In Order to Be Granted Summary Judgment on a Claim, a Party Must File a Motion

In Chancery Court litigation, when I’m the movant on a motion for summary judgment, I sometimes describe my potential outcomes as “Win” or “Not Win.”

In short, I’m either going to win my case on summary grounds or not, but, as the moving party, I’m not going to lose the case, unless the other side files their own “counter” motion seeking summary judgment.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals issued an opinion yesterday that confirms this, at Adrian Lynn McWilliams, et. al. v. Brenda Vaughn, et. al. (No. E2017-01942-COA-R3-CV,  Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 23, 2019).

In that opinion, the Court wrote that, when faced with cross-motions for summary judgment, “a court must rule independently on each motion and determine, with regard to each motion, whether disputes of material fact with regard to that motion exist.” Savage v. City of Memphis, 464 S.W.3d 326, 332 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015) (citing CAO Holdings, Inc. v. Trost, 333 S.W.3d 73, 82 (Tenn. 2010)). Further, “the denial of one party’s motion for summary judgment does not necessarily imply that the other party’s motion should be granted.” Id. Rather, when considering cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must determine whether each party is “independently entitled to summary judgment.” Id.

To be clear, where one party’s motion for summary judgment is denied does not necessarily mean that the other party is entitled to prevail, even if they filed their own motion. Id. That’s because there are all kinds of factors that go into whether to grant or deny a summary judgment motion.

But, the Court went on to note, where the other side doesn’t file a competing motion, that other, non-moving party is definitely not entitled to an award of summary judgment. Id. In order to be granted summary judgment, you have to be a “moving” party.

So, in the end, keep this opinion handy when you’re preparing for a summary judgment hearing, where the opposing party doesn’t file its own motion. There, it’s a “Win/Not Win” situation for you.

Tennessee Supreme Court Changes Rule 4 on Service of Process

The Tennessee Supreme Court has issued four orders adopting amendments to various rules of procedure that will go into effect on July 1, subject to approval from the Tennessee General Assembly.

These include changes to the rules of criminal procedure and evidence, but, today, I’m going to talk about how Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 4 has changed. Here is a link to the proposed changes. This includes changes to service of process, which is a critical step in any litigation.

On this issue, it’s Tenn. R. Civ. P. 4.04 that is amended, where a plaintiff tries to serve a defendant via certified mail. Specifically, the amendments add a provision that allows for valid service where a defendant “refuse[s] to accept delivery” of the certified mail, as long as the record contains:

a return receipt stating that the addressee or the addressee’s agent refused to accept delivery, which is deemed to be personal acceptance by the defendant pursuant to Rule 4.04(11)

The Advisory Commission Comments provide a helpful warning for these situations. They state that “the Postal Service’s notation that a registered or certified letter is ‘unclaimed’ is no longer sufficient, by itself, to prove that service was ‘refused.’ ”

This comment clearly reminds plaintiffs to make sure that the return receipt states “refused” and not “unclaimed.” This distinction is important, since so many defendants simply never go to the post office to pick up their certified mail, because they assume it’s just a lawsuit, demand letter, or some other collection correspondence. This Comment makes clear that a lazy defendant does not submit itself to personal jurisdiction.

Davidson County Chancery Court Case and Pleading Access Online

Last year, I noted that the Davidson County Chancery Court had started a service that showed case dockets online. This Chancery Court Public Records Access site provided the names and dates of filings, but not copies of the actual pleadings. Last year, I predicted that electronic copies of pleadings can’t be far behind.

I was right. Now, the Chancery Court has a second site, called Chancery Information Access, on which you can actually view copies of pleadings. It is a subscription service. Here is information on how to register.

It costs $15 a month. If you think that’s expensive, well, wait until you need a copy of pleading and have to walk to the Courthouse to get it.

Now, I’m hoping that the next step will be for Chancery Court to accept remote electronic filing of pleadings.