Pleading, Discovery, and Pretrial Motion Practice (excluding Motions in Limine)

Discovery Orders

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion.

Opinions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Funk v. Scripps Media, Inc., No. M2017-00256-SC-R11-CV, 570 S.W.3d 205, 210-11 (Tenn. 2019).

This appeal arises from a trial court’s ruling on a pretrial discovery dispute. Trial court decisions on pretrial discovery disputes are reviewed using an abuse of discretion standard. Lee Med., Inc. v. Beecher, 312 S.W.3d 515, 524 (Tenn. 2010). “A court abuses its discretion when it causes an injustice to the party challenging the decision by (1) applying an incorrect legal standard, (2) reaching an illogical or unreasonable decision, or (3) basing its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence.” Id. Whether a court applied an incorrect legal standard is a question of law that is reviewed de novo. Id. at 525. The issues in this appeal concern legal standards, specifically, what role, if any, malice plays in the fair report privilege, whether the fair report privilege is a defense based upon a source of information that triggers the exception to Tennessee’s news media shield law, and if it is, the extent of the discovery to which the plaintiff is entitled. These issues are questions of law that are reviewed under a de novo standard with no presumption of correctness. See Wallace v. Metro. Gov’t of Nashville, 546 S.W.3d 47, 52 (Tenn. 2018).

 

Opinions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

Castillo v. Rex, No. E2022-00322-COA-R9-CV, p. 3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 4, 2023). 

This appeal concerns issues pertaining to discovery and the trial court’s denial of a protective order for information claimed as privileged. Decisions pertaining to discovery and the issuance of a protective order are subject to an abuse of discretion standard of review. To determine whether a decision constitutes an abuse of discretion, we review the trial court’s decision to ascertain:

(1) whether the factual basis of the decision is supported by sufficient evidence; (2) whether the trial court has correctly identified and properly applied the applicable legal principles; and (3) whether the trial court’s decision is within the range of acceptable alternatives.

Gooding v. Gooding, 477 S.W.3d 774, 780 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015) (quotation omitted). To the extent that these discovery issues require us to interpret and apply statutes, we note that statutory interpretation is a question of law, which we review de novo, affording no presumption of correctness to the conclusions of the trial court. State v. Crank, 468 S.W.3d 15, 21 (Tenn. 2015).

Locke v. Aston, No. M2022-01820-COA-R9-CV, p. 3 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 25, 2023). 

The trial court’s decisions on pre-trial discovery matters are subject to review under the abuse of discretion standard. West v. Schofield, 460 S.W.3d 113, 120 (Tenn. 2015). “An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court applies incorrect legal standards, reaches an illogical conclusion, bases its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or employs reasoning that causes an injustice to the complaining party.” Id. Under the abuse of discretion standard, an appellate court is not allowed to second-guess the trial court. White v. Vanderbilt Univ., 21 S.W.3d 215, 223 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999). Neither may we substitute our judgment for that of the trial court. Myint v. Allstate Ins. Co., 970 S.W.2d 920, 927 (Tenn. 1998).

Patton v. Pearson, No. M2022-00708-COA-R3-CV, p. 10 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 5, 2023).

We review pretrial discovery decisions under an abuse of discretion standard. West v. Schofield, 460 S.W.3d 113, 120 (Tenn. 2015). An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial court applies incorrect legal standards, reaches an illogical conclusion, bases its decision on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence, or employs reasoning that causes an injustice to the complaining party. Id. (citing State v. Banks, 271 S.W.3d 90, 116 (Tenn. 2008)).

Waddell v. Waddell, No. W2020-00220-COA-R3-CV, p. 25 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 14, 2023).

We review pre-trial discovery issues such as the trial court’s ruling concerning Wife’s fact and expert witnesses under the same standard. See Riley v. Whybrew, 185 S.W.3d 393, 399 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). As discussed, above, “[a] trial court abuses its discretion only when it ‘applie[s] an incorrect legal standard, or reache[s] a decision which is against logic or reasoning that cause[s] an injustice to the party complaining.’” Eldridge v. Eldridge, 42 S.W.3d 82, 85 (Tenn. 2001) (quoting State v. Shirley, 6 S.W.3d 243, 247 (Tenn. 1999) (brackets in original). Under the abuse of discretion standard, a trial court’s ruling “will be upheld so long as reasonable minds can disagree as to propriety of the decision made. Id. (quoting State v. Scott, 33 S.W.3d 746, 752 (Tenn. 2000)); see also State v. Gilliland, 22 S.W.3d 266, 270 (Tenn. 2000).

Vance v. Blue, No. M2021-00064-COA-R3-CV, p. 4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 28, 2022). 

Pre-trial discovery decisions “rest within the sound discretion of the trial court.” Benton v. Snyder, 825 S.W.2d 409, 416 (Tenn. 1992). Our review of discretionary decisions is limited. Beard v. Bd. of Prof’l Responsibility, 288 S.W.3d 838, 860 (Tenn. 2009). We do not “second-guess the court below” or “substitute [our] discretion for the lower court’s.” Lee Med., Inc. v. Beecher, 312 S.W.3d 515, 524 (Tenn. 2010).

Adams v. Illinois Central Railroad Company, No. W2020-01290-COA-R3-CV (Jan. 19, 2022).

“A trial court has broad discretion when sanctioning a party for failing to comply with the discovery rules or orders of the court.” Gordon v. Chapman, No. W2019- 01655-COA-R3-CV, 2020 WL 7861471, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2020) (citations omitted). Therefore, “[a] trial judge’s exclusion of expert witness testimony is subject to an abuse of discretion review by this Court.” Buckner v. Hassell, 44 S.W.3d 78, 83 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000) (citing Lyle, 746 S.W.2d at 699 (citing Brooks v. United Uniform Co., 682 S.W.2d 913 (Tenn. 1984))).

“Discretion to impose sanctions does not, however, free trial courts from their responsibility to exercise reason and judgment.” Langlois v. Energy Automation Sys., Inc., 332 S.W.3d 353, 357 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2009). “[D]iscretionary decisions are not left to a court’s inclination, but to its judgment; and its judgment is to be guided by sound legal principles.” Id. (quotation marks and citations omitted). “A trial court abuses its discretion when it applies an incorrect legal standard or reaches a decision which is against logic or reasoning and which causes an injustice to the complaining party.” Doe 1 ex rel. Doe 1 v. Roman Cath. Diocese of Nashville, 154 S.W.3d 22, 42 (Tenn. 2005). “Correct review of a decision to impose sanctions [] involves comparison of a sanction’s individual punitive impact and its general deterrent effect. Only when a sanction’s punitive impact substantially outweighs its deterrent effect will we conclude that a trial court has abused its discretion, so long as the court has applied the correct legal framework.” Langlois, 332 S.W.3d at 358.

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