A plaintiff does not have the right to a jury trial for a claim filed in circuit court under the Tennessee Public Protection Act, according to a Tennessee Supreme Court opinion filed Wednesday. The Court also determined that the Governmental Tort Liability Act does not apply to retaliatory discharge cases filed under the TPPA.
The case is an appeal by the former city administrator of LaFollette in a lawsuit he filed against the city. David Young sued the city under the TPPA, which protects employees terminated “solely for refusing to participate in, or for refusing to remain silent about, illegal activities.”
The circuit court judge granted Mr. Young’s request for a jury trial, but permitted the city to appeal his decision on that issue only. The appeal is referred to as an interlocutory appeal, or an appeal of a narrow issue in a pending case. The case was brought to the Court of Appeals, which determined that Mr. Young’s claim, because he was suing a municipality, fell under the Governmental Tort Liability Act and therefore was not entitled to a jury trial.
Mr. Young then sought permission from the Supreme Court to appeal, which was granted. The Supreme Court first examined whether or not the claim indeed fell under the GTLA, a specific set of laws that controls lawsuits against government entities. While the GLTA provides immunity to the government in most such suits, it also identifies specific instances where claims are permitted. In addition, the legislature has enacted other laws that carve out further exceptions to the sovereign immunity provisions of the GTLA. The Supreme Court ruled that, because of the specialized provisions of the TPPA, the legislature had enacted an entire statutory scheme that substituted for the GTLA in retaliatory discharge claims.
The Court then went on to determine whether a TPPA claim includes a right to a jury trial in circuit court. The Court explained that the Tennessee Constitution does not guarantee jury trials in all cases and the TPPA, as a remedy created by the legislature, does not specifically grant that right in circuit court.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that jury trials are provided by statute for TPPA claims filed in chancery court, but no similar statute applies to TPPA claims filed in circuit court, which also has jurisdiction of such claims.
The case will now return to the trial court for further action on the claims.
To read the David Young v. City of LaFollette opinion, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.