Justia Tennessee Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional 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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In this case concerning a constitutional challenge to the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program (the ESA Act), Tenn. Code Ann. 49-6-2601, the Supreme Court held that the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment, Tenn. Const. Art. XI, 9, such that the Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Amendment.The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, holding (1) Plaintiffs had standing to pursue this claim, and (2) the ESA Act is unconstitutional under the Home Rule Amendment. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding Plaintiffs had standing to bring their Home Rule Amendment claim; but (2) the ESA Act does not implicate the Home Rule Amendment such that the Act is not rendered unconstitutional pursuant to that Amendment. View "Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County v. Tennessee Department of Education" on Justia Law

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In this appeal in a capital case, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of criminal appeals affirming Defendant's convictions and sentence, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on his claims of error.After a second trial, a jury found Defendant guilty of first-degree premeditated murder, murder in the perpetration of robbery, and aggravated robbery. Defendant was sentenced to death. The court of criminal appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) double jeopardy principles did not bar retrial on the felony murder count; (2) alleged prosecutorial misconduct in the first trial did not bar Defendant's retrial; (3) the trial court did not err in denying Defendant's motion to suppress, in admitting evidence of Defendant's prior convictions for rape and assault of the victim and in admitting evidence of Defendant's escape attempts; (4) imposition of the death penalty was not arbitrary; and (5) the sentence of death was neither excessive nor disproportionate. View "State v. Rimmer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals dismissing Defendant's appeal and dismissed Defendant's convictions for possession with the intent to deliver more than twenty-six grams of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia, holding that the initial search of Defendant's house during which law enforcement discovered illegal contraband was unlawful.Defendant pled guilty but specifically reserved a certified question of law pertaining to the legality of the search in this case. The court of criminal appeals dismissed the appeal, determining that the certified question was not dispositive because the evidence would have been admissible notwithstanding the search in question under the inevitable discovery doctrine. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed Defendant's convictions, holding (1) the inevitable discovery doctrine did not apply in this case; and (2) the State did not carry its burden of proving that either exigent circumstances or voluntary consent justified their warrantless search of Defendant's home. View "State v. Scott" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the chancery court dismissing this complaint against a Texas company for lack of personal jurisdiction, holding that the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction was constitutionally permissible.The Texas company contracted with a Tennessee civil engineering company for services related to the potential construction of a railcar repair facility in Texas. When the Texas company failed to pay in full, the Tennessee company filed a breach of contract action in Tennessee. The chancery court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the Texas company lacked the minimum contacts necessary for the exercise of personal jurisdiction and that requiring the Texas company to litigate in Tennessee would be unreasonable and unfair. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Tennessee company established a prima facie case for the valid exercise of personal jurisdiction over the Texas company; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction was fair and reasonable. View "Crouch Railway Consulting, LLC v. LS Energy Fabrication, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decisions of the court of appeals and the trial court that a municipality's personnel manual gave a firefighter a property interest entitled to due process protection, holding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that he had a property interest entitled to protection under either the due process clause of the United States Constitution or the law of the land clause of the Tennessee Constitution.After Plaintiff was terminated from his employment as a firefighter he filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, arguing that his due process rights were violated. The trial court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to partial summary judgment on his due process claim, holding that the City personnel manual constituted a contract and that the termination of Plaintiff's employment was based on inappropriate procedure. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that he had a property interest entitled to protection under the Tennessee or the United States Constitutions. View "Keller v. Casteel" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the qualified protective order entered by the trial court in this case, holding that Tenn. Code Ann. 29-26-121(f) is unconstitutional as enacted to the limited extent that it divests trial courts of their inherent discretion over discovery and that the statute can be elided to make it permissive and not mandatory upon trial courts.Plaintiff filed this healthcare liability wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the decedent alleging that Defendant's negligent treatment of the decedent resulted in the decedent's death. During discovery, Defendants filed a motion for a qualified protective order pursuant to section 29-26-121(f), which allows defense counsel to conduct ex parte interviews with patients' non-party treating healthcare providers in a healthcare liability lawsuit. In response, Plaintiff argued that the statute is unconstitutional because it deprives the trial court of its inherent authority over court proceedings. The trial court entered a written qualified protective order allowing the interviews. The Supreme Court vacated the qualified protective order, holding (1) section 29-26-121(f) impermissibly intrudes on the authority of the judiciary over procedural matters; and (2) the unconstitutional portion of the statute may be elided, and the statute as elided is constitutional. View "Willeford v. Klepper" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the negative questions of law certified from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee regarding the constitutionality of Tennessee's statutory cap on noneconomic damages, Tenn. Code Ann. 29-30-102, holding that the statutory cap does not violate the right to trial by jury, the doctrine of separation of powers, or the equal protection provisions of the Tennessee Constitution.Specifically, the Supreme Court answered (1) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does not violate a plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury, as guaranteed in Tenn. Const. art. I, 6; (2) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does violate Tennessee’s constitutional doctrine of separation of powers between the legislative branch and the judicial branch; and (3) the noneconomic damages cap in civil cases imposed by section 29-39-102 does not violate the Tennessee Constitution by discriminating disproportionately against women. View "McClay v. Airport Management Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the court of criminal appeals' judgment affirming Defendant's conviction for one count of second degree murder, an alternative count of first degree felony murder, especially aggravated robbery, and three counts of aggravated assault, holding that, while the trial court erred in admitting certain testimony, substantial justice did not require that plain error relief be granted.At issue was whether the trial court committed reversible error in allowing the State to elicit testimony about a statement made by a non-testifying codefendant whose trial was severed and whose statements were the subject of a motion in limine granted by the trial court. After he was convicted, Defendant filed a motion for new trial, arguing that the trial court erred in concluding that the doctrine of curative admissibility permitted the testimony and, for the first time, raising a contention that the testimony violated his constitutional right of confrontation. The court of criminal appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the testimony should not have been allowed, but Defendant was not entitled to plain error relief on his claim that the trial court violated his constitutional rights of confrontation by permitting the testimony; and (2) Defendant was not entitled to relief on the claims he preserved for plenary review. View "State v. Vance" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of criminal appeals affirming Defendant's conviction for burglary, holding that application of the burglary statute under the circumstances of this case did not violate due process or prosecutorial discretion.Defendant's conviction arose from her involvement in a scheme to enter a Walmart retail store, steal merchandise, and have another individual return the merchandise for a gift card. Defendant had previously been banned from Walmart retail stores for prior acts of shoplifting, and the owners of these stores had issued documents to Defendant precluding Defendant from entering the stores. The State sought an indictment against Defendant for burglary rather than criminal trespass, reasoning that Defendant entered Walmart without the effective consent of the owner and committed a theft therein. Defendant appealed her burglary conviction, arguing that the burglary statute is unconstitutionally vague as applied to the extent that it implicates due process rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the language of the statute criminalizing burglary is clear and unambiguous on its face; (2) the statute is not unconstitutionally vague as applied, and nothing in the statute precludes its application to the fact scenario in this case; and (3) the prosecutor did not exceed her discretion in interpreting and applying the statute. View "State v. Welch" on Justia Law