On October 26, 2015, the Tennessee Supreme Court made a significant change in the law in the decision Rye v. Women’s Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC, 2015 Tenn. LEXIS 906, *71-74 (Tenn. Oct. 26, 2015) which overruled Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008) returning Tennessee law to a summary judgment standard consistent with Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Hannan standard made it very difficult to obtain summary judgment in Tennessee because the nonmoving party, generally a plaintiff, could wait all the way until trial to establish proof or elements of their claim. The new standard under the recent Supreme Court decision requires proof at the summary judgment stage as opposed to allowing the nonmoving party all the way up until trial to prove their claim. Under Rye, summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production either (1) by affirmatively negating an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party’s evidence at the summary judgment stage is insufficient to establish the nonmoving party’s claim or defense.
Prior to this decision, the Tennessee legislature addressed the issue and changed the law to coincide with the Federal Summary Judgment standard and passed Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-16-101 (Supp. 2014); however, it was only effective for causes of actions filed on or after July 1, 2011. The recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision under Rye essentially coincides with the legislature’s intent to return Tennessee back to the Federal Standard. The recent change in the law is significant because the new law now requires that the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts at the summary judgment stage showing that there is a genuine issue for trial and applies to all cases whether or not the cause of action was filed prior to July 1, 2011. Under the new standard, summary judgment will be easier to obtain and should result in disposing of frivolous lawsuits and save substantial costs to clients whom are defending lawsuits because sufficient evidence must be established at the summary judgment stage which should lead to fewer trials in Tennessee.
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Authored by Lance W. Thompson, lead research attorney for Spicer Rudstrom, PLLC.