On July 15, 2014, in a well written and unanimous decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court decisively confirmed that judges, not attorneys, must state the reasons for granting or denying motions for summary judgment. In Smith v. UHS of Lakeside, Inc., the supreme court agreed with the Tennessee Court of Appeals that a trial judge should not summarily dismiss certain claims therein without, on its own, articulating the bases for her decision. In Smith, the Memphis trial judge ruled that one of the defendants was entitled to summary judgment on certain claims, but not on others. However, the trial judge never articulated any basis for any of such decisions. Instead, the trial judge simply told the attorneys to draft up the reasons supporting her decisions. Eventually, she simply signed off on what the attorneys provided pursuant to her request.
The supreme court found that this type of procedure was a complete failure by the trial judge to perform “the high judicial function” required by our state’s rules for courts to provide the grounds for their decisions based on their own independent judgment. This is an important opinion because it confirms that the judges of our courts, not the attorneys who represents people or companies before the courts, are the arbiters of justice in our system of resolving disputes. Therefore, our judges should be required, as the decision holds, to be able to state in some form or fashion the reasons for their decisions in deciding summary judgment motions.