Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Larry Sneed, former Red Bank chief of police, represented by Lee Davis and Jonathan Guthrie, won a right to a jury trial today from the Tennessee Supreme Court.

In a case that will cause repercussions in many cases throughout the state, the Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that Tennessee Human Rights Act claims against local governmental entities are not governed by the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”). The court also determined that Rights Act claims filed in chancery court include a statutory right to trial by jury.

The case arose in 2010, after Larry Sneed was fired from his job as chief of police for the City of Red Bank. Mr. Sneed filed suit against the city in the Chancery Court for Hamilton County, alleging numerous claims, including a Rights Act claim against the city and a claim under the Tennessee Public Protection Act (“TPPA”).

Prior to trial, Red Bank filed a motion to transfer the case from chancery court to circuit court, alleging that the GTLA, which requires claims to be filed in circuit court and tried without a jury, applied. The chancery court ruled that Mr. Sneed’s TPPA claim was governed by the GTLA but that Mr. Sneed’s Rights Act claim was not. This ruling meant that Mr. Sneed’s TPPA claim would be tried in circuit court without a jury but that he was entitled to a jury trial on his Rights Act claim. The city appealed the portion of the trial court’s decision finding that the GTLA did not apply to Mr. Sneed’s Rights Act claim.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that the GTLA is generally applicable to suits against governmental entities, like Mr. Sneed’s, unless the law authorizing the suit provides that the GTLA does not apply or the statute creates a remedy that applies only to governmental entities.

The Supreme Court granted review and reversed the Court of Appeals decision. The Court held that the GTLA does not control Rights Act claims because the Rights Act is an independent and specific statute, which itself removes governmental immunity and authorizes claims against governmental entities. The Court also held that Rights Act claims filed in chancery court against governmental entities include a statutory right to trial by jury.

The Court explained that the Rights Act grants a claimant the right to file a civil action in chancery court and does not exclude from the civil action the statutory right to trial by jury in chancery court. These provisions, the Court explained, clearly express the Legislature’s intent to provide Rights Act claimants a statutory right to trial by jury in chancery court. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the chancery court for further proceedings.”

Read the unanimous opinion in Larry Sneed v. City of Red Bank, Tennessee, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark.