Pro Se Litigants, Review of Appeals Involving

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

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Opinions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

Javid v. Baig, No. M2022-00331-COA-R3-CV, p. 3-4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2022) (memorandum opinion).

This Court has set forth the following standard for reviewing claims of pro se

Parties who decide to represent themselves are entitled to fair and equal treatment by the courts. Whitaker v. Whirlpool Corp., 32 S.W.3d 222, 227 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2000); Paehler v. Union Planters Nat’l Bank, Inc., 971 S.W.2d 393, 396 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997). The courts should take into account that many pro se litigants have no legal training and little familiarity with the judicial system. Irvin v. City of Clarksville, 767 S.W.2d 649, 652 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1988). However, the courts must also be mindful of the boundary between fairness to a pro se litigant and unfairness to the pro se litigant’s adversary. Thus, the courts must not excuse pro se litigants from complying with the same substantive and procedural rules that represented parties are expected to observe. Edmundson v. Pratt, 945 S.W.2d 754, 755 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996); Kaylor v. Bradley, 912 S.W.2d 728, 733 n.4 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1995).

The courts give pro se litigants who are untrained in the law a certain amount of leeway in drafting their pleadings and briefs. Whitaker v. Whirlpool Corp., 32 S.W.3d at 227; Paehler v. Union Planters Nat’l Bank, Inc., 971 S.W.2d at 397. Accordingly, we measure the papers prepared by pro se litigants using standards that are less stringent than those applied to papers prepared by lawyers. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9-10, 101 S.Ct. 173, 176, 66 L.Ed.2d 163 (1980); Baxter v. Rose, 523 S.W.2d 930, 939 (Tenn. 1975); Winchester v. Little, 996 S.W.2d 818, 824 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998).

Pro se litigants should not be permitted to shift the burden of the litigation to the courts or to their adversaries. They are, however, entitled to at least the same liberality of construction of their pleadings that Tenn. R. Civ. P. 7, 8.05, and 8.06 provide to other litigants. Irvin v. City of Clarksville, 767 S.W.2d at 652. Even though the courts cannot create claims or defenses for pro se litigants where none exist, Rampy v. ICI Acrylics, Inc., 898 S.W.2d 196, 198 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1994), they should give effect to the substance, rather than the form or terminology, of a pro se litigant’s papers. Brown v. City of Manchester, 722 S.W.2d 394, 397 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1986); Usrey v. Lewis, 553 S.W.2d 612, 614 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1977).

Young v. Barrow, 130 S.W.3d 59, 62-63 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003); see Hessmer v. Hessmer, 138 S.W.3d 901, 903-904 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2003) (setting forth the same standard).


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