Tennessee Supreme Court Revisiting Summary Judgment Standard

Litigation Alert

Client Alert


On the heels of two new Justices joining the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court has indicated its intention to reconsider the summary judgment standard set forth in Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W. 3d 1 (Tenn. 2008). In an order granting the application to appeal in Rye v. Women’s Care Center of Memphis, MPLLC, at al., No. W2013-00804-SC-R11-CV, the Court indicated that it “was particularly interested in briefing and argument of the question of whether the Court should re-consider the summary judgment standard previously articulated by the Court in Hannan v. Alltel Publishing Co., 270 S.W.3d 1 (Tenn. 2008).”

The summary judgment standard adopted in Hannan is a high hurdle for defendants seeking summary judgment. Under Hannan, it is “not enough for the moving party [who does not bear the burden of proof] to challenge the nonmoving party to ‘put up or shut up’ or even cast doubt on a party’s ability to prove an element [of their case] at trial.” Unlike the federal summary judgment standard, a moving party under Hannan must either: (1) affirmatively negate an essential element of the non-moving party's claim; or (2) show that the non-moving party will not be able to prove an essential element at trial.

Hannan imposes such a high burden that the Tennessee legislature enacted Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-16-101 in 2011 specifically to overrule Hannan’s summary judgment standard. The new statutory standard provides that a moving party shall prevail on its motion for summary judgment if it: (1) submits affirmative evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim, or (2) demonstrates to the court that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. This new statutory standard is much easier to meet than the demanding Hannan standard.

The new standard set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-16-101 applies to all cases accruing after June 10, 2011. Thus, the Hannan standard only applies to cases accruing on or before June 10, 2011. This raises interesting questions regarding what the Supreme Court intends to accomplish by reconsidering Hannan’s legacy summary judgment standard. Will the Court reject Hannan and apply the new statutory standard to all cases that accrued before June 10, 2011? Will the Court simply apply stare decisis and adhere to the Hannan standard? Or does the Court intend to undertake a more expansive review of summary judgments in Tennessee?

If you have a case pending to which the Hannan summary judgment standard applies, we recommend that you preserve all objections to the Hannan standard and monitor the Court’s resolution of the Rye case. We expect the Supreme Court to decide Rye sometime next year.

If you have any questions, please contact Lela Hollabaugh of the Business Litigation Practice Group atlhollabaugh@bradley.com or 615.252.2348, or Edmund Sauer of the Appellate Litigation Practice Group at esauer@bradley.com or 615.252.2374.