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Will the Tennessee General Assembly Continue to tell the Judiciary to Put Up or Shut Up?

Will the Tennessee General Assembly Continue to tell the Judiciary to Put Up or Shut Up?

On October 26, 2015, the Tennessee Supreme Court returned the state’s summary judgment standard to normalcy and also gave the Tennessee General Assembly a little more room to invade the judiciary.  In Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis, the Tennessee Supreme Court aligned the state’s summary judgment standard with the federal standard, which is also the standard set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-16-101.  No. W2013-00804-SC-R11-CV (Tenn. Oct. 26, 2015).  In reaching this holding, the Court specifically overruled its prior decision in Hannan v. Alltell Publishing Co., which required a movant to “either (1) affirmatively negate an essential elemnt of the nonmovant’s claim, or (2) show that the nonmoving party cannot prove an essential element of its claim at trial.” 270 S.W.3d 1, 9 (Tenn. 2008).   In 2011, the legislature was equally unimpressed with Hannan and passed Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-16-101 in an attempt to align the state standard with Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

In Rye, the Court had the opportunity to address the constitutionality of the legislature setting rules for the judiciary by statute but declined to specifically do so.  In fact, Justice Cornelia Clark, writing for the majority stated “nothing requires us to maintain an unworkable court-made rule simply because another branch of government has arguably invaded the province of the judiciary.”  No. W2013-00804-SC-R11-CV at n.10.  Ultimately, the Court’s decision to not specifically address this constitutional issue may arguably encourage similar legislative invasion in the future.  Regardless, it is now clear that Tennessee has returned to the “put up or shut up” summary judgment standard.

C.E. Hunter Brush