Reasoning Required in Tennessee Trial Court’s Summary Judgment Order

             In Potter’s Shopping Center, Inc. v. Szekely, No. M2014-00588-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 8, 2014), the Court of Appeals relied on the recent Tennessee Supreme Court decision of Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc., 2014 WL 3429204 (Tenn. 2014) to hold the trial court to a higher standard when entering an order granting partial summary judgment.

            The Potter’s Shopping case involved the building of a house and a claim for unjust enrichment by the supplier of materials against the owners of the home. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to plaintiff as to liability, but in its order, the court failed to state any legal grounds for its decision. Citing the Supreme Court’s Smith opinion, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court had failed to comply with Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 when it failed to cite any evidence or argument it had considered in granting summary judgment. The Court noted that appellate courts were sometimes more lenient on this issue when the reasoning for the summary judgment could be gleaned from the record. In the present case, however, the record contained no transcript of the hearing and no other indication of the legal basis for the summary judgment decision.

            Finding that the summary judgment issue “involve[d] questions of law that require analysis and explanation,” the Court vacated the order granting partial summary judgment and remanded the case.

            This case appears to be the first example of the Court of Appeals reviewing a summary judgment order under the more detailed analysis set out by the Supreme Court in Smith. It is an interesting illustration of the higher standard likely to be enforced in the future, reminding attorneys and courts alike that grants of summary judgment that are not supported by legal reasoning provided on the record will be vulnerable on appeal.

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