Spires v. Simpson: The Supreme Court Clarifies Wrongful Death

Image: the Tennessee Supreme Court house

            In December 2017, the Tennessee Supreme Court issued the opinion on Spires v. Simpson, concerning a wrongful death lawsuit out of Monroe County, Tennessee. 

            In Spires, Mr. and Mrs. Spires were parents of a minor child, born in the spring of 2009.  One month after the child’s birth, Mr. Spires abandoned the family, though the parties did not divorce.  Mr. Spires did not provide any child support or financial support to Mrs. Spires.  In October 2010, Mrs. Spires was tragically killed in a car accident.  Following her death, custody of the Spires’ child was given to Mrs. Spires’ mother. 

            One month after Mrs. Spires’ death, Mr. Spires brought a wrongful death action against the driver of the vehicle in the accident that killed Mrs. Spires.  Both Mrs. Spires’ mother and brother sought intervention in the wrongful death accident, claiming that they, as custodians of the Spires’ child, were entitled to any wrongful death settlement, not Mr. Spires due to Mr. Spires having failed to pay any child support to Mrs. Spires for benefit of his child. 

            The trial court agreed with Mrs. Spires’ mother and brother, and held that Mr. Spires could not recover any amounts from the wrongful death lawsuit due to him owing back child support to Mrs. Spires and for benefit of four other unrelated children.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding that while Mr. Spires was entitled to prosecute the wrongful death lawsuit; however, any recovery he received would be applied to his back child support arrearages on the children other than his child with Mrs. Spires. 

            The Tennessee Supreme Court disagreed with both the trial court and the Court of Appeals.  The Supreme Court held that the child support arrearage provisions at Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-5-107 and Tenn. Code Ann. § 31-2-105 did not apply in the Spires’ case, as Mr. Spires was prosecuting the wrongful death action as the surviving spouse of Mrs. Spires.  The Child Support Arrearage forfeiture provisions under Tennessee law only preclude a parent who is behind on child support from prosecuting a wrongful death action on behalf of a deceased child, when that parent owes child support for benefit of the deceased child.  The Supreme Court found that the purpose of the two forfeiture provisions was to prevent a parent behind on child support from financially benefitting from the wrongful death of a child the parent failed to support.    

            The Spires opinion clarifies the interpretation of who can bring a wrongful death action, and the Child Support Arrearage forfeiture provisions.  For more information, or to read the full opinion, visit http://tncourts.gov/courts/supreme-court/opinions/2017/12/27/kenneth-m-spires-et-al-v-haley-reece-simpson-et-al .

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Domestic Violence: What you should know

Image: Domestic Violence Statistics  

            Every year in America, ten million (10,000,000) men and women are the victim of domestic violence.1  In 2014, 74,023 domestic violence crimes were reported to law enforcement agencies in Tennessee.2  Thousands of other incidents of domestic violence go unreported. 

            Law enforcement and the courts of the State of Tennessee approach domestic violence issues very seriously.  Accordingly, there are a number of statutes about domestic violence that Tennesseans should be aware of. 

            Often, when domestic violence is alleged and an arrest is made, the individual arrested will be held in jail for a minimum of twelve (12) hours.  Equally often, when such an individual makes bail and is granted release, a court will issue bond conditions which require the arrested individual to stay away from the victim.  For parties who reside together, this can mean no longer residing in the same house or apartment. 

            In addition, those who plead guilty or are convicted of domestic assault are prohibited from possessing firearms or acquiring firearms in the future in addition to the other statutory penalties, including misdemeanor imprisonment and fines.  Multiple convictions for domestic assault may result in felony penalties, including imprisonment. 

            Certain individuals, including victims of stalking, domestic abuse, or sexual assault may seek an order of protection from a court to prevent their attacker from coming about their person or contacting them.  Individuals against whom an order of protection is issued may not possess firearms and are required to transfer any firearms in their possession to a third-party within forty-eight (48) hours of the issuance of the order. 

            Individuals who violate an order of protection are subject to arrest and a mandatory twelve (12) hour hold in jail.  Violation of an order protection is a Class A misdemeanor, and any sentence imposed must be served consecutively to any sentence for a related domestic violence crime based upon the same factual allegations. 

            Attorneys at Kane & Crowell Family Law Center are experienced in both domestic and criminal matters related to domestic violence.  If you are interested in information about divorce or child custody, or if you have been arrested and charged with domestic violence, call us at (615) 784-4800. 

            If you, a friend, or a loved one, have experienced domestic violence, you have options.  Contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at (1-800)−799−7233, or HomeSafe (for Wilson County residents) at (615) 444-8955.  You can also contact the Wilson County District Attorney’s Office at (615) 443-2863 or the Wilson County Sheriffs Department at (615) 444-1412 to learn more about orders of protection.


1 https://ncadv.org/statistics

2 https://ncadv.org/assets/2497/tennessee.pdf             

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Going on Your Permanent Record: the Juvenile Justice System

The Wilson County Criminal Justice Center in Lebanon.

           The term “juvenile” is sometimes associated with thoughts of immaturity, inexperience and curiosity. Juveniles often make mistakes from which they can learn, but may have lasting consequences. Thankfully, in Tennessee, there are ways to keep a juvenile’s criminal record confidential to prevent harm to their future.

            In Tennessee, an arrest as a juvenile should not show up on a background check. However, there is no guarantee that will not happen. Sometimes a simple clerical error can cause a juvenile arrest to show up on a background check. However, juvenile convictions, or guilty pleas, can show up on background checks. In order to prevent an arrest or conviction from showing up on a background check, a juvenile’s parents, guardian or attorney should ensure the juvenile’s criminal record is expunged, or “wiped clean” as soon as possible. Some offenses, such as sexual crimes or certain felonies, are not able to be expunged. For all others, records can be expunged as long as the juvenile meets certain criteria, such as not getting into trouble and making good choices for one year from the date the court entered the judgment.

            To have a criminal record expunged, a juvenile’s parents, guardian or attorney must petition the court on his/her behalf for an expungement. Most courts require an expungement fee to be paid before it can be finalized. Once the expungement order is signed, the juvenile’s parents, guardian or attorney should keep a copy of the order as they cannot obtain another copy in the future, if needed.

            Many people ask if a juvenile has to answer “yes” when asked if they have been convicted of a crime. The short answer is, an arrest is not a conviction and is confidential but a conviction may show up on a background check unless it is expunged. If the record has not been expunged, it’s usually best to answer “yes” and then explain the situation later. However, before you answer “yes”, it’s best to consult with a criminal attorney experienced in juvenile matters. At Kane & Crowell, our attorneys have experience dealing with matters of juvenile justice.  Contact us at (615) 784-4800 to learn more. 

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Hands-Free or Hands Off!

A woman uses a cell phone while driving           

          In 2018, drivers across Tennessee have at least one new law to be wary of.  Beginning January 1, it shall be a Class C misdemeanor to operate or talk on a hand-held cellphone while in a school zone marked by flashing lights.  This offense is punishable by a $50 fine. 

            However, adult drivers (18 or older) may operate a motor vehicle in a school zone and use a “hands-free” cell phone device. 

            Unfortunately for drivers under 18, they cannot use either a conventional cell phone or “hands-free” device while in a school zone. 

            These new laws supplement the existing laws regarding cell phones and driving, so texting and driving remains illegal. 

            Don’t get caught this year with your head in your apps.  Seems better to spend $50 in the App Store than on a traffic fine! 

            If you have a legal issue requiring representation in criminal matters, contact attorney Ashley Jackson at (615) 784-4800.

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Alimony Taxation: What you should know

        tax forms   

            Signed into law on December 22, 2017 the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017” makes changes to the existing tax code.  One of the important implications for our clients is the changes to alimony. 

            Under the previous law, alimony was deductible by the spouse paying alimony (the obligor).  Alimony received was considered taxable income on the tax return of the spouse receiving the spousal support (the obligee).  Accordingly, such alimony was taxed as the oblige spouse’s income.    

            The 2017 Tax act now changes this law going forward.  For divorces after December 31, 2018, alimony paid cannot be deducted by the obligor spouse.  At the same time, the obligee spouse does not have to pay taxes on alimony received. 

            This is a marked change in the existing tax laws regarding alimony, which has been the norm for seventy-five years.  It is important to note that the new law only affects divorces entered after December 31, 2018. 

            If you have any questions about divorce or alimony, contact Angel Kane at (615) 444-8081. 

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