Abdur'Rahman v. Parker, 100818 TNSC, M2018-01385-SC-RDO-CV

Docket Nº:M2018-01385-SC-RDO-CV
Opinion Judge:JEFFREY S. BIVINS, CHIEF JUSTICE
Party Name:ABU-ALI ABDUR'RAHMAN ET AL. v. TONY PARKER ET AL.
Attorney:Kelley J. Henry, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, Donnie Johnson, Charles Walton Wright, Edmund Zagorski, John Michael Bane, Byron Black, Andre Bland, Kevin Burns, Tony Carruthers, Tyrone Chalmers, James Dellinger, David Duncan, Kennath Henderson, Anthony Darrell Hi...
Judge Panel:Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Cornelia A. Clark, Holly Kirby, and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined. Sharon G. Lee, J., dissenting.
Case Date:October 08, 2018
Court:Supreme Court of Tennessee

ABU-ALI ABDUR'RAHMAN ET AL.

v.

TONY PARKER ET AL.

No. M2018-01385-SC-RDO-CV

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Nashville

October 8, 2018

Session October 3, 2018

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Davidson County No. 18-183-III Ellen H. Lyle, Chancellor.

This appeal represents the third time, each after a trial on the merits, that we have addressed the facial constitutionality of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol. In both prior appeals, we upheld the particular protocol at issue. In this most recent litigation, the death-sentenced inmates challenge Tennessee's current three-drug protocol, which calls for the administration of midazolam followed by vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride. The trial court dismissed the inmates' complaint for declaratory judgment. This Court, upon its own motion, assumed jurisdiction over the appeal. After our review of the record and applicable authority, we conclude that the inmates failed to carry their burden of showing availability of their proposed alternative method of execution-a one-drug protocol using pentobarbital-as required under current federal and Tennessee law. For this reason, we hold that the inmates failed to establish that the three-drug protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or article I, section 16 of the Tennessee Constitution. This holding renders moot the majority of the other issues before us. The expedited appellate procedure has not denied the inmates due process, and they are not entitled to relief on their remaining issues. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 16-3-201(d)(3) Appeal; Judgment of the Chancery Court Affirmed

Kelley J. Henry, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, Donnie Johnson, Charles Walton Wright, Edmund Zagorski, John Michael Bane, Byron

Black, Andre Bland, Kevin Burns, Tony Carruthers, Tyrone Chalmers, James Dellinger, David Duncan, Kennath Henderson, Anthony Darrell Hines, Henry Hodges, Stephen Hugueley, David Ivy, Akil Jahi, David Jordan, David Keen, Donald Middlebrooks, Farris Morris, Pervis Payne, Gerald Powers, William Glenn Rogers, Michael Sample, and Oscar Smith.

Dana C. Hansen Chavis and Stephen M. Kissinger (at trial), pro hac vice, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellants, David Earl Miller, Nicholas Todd Sutton, Stephen Michael West, and Larry McKay.

Bradley A. MacLean, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman.

Carl Eugene Shiles, Jr., and William J. Rieder, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Billy Ray Irick.

Kathleen Morris, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lee Hall, a/k/a Leroy Hall.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; Jennifer L. Smith, Associate Solicitor General; Scott C. Sutherland, Deputy Attorney General; and Rob Mitchell and Charlotte M. Davis, Assistant Attorneys General, for the appellees, Tony Parker, Tony Mays, John/Jane Doe Executioners 1-100, John/Jane Doe Medical Examiner(s) 1-100, John/Jane Doe Pharmacists 1-100, John/Jane Doe Physicians 1-100, and Jane/John Does 1-100.

Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Cornelia A. Clark, Holly Kirby, and Roger A. Page, JJ., joined.

OPINION

JEFFREY S. BIVINS, CHIEF JUSTICE

Historical and Procedural Background

Since 2000, lethal injection has been the default method of execution in Tennessee. State v. Morris, 24 S.W.3d 788, 797 (Tenn. 2000).1 In 2004, this Court upheld the use of lethal injection as a constitutionally permissible means of imposing the death penalty. See State v. Robinson, 146 S.W.3d 469, 529 (Tenn. 2004) (appendix).

The next year, in Abdur'Rahman v. Bredesen, 181 S.W.3d 292 (Tenn. 2005), cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1147 (2006), we addressed for the first time the facial constitutionality of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol. The protocol at issue in that case used the following three drugs: sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. Id. at 300. We held that the protocol: (1) did not violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or article I, section 16 of the Tennessee Constitution, (2) did not violate due process provisions under the United States Constitution or the Tennessee Constitution, (3) did not deny access to the courts in violation of the United States Constitution or the Tennessee Constitution, (4) did not violate the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, (5) did not violate the Nonlivestock Animal Humane Death Act, (6) did not violate provisions governing the practice of medicine and provisions of healthcare services, and (7) did not violate the Drug Control Act or the Pharmacy Practice Act. Id. at 297-98.

A second round of litigation led to the same result in 2012, when the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling that the protocol, as revised in November 2010 to add checks for consciousness, did not violate the constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. West v. Schofield, 380 S.W.3d 105, 107 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012), perm. app. denied (Tenn. 2012), cert. denied, 568 U.S. 1165 (2013), and cert. denied sub nom. Irick v. Schofield, 569 U.S. 927 (2013). This Court denied discretionary review. West v. Schofield, No. M2011-00791-SC-R11-SC (Tenn. Aug. 17, 2012) (Order).

Approximately one year later, on September 27, 2013, the Tennessee Department of Correction ("TDOC") adopted a new lethal injection protocol providing that inmates sentenced to death be executed by the injection of a lethal dose of a single drug, pentobarbital, which is a barbiturate. See West v. Schofield, 519 S.W.3d 550, 552 (Tenn. 2017), cert. denied sub nom. West v. Parker, 138 S.Ct. 476 (2017), and cert. denied sub nom. Abdur 'Rahman v. Parker, 138 S.Ct. 647 (2018), reh'g denied, 138 S.Ct. 1183 (2018).2 TDOC amended the protocol twice: in 2014 to specify that the lethal injection drug would be compounded pentobarbital rather than manufactured pentobarbital; and in 2015 to incorporate a contract between TDOC and a pharmacist for the provision of the compounded pentobarbital. Id. at 552-53.

In West v. Schofield, filed on March 26, 2017, we addressed for the second time the facial constitutionality of Tennessee's lethal injection protocol. 519 S.W.3d 550.

We held that the one-drug pentobarbital protocol: (1) did not violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution or article I, section 16 of the Tennessee Constitution, (2) did not violate federal laws regulating the provision and use of certain prescription drugs, and (3) did not violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. Id. at 552.

On January 8, 2018, TDOC adopted the current three-drug protocol as an alternative to the one-drug pentobarbital protocol. The three-drug protocol calls for the administration of 500 milligrams of midazolam (a sedative in the benzodiazepine family of drugs) followed by vecuronium bromide (a paralytic agent) and potassium chloride (a heart-stopping agent).

Three days after TDOC adopted the current three-drug protocol, the State filed in this Court a notice that the United States Supreme Court had denied certiorari in the two petitions seeking review of our recent decision in West v. Schofield. A week later, we sua sponte set an execution date of August 9, 2018, for Billy Ray Irick. See State v. Irick, No. M1987-00131-SC-DPE-DD (Tenn. Jan. 18, 2018) (Order) (citing Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 12(4)(E)).3 Mr. Irick was one of the appellants in this case.4

On February 15, 2018, the State filed in this Court a motion to set execution dates in eight capital cases before June 1, 2018, because of ongoing difficulty in obtaining the necessary lethal injection drugs.5 Five days later, the thirty-three original Plaintiffs, 6 each death-sentenced inmates, initiated this declaratory judgment action against the Defendants, 7 asserting facial challenges to the constitutionality of the January 8, 2018 lethal injection protocol. Thereafter, responses were filed in this Court opposing the State's motion to set the expedited execution dates in the eight capital cases. We denied the State's motion on March 15, 2018. That same day, we sua sponte set execution dates for two other Plaintiffs: October 11, 2018, for Edmund Zagorski; and December 6, 2018, for David Earl Miller. See State v. Zagorski, No. M1996-00110-SC-DPE-DD (Tenn. Mar. 15, 2018) (Order) (citing Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 12(4)(E)); State v. Miller, No. E1982-00075-SC-DDT-DD (Tenn. Mar. 15, 2018) (Order) (same).

Thereafter, the Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint in this declaratory judgment action that identified the one-drug pentobarbital protocol as an alternative method of execution to the three-drug protocol. Two days later, on July 5, 2018, TDOC revised the lethal injection protocol to eliminate the one-drug protocol as an alternative so that the three-drug protocol became the exclusive method of execution by lethal injection in Tennessee.

A ten-day trial commenced on July 9, 2018. The Plaintiffs presented testimony from four experts: Craig Stevens, Ph.D., a neuropharmacologist; Dr. David Greenblatt, a clinical pharmacologist with particular expertise concerning midazolam; Dr. Mark Edgar, a pathologist; and Dr. David Lubarsky, an anesthesiologist. The Plaintiffs also introduced testimony from twelve attorneys who had witnessed their respective clients' executions in other states. The Plaintiffs made an oral motion at the close of their proof to amend the pleadings to assert removal of vecuronium bromide from the three-drug protocol as a known, feasible, and available alternative method of execution. After a hearing the next day, the trial court...

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