William A. Young, Commissioner


Reports of Cases Reviewed by Appellate Courts – Beginning Jan. 1, 2022

Text is the appellate court’s summary of the opinion.

Scroll down for important information.


Hood v. State of Tennessee, No. E2023-00773-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 3, 2024). This appeal involves a decision by the Tennessee Claims Commission (“the Commission”) awarding damages to the claimant for her injuries caused by the
negligence of a state employee. The Commission determined that an employee of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville had created a dangerous condition by leaving a wet tile floor in a dormitory bathroom and failing to warn the claimant, who was a resident of the dormitory room, of the condition. The Commission found that the state employee’s negligence had caused the claimant to fall and break her arm, thereby also causing her to incur medical expenses and other damages. The Commission awarded damages to the claimant and against the State of Tennessee (“the State”) in the amount of $187,398.23. The State has appealed. Discerning no reversible error, we affirm.


Moreland v. State of Tennessee, No. E2022-00623-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 15, 2023). This case involves a complaint before the Tennessee Claims Commission.  After a year of no action on the part of the claimant, the State moved to dismiss the case for failure to prosecute.  The Claims Commission granted the motion, and the claimant now appeals.  For the reasons discussed herein, we affirm the dismissal of the claimant’s case.


Hearon v. State of Tennessee,  No. E2022-00044-SC-R3-WC (Tenn. S. Ct. Sp. W.C. Panel Jan. 19, 2022).  Tony R. Hearon (“Employee’) allegedly developed an occupational disease during the course and scope of his employment with the State of Tennessee (“Employer”). Employee gave notice of his injury to Employer but his claim was denied. The denial letter advised Employee that he must file a petition for benefit determination within ninety days or risk dismissal of his claim. Employee filed his petition several months after the expiration of the ninety-day period. Upon receiving a dispute certification notice dismissing his claim, Employee filed a workers’ compensation complaint in the Claims Commission, which is the agency responsible for handling disputed claims of state workers. Employer moved for summary judgment, asserting Employee failed to meet the ninety-day statutory deadline. The Commissioner granted summary judgment concluding that Employee failed to timely file his petition for benefit determination and therefore failed to exhaust the benefit review process as required by statute. Employee appealed. The appeal was referred to the Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel (“Panel”) for a hearing and a report of findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 51. We affirm the judgment of the Commissioner.


Gilbert v. State of Tennessee, No. E2021-00881-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 14, 2022).  This appeal relates to a healthcare liability action. The Claims Commission denied the State’s motion to dismiss based upon the claimants’ failure to satisfy the requirements of Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-122. We reverse the trial court and remand for dismissal.


Dibbrell v. State of Tennessee, No. E2021-00405-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 17, 2022). Appellant, a former inmate with the Tennessee Department of Correction, filed a complaint against Appellee State of Tennessee in the Tennessee Claims Commission (“Commission”). Appellant asserted numerous claims based on alleged misconduct of several assistant district attorneys. The Commission granted the State’s motion to dismiss based on the Commission’s findings that Appellant’s claims were not within the Commission’s jurisdiction, and were barred by prosecutorial immunity and the applicable statute of limitations. Discerning no error, we affirm.


Jackson v. State of Tennessee, No. E2020-01232-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 19, 2021).  Parents filed a healthcare liability and wrongful death complaint after the mother delivered a stillborn infant. We granted this interlocutory appeal to review whether the claims commission erred in denying summary judgment to the defendants. Finding no error in the Commission’s ruling, we affirm.


Ledford ex rel. Rodriguez v. State of Tennessee, No. E2019-00480-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 7, 2020).  This appeal is from the Claims Commission’s order granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated sections 9-8-402, 29-26-121, and 29-26-122. We must affirm.


Dotson v. State of Tennessee, No. E2019-00325-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct, App. Dec. 3, 2019).  Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting a health care liability claim against the state and attached a certificate of good faith. The Tennessee Claims Commission found that the certificate of good faith failed to satisfy the requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26- 122 because it was not specific as to the state health care provider. Despite this finding, the court concluded that the statute was satisfied because the complaint contained the certificate of good faith language and identified the state health care provider. The state then filed this interlocutory appeal. We reverse.


Burns v. State of Tennessee, No. E2018-02174-COA-R9-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 26, 2019).  This appeal arose from a claim filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission (“the Commission”) against the State of Tennessee (“the State”), seeking an award of damages for defamation allegedly committed by a district attorney general through statements made to the media concerning the claimant. The State filed, inter alia, a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the claimant filed, inter alia, a response objecting to the motion. Following a hearing, the Commission denied the State’s motion to dismiss upon finding, in pertinent part, that the Commission did not have the authority to extend absolute immunity to district attorneys general. Upon the State’s application, the Commission and this Court each granted permission for interlocutory review. Having considered the certified question of whether the absolute privilege afforded to state officials for statements made in the course of their official duties, as recognized in Jones v. State, 426 S.W.3d 50 (Tenn. 2013), extends to district attorneys general, we determine that the privilege does not apply and accordingly affirm the Commission’s judgment.


Kilgore v. State of Tennessee, No. E2018-01790-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 13, 2019).  This appeal arose from a claim filed with the Tennessee Claims Commission against the State of Tennessee (“the State”), seeking an award of damages for defamation allegedly committed by two attorneys employed by the State during the course of a separate federal litigation involving the claimant. The State filed a Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and the claimant filed, inter alia, a response objecting to the motion. Following a hearing, the Claims Commission dismissed the claim upon finding that the litigation privilege applied to protect the statements at issue and that the statements were not defamatory. The claimant has appealed. Having determined that the litigation privilege applies, we affirm.


Understanding the Limitations and Use of the Information Found in This Book

Tennessee’s trial judges resolve hundreds of thousands of legal and factual issues in tens of thousands of cases every single year.  No appeal is filed in the vast percentage of those cases, indicating that while the “losing” party may not like a ruling on a particular issue, that party understands there was an appropriate reason for the judge’s decision or, at a minimum, the judge was acting within his or her discretion.


Of course, a small number of decisions of trial judges do result in an appeal. Experienced trial lawyers know that the number of cases appealed out of a particular trial judge’s court does not, in and of itself, reveal much about the trial judge. For example, some judges hear more complex cases than others, and those cases are more likely to be appealed. Convictions in child sex abuse cases are frequently appealed, as are many criminal cases resulting in long sentences. There are a large number of parental rights termination cases that find their way to the appellate courts.  Judges who routinely try those types of cases will, other things being equal, see more of their cases reviewed by appellate courts than judges who do not see such cases.


Second, certain litigants (and certain lawyers) are more likely to appeal a case than others.  Thus, judges who have those litigants or lawyers regularly appear in their courtrooms will find more cases reviewed by the appellate courts.


For these and other reasons, the reader is cautioned not to read too much into the number of cases appealed from a court.  Stated differently, there is no reason to believe that a judge who has ten cases reviewed by an appellate court in a single year is a “worse” judge than one who has one case appealed, or that a judge who has three cases appealed is a “better” judge than one who has nine cases appealed.


Next, the number of times a judge’s ruling is reversed by an appellate court is not necessarily indicative of the quality of his or her work. For example, experienced lawyers know that there are “holes in the law,” i.e., cases where there is no law directly on point and the judge is forced to predict what an appellate court would rule on the issue. The fact that a judge decided an open legal issue one way and an appellate court decided it another way does not mean that the trial judge was “wrong” or does not understand the law. It simply means that the trial judge had a different view of what the law should be than the appellate court that decided the issue. A trial judge is not blessed with a crystal ball that can with 100 percent accuracy forecast how an appellate court will rule on an undecided legal issue.


In addition, the trial court is sometimes not provided with the same in-depth legal arguments and law that is supplied to the appellate court by the parties, or which is provided by law clerks at the appellate level (many trial courts do not have law clerks). The trial judge may have reached the same conclusion as the appellate court if he or she had been supplied with additional law or argument.


Finally, the law changes constantly, and the trial judge may rule on a case based on today’s law, which may evolve between the time of that ruling and the issuance of an opinion of the appellate court. In such cases, the reversal of the case by the appellate court is a question of timing of the original court decision as compared to changes in the law, not one of error by the trial court.


So, what is the value of this book?  How can the trial lawyer use it to help his or her clients given the limitations expressed above? Permit me to digress slightly.


You have seen the coffee cups or t-shirts that proclaim, “A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge.”


Some read this phrase as suggesting that the “great lawyer” is one who has an improper relationship with the judge – that he or she can use a personal relationship to improperly influence the judge.  But most lawyers know better.  Most lawyers understand that “knowing the judge” means knowing the judge’s background, preferences concerning the presentation of evidence (including exhibits), arguments of motions, drafting of proposed orders, and given that experience, how he or she is likely to rule on a particular issue.  “Knowing the judge” also means knowing the local rules, local forms, local customs, and what things irritate the judge (and every judge is irritated by at least one thing that lawyers or litigants may do).


Many lawyers, particularly those in more rural areas of the state or who limit their practice to one area of law, understand the personality and preferences of the judges they see on a regular basis. Many of these lawyers may have a fair advantage appearing before that judge. (The advantage is “fair” because it results from experience and knowledge.)  That advantage – knowing how the judge thinks and his or her preferences – is not outcome-determinative, but it still may be an advantage, similar to a sports team playing on their home field.


Why did I say it “may” be an advantage, given what I said earlier about the benefits of “knowing the judge?”  Because simply knowing the judge’s thought processes and preferences is not enough. You still need to have the law and the facts on your client’s side.  And you need to be prepared to be able to give the judge what he or she needs to know to make a ruling.


So, the purpose of “The Book” is to give Tennessee lawyers case-related information to help them understand the trial judge who will rule on their client’s case or preside over a jury trial. By looking at past appellate court rulings arising from cases decided by the trial judge, anyone unfamiliar with a judge can get a “feel” for the judge. The case data contained herein does not compare with daily or weekly appearances in front of the judge on issues like a given case, but it is readily available information that give you an idea of how the judge has ruled in the past on a variety of matters.


The cases included are those originally decided by the trial judge that were in appellate court opinions released on or after January 1, 2022.  Note that there are a substantial number of judges who first took office in 2022 and thus it is reasonable to assume that there will be no appellate decisions for such judges until late 2023 or 2024.



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