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Sneed v. City of Red Bank

Supreme Court of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 2, 2014

LARRY SNEED
v.
THE CITY OF RED BANK, TENNESSEE

Session: September 4, 2014.

Page 18

Tenn. R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of Appeals Reversed; Case Remanded to the Chancery Court. Appeal by Permission from the Court of Appeals, Eastern Section Circuit Court for Hamilton County. No. 12C1164. Jeffrey M. Atherton, Chancellor, sitting by interchange.

Judgment of the Court of Appeals Reversed; Case Remanded to the Chancery Court.

R. Jonathan Guthrie, McKinley S. Lundy, Jr., C. Leland Davis, and Bryan H. Hoss, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, Larry Sneed.

Nathan D. Rowell, Dan R. Pilkington, and Brian R. Bibb, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, City of Red Bank, Tennessee.

Jennifer B. Morton and Maha M. Ayesh, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the amicus curiae, Tennessee Employment Lawyers Association.

Thomas J. Garland, Jr. and Jeffrey M. Ward, Greeneville, Tennessee, for the amicus curiae, Tennessee Municipal Attorneys Association.

Charles W. Swanson and Devin P. Lyon, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the amicus curiae, City of Knoxville.

W. Bryan Smith, Memphis, Tennessee, and John Vail, Washington, D.C., for the amicus curiae, Tennessee Association for Justice.

CORNELIA A. CLARK, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SHARON G. LEE, C.J., and GARY R. WADE, JEFFREY S. BIVINS, and HOLLY M. KIRBY, JJ., joined.

OPINION

CORNELIA A. CLARK, JUSTICE

Page 19

We granted review in this interlocutory appeal to determine whether the analysis the Court of Appeals employed in Young v. Davis, No. E2008-01974-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 3518162, at *6-7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2009), to conclude that Tennessee Public Protection Act (" TPPA" ) claims against governmental entities must be tried without a jury in the manner prescribed by the Governmental Tort Liability Act (" GTLA" ), should be applied to determine whether a Tennessee Human Rights Act (" THRA" ) claim against a governmental entity is controlled by the GTLA. We reject the analysis Young applied and overrule it to the extent it may be interpreted as holding that the GTLA governs all statutory claims against governmental entities. The analysis used in Cruse v. City of Columbia, 922 S.W.2d 492 (Tenn. 1996), controls the determination of this issue. Applying Cruse, we hold that the THRA is an independent and specific statute, which removed governmental immunity and which controls the adjudication of THRA claims. We further hold that the provisions of the THRA clearly establish legislative intent to afford a right to trial by jury to persons who bring THRA claims against governmental entities in chancery court. Accordingly, based on these holdings, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The trial court's order transferring this case to circuit court

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is vacated, and this matter is remanded to the chancery court for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

OPINION

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The facts pertinent to this interlocutory appeal are not disputed. On July 2, 2010, Larry Sneed, then age fifty-nine, was discharged from his position as Chief of Police for the City of Red Bank, Tennessee (" Red Bank" ), a position he had held for seven years.[1]

On July 13, 2010, Mr. Sneed filed suit in the Chancery Court for Hamilton County (" Chancery Court" ), naming as defendants Red Bank and certain Red Bank officials,[2] who were sued in both their individual and official capacities. Mr. Sneed alleged numerous common law and statutory claims.[3] Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted in part and resulted in Mr. Sneed's complaint being reduced to two specific claims--statutory retaliatory discharge in violation of the TPPA and age discrimination in violation of the THRA--against one defendant, Red Bank. The case was originally set for a jury trial, but prior to trial, Red Bank filed a motion to transfer the case to the Circuit Court for Hamilton County (" Circuit Court" ) and requested that the case be tried without the intervention of a jury pursuant to the GTLA. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-307 (2012 & Supp. 2014).[4]

The Chancery Court granted Red Bank's request to transfer the case and also granted its request to proceed without a jury on the TPPA claim. In doing so, the Chancery Court relied on Young v. Davis, No. E2008-01974-COA-R3-CV, 2009 WL 3518162 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2009), which held that the GTLA controls TPPA claims against governmental entities and that such claims must be tried without a jury in the manner prescribed by the GTLA. Id. at *6-7.[5] Although the

Page 21

Chancery Court also transferred Mr. Sneed's THRA claim to Circuit Court to facilitate resolution of the case, it upheld Mr. Sneed's request for a jury on his THRA claim, concluding that the issue was governed by University of Tennessee of Chattanooga v. Farrow, No. E2000-02386-COA-R9-CV, 2001 WL 935467 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 16, 2001). In Farrow, the Court of Appeals concluded that the plaintiffs had a right to trial by jury on their THRA claims. Id. at *4-6. Pursuant to the parties' agreement, the Chancery Court's order transferring Mr. Sneed's claims also ordered that the Chancellor would hear the matter in Circuit Court by interchange.

Two weeks after the case was transferred to Circuit Court, the Chancellor granted Red Bank permission to seek an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 9. In the order doing so, the Chancellor recognized " that there may be a conflict between Young and Farrow" and stated the question presented in this interlocutory appeal as " whether a THRA claim against a governmental entity arises under the GTLA and therefore requires adjudication in Circuit Court without a jury."

Red Bank's Rule 9 application to the Court of Appeals included a single issue.[6] The Court of Appeals granted Red Bank's Rule 9 application, and in its opinion, restated the issue presented for review as, " Whether the GTLA applies to claims brought against a municipality pursuant to the THRA." Sneed v. City of Red Bank, No. E2012-02112-COA-R9-CV, 2013 WL 3326133, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 27, 2013) . In reversing the decision of the trial court, the Court of Appeals, relying on Young, distinguished between statutes which create a private right of action against both governmental entities and private citizens and statutes which apply solely to governmental entities. The Court of Appeals pointed out that the " THRA create[s] a private right of action against governmental entities and private citizens." Id. at *4. Applying the reasoning of Young, the Court of Appeals interpreted the GTLA as " generally applicable to suits against governmental entities unless the act at issue specifically provides otherwise or is only applicable to governmental entities and provides its own remedy."

Page 22

Id. The Court of Appeals ultimately held that the " GTLA applies to claims brought against a municipality pursuant to the THRA," because the THRA applies to both governmental and non-governmental entities. Id. Thus, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that Mr. Sneed's THRA claim is " requir[ed] . . . to be tried in circuit court without the intervention of a jury." Id.

We granted Mr. Sneed's Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 11 application ...


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