Tennessee Supreme Court Endorses Recommendations of the Statewide Business Court Docket Advisory Commission

December 22, 2017

The Tennessee Supreme Court is continuing its highly successful business court docket pilot project as it seeks to provide all Tennessee businesses and citizens across the state with a specialized business court docket, it announced today in a Supreme Court Order. The Order follows recommendations submitted to the Court by the statewide Business Court Docket Advisory Commission, which analyzed more than two years of survey data and results.

The business court pilot docket project was originally established by Supreme Court order in 2015 and was extended in April 2017, with slight modifications. Since its founding, 129 cases have requested transfer to the specialized docket with litigants ranging from large, national companies to small businesses. The specialized court docket has developed a body of corporate and commercial jurisprudence covering business topics ranging from contract interpretation to corporate e-discovery to business organization to trade secrets and more.  

“The expansion of the business court model is great for Tennessee businesses,” Governor Bill Haslam said. “This specialized court model provides the judicial branch with the opportunity to focus on what is often very complex and time-consuming litigation and provides efficient and effective outcomes for business owners when there is an issue.”

The business court docket has become highly regarded in the Tennessee legal community. A federal judge recently dismissed a case in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, stating the business court pilot project would be a better venue. In addition, Tennessee businesses have started including the Davidson County business court in contractual forum selection clauses. Before expanding the project statewide, the Supreme Court conducted a thorough survey with all prior litigants in the business court and found over 90 percent had a positive, productive experience.

“Tennessee businesses have benefitted from this pilot project launched over two years ago by our Tennessee Supreme Court,” said Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell. “Along with 28 other states, we are providing more tools for economic development, streamlining our judiciary, and modernizing the courts to meet the needs of today’s complex business litigants.”

Nashville attorney and Chair of the Business Court Docket Advisory Commission, Patricia Head Moskal, expressed her gratitude to the Commission members, who include Celeste H. Herbert, Herbert, Meadows & Wall (Knoxville); Scott D. Carey, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC (Nashville); David A. Golden, Eastman Chemical Company, (Kingsport); William H. Tate, Howard Tate Sowell Wilson Leathers & Johnson, PLLC (Nashville); Tim L. Warnock, Riley Warnock & Jacobson PLC (Nashville); Jef Feibelman, Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC (Memphis); and Charles T. Tuggle, Jr., First Horizon National Corporation, (Memphis).

“Since the Commission’s inception in July 2015, each member has studied, evaluated, discussed, and debated the future of Tennessee’s business court docket, best practices, and how the docket can be expanded to better serve the business and legal communities across the State,” said Moskal, who practices at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP in Nashville. “I am confident that the knowledge, experience, and thoughtful insights that each member contributed will have a positive and lasting impact on the jurisprudence of business and commercial law in this state.”

Beginning January 1, 2018, Davidson County will continue the pilot project under the supervision of Judge Joe Binkley, presiding judge of the 20th Judicial District. Cases transferred prior to January 1, 2018, will remain assigned to Davidson County Chancery Court Part III.

In other districts, upon the request of a trial judge, the Supreme Court may designate a senior judge to hear an eligible business court docket case in the county of venue.  Utilization of senior judges in this manner will assist in gathering data and assessing demand outside of Davidson County. The method for selecting and assigning qualified business judges will be studied and explored during this continuation of the pilot project. Additionally, parties outside of Davidson County may continue to request a transfer of venue to the Davidson County Business Court Docket.

“Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle has done a remarkable job establishing and operating this historic and highly successful pilot project,” Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins said. “The Court wishes to thank her and all the chancellors in Davidson County, the Davidson County Chancery Court, the Clerk and Master’s Office, the entire 20th Judicial District, and all of those who worked to create an environment to assist commercial litigants and the bar in these matters.  Starting the business court docket was no simple undertaking and the impact will be felt throughout the state for years to come.”

A full-time staff attorney for the pilot project was recently hired through an appropriation by the General Assembly.  In addition, the University of Tennessee College of Law has established a fellow who will help further the advancement of the business court docket with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).

“This is a natural continuation of the highly successful Business Court Pilot Project,” said AOC Director Deborah Taylor Tate. “Thus far, the first two phases of the project clearly underscored the ongoing demand for a specialized court docket in Davidson County, and that demand clearly needs to be assessed throughout the entire state.  The legal and business communities throughout Tennessee deserve the same quality, consistency, and efficiencies experienced by litigants in the Business Court Docket in Davidson County.”

Decisions, motions, the Supreme Court established criteria for transfer, and other legal documents from the pilot cases will continue to be posted on the judiciary’s website.  The broader legal community, as well as the public, is invited to provide comments via email to business.court@tncourts.gov, as well as watch tncourts.gov for updates.