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Appeal Fails Without Transcript or Statement of Evidence

Where plaintiff failed to file a transcript or a Rule 24 statement of the evidence with the appellate court, the “facts found by the trial court [were] conclusive on appeal” and the ruling for defendant school system was affirming in this GTLA case.

In Johnson v. Millington Municipal Schools, No. W2019-01547-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 27, 2020), plaintiffs filed a GTLA case against defendant school district alleging that defendant “breached its duty to protect [plaintiff student], who was injured in a fight on school grounds.” The fight at issue took place after school in the car pick-up line. At trial, there was conflicting evidence regarding whether plaintiff student got into her sister’s car before the fight began, whether a male student was involved in the fight, whether plaintiff’s mother had previously warned a school counselor that her daughter had been bullied by the other girls involved in the fight, and who instigated the fight. Additionally, there was testimony from several school employees regarding how close they were to where the fight began, as well as what occurred once the fight was broken up.

In its final order, the trial court found that plaintiff student had already gotten into her sister’s car but then exited it and “physically confronted” two girls who had said expletives to her. The court also found that there were teachers present in the area watching the students, that there was a sheriff’s deputy in the area, and that plaintiff’s mother had not given the school prior warning about issues between the girls. Based on these findings, the trial court ruled that plaintiffs “failed to meet their burden to show that [defendant] was negligent.”

Plaintiffs appealed, but they failed to file a “transcript or a statement of the evidence in the appellate record.” Tennessee Rule of Appellate Procedure 24 requires that either a transcript of a “statement of the evidence or proceedings from the best available means, including the appellant’s recollection,” be filed, and the party initiating the appeal “has the primary burden to ensure that a proper record is prepared and filed in” the Court of Appeals. (internal citations omitted). Even though the plaintiffs were proceeding pro se in this appeal, the Court noted that they were to be “held to the same procedural and substantive standards to which lawyers must adhere.” (internal citation omitted). Because there was no transcript or statement of the evidence, the Court ruled that “the facts found by the trial court [were] conclusive on appeal,” and that “it must presume that there was sufficient evidence before the trial court to support its judgment.” The trial court’s ruling for the defendant school district was thus affirmed.

NOTE: This opinion was published less than one month after the case was assigned on briefs.

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