Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court

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A “preferred service” state employee does not have a protected property interest in his or her employment, and the State did not bear the ultimate burden of proof in a post-termination administrative appeal under section 8-30-318 of the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management Act of 2012 (TEAM), Tenn Code. Ann. 8-39-101 through -407. After the Tennessee Department of Correction (Petitioner) dismissed David Pressley from his employment as a correctional officer, Pressley challenged his termination under the TEAM Act’s appeals process. The Board of Appeals reinstated Pressley at Step III of the appeals process. The chancery court reversed, concluding that the Board erred in determining that the State bore the ultimate burden of proof in the Step III appeal. The court of appeals, in turn, reversed, determining that preferred service state employees have a protected property interest in their employment and that the Board correctly assigned the ultimate burden of proof. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the Board, holding (1) preferred service employees do not possess a property interest in their continued employment with the State; and (2) the Board erred when it assigned the ultimate burden of proof to the State to sustain Pressley’s termination for cause. View "Tennessee Department of Correction v. Pressley" on Justia Law

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Rogelynn Emory, a full-time tenured teacher in the Memphis City School System, was terminated after the Memphis City Schools Board of Education concluded after a hearing that there was ample evidence of Emory’s unsatisfactory job performance. Emory subsequently filed a petition for judicial review. The trial court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Court of Appeals declined to reinstate Emory based on the untimeliness of the school board hearing but awarded her partial back pay. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision to upheld the termination of Emory’s employment and clarified the standard of judicial review for the termination of a tenured teacher under the Tenure Act, holding (1) the Court of Appeals’ award of partial back pay was without basis in the Teachers’ Tenure Act; and (2) because Emory failed to raise before the school board any objection as to the timeliness of her hearing, that issue was not properly before the Supreme Court. View "Emory v. Memphis City Schools Board of Education" on Justia Law

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After its closure, a landfill continued to discharge contaminants into a creek that ran into a lake on adjoining property. After several failed remedial measures, ACC, LLC (ACC), the landfill owner, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation agreed to a plan to abate the discharge. The plan required ACC to divert water from entering the landfill and, within a four-year period, to remove and relocate the landfill waste. StarLink Logistics, Inc., the landowner of the property on which the lake was located, objected to the plan. The Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Control Board approved ACC’s plan of action. The trial court affirmed. The Court of Appeals rejected the Board’s decision and remanded the case to the Board to explore more options. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Court of Appeals misapplied the arbitrary and capricious standard and instead substituted its judgment for that of the Board. Remanded. View "Starlink Logistics, Inc. v. ACC, LLC" on Justia Law

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American Heritage Apartments, Inc., a customer of the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (County Authority), filed suit both individually and as a class representative asserting that the County Authority exceeded its statutory authority by imposing a monthly charge on its customers. The County Authority sought dismissal of the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, arguing that a customer who seeks to dispute the rates charged must first follow the administrative procedures provided in the Utility District Law of 1937 (UDL). The trial court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the administrative procedures in Part 4 of the UDL do not apply to a rate challenge filed by an individual customer against a water and wastewater treatment authority, and therefore, the trial court erred in dismissing the lawsuit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies; and (2) the trial court’s alternative ruling on class certification is vacated, and that issue is remanded to the trial court for reconsideration. View "Am. Heritage Apartments, Inc. v. Hamilton County Water & Wastewater Treatment Auth." on Justia Law

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A Hospital brought this lawsuit against a TennCare managed care organization (MCO), alleging that the MCO had not paid the Hospital all it was due for emergency services provided to the MCO’s TennCare enrollees. The MCO counterclaimed, seeking recovery of alleged overpayments made pursuant to the TennCare regulations. Thereafter, the MCO filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (UAPA) required the Hospital to exhaust its administrative remedies by bringing its claims before TennCare prior to filing suit. The trial court agreed and dismissed the Hospital’s complaint and the MCO’s counterclaim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the UAPA requires exhaustion of administrative remedies in this matter to the extent that resolution of the parties’ claims would require the trial court to render a declaratory judgment concerning the validity or applicability of TennCare regulations; but (2) while the UAPA prohibits the trial court from rendering such declaratory relief absent exhaustion of administrative remedies, it does not address claims for damages. Remanded to the trial court with directions to hold the parties’ damage claims in abeyance pending resolution of administrative proceedings regarding the validity or applicability of the TennCare regulations at issue. View "Chattanooga-Hamilton County Hosp. Auth. v. UnitedHealthcare Plan of the River Valley, Inc." on Justia Law

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Five separate groups of Pennsylvania-domiciled insurance companies (collectively, “Claimants”) were authorized to provide workers’ compensation coverage in Tennessee. As a result of an audit conducted by the State of Tennessee, Claimants were required, under Tennessee’s retaliatory tax statute, to recalculate their Tennessee taxes to include certain Pennsylvania workers’ compensation charges, file amended tax returns, and remit payment of the additional taxes totaling over $16 million. Claimants paid the taxes under protest. Each Claimant subsequently filed a complaint with the Tennessee Claims Commission (the “Commissioner”) seeking a refund of the retaliatory taxes paid under protest. The Commissioner issued five identical judgments, each granting summary judgment in favor of the State. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the Pennsylvania workers’ compensation assessments were no longer paid by the insurance companies but were imposed on the employer-policyholders in conjunction with their premium payments, the administrative task of collecting and remitting those payments did not qualify as a burden on the insurance companies for purposes of the retaliatory tax. View "Chartis Casualty Co. v. State" on Justia Law

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Employee was terminated because of an altercation with an employee of a contractor at Employer’s wellness center. After his termination, Employee sought reconsideration of his three workers’ compensation claims. The trial court determined that Employee was entitled to reconsideration and awarded additional permanent disability benefits, concluding that Employer had not sustained its burden of proof that Employee’s misconduct was connected with his employment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Employee was entitled to reconsideration of his previous award and settlements because the conduct that resulted in his termination was not connected with his employment; (2) the trial court’s erroneous evidentiary rulings constituted harmless error; and (3) the evidence did not preponderate against the trial court’s finding that Employee was entitled to additional permanent disability benefits. View "Stacey v. Nissan N.A., Inc." on Justia Law

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Employee suffered bilateral shoulder injuries and underwent separate surgeries on each shoulder. Employee later agreed to a voluntary buyout of his employment. Employee subsequently filed two separate suits for workers’ compensation benefits. The trial court determined that Employee’s permanent partial disability benefits were not capped at one and one-half times the impairment rating and awarded ninety percent permanent partial disability benefits. Employer appealed. A Special Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel modified the award of permanent partial disability benefits to 37.5 percent as capped at one and one-half times the impairment rating, concluding that Employee’s decision to accept the buyout was not “reasonable” for purposes of the statutory cap. The Supreme Court reversed in part and reinstated the judgment of the trial court as to the award of ninety percent permanent partial disability benefits, holding that because Employee acted reasonably by accepting the voluntary buyout for reasons related to his work injuries, the award for permanent partial disability was not subject to the one-and-one-half-times multiplier. View "Yang v. Nissan N. Am., Inc." on Justia Law

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Claimant was a licensed time-share salesperson who sold time-share interests at a resort. After resort management terminated the business relationship with Claimant, Claimant filed for state unemployment benefits. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development awarded benefits to claimant, concluding that the "qualified real estate agent" exclusion in the Tennessee Employment Security Law's definition of employment did not preclude Claimant from receiving unemployment benefits because Claimant was not a licensed real estate agent. The appeals tribunal and board of review affirmed. The chancery court reversed, determining that a time-share salesperson is a licensed real estate agent and therefore, Claimant was ineligible for unemployment benefits as a qualified real estate agent. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, holding (1) a time-share salesperson is a licensed real estate agent within the Employment Security Law's qualified real estate agent exclusion; (2) Claimant satisfied the exclusion's criteria and was therefore a qualified real estate agent; and (3) consequently, Claimant was ineligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits. View "Westgate Smoky Mountains at Gatlinburg v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued a permit allowing a limestone quarry to discharge water into Horse Creek. A wildlife sanctuary (sanctuary) filed a petition with the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board (Board) seeking to appeal the permit's issuance and requesting a declaratory order regarding the proper interpretation of the Antidegradation Rule (Rule). After the Board scheduled a contested case hearing, an ALJ dismissed the request for a declaratory order, concluding that Tenn. Code Ann. 69-3-105(i) provided the exclusive to obtain administrative review of TDEC's decision. Rather than pursuing the pending permit appeal, the sanctuary filed a petition in the chancery court seeking a declaratory judgment. The trial court issued a declaratory judgment regarding the proper interpretation and application of the Rule to the discharge permit. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 69-3-105(i) disallows parties challenging the issuance of a discharge permit from seeking a declaratory order from the Board regarding the issuance of the permit and requires parties to first exhaust their administrative remedies before seeking judicial review of the issuance of a discharge permit; and (2) the sanctuary failed to exhaust its administrative remedies, and therefore, the trial court should have declined to adjudicate the sanctuary's petition for a declaratory judgment. View "Pickard v. Tenn. Water Quality Control Bd." on Justia Law