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Thursday, July 04, 2024

Tennessee Anti-SLAPP Opinion: Supreme Court of Tennessee Holds That a Petitioner Was a Limited-purpose Public Figure, That He Failed to Establish Actual Malice on Respondent's Part, and That Appellee Preserved Her Claim for Attorney's Fees

The Tennesse Supreme Court has issued its opinion in Charles v. McQueen, M2021-00878-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. July 3, 2024). The syllabus from the slip opinion reads:

Ordinarily, a plaintiff asserting a defamation claim must prove that the defendant made a false statement and did so negligently. If the plaintiff is a public figure, however, he must prove that the statement was made with actual malice. This is a steep hill to climb, so determining whether the plaintiff is a public figure is a crucial inquiry in any defamation case. This case is no exception. The plaintiff here, Bill Charles, assisted with the development of the Durham Farms community in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and is president of its homeowners’ association. Charles brought defamation and false light claims against Donna McQueen, a Durham Farms resident who posted a Google review that was critical of him. McQueen sought dismissal of Charles’s claims under the Tennessee Public Participation Act, arguing that Charles could not establish a prima facie case for his claims because he could not prove actual malice. The trial court agreed with McQueen and dismissed the claims. The Court of Appeals reversed in part. It agreed with McQueen that Charles had to prove actual malice to prevail on his false light claim and had failed to do so. But it held that Charles is not a public figure and therefore need not prove actual malice for his defamation claim. We disagree with the Court of Appeals on that score. We hold that Charles is a limited-purpose public figure given the voluntary and prominent role he played in a controversy concerning changes to the Durham Farms development plan. We further hold that Charles failed to establish a prima facie case of actual malice. Finally, we reject Charles’s argument that McQueen waived her request for appellate attorney’s fees by failing to list it as an issue in her Court of Appeals brief. We reverse the Court of Appeals in part and affirm in part, and we remand for further proceedings.

Here is a link to that opinion: Majority Opinion - M2021-00878-SC-R11-CV.pdf (tncourts.gov).

NOTE: This opinion explains the law of defamation and when someone is a public figure, Tennessee's Anti-SLAPP Statute (the Tennessee Public Participation Act), and practice on appeal before Tennessee state courts. A must-read decision in my humble opinion. 

Monday, July 01, 2024

New Laws Effective in Tennessee in 2024

Below are two links to lists of new laws that went into effect in Tennessee this year on January 1 and July 1, respectively, to wit:

January 1, 2024: EffectiveRpt (tn.gov); and

July 1, 2024: EffectiveRpt (tn.gov).

NOTE: These two links help one stay current. 


Saturday, April 27, 2024

SCOTN Rejects "Preemption Rule" That Would Prohibit Direct Negligent Claims Against a Principal When Vicarious Liability as to an Agent Has Been Admitted by Principal; SCOTN Also Holds That Claims for Negligent Activities May Be Pleaded in the Same Action Along with Premises Liability Claims

The Tennessee Supreme Court has released its opinion in Binns v. Trader Joe's East, Inc., No. M2022-01033-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Apr. 8, 2024). The syllabus form the slip opinion reads: 
This interlocutory appeal involves an alleged slip and fall incident that occurred at the defendant’s grocery store. The plaintiff’s amended complaint included allegations of vicarious liability, premises liability, negligent training, and negligent supervision against the defendant. In an attempt to dismiss the plaintiff’s negligent training and supervision claims, the defendant filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and asserted two alternative arguments, both of which the trial court rejected. First, the trial court rejected the defendant’s argument that courts must dismiss “negligent activity” claims, such as claims for negligent training and supervision, when asserted concurrently with a premises liability theory of recovery. Second, the trial court rejected the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff’s direct negligence claims were no longer legally viable due to the defendant admitting it was vicariously liable for the conduct of its employee, commonly referred to as the “preemption rule.” After denying the defendant’s motion, the trial court granted permission to file an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Rule 9 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure. The Court of Appeals denied the defendant’s application. The defendant then appealed to this Court, and we granted review. We hold that the preemption rule is incompatible with Tennessee’s system of comparative fault and decline to adopt it. In addition, we decline to adopt the rule proposed by the defendant pertaining to “negligent activity” claims asserted alongside premises liability claims. As a result, we affirm the trial court’s order denying the defendant’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.
Here is a link to that opinion: 


NOTE: This is a must-read case for any lawyer who handles tort cases governed by Tennessee substantive law that have to do with agency and premises liability. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

New SCOTN Case: Trial Court's Decision Denying Arbitration in a Nursing Home Case Reversed on Appeal Because the Attorney-in-Fact Was Authorized to Sign Arbitration Agreement

The Tennessee Supreme Court has released its opinion in Williams v. Smyrna Residential, LLC, No. M2021-00927-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Feb. 16, 2024). The syllabus from the majority opinion reads: 

Granville Williams, Jr., died while residing at an assisted-living facility. The central question in this appeal is whether his son’s ensuing wrongful-death action against the facility must be arbitrated. To answer that question, we must resolve two subsidiary issues—first, whether the attorney-in-fact who signed the arbitration agreement as Williams’s representative had authority to do so and, second, whether Williams’s son and other wrongful-death beneficiaries who were not parties to the arbitration agreement nevertheless are bound by it. We hold that signing an optional arbitration agreement—that is, one that is not a condition of admission to a health care facility—is not a “health care decision” within the meaning of the Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Act. The durable power of attorney that gave Williams’s attorney-in-fact authority to act for him in “all claims and litigation matters” thus provided authority to enter the optional arbitration agreement even though it did not specifically grant authority to make health care decisions. We further hold that Williams’s son is bound by the arbitration agreement because his wrongful-death claims are derivative of his father’s claims. Because we conclude that the claims in this action are subject to arbitration, we reverse the Court of Appeals’ contrary decision and remand to the trial court.

Here is a link to that opinion: 

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/OpinionsPDFVersion/Majority%20Opinion%20-%20M2021-00927-SC-R11-CV.pdf.

Here is a link to Justice Lee's dissent:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/OpinionsPDFVersion/Separate%20Opinion-%20M2021-00927-SC-R11-CV.pdf.

Here is Chief Justice Kirby's opinion joining Justice Lee's dissent:

https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/OpinionsPDFVersion/Separate%20Opinion%20%282%29%20-M2021-00927-SC-R11-CV.pdf.

NOTE: This opinion reverses the one from the Tennessee Court of Appeals in this same case that was released on April 8, 2022, which is the subject of my blog post from April 9, 2022, to wit:

http://theduncanlawfirm.blogspot.com/2022/04/trial-courts-denial-of-defendants.html.


Saturday, March 09, 2024

Grant of Summary Judgment Reversed on Appeal Because the Issue It Was Based on Was Not Raised in the Motion

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Bakker v. Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hospital Authority, No. E2022-00872-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 5, 2024). The syllabus from the slip opinion reads: 
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital in this premises liability case, finding that the defendant had no notice of the alleged dangerous or defective condition on its premises. The plaintiff has appealed. Following our review, we determine that the plaintiff was not provided notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond to all issues to be considered by the trial court at the summary judgment stage. Accordingly, we vacate the trial court's grant of summary judgment.
Here is the link to the opinion: 


NOTE: This is an excellent opinion that addresses when a trial court grants summary judgment on an issue not raised in the motion seeking same and why that is error. This is a must-read opinin for any lawyer who handles civil actions in Tennessee state courts. 

Thursday, January 11, 2024

New Health Care Liability Action: Trial Court's Imposition of Sanctions for Discovery Abuse Upheld on Appeal but Case Is Remanded to Calculate Amount of Sanctions under Applicable Law

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Salas v. Rosdeutscher, Nos. M2021-00449-COA-R3-CV; M2022-00130-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 9, 2024). The syllabus reads:

Plaintiff’s attorneys appeal the trial court’s imposition of sanctions against them in the amount of $68,617.28 and the denial of their second motion to disqualify the trial court judge. We affirm the trial court’s discretionary decision to impose sanctions, but we vacate the amount of sanctions awarded and remand for the trial court to calculate the reasonable amount of monetary sanctions in keeping with the procedures and considerations outlined in this opinion. We have determined that Plaintiff’s attorneys’ issue regarding the trial court’s denial of their second motion to recuse is moot. Finally, we decline to award attorney’s fees on appeal.

Here is a link to the slip opinion: Majority Opinion - M2021-00449-COA-R3-CV.pdf (tncourts.gov).

NOTE: This opinion is a good reminder why a lawyer should never misrepresent matters to a court. 



Friday, January 05, 2024

New Case on Pretrial Discovery Abuse and Sanctions: Trial Court's Dismissal of Action Upheld on Appeal.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has released its opinion in Plofchan v. Hughey, No. M2021-00853-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 5, 2023). The syllabus from the opinion reads:

A man sued his arresting officers and others. He claimed he was neither drunk nor violent when he was arrested and charged with public intoxication, resisting arrest, and assault on an officer. During discovery, the man claimed to have no communications between him and a companion that were not protected by attorney-client privilege or as work product. When such communications were uncovered, the defendants moved for sanctions and attorney’s fees. The trial court awarded attorney’s fees to the defendants and the companion. And it dismissed the case as a sanction. Discerning no abuse of discretion, we affirm.

Here is a link to the slip opinion: E-SIGNED-M2021-0853- COA-PLOFCHAN.pdf (tncourts.gov).

NOTE: This opinion offers a great discussion of discovery sanctions for pretrial discovery abuses, etc. It also notes that Tennessee does not recognize "motions to reconsider," slip. op. at 8. This is a must-read opinion for any Tennessee trial lawyer.