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Articles Posted in Claims Against Local Governments

Where plaintiff’s Tennessee GTLA claims all related to the allegation that airport officers used excessive force when interacting with and eventually detaining him, defendant airport authority “retained immunity under the civil rights exception in [Tenn. Code Ann.] § 29-20-205(2).” In Nichols v. Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, No. M2020-00593-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 15, 2021), plaintiff was asked to leave the Nashville airport by airport police officers. While the officers were escorting plaintiff to the exit, they “attempted an ‘arm bar’ restraint,” which led to plaintiff falling and sustaining facial injuries.

Plaintiff filed this suit under the GTLA, asserting claims against the airport authority for “(1) negligence; (2) negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (3) negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention.” Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that this claim arose out of civil rights and that immunity was therefore retained under the GTLA. Although the trial court initially denied the motion, it granted the motion after the opinion in Cochran v. Town of Jonesborough, 586 S.W.3d 909 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2019), was designated for publication. On appeal, dismissal was affirmed.

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Where a minor student was accidentally hit in the head by a shot put thrown by his track and field coach, immunity for the school was removed under the GTLA and a judgment for plaintiff was affirmed. In Spearman v. Shelby County Board of Education, No. W2019-02050-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 15, 2021), plaintiff filed suit on behalf of herself and her minor son after her son was injured at middle school track and field tryouts. The testimony showed that the student was a 12-year-old sixth-grader at the time of the incident. He had played several sports before but had never “participated in shot put and was not familiar with the event.” Marcus Mosby was the track and field coach at the school, and he was in charge of the tryout. Mr. Mosby had never competed in shot put and had not received “proper training on the safety protocols for the shot put event prior to the incident.”

During tryouts, students were taking turns throwing the shot put, which was a metal ball that weighed 8-10 pounds. At some point, Mr. Mosby decided to demonstrate the proper way to throw the shot put. He stood across from a group of students and “verbally instructed and motioned with his hands for the students to move back,” and he took a few steps away from the group. With his back turned toward the students, Mr. Mosby turned and threw the shot put towards the group. Plaintiff’s son, however, had not heard the directions to move back and was five feet closer to Mr. Mosby than the other students. According to testimony, the student was turned sideways and did not see Mr. Mosby throw the shot put. Mr. Mosby realized the student was going to be hit and yelled for him to move, but the student was struck in the side of the head with the shot put.

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Where plaintiff filed a GTLA suit based on the city school system’s failure to remedy a dangerous condition on a sidewalk at its high school, the public duty doctrine did not apply and immunity was removed under the GTLA.

In Lawson v. Maryville City Schools, No. E2019-02194-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2020), the plaintiff was taking her grandson to school when she tripped and fell on a deteriorated section of sidewalk. The sidewalk was located on school property, which was owned and controlled by the defendant.

Plaintiff filed this suit under the GTLA, and defendant filed a motion to dismiss, asserting that it was “immune from suit pursuant to the public duty doctrine.” The trial court agreed, dismissing the case, but the Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal.

The Court of Appeals began its analysis by explaining that “both the GTLA and the public duty doctrine are affirmative defenses,” and that when a case potentially involves both, the Court is “to first look to the GTLA.” (internal citations omitted). If the Court determines that the GTLA “does not provide immunity, [it] may look to the general rule of immunity under the public duty doctrine.” (internal citation omitted). Continue reading

Where a sheriff’s deputy owed a duty to the public at large, but not to plaintiff specifically, to protect cars from running into a downed tree on a state highway, the Public Duty Doctrine barred plaintiff’s GTLA suit and dismissal of plaintiff’s case was affirmed.

In Kimble v. Dyer County Tennessee, No. W2019-02042-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 16, 2020), plaintiff filed suit under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) after he was injured in a car accident. According to plaintiff, there was a bad storm the night of the accident and a tree had fallen across the state highway plaintiff was traveling on. Plaintiff’s vehicle ran into the downed tree, causing him injury. The crux of plaintiff’s complaint was that the sheriff’s office had been notified of the downed tree, and that a sheriff’s deputy negligently and/or recklessly left the scene of the downed tree to attend to another emergency “without leaving any sign or signal of a hazardous situation.” Plaintiff’s accident occurred after the deputy had been to and left the downed tree area.

Plaintiff named the county, the sheriff, and the deputy as defendants, and defendants moved to dismiss based on several theories under the GTLA. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, relying in part on the Public Duty Doctrine, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Pursuant to the GTLA, “an act or omission is considered operational and immunity is removed either when: (1) the conduct occurs in the absence of a formulated policy guiding the conduct or omission; or (2) when the conduct deviates from an established plan or policy.” (internal citation omitted). Making all reasonable inferences in plaintiff’s favor here, the Court of Appeals found that the deputy’s actions could be considered operational and that immunity was thus removed under the GTLA, unless a defense applied. Continue reading

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.”

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Where a middle school student was injured when he tripped on his backpack strap, beginning a chain of events that knocked down a chair that was stacked on top of a table and injured his hand, summary judgment was affirmed based the lack of a dangerous condition and the injury not being foreseeable.

In Landry v. Sumner County Board of Education, No. M2019-01696-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. June 30, 2020), plaintiff was an 11-year-old student sitting with friends in his school cafeteria as he waited for the bell to ring to begin the school day. At this school, the chairs were always placed upside down on the top of the tables the day before so the custodians could clean. In the mornings, the kids would take down a chair to sit. On this particular morning, plaintiff’s backpack strap had unknowingly become wrapped around the leg of his chair. When plaintiff stood to leave, he tripped on the strap. As he fell, he pushed his chair away, and that chair hit a chair that was still upside down on a table. The upside down chair fell and hit plaintiff’s hand, severing the tip of one of his fingers.

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Where a trial court did not explain the legal basis for its ruling that a deputy sheriff was immune from a defamation suit under the GTLA, the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment.

In Taylor v. Harsh, No. M2019-01129-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 21, 2020), plaintiff filed suit against defendant, who was a deputy sheriff, for slander, defamation, and interference with prospective economic advantage. The complaint specified that defendant was being sued in his individual capacity. According to plaintiff, defendant pulled plaintiff over for a traffic stop “that resulted in no citation or arrest,” and defendant “thereafter informed an official with a youth volunteer firefighter program…that Plaintiff had committed a felony and fled from the police,” which caused plaintiff’s participation in the program to be terminated.

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that he was immune under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). The trial court granted the motion, writing in its memo that defendant “was entitled to the immunities set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-205(2).” In its oral ruling, the trial court found that defendant was entitled to immunity, but “focuse[d] primarily on the facts of this case, rather than the law.”

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Where plaintiff was injured when he was standing on the water meter box in his yard and the concrete cover unexpectedly moved, and the  governmental water authority had noted that the box needed to be replaced four months before the incident, the Court of Appeals affirmed a finding that the water authority was 100% at fault for plaintiff’s injuries.

In Cox v. Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority of Wilson County, Tennessee, No. M2018-00433-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 31, 2020), plaintiff was scraping ice off his truck and had to stand on the concrete cover on the water meter in his yard. While he was standing on it, the “concrete cover fell into the box beneath it,” causing plaintiff to break a bone in his foot.

Plaintiff filed this GTLA suit alleging that defendant water authority “had actual and/or constructive notice that the water meter box was in an unreasonably dangerous, defective and unsafe condition and that the company failed to alleviate or warn of the danger.” Defendant denied having notice and raised the affirmative defense of comparative fault.

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Where a man being arrested was shot and killed after he went out of his home and raised a gun towards a police officer, the Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a GTLA tort suit, finding that the police department was immune from suit and that the suit was barred by the decedent’s comparative fault.

In Acree v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, No. M2019-00056-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 27, 2019), decedent failed to appear for an aggravated criminal trespass court hearing, which resulted in a felony warrant being issued. Officers retrieved the warrant the next day, and the warrant stated that “subject may exhibit paranoia and feel that officers are following him.” The officer serving the warrant also noted that “Decedent had been arrested three times in the past six months without incident.” Four officers proceeded to decedent’s home, and two went to the front door and two to the back door. One officer knocked and identified himself, and when there was no answer, he saw through a hole in the door that decedent was not moving. The officer knocked again and saw decedent move away from the front of the house, so he called over the radio that decedent was walking towards the back door. Decedent then “abruptly open[ed] the back door and raise[d] a firearm at” one officer. The officer shot once, striking and killing decedent.

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A plaintiff’s claim that the city had a duty to protect her against a dog owned by another citizen fell under the public duty doctrine, and summary judgment for defendant city was thus affirmed.

In Fleming v. City of Memphis, No. W2018-00984-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 5, 2019), plaintiff filed suit against defendant city after she was attacked and mauled by a dog owned by a private citizen. Plaintiff alleged that the city “had actual prior notice of this dog’s vicious propensities” based on two prior attacks by the same dog. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment based on the public duty doctrine, which the trial court granted and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

It was undisputed that the GTLA did not provide the City immunity in this case. After the dog bite preceding the attack on plaintiff, an animal control worker “did not believe there were grounds upon which [to seek] a petition to declare the dog dangerous and vicious under City ordinance,” and this decision by the government worker was determined to be operational. The issues raised by plaintiff, then, were “1) whether the GTLA supersedes the public duty doctrine; and 2) if the public duty doctrine survives, whether the trial court erred in finding that it applie[d]” here.

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