While an overarching policy of the American judicial system is to adjudicate disputes on their merits, the system may work most efficiently when most disputes are settled between the opposing parties on terms of their own choosing. In modern dispute resolution, lawsuits are rarely taken to the fact finder, and most organizational clients are generally unwilling to accept the risk and uncertainty of a jury trial, preferring instead to work towards a reasonable settlement of disputes. Consequently, the availability of dispositive motions—such as motions for summary judgment—plays a large role in determining the settlement value of claims by potentially reducing the anticipated cost to defend a lawsuit. This relationship comes into sharp focus for organizational clients worried by the prospect of bearing the aggregate cost of fully litigating many disputes.
Due to the effects on settlement value, an organizational client faced with the decision of whether to remove to federal court a lawsuit filed against it in state court should consider the differing summary judgment standards. However, the state of summary judgment in Tennessee is currently unsettled. The Tennessee state legislature has passed new laws attempting to alter the prevailing standard; however, no state appellate court has yet interpreted the statutes, and some commentators recognize the possibility of a constitutional attack on their validity.
In anticipation of a state appellate court decision concerning the legislation, this article aims to briefly examine the recent statutes attempting to change the law of summary judgment in Tennessee, the possible practical effects of the statutes on the summary judgment standard, and the corresponding consequences for organizational defendants in determining whether to remove lawsuits to federal court. Part II of this article provides an overview of the prior standard for summary judgment in Tennessee. Part III discusses how the statutes depart from the prior standard. Finally, Part IV outlines possible appellate court treatments of the statutes and how various treatments would affect removal considerations for organizational clients.