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Tennessee Trial Judges Must Make Findings of Fact and State Legal Basis for Summary Judgment Before Instructing Party to Prepare Order

Posted on Jan 3 2016 4:03PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

A recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision dealt with a case where a Trial Judge granted Summary Judgment on behalf of a defendant and instructed the parties to prepare an Order without first making any findings of fact or providing a legal basis for the Court’s decision.  The case of Bobby McEarl v. City of Brownsville, No. W2015-00077-COA-R3-CV, 2015 WL 6773544 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015) was a premises liability case where the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.  However, the Court did not explain its ruling.  Instead, the Court simply stated “I don’t think – I don’t think the city is responsible here. I am granting the defendant’s motion.”  The trial court then instructed the parties to prepare competing orders for the court to review.  The Court ultimately adopted an order granting summary judgment for various reasons.

 

The question on appeal was whether this method for deciding a motion for summary judgment was appropriate under Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 56.04.  This rule provides as follows:

 

The motion shall be served at least thirty (30) days before the time fixed for the hearing. The adverse party may serve and file opposing affidavits not later than five days before the hearing. Subject to the moving party’s compliance with Rule 56.03, the judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The trial court shall state the legal grounds upon which the court denies or grants the motion, which shall be included in the order reflecting the court's ruling. A summary judgment, interlocutory in character, may be rendered on the issue of liability alone although there is a genuine issue as to the amount of damages. 

 

Additionally, the Tennessee Supreme Court rendered a decision in 2014 discussing this rule of civil procedure in the Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc., 439 S.W.3d 303 (Tenn. 2014) decision. The Tennessee Supreme Court provided direction to Tennessee trial courts that they are required to state the legal grounds upon which the Court denies or grants a motion for summary judgment. This is a mandatory requirement. 

 

As a result, the Tennessee Court of Appeals in the McEarl case found the trial court’s grant of summary judgment must be vacated and the cas...

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TAGS: Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Cabin Owner and Management Company Not Liable For Defective Stairs When There Was No Prior Notice of Dangerous Condition

Posted on Dec 6 2014 3:23PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently decided a premises liability case involving allegedly defective stairs at a cabin in the Brenda Y. Hannah v. Sherwood Forest Rentals, LLC, No. E2014-00082-COA-R3-CV, 2014 WL 6250692 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2014) decision.  In this case the plaintiff fell while descending a set of wooden stairs at a rental cabin in Sevier County, Tennessee.  As the plaintiff descended the stairs, a step flipped up, causing her to fall.  She ultimately sustained a fracture in her right foot and had a severe left ankle sprain.  Apparently, the evidence later showed there were improperly fastened nails to the top of the step which caused the wood plank to come loose.    

 

The plaintiff filed suit against the property owners and the property management company, Sherwood.  The Trial Court dismissed this case on summary judgment finding that neither Sherwood nor the property owners had any constructive notice of the dangerous condition.  This issue was appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.  This case was filed on or after July 1, 2011 and, therefore, the standard for summary judgment for this case is found in the newer statute, T.C.A. § 20-16-101, which is generally a more favorable standard for summary judgment then the previous Hannan v. Alltel Publishing standard.  Specifically, T.C.A. § 20-16-101 provides the new standard for summary judgment in Tennessee 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.

 

Taking this into consideration, the court considered what the plaintiff would be required to prove in order to be successful in their case.  There really was no dispute in the Hannah case that there was a defective condition on the property.  That was clear.  However, there was no evidence that either of the defendants created or caused the defective condition (presumably the condition was created by the builder...

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TAGS: Summary Judgment, Tennessee Premises Liability Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Supreme Court Recently Ruled that Trial Courts Must Explain The Basis for Ruling on a Motion for Summary Judgment Before it Invites or Requests Counsel to Draft the Order

Posted on Jul 28 2014 9:45PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  On July 15, 2014 the Tennessee Supreme Court provided an important new opinion that will modify the way many trial courts handle ruling on motions for summary judgment.  The case of Mary C. Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc., No. W2011-02405-SC-R11-CV, 2014 WL 3429204 (Tenn. 2014), dealt with a situation where a trial court granted two motion for summary judgment on behalf of the defendants.  The details of this health care liability cause of action are not important to be able to evaluate the importance of this opinion.  The details of what happened at the motion for summary judgment rulings are, however, very important. 

 

After the trial court ruled on two motions for summary judgment the court then directed defense counsel to prepare the orders explaining the trial court’s ruling.  The Supreme Court discussed the trial court’s statements to counsel as follows: 

 

The trial court then observed that “the appellate court is going to want a rationale from our rulings.” Accordingly, the trial court stated, “As far as a basis for the ruling, I'm going to let you [Lakeside's counsel] make those.... And in the same way [p]laintiff's counsel can then, you were successful on EMTALA, outrageous conduct and the negligent infliction of emotional distress, the motions in which you were successful, you'll prepare the order and the rationale for the Court's ruling.”

 

Smith at 5.  At the second hearing the trial court once again ruled on the pending motion for summary judgment and stated:

 

I'm ruling now. I think I've heard ample discussion on this. And I'm directing the [d]efendant to prepare the order and to establish the rationale for the [c]ourt's ruling in quite specific detail, and let this go forward as quickly as possible to the [a]ppellate [c]ourt.

 

So basically at both hearings, the trial court did not provide detail about the basis or reasoning for its ruling on the motions for summary judgment.  It simply relied upon counsel to draft an order explaining the rationale for the trial court’s ruling.  The granting of the motions for summary judgment was therefore appealed and the appeal ultimately came to the Tenne...


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TAGS: Summary Judgment Comments [0]
  
 

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:

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TAGS: Summary Judgment Comments [0]
  
 

Summary Judgment – In Tennessee the trial court must appropriately state the legal grounds for summary judgment in the order

Posted on Feb 13 2013 4:48PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The Tennessee Court of Appeals in the recent decision of Mary C. Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc., No. W2011-02405-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 210250 (Tenn. Ct. App. January 18, 2013) discussed the requirement that a trial court state the legal grounds for summary judgment in the order.  Specifically, Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.04 provides as follows:

 

The motion shall be served at least thirty (30) days before the time fixed for the hearing. The adverse party may serve and file opposing affidavits not later than five days before the hearing. Subject to the moving party’s compliance with Rule 56.03, the judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The trial court shall state the legal grounds upon which the court denies or grants the motion, which shall be included in the order reflecting the court’s ruling. A summary judgment, interlocutory in character, may be rendered on the issue of liability alone although there is a genuine issue as to the amount of damages.

 

In the Smith case, the trial court granted a motion for summary judgment and requested the defendant's attorney to prepare the order discussing the basis and support for the granting of the motion for summary judgment.  Smith at 6 - 8.  In fact, the trial court judge made the following comments on the record:

 

Now the appellate court is going to want a rationale from our rulings, so in the case of agency I'm going to let the, on the ones for which you were successful, I'm going to let you make proposed [orders].... As far as a basis for the ruling, I'm going to let you make those.

 

Smith at 6.  These comments were directed at counsel for the defendant.  The court then entered the proposed orders drafted by counsel for the defendant over the objections of the plaintiff. Smith at 6.  The plaintiff therefore appealed the rulings of the court and asserted the court did not comply with Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56.04.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals discussed prior cases on this issue and found:

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TAGS: Appeal, Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment Comments [0]
  
 

Premises Liability – The "open and obvious" defense in the context of a “minor aberration” in the walking surface

Posted on Dec 3 2012 9:58AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently addressed the “open and obvious” defense in a premises liability case.  In Jacqueline Elaine Green v. Paul Roberts, No. M2012-00214-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 4858992 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012) the Court dealt with some interesting facts.  The plaintiff walked through the defendant's parking lot to meet her cousin who parked her car in the parking lot. Green at 1.  She walked across the lot to meet her cousin without any incident.  Green at 1.  As she left the meeting, she took a step backwards and tripped over a small metal post that protruded from the parking lot.  Green at 1.  The plaintiff's heel caught on the 8 inch by 8 inch metal post that protruded about ¾ of an inch above the surface of the parking lot.  Green at 1.  The parking lot asphalt is black and the concrete around the post is a lighter color. Green at 1.  She tore her Achilles tendon and filed a lawsuit against the premises owner. 

 

The trial court granted summary judgment because it found the plaintiff was 50% or greater at fault.  Green at 2.  That ruling was appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.  The Court noted that “traditionally, liability has not been imposed on a premises owner by courts of this state for injuries that resulted from defective or dangerous conditions that were ‘open and obvious.’”  Green at 5. (citing McCormick v. Waters, 594 S.W.2d 385 (Tenn. 1980)).  The Court further noted that since the adoption of comparative fault in Tennessee by McIntyre v. Ballentine, 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992), the “open and obvious” defense has been handled under principles of comparative fault. Green at 5.  Specifically, “when an invitee is injured because of dangers that are obvious, reasonably apparent, or as well known to the injured party as to the owner or operator of the premises, liability, if any, should be determined in accordance with the principles of comparative fault analysis and the general negligence law of this state.” Green at 5. 

 

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TAGS: Tennessee Comparative Fault, Summary Judgment, Tennessee Premises Liability Comments [0]
  
 

Tennessee Premises Liability – Identification of cause of fall

Posted on Jul 10 2012 9:37AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of Mae Coleman v. South Tennessee Oil, Inc., d/b/a Quick Mart,, M2011-01329-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 2628617 (filed July 5, 2012) discussed the requirements for summary judgment in a premises liability case.  The Coleman case involved an incident that occurred on January 19, 2006.  As a result, the court used the standard for summary judgment in Hannan v. Alltel Publ'g, Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008).

 

In the Coleman case, the plaintiff, Ms. Coleman, tripped on something in a parking lot which caused her to fall.  She sustained severe injuries.  There are photographs of the parking lot that apparently show uneven and cracked parts of the pavement on the defendant's property.  The plaintiff asserted in the complaint that the uneven pavement caused the plaintiff to fall. 

 

During the course of her deposition, Ms. Coleman, however, testified in an uncertain manner as to the actual cause of her fall.  She testified in her deposition as follows (these are excerpted portions from the opinion):

 

Q. Okay. Do you recall at the time you fell what caused you to fall?

A. All I know if that I come around there, was going inside, and the next thing I know, my foot went—hit something and I went down.  And I'm thinking it was—from this right here—the best—now, don't hold me to this. This right here—which one was it? Because I'd be coming to the front door. All I know is I came around the pump there, where it was at. And then like I said, my foot hit something and I went down.

***

Q. Okay. So from these three pictures that you've shown me or I've shown you rather, you can't tell on any of those pictures—

A. Where I was at? No.

Q. And you can't tell me if you tripped on anything in those pictures, can you?

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TAGS: Negligence, Summary Judgment, Tennessee Premises Liability Comments [0]
  
 

Comparative Fault - Is an entity a "party to the suit" for purposes of T.C.A. § 20-1-119 after summary judgment is granted but not made final under Rule 54.02?

Posted on Jul 5 2012 1:42PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

The Tennessee Supreme Court, on July 3, 2012, decided the interesting comparative fault case of Davey Mann v. Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity, W2010-02316-SC-R11-CV (filed July 3, 2012).  This case provides a trip down memory lane for many attorneys with its discussion of McIntyre v. Ballentine, 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992) and its commentary on T.C.A. § 20-1-119.  This Tennessee Supreme Court opinion can be found at http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/sites/default/files/mannd_opn.pdf.

 

The key issue in this case was whether the plaintiffs could avoid a statute of limitations defense by relying upon T.C.A. § 20-1-119 when plaintiff filed a complaint against a defendant who had been dismissed on summary judgment.  However, the dismissal order had not yet been made final under Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 54.02.  The question therefore was whether that defendant was considered a "party" under T.C.A. § 20-1-119, which provides in pertinent part as follows: 

 

(a) In civil actions where comparative fault is or becomes an issue, if a defendant named in an original complaint initiating a suit filed within the applicable statute of limitations, or named in an amended complaint filed within the applicable statute of limitations, alleges in an answer or amended answer to the original or amended complaint that a person not a party to the suit caused or contributed to the injury or damage for which the plaintiff seeks recovery, and if the plaintiff's cause or causes of action against that person would be barred by any applicable statute of limitations but for the operation of this section, the plaintiff may, within ninety (90) days of the filing of the first answer or first amended answer alleging that person's fault, either:

(1) Amend the complaint to add the person as a defendant pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 15 and cause process to be issued for that person; or

(2) Institute a separate action against that person by filing a summons and complaint. If the plaintiff elects to proceed under this section by filing a separate action, the complaint so filed shall not be considered an original complaint initiating the suit or an amended complaint for purposes of this subsection (a).

(b) A cause of action brought within ninety (90) days pursuant to subsection (a) shall not be barred by any statute of limitations. This section shall not extend any applicable statute of repose, nor shall this section permit the plaintiff to maintain an action against a person when such an action is barred by an applicable statute of repose. (emphasis added)

 

In Mann, the Tennessee Supreme Court fo...

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TAGS: Tennessee Comparative Fault, Statute of Limitations, Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment Comments [0]
  
 
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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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