Session June 20, 2019
from the Chancery Court for Shelby County No. CH-16-1736-3
JoeDae L. Jenkins, Chancellor
teacher filed an action against the school board under the
Teacher Tenure Act, or alternatively, under the Continuing
Contract Law. The board of education filed a motion for
summary judgment as to both claims, which the trial court
ultimately granted. We conclude that the trial court did not
err in granting summary judgment under the Teacher Tenure Act
because the plaintiff teacher was not tenured at the time of
her dismissal. However, we reverse the grant of summary
judgment on the plaintiff teacher's claim under the
Continuing Contract Law.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Affirmed in Part; Reversed in
Richard L. Colbert and C. Joseph Hubbard, Nashville,
Tennessee, for the appellant, Pamela Dallas.
Stephanie Denzel, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Shelby County Board of Education. 
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Arnold B. Goldin and Kenny Armstrong, JJ.,
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
Pamela Dallas was employed by the Shelby County Schools from
the mid-1990's until 2007. At the time of her voluntary
resignation, she was a tenured teacher in good standing. Ms.
Dallas thereafter taught for one year in the McNairy County
Ms. Dallas taught with the Shelby County Schools for a
portion of both the 2008-2009 school year and the 2009-2010
school years. Ms. Dallas thereafter taught with the Shelby
County Schools for the entirety of the 2010-2011 school year;
however, Ms. Dallas's contract was not renewed after an
unsatisfactory performance evaluation. Although Ms. Dallas
attempted to contest the nonrenewal, it was upheld. Ms.
Dallas admits that she was not tenured during the 2008-2009,
2009-2010, or 2010-2011 school years.
Dallas then sought employment with the Memphis City Schools,
where she taught for a portion of the 2011-2012 school year.
Although she worked for the Memphis City Schools for the
entire 2012-2013 school year, Ms. Dallas changed to a
different school on multiple occasions, eventually landing at
Willow Oaks Elementary School ("Willow Oaks"). Ms.
Dallas continued teaching at Willow Oaks, where she remained
for the 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015 school years.
During this time frame, however, the administration of Willow
Oaks transferred from the Memphis City Schools to the Shelby
County Schools. As such, while Ms. Dallas was employed by
the Memphis City Schools for the 2012-2013 school year, she
was a Shelby County Schools employee for the 2013-2014 and
2014-2015 school years. In April 2015, Ms. Dallas received
oral notice that her position at Willow Oaks was to be
eliminated. On or around May 18, 2015, Ms. Dallas filed a
grievance to contest the fact that she had been
"excessed." Specifically, Ms. Dallas requested to
stay at Willow Oaks or to be assigned to another school. The
grievance was initially denied on May 21, 2015, but Ms.
Dallas appealed. On or about June 16, 2015, Ms. Dallas's
grievance was again denied, noting that Ms. Dallas was the
lowest evaluated teacher for her grade at Willow
on June 12, 2015, Shelby County Schools sent a letter by
registered mail notifying Ms. Dallas that her contract was
not renewed. Although the letter was attempted to be
delivered on June 15, 2015, at Ms. Dallas's proper
address, the letter went unclaimed. Another letter was sent
to Ms. Dallas concerning the termination of her contract on
August 25, 2015. Ms. Dallas was not reemployed by the Shelby
County Schools following the 2014-2015 school year, but did
attain another position with a different school system.
November 10, 2016, Ms. Dallas filed an action against the
Shelby County Board of Education ("the Board of
Education" or "the Board") in Shelby County
Chancery Court to contest her dismissal. Ms. Dallas
thereafter filed an amended complaint on February 14, 2017.
Therein, Ms. Dallas asserted that she obtained tenure at the
end of the 2013-2014 school year and was dismissed without
charges in violation of the Teacher Tenure Act. In the
alternative, Ms. Dallas asserted that the notice of
nonrenewal violated the Continuing Contract Law. Eventually,
the Board of Education filed a motion for summary judgment on
the basis that, inter alia, Ms. Dallas was not a
tenured teacher entitled to relief under that Act. In
support, the Board's statement of undisputed material
facts noted that it was undisputed that in September 2014,
the Board of Education voted to grant tenure to a number of
eligible teachers, but Ms. Dallas was not named on a list of
teachers granted tenure. Moreover, Ms. Dallas did not dispute
that she never received any written notification that she had
been granted tenure while teaching at Willow Oaks. Ms. Dallas
asserted, however, that by the time her employment was
terminated, she "already had tenure during the 2014-2015
school year since she completed her second probationary year
following the 2013-2014 school year and was reemployed for
the following year." The Board also argued that Ms.
Dallas was not entitled to rely on the Continuing Contract
Law or, in the alternative, that it was not violated. The
trial court granted the Board of Education's motion,
dismissing Ms. Dallas's claims under both the Teacher
Tenure Act and the Continuing Contract Law. Ms. Dallas
party raises a number of lengthy issues. In the interest of
brevity, we summarize the issues as follows:
1. Whether the trial court correctly granted summary judgment
as to Ms. Dallas's claim under the Teacher Tenure Act by
concluding that Ms. Dallas was not a tenured teacher at the
time of her dismissal.
2. In the alternative, whether the trial court erred in
concluding that Ms. Dallas cannot prevail on her claim under
Continuing Contract Law with regard to the notice of
nonrenewal sent to Ms. Dallas at the conclusion of the
2014-2015 school year.
case was decided on a motion for summary judgment. Summary
judgment is appropriate where: (1) there is no genuine issue
with regard to the material facts relevant to the claim or
defense contained in the motion; and (2) the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the undisputed
facts. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. In cases where the moving
party does not bear the burden of proof at trial, the movant
may obtain summary judgment if it: (1) affirmatively negates
an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim; or
(2) demonstrates that the nonmoving party's evidence at
the summary judgment stage is insufficient to establish an
essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. Rye
v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC, 477 S.W.3d
235, 264 (Tenn. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 2452,
195 L.Ed.2d 265 (Tenn. 2016).
appeal, this Court reviews a trial court's grant of
summary judgment de novo with no presumption of
correctness. Rye, 477 S.W.3d at 250 (citing Bain
v. Wells, 936 S.W.2d 618, 622 (Tenn. 1997)). In
reviewing the trial court's decision, we must view all of
the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party and resolve all factual inferences in the nonmoving
party's favor. Luther v. Compton, 5 S.W.3d 635,
639 (Tenn. 1999); Muhlheim v. Knox Cnty. Bd. of
Educ., 2 S.W.3d 927, 929 (Tenn. 1999). If the undisputed
facts support only one conclusion, then the court's
summary judgment will be upheld because the moving party was
entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See White v.
Lawrence, 975 S.W.2d 525, 529 (Tenn. 1998); McCall
v. Wilder, 913 S.W.2d 150, 153 (Tenn. 1995). When a
moving party has filed a properly supported motion for
summary judgment, the nonmoving party must respond by
pointing to specific evidence that shows summary judgment is
inappropriate. Rye, 477 S.W.3d at 264-65.
extent that this case requires that we construe statutes, our
review is also de novo. Freeman v. Marco Transp.
Co., 27 S.W.3d 909, 911-12 (Tenn. 2000) ("Issues of
statutory construction are questions of law and shall be
reviewed de novo without a presumption of
correctness."). In construing statutes, we keep the
following guidance in mind:
Our resolution of this issue is guided by the familiar rules
of statutory construction. Our role is to determine
legislative intent and to effectuate legislative purpose. The
text of the statute is of primary importance, and the words
must be given their natural and ordinary meaning in the
context in which they appear and in light of the
statute's general purpose. When the language of the
statute is clear and unambiguous, courts look no farther to
ascertain its meaning. When necessary to resolve a statutory
ambiguity or conflict, courts may consider matters beyond the
statutory text, including public policy, historical facts
relevant to the enactment of the statute, the background and
purpose of the statute, and the entire statutory scheme.
However, these non-codified external sources "cannot
provide a basis for departing from clear codified statutory
Mills v. Fulmarque, Inc., 360 S.W.3d 362, 368 (Tenn.
2012) (citations omitted).
Dallas's primary claim in this case is that she could not
be terminated without compliance with the notice and hearing
provisions of the Teacher Tenure Act. See Tenn. Code
Ann. § 49-5-511(a) (stating that no teacher may be
dismissed except on the basis of "incompetence,
inefficiency, neglect of duty, unprofessional conduct, and
insubordination"); Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-5-512(a)
(stating that tenured teachers who are provided with notice
of charges are entitled to demand a full hearing). Of course,
in order to prevail on her Teacher Tenure Act claim, Ms.
Dallas must show that she was, in fact, a tenured teacher at
the time of her dismissal. Here, there is no dispute that Ms.
Dallas left the Shelby County Schools in 2007 as a tenured
teacher. As such, she asserts that she was entitled to, and
completed, a shortened probationary period by the time of the
end of the 2013-2014 school year. When she was reemployed the
following school year, Ms. Dallas contends that she was
Board of Education disagrees, arguing that Ms. Dallas was
neither entitled to nor did she complete any shortened
probationary period by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.
Moreover, the Board of Education insists that regardless of
the passage of time, Ms. Dallas could not attain tenure
without the recommendation of the director of schools and the
election of the Board of Education, neither of which has been
shown in this case.
Teacher Tenure Act contained the following qualifications
necessary to attain tenure at the time Ms. Dallas asserts
that she acquired that status:
Any teacher who meets all of the following requirements is
eligible for "tenure":
(1) Has a degree from an approved four-year college or any
career and technical teacher who has the equivalent amount of
training established and licensed by the state board of
(2) Holds a valid teacher license, issued by the state board
of education, based on training covering the subjects or
(3) Has completed a probationary period of five (5) school
years or not less than forty-five (45) months within the last
seven-year period, the last two (2) years being employed in a
regular teaching ...