TRP SEC), determined that Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican, and would not appear on the ballot. Starbuck sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the defendants violated the Tennesse Open Meetings Act (TOMA), Tenn. Code 8-44-101-111, by determining in a non-public meeting that he is not a bona fide Republican.The trial court concluded that the defendants violated TOMA and ordered that Starbuck be restored to the ballot. The Tennessee Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction and vacated. Only the state primary boards, not the state executive committees, are required to comply with TOMA (Tenn. Code 2-13-108(a)(2)). Section 2-13-104 provides that “a party may require by rule that candidates for its nominations be bona fide members of the party.” Under section 2-5-204(b)(2), a party’s state executive committee makes the determination of whether a candidate is a bona fide member of the party. TRP SEC, by statute, was acting as a state executive committee, and not a state primary board, when it determined that Starbuck was not a bona fide Republican and was not required to comply with TOMA. View "Newsom v. Tennessee Republican Party" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the trial court convicting and sentencing Defendant for multiple drug offenses that occurred in a drug-free zone within 1,000 feet of a city park, holding that the offenses were subject to the requirement to serve in full at least the minimum sentence for the appropriate range prior to release.Because Defendant's offenses occurred in a drug-free zone, the trial court imposed sentences that required full service of at least the minimum term within the appropriate sentencing range prior to release. The court of criminal appeals concluded sua sponte that the felony class reflected on the judgment for one conviction was incorrect. The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed the judgments of the trial court, holding (1) because the drug-free zone related to a public park, the offenses were not subject to a one-class enhancement; but (2) the offenses were subject to the requirement to serve in full at least the minimum sentence for the appropriate range prior to release. View "State v. Linville" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court held that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) lacked the authority to refuse to comply with a final expungement order issued by the trial court.After Plaintiff had successfully completed probation he petitioned for expungement of his records and paid the expungement fee. The trial judge entered an expunction order. After the order became final, Plaintiff learned that the TBI had continued to report the existence of one of the expunged charged offenses. Plaintiff sued the TBI seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court declined to grant either party's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Court reversed and granted Plaintiff's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, holding that Plaintiff's expunction order was res judicata and binding on the TBI. View "Recipient of Final Expunction Order v. Rausch" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law