Supreme Court Requires Trial Courts To Explain Rulings On Summary Judgment Motions

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure require trial judges to explain why they are granting or denying a motion for summary judgment before they ask the lawyer for the winning party to prepare a proposed order.

Motions for summary judgment are requests by one or more parties to a lawsuit for the court to rule on the merits of an issue before a case goes to trial. The court can determine prior to the start of a trial that there is no genuine issue of material fact and all or a portion of the case will come to an end.

In the specific case the Court decided today, Mary C. Smith sued UHS of Lakeside, Inc. in the Shelby County Circuit Court following the death of her husband who had been treated at the Lakeside Triage Center in September 2004. UHS filed motions for summary judgment asking the trial court to dismiss Ms. Smith’s lawsuit. During hearings in March 2010 and September 2011, the trial judge orally granted UHS’s motions but did not explain the basis for her decisions. Instead, the trial judge asked UHS’s lawyer to draft orders that provided the legal basis for her decisions. The trial judge signed the orders prepared by UHS’s lawyer despite Ms. Smith’s objections.

Ms. Smith appealed, and the Court of Appeals set aside the summary judgment orders. The Court of Appeals decided the trial court failed to comply with Rule 56 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires trial courts to “state the legal grounds” when deciding a motion for summary judgment.

The Supreme Court agreed that the trial court failed to comply with Rule 56. The Court emphasized that deciding a motion for summary judgment is a high judicial function. The requirement that a trial court state its grounds promotes respect for the judicial system by ensuring that a summary judgment decision is the product of the trial court’s own independent analysis.

The Court held that the trial court erred by granting UHS’s motions for summary judgment without providing legal grounds and by asking UHS’s lawyers to supply the orders that articulated the reasons for the court’s decision. The Court concluded the trial court must, “upon granting or denying a motion for summary judgment … state the grounds for its decision before it invites or requests the prevailing party to draft a proposed order.”

In this case, the Court determined the contested orders were not the product of the trial court’s independent judgment, therefore the case was returned to the trial court for further proceedings.


Supreme Court Plans Public Hearing And Interviews Of Attorney General Applicants

The Tennessee Supreme Court will conduct public hearings and interviews on Monday of the eight applicants for Attorney General and Reporter. The meetings will be held in Nashville at Legislative Plaza, Room HR16, 301 6th Ave N, Nashville, 37243 starting at 9 a.m. CDT. Each candidate is required to speak on his own behalf for no longer than 10 minutes. Candidates may have ... (click for more)

Ellie's Fine Lingerie Recognized For "Best Interior Design"

Ellie’s Fine Lingerie in Warehouse Row was awarded top honors at the Best of Intima Awards held earlier this month in New York, N.Y. by Intima Magazine. It is the premium lingerie and beachwear publication for the U.S. and Canada. The Best of Intima Awards jury was comprised of 20 high-end brands responsible for nominating and selecting award-worthy retailers. This year’s jury selected ... (click for more)

Rhasean Lowry, 34, Charged In Death of 3-Year-Old Girl

Rhasean Lowry, 34, was arrested for abusing a three-year-old girl, and then criminal homicide after she died. Last Tuesday, the Chattanooga Police Department was called on a suspected child abuse case. Lowry took the victim to a local hospital and he stated the victim fell down steps. Doctors advised that the victim’s injuries were the result of blunt force trauma consistent ... (click for more)

City IDB Member Who Made Motion For $9 Million Black Creek TIF Had Not Lived In City For Years

A City Industrial Development Board (IDB) member who made the motion to approve a controversial $9 million Black Creek Tax Increment Financing (TIF) had not lived in the city for years, City Attorney Wade Hinton confirmed. Chris Ramsey, a BlueCross BlueShield official, was not present at an IDB meeting on Tuesday morning. Five other board members were. Citizen Helen Burns ... (click for more)

Decimating The Chattanooga Public Library - And Response

Corinne Hill claims that the library is just undergoing a normal weeding process for eliminating books.  She has bragged that she's responsible for the elimination of over 100,000 books - with more to go. "Normal" weeding is not rampant throwing away.  Yes, books go to the Friends for their sale - where they get $2 for a $75 book and thousands wind up being recycled ... (click for more)

The Many Lessons I Learned From Helen McDonald Exum

Helen McDonald Exum was my friend and mentor. As I think of her passing I can only imagine the celebration that is happening in heaven as the news of her arrival is being told. I am sure that there is a party that not only has she organized but that there is not a detail that has been left to chance. I am sure that it is the grandest of events, for you see, she has been planing ... (click for more)