Articles Posted in Malicious Prosecution

A recent Court of Appeals case affirmed a trial court’s ruling that a voluntary dismissal with prejudice does not constitute a “favorable termination” for the purpose of a malicious prosecution claim. In Fit2Race, Inc. v. Pope, No. M2015-00387-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 29, 2016), the underlying claim initially started during a contentious divorce proceeding. The court granting the divorce ruled in its final decree that the wife had been secretly working with other parties to steal business from and destroy the company started by the husband, and the court held that wife was “sanctioned and [] forbidden to oppose [husband’s] claim that she subverted and destroyed [husband’s] business.”

After the divorce, husband seized upon the findings of the judge in the divorce and filed a federal complaint against wife, another business, and the owners of the other business alleging interference with business relations and civil conspiracy. Husband eventually voluntarily dismissed this case with prejudice.

Not contend to leave well enough alone,  the other business and its two owners (the defendants in the federal court action) filed this malicious prosecution action against husband and husband’s attorney. The trial court granted summary judgment to husband and his attorney, finding that because the trial court in the initial divorce had found that wife and the parties at issue here had worked together to steal/destroy husband’s business, there was “more than ample cause for filing the subsequent federal complaint in the underlying action.” Further, the trial court held that “a voluntary notice of dismissal with prejudice does not constitute a favorable termination without any discussion of the merits of the claim.” The Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment.

In Thompson v. Hamm, No. W2015-00004-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 17, 2015), the Tennessee Court of Appeals addressed the issue of whether an affidavit provided to the City of Memphis as an employer of both plaintiff and defendant was enough to establish that defendant “instituted a wrongful prosecution” of plaintiff, ultimately deciding that it was not in the circumstances at play.

Plaintiff was the maintenance manager at a water treatment plant for the city, and during his time as manager the city allegedly received several complaints that plaintiff discriminated on the basis of race. Defendant gave the city an affidavit detailing instances of racial discrimination by plaintiff. After receiving the affidavit, the City hired an independent firm to investigate the claims, and as a result of the investigation decided to charge plaintiff with violations of city policy. The city held a hearing and ultimately terminated plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed his termination to the Civil Service Commission, who found that there was “tension” between plaintiff and defendant and issued a decision setting aside the termination. The Chancery Court affirmed the Commission, and plaintiff was reinstated to his position.

Based on defendant’s affidavit, plaintiff filed suit for malicious prosecution against defendant. Defendant moved for summary judgment on several grounds, which the trial court granted, rulding that defendant’s “only involvement in the City’s internal investigation was providing the City information regarding Plaintiff’s conduct. Such action on the part of Defendant Hamm does not constitute the initiation of a lawsuit or judicial proceeding against Plaintiff as is required to succeed on a claim for malicious prosecution.” On appeal, plaintiff raised several issues, but the Court only analyzed one in affirming summary judgment, finding it dispositive of the case—defendant’s argument that “his provision of information to the City [was] insufficient to establish that [defendant] instituted a wrongful prosecution[.]”

Continue reading

A recent Court of Appeals decision serves as a good refresher on the elements and defenses in a malicious prosecution case. In Preston v. Blalock, No. M2014-01739-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 29, 2015), tenant’s plastic surgery business had signed a lease to rent landlord’s office suite. Tenant stopped paying rent, and landlord filed a breach of contract claim for rent, build-out costs and attorneys’ fees. Landlord was awarded a default judgment, and tenant eventually paid to satisfy that judgment. Landlord subsequently filed another complaint seeking additional attorneys’ fees. Landlord then nonsuited that complaint but filed again seeking additional rent that he claimed had come due.

While this complaint was pending, tenant filed an abuse of process complaint against landlord. The factual basis for tenant’s complaint was that landlord had filed against tenant personally as a guarantor before filing against the business as the principal, that landlord had filed a document entitled partial satisfaction of judgment when tenant had paid the entire judgment, that landlord had given “false and misleading testimony at depositions,” and that landlord had filed “a multiplicity of claims in order to drive up the amount of attorney’s fees.” The trial court granted summary judgment to landlord in the abuse of process case.

After the abuse of process case was finalized, landlord filed a complaint alleging malicious prosecution against tenant and tenant’s lawyer. He asserted that “defendants filed the abuse of process suit…for an improper purpose and without probable cause in an attempt to gain an advantage in the pending breach of lease litigation[.]” The trial court granted summary judgment to tenant/defendant, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Continue reading