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What is the Current Motion for Summary Judgment Standard under Tennessee Law?

Posted on Nov 18 2013 9:22AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The Tennessee legal standard for a motion for summary judgment has changed in the recent past.  The Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008) opinion by the Tennessee Supreme Court modified the motion for summary judgment standard in October 2008.  As of that time the court found that summary judgment is only appropriate for a party if the evidence “(1) affirmatively negates an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim or (2) shows that the nonmoving party cannot prove an essential element of the claim at trial.”  Hannan at 10.  This Hannan standard made it very difficult to obtain a motion for summary judgment in Tennessee. 

 

As a result, the Tennessee legislature passed T.C.A. § 20-16-101 which went into effect on July 1, 2011.  This new motion for summary judgment standard applies to all actions filed on or after July 1, 2011.  In the text of Public Chapter 498 the legislature specifically stated that, “Whereas this higher Hannan standard results in fewer cases being resolved by summary judgment in state court, increasing the litigation costs of litigants in Tennessee state courts and encouraging forum shopping; and Whereas, the purpose of this legislation is to overrule the summary judgment standard for parties who do not bear the burden of proof at trial set forth in Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., its progeny, and the cases relied on in Hannan.”  As a result, the Tennessee legislature established a new standard in T.C.A. § 20-16-101 which provides as follows:

 

In motions for summary judgment in any civil action in Tennessee, the moving party who does not bear the burden of proof at trial shall prevail on its motion for summary judgment if it:

(1) Submits affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim; or

(2) Demonstrates to the court that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim.

 

As a result, the design of this 2011 statute is to make summary judgment easier to obtain in Tennessee.  This statute provides the current standard for a motion for summary judgment in Tennessee for all causes of action filed on or after July 1, 2011.  This statute and the specific legislative intent discussed in Public Chapter 498 are important to cite in motions for summary judgment.  If your opponent cites to case law under the old standard in opposition to your motion for summary judgment, it is good practice to cite to the fact the legislature specifically intended to make summary judgment easier to obtain with this new statute.  This can be an effective way to lessen the damage that could be done by an opposing party that cites older case law under the prior stricter standard.

 

Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Summary Judgment
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Author

Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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