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

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Shaw v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, No. M2019-01926-SC-R11-CV, p. 5-6 (Tenn. Aug. 18, 2022). 

Justiciability encompasses several distinct doctrines, one of which is at issue in this appeal, namely, mootness. See Hargett, 414 S.W.3d at 96. A case may be deemed moot if it loses its justiciability “either by court decision, acts of the parties, or some other reason occurring after commencement of the case.” Norma Faye, 301 S.W.3d at 204 (citing West v. Vought Aircraft Indus., Inc., 256 S.W.3d 618, 625 (Tenn. 2008); McCanless v. Klein, 188 S.W.2d 745, 747 (Tenn. 1945); McIntyre, 884 S.W.2d at 137). It will be considered moot if the case can no longer serve as a means of providing some type of judicial relief to the prevailing party. Id. “If it becomes apparent that a case has become moot while an appeal is pending, the judgment below normally is vacated with directions to dismiss the complaint.” City of Mesquite v. Aladdin’s Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 288 n.9 (1982) (citing United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36 (1950)).

Opinions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

Madron v. City of Morristown, No. E2021-01514-COA-R3-CV, p. 12 (Tenn. Ct. App. Jan. 12, 2023).

Regarding justiciability and mootness, our Supreme Court has discussed as follows:

This Court must first consider questions pertaining to justiciability before proceeding to the merits of any remaining claims. See UT Med. Grp., Inc. v. Vogt, 235 S.W.3d 110, 119 (Tenn. 2007) (noting that justiciability is a threshold inquiry). The role of our courts is limited to deciding issues that qualify as justiciable, meaning issues that place some real interest in dispute, Colonial Pipeline Co. v. Morgan, 263 S.W.3d 827, 838 (Tenn. 2008), and are not merely “theoretical or abstract,” Norma Faye Pyles Lynch Family Purpose LLC v. Putnam Cnty., 301 S.W.3d 196, 203 (Tenn. 2009). A justiciable issue is one that gives rise to “a genuine, existing controversy requiring the adjudication of presently existing rights.” Vogt, 235 S.W.3d at 119. Justiciability encompasses several distinct doctrines, two of which are at issue in this appeal—mootness and standing.

1. Mootness

To be justiciable, an issue must be cognizable not only at the inception of the litigation but also throughout its pendency. Norma Faye Pyles Lynch Family Purpose LLC, 301 S.W.3d at 203-04. An issue becomes moot if an event occurring after the commencement of the case extinguishes the legal controversy attached to the issue, Lufkin v. Bd. of Prof’l Responsibility, 336 S.W.3d 223, 226 (Tenn. 2011), or otherwise prevents the prevailing party from receiving meaningful relief in the event of a favorable judgment, see Knott v. Stewart Cnty., 185 Tenn. 623, 207 S.W.2d 337, 338 (1948); Cnty. of Shelby v. McWherter, 936 S.W.2d 923, 931 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996). This Court has recognized a limited number of exceptional circumstances that make it appropriate to address the merits of an issue notwithstanding its ostensible mootness: (1) when the issue is of great public importance or affects the administration of justice; (2) when the challenged conduct is capable of repetition and evades judicial review; (3) when the primary dispute is moot but collateral consequences persist; and (4) when a litigant has voluntarily ceased the challenged conduct. Lufkin, 336 S.W.3d at 226 n. 5 (citing Norma Faye Pyles Lynch Family Purpose LLC, 301 S.W.3d at 204).

City of Memphis v. Hargett, 414 S.W.3d 88, 96 (Tenn. 2013). “Determining whether a case is moot is a question of law.” Alliance for Native Am. Indian Rights in Tennessee, Inc. v. Nicely, 182 S.W.3d 333, 338-39 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005) (citations omitted).

Cedarius M. v. State of Tennessee, No. W2020-01594-COA-R3-JV, p. 3-4 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 10, 2022) (excellent discussion of the factors the courts will use to determine in an issue is moot).

The dispositive question in this appeal concerns whether Appellant’s appeal is moot.  As the Tennessee Supreme Court explained:

Tennessee courts follow self-imposed rules of judicial restraint so that they stay within their province “to decide, not advise, and to settle rights, not to give abstract opinions.” Norma Faye Pyles Lynch Family Purpose LLC v. Putnam Co., 301 S.W.3d 196, 203 (Tenn. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). The mootness doctrine is one such rule: a “case must remain justiciable (remain a legal controversy) from the time it is filed until the moment of final appellate disposition.” Id. at 203–04. A moot case or issue is one that has lost its justiciability for some reason occurring after commencement of the case. Id. at 204. A case, or an issue in a case, becomes moot when the parties no longer have a continuing, real, live, and substantial interest in the outcome. Id. at 210.

Hooker v. Haslam, 437 S.W.3d 409, 417 (Tenn. 2014). Thus, “[t]he central question in a mootness inquiry is whether changes in the circumstances existing at the beginning of
the litigation have forestalled the need for meaningful relief.” McIntyre v. Traughber, 884
S.W.2d 134, 137 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994). When a case is rendered moot while an appeal is pending, it “should [be] dismiss[ed]”, unless an exception is present. Hooker, 437 S.W.3d at 433 (quoting Norma Faye Pyles Lynch Family Purpose LLC, 301 S.W.3d at 210). Whether a case has been rendered moot is a question of law that may be raised sua sponte by this Court. See id. at 433, Order Denying Petition to Rehear (“Even though neither of the parties raised the question of mootness, the Court was obligated independently to raise the question sua sponte since mootness goes to the Court’s jurisdiction.”).



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