By Daniel Horwitz:
Concluding in Rye v. Women’s Care Ctr. of Memphis that the seven-year-old summary judgment standard established by the Tennessee Supreme Court in Hannan v. Alltel Publ’g Co. had proven to be “unworkable” and “functioned in practice to frustrate the purposes for which summary judgment was intended,” the Court has officially overruled Hannan effective immediately. In its place, the Court “fully embrace[d]” the summary judgment standard that has been used in federal cases since 1986.
The federal summary judgment standard empowers litigants to force their opponents to “put up [evidence] or shut up” before trial. If, in response to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the responding (“nonmoving”) party is unable to muster sufficient evidence to demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute of a material fact that requires a trial, then summary judgment must be granted in favor of the moving party. In contrast, under the prior Hannan standard, several courts had concluded that “it is not enough to rely on the nonmoving party’s lack of proof even . . . after the deadline for discovery ha[s] passed. Under Hannan, we are required to assume that the nonmoving party may still, by the time of trial, somehow come up with evidence to support [a] claim.” After determining that this standard was “unworkable and inconsistent with the history and text of Tennessee Rule [of Civil Procedure] 56,” a majority of the Court concluded that Hannan should be overruled.
In all likelihood, the immediate effect of the Court’s decision in Rye will be to increase the number of cases that are decided at the summary judgment stage. Thus, fewer cases will end up going to trial and being decided by a jury, and litigants are less likely to settle claims. Helpfully, the Tennessee Supreme Court’s “full embrace” of the federal summary judgment standard also harmonizes state and federal civil procedure, and it finally settles an area of law that had created a substantial degree of confusion among both lower courts and the Justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court themselves. Continue reading In its most consequential ruling of the year, Tennessee Supreme Court modifies Tennessee’s summary judgment standard, adopts federal “put up or shut up” rule.