Where defendant moved to dismiss a defamation suit under the Tennessee Public Participation Act (“TPPA”), and the trial court failed to take into account the third step of the TPPA burden-shifting framework which considers whether a defendant can establish a valid defense to the claims, the case was remanded for further consideration of the third step in the analysis.
In Pragnell v. Franklin, No. E2022-00524-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. April 18, 2023), plaintiffs filed a defamation suit against defendants, who were plaintiffs’ former employer. Plaintiffs were financial advisors, and when they left defendants’ company, SEC regulations required defendants to file a U5 form online as to plaintiffs’ departure. Plaintiffs asserted that the U5 forms initially filed by defendants stated that plaintiffs left the company voluntarily, but that after a dispute arose and plaintiffs filed suit against defendants in chancery court, defendants changed the U5 forms to state that plaintiffs were discharged for violating “client privacy rights, misrepresentation, and selling away.” Plaintiffs thus filed this defamation suit based on the statements in the revised U5 forms.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on the TPPA, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-17-101, et seq. Defendants argued that they were required to file the amended U5 forms upon discovering additional information about plaintiffs’ employment, that the statements contained therein were true, and that the case was subject to dismissal under the TPPA.