© 2022 Tennessee Courts System
The Tennessee Supreme Court has approved an innovative Alternative Dispute Resolution Plan prepared by the Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission (ADRC) to assist courts facing a backlog of civil cases caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. For many years, mediation has been used to successfully resolve disputes. The Plan creates a process that will make mediation more available to civil litigants as a means of providing a quicker, less expensive, and potentially more satisfying alternative to continuing litigation in a case without impairing the quality of justice or the right to a trial.
Read the ADR Plan.
The pandemic has suspended civil jury trials and many nonjury civil trials have been delayed as the courts implement social distancing and capacity limits while prioritizing necessary emergency proceedings. While courts have embraced technology and thousands of virtual hearings and proceedings have taken place across the state, delays are inevitable in this unprecedented year.
Under the Plan, the ADRC has partnered with three community mediation centers across the state and developed an expedited and efficient way to handle court referrals or orders for mediation.
The Plan applies to all pending civil actions in general sessions courts, juvenile courts, chancery courts, and circuit courts. Judges are encouraged to review their dockets and refer any cases to mediation that may benefit from this new program. Recognizing that many people are facing economic hardships because of the pandemic, mediation will be provided at no cost to indigent parties who are not represented by an attorney.
In referring cases to mediation, judges are encouraged to give top priority to cases with parties not represented by attorneys. Under the plan, a judge may request that the parties use mediation, order the parties to mediation, or decide the case is not appropriate for mediation. The types of civil cases that may benefit from mediation include: evictions, family disputes, medical debt claims, juvenile matters, personal loans, contract breach, and recovery of personal property. Criminal cases are not included because defendants have a constitutional right to “confront their accuser.”
The ADRC developed the Plan after a survey of the state’s judges indicated a growing backlog of cases in the areas of family, evictions, small claims and juvenile matters. A majority of the judges expressed their willingness to involve Rule 31 mediators in addressing these cases where appropriate.
Mediation will be conducted following Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 and by Rule 31 approved mediators. The Plan provides judges, court clerks, and mediators sample documents for referring a case to mediation, communicating with the parties, and informing the court of the status of the mediation. Mediation is a confidential process and does not influence the outcome of a case if unsuccessful. The mediations under the Plan will be conducted virtually, unless otherwise agreed upon by the parties involved.
To ensure the process is efficient, the Plan sets out specific timelines and deadlines for the mediation process. Under the Plan, each county has been assigned a community mediation center, which will triage requests for mediation assistance from the courts. Trained mediators are volunteering to provide these services and will be trained and deployed as needed. If a judge refers or orders a case to mediation, the parties will hear directly from the mediation center to begin the scheduling and mediation process.
The three Community Mediation Centers that will coordinate resources and location details with all medication centers in the state are: The Mid-South Community Justice & Mediation Center, Inc. in Memphis, the Nashville Conflict Resolution Center, and the Community Mediation Center in Knoxville.
Resource Material - Implementing the Tennessee Supreme Court ADR Plan
List of ADR Exhibit Forms
The Tennessee Supreme Court and the ADRC revised the ADR Plan on November 1, 2021.
Read the ADR Plan
What is a CMC? (PP Presentation)
Pro-se Mediation Both Parties (PP Presentation)
Never-Married Parenting Mediation
ADR Video Training Sessions
Sample Order to Mediate
Sample Referral Letter to MediateFlowchart of Process
Sample Agreement to Mediate
Sample Mediator Summary ReportSample Mediation Case Summary Report
The CMCs will provide mediators with sample documents, if necessary.
Additional mediator resources are available here.
FAQs From Litigants/Public (coming soon)
“Mediation has been crucial to managing cases during the pandemic. There are cases that just cannot wait and mediation is a great option for me to use as a judge to bring the parties together in a neutral setting to find a solution. I find it particularly useful when only one of the parties is represented by an attorney. The pandemic has forced courts to innovate like no other time and increased mediation is one option every judge should be considering.” - Judge Russell Parkes, circuit court judge in the 22nd judicial district
“Mediation has been a life-saver during this pandemic. We have a very full docket and issues involving kids cannot wait. Whether it is a question of custody, schooling, or delinquency, we must act quickly to serve the best interests of children in our community. The mediation process has allowed us to safely address and resolve some cases and allow the court continuing operating and managing emergency proceedings.” - Judge Timothy Irwin, a juvenile court judge in Knox County
“We have found that clarity and transparency in the assistance provided by the local mediation center is important. Citizens who come to our court need the options and cost savings that mediation can provide, especially during these challenging times." - Judge Deborah Henderson, general sessions court judge in Shelby County
Judges, clerks, and mediators can access the Plan Toolbox from the AOC website (TNcourts.gov) and email ADRPlan@tncourts.gov with questions.