G. G. EX REL. JACKIE JOHNSON ET AL.
BOYD-BUCHANAN SCHOOL ET AL.
Session: May 22, 2019
Interlocutory Appeal from the Chancery Court for Hamilton
County No. 17-0201 Jeffrey M. Atherton, Chancellor
interlocutory appeal involves a discovery dispute. G.G., an
eighth-grade student, was expelled from Boyd-Buchanan School
after he sent sexually explicit messages to a female student
on a social media platform. G.G. and his mother, Jackie
Johnson, filed a complaint against Boyd-Buchanan School and
other school officials. The trial court dismissed most of
plaintiffs' claims. The only remaining claim is
plaintiffs' breach of contract claim against the school.
During discovery, plaintiffs requested the employment files
of various school administrators and extensive information
relating to the disciplinary records of non-party students.
The school filed a motion for a protective order. The court
granted the school's motion in part and denied it in
part. The school then requested permission to file an
interlocutory appeal. The trial court granted permission to
appeal, as did this Court. In this opinion, we clarify the
appropriate legal standard for analyzing discovery disputes.
We also hold that the trial court abused its discretion by
entering an order that would allow plaintiffs to discover
information that is irrelevant to their breach of contract
claim. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial
court and remand for the entry of an order granting
Boyd-Buchanan School's motion for a protective order in
R. App. P. 9 Interlocutory Appeal; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Reversed; Case Remanded
Jeffrey W. Maddux, Rosemarie L. Hill, and Andrew M. W.
Mutter, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Charles P. Dupree, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellees,
G.G., by best friend and mother Jackie Johnson, and Jackie
Charles D. Susano, Jr., J., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Arnold B. Goldin, J., joined. John W.
McClarty, filed a dissenting opinion.
CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., JUDGE
to this litigation, G.G. attended Boyd-Buchanan School, a
private school in Chattanooga. In January 2017, G.G. and a
female student sent sexually explicit messages to one another
through a social media platform. The mother of the female
student notified the principal about G.G.'s inappropriate
messages. School officials investigated. Ultimately, G.G. was
filed a complaint in which they alleged that defendants were
liable for breach of contract, defamation, due process
violations, and discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and
status as a recipient of financial aid. Plaintiffs'
complaint also requested the entry of a "temporary
restraining order" that would allow G.G. to return to
school. In April 2017, the trial court entered an order
denying plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining
order, which the court construed as a request for a temporary
injunction pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 65.04. The court
later dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims with prejudice,
except plaintiffs' breach of contract claim against the
following excerpt from plaintiffs' third amended
complaint represents the entirety of their breach of contract
Petitioners allege that all the Defendants, including the
Board of Directors, by their actions, are guilty of Breach of
Contract to educate G G [sic]. They have expelled him without
cause for the expulsion (Except to alleviate the cost the
financial aid to a student) and acting differently toward him
based upon his minority race and gender; his mother, Jackie
Johnson, will be required to obtain additional funds for
school tuition, educational materials and other expenses as
the result of the actions of the President and the Principal.
His treatment, under current information and belief, is not
in legal parity with that of other students similarly
These actions also are in Breach of the School Handbook, Page
20, p. [sic].
appear to argue that the Middle School Handbook (the
handbook) constitutes a written contract "to
educate" G.G. Plaintiffs also seem to argue that the
school breached this alleged contract because G.G.'s
conduct did not warrant expulsion under the school's
sexual harassment policy (located on page 20 of the
handbook). According to plaintiffs, G.G.'s conduct did
not constitute sexual harassment under that policy because
his conduct did not occur "on or off school premises at
[a] school-sponsored activit[y]" and was not
"unwanted or unwelcome."
discovery, the school filed a motion for a protective order
pursuant to Tenn. R. Civ. P. 26.03. Specifically, the school
requested an order protecting the school from having to
comply with the following discovery requests:
INTERROGATORY NO. 5: Please list all students formally
disciplined within the last three years to date, including
their name, gender, age, race, Parents' name and address,
all charges placed against the student, action taken and what
review of the action was made, and by what officials and the
results of any review for each case.
INTERROGATORY NO. 7: List any students that have been
expelled within the last three years to date, stating name,
gender, age, race. Parents' name and address, initial
charge, final charge for expulsion and factual basis for the
behavior causing the expulsion. Also, please state the name,
address and telephone number of all persons who investigated
INTERROGATORY NO. 8: Have any students other than GG ever
been expelled for violation of the school's internet
usage policy? If so, state the name, gender, age, race,
Parents' name and address, nature of the charges, what
were the factual bases for the charges, name and address of
investigating party, who directed the expulsion and when.
INTERROGATORY NO. 9: Were any of the students listed in
numbers 5, 7 and 8 above on financial aid to attend
Boyd-Buchanan at the time of their discipline or expulsion?
What was the effect of the disciplinary action on their
financial aid package for the school?
INTERROGATORY NO. 10: Have any of the students listed in your
answer to number 7 and number 8 above been reinstated into
school? If so, please state the name of the student, their
race, name and address of the student's parents, and the
conditions of the reinstatement, including any change in
financial aid status or increase in tuition.
INTERROGATORY NO. 11: Of the students listed in numbers 7 and
8 above, how many have applied for reinstatement to
Boyd-Buchanan after expulsion and not been accepted back into
school? Please list name, gender, age, race, Parents'
name and address, behavior that led to expulsion, and reason
INTERROGATORY NO. 12: Of the students listed in number 10
above, how many have not re-entered the school after being
granted reinstatement? Please name the student, gender, age,
race, parents' names and address and reason not
re-entered, if known.
REQUEST NO. 1: Employment application, evaluation records and
notes from date of employment to present date for Principal
REQUEST NO. 2: Complete employment file, including
evaluations, written job description and disciplinary records
for Principal Jennifer Warnack from ...