Chancellor Anne C. Martin, who oversees cases before the Business Court Docket Pilot Project, has recently brought back a wealth of knowledge from conferences and interactions with the American College of Business Court Judges (ACBCJ), a group of judges accustomed to the intricacies of and challenges inherent in working with complex business cases.
The ACBCJ is a national organization, founded in October 2005, that develops education programs and seminars to educate business court judges on the complex issues they see. Its members meet every year in the current president’s hometown to hear continuing education programs, set policy, discuss programming for the upcoming meeting, and share information and experiences from their home states.
“In 2020 in Savannah we had a program regarding what we anticipated to see in terms of Covid-related business litigation post-pandemic,” said Chancellor Martin. “There was a lot of discussion about business insurance coverage issues. An insurance law professor did a presentation on the general commercial policy provisions generally, and what it provides regarding virus coverage that was modified in 2008 in response to the SARS epidemic. The question becomes how does that impact a pandemic such as we are experiencing in which people are not getting sick at the business, but rather is causing business interruptions based upon government shutdowns? There are a lot of interesting legal issues.”
Chancellor Martin, who is a member of the ACBCJ Board, recently attended a board meeting in Jackson, Mississippi. Because Jackson is well-known for Blues music, many programs focused on intellectual property issues filed in state courts.
“Most people assume intellectual property disputes are only litigated in federal court because of the federal laws regarding patents and trademarks,” Chancellor Martin said. “There is a lot of music-related litigation that involves intellectual property based upon contract law, such as royalty claims and similar issues. There are different levels of royalties, whether you’re a writer or a performer, whether you own a particular work or the rights to a particular performance. We had some fascinating panels of people who are music industry judges and practitioners who discussed these issues, as well as specific cases they had handled.”
One such panel focused on Robert Johnson, who was considered the Father of the Delta Blues. He died at a young age, and there is a lot of mystery around his death and the rights associated with his works.
“He was a person of color in the early twentieth century and there were not a lot of laws in place to protect royalty rights, or any sort of structure to the system, and artists of color were particularly taken advantage of in that regard. Mr. Johnson’s music has become the foundation for a significant portion of recorded Blues works,” Chancellor Martin said. “His estate was probated in the recent past and involved disputes regarding the identity of his heirs and what interests they had in resulting intellectual property rights. One panel included the father and son team who represented the person the Mississippi courts ended up recognizing as Robert Johnson’s true heir after years-long complex litigation.”
Chancellor Martin looks forward to the 2022 meeting, which will be held in Long Island, New York.
“It’s so great to learn from other judges, who are in different parts of the country, who are having different experiences, while all largely the same,” Chancellor Martin said. “Our shared experience and information are really translatable, like the music litigation material I heard in Jackson. We see a lot of business entertainment related contract disputes that involve rights and obligations, and royalties and fee arrangements based on production, in Nashville. It never occurred to me how much music litigation was going on in Mississippi and I didn’t know a lot about the Blues. Music is such a huge part of the fabric of their community. It was very valuable to hear from those Mississippi lawyers, and the other judges and academics on the panels, regarding royalty-based state court litigation.”
The judges from Nevada have also provided solid information that Chancellor Martin found applicable to Tennessee. Nevada’s entertainment industry, for example, is the biggest driver of their economy.
“Hotels, restaurants, gambling. They had to shut down,” Chancellor Martin said. “So, even though we have different forms of entertainment on which our Tennessee economy is derived, it’s still based upon tourism, or convention business and live entertainment venues being able to sell tickets and have people come, buy food and drink and book hotel rooms. We’re all going through the same thing.”
Chancellor Martin credits Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Sharon G. Lee with piquing her interest in the ACBCJ. Justice Lee was a driver of the Business Court Docket Pilot Project established by Supreme Court Order in 2015 and now extended multiple times.
“Just meeting other business court judges and listening was incredibly valuable. I learned so much about what other business court judges are seeing, how they are docketing cases, how they’re case managing, and how they’re moving them through the system,” Chancellor Martin said. “Even though we have a pilot project and advisory commission that sets the criteria and policies, there are always tweaks we can make as to how we can operate the court. The advisory commission is consistently interested in hearing what I have to say as a judge, and my experience with the types of cases we are taking and the cases we could take, cases maybe we shouldn’t take, and I think it is all really adding to my ability to be more effective.”
Chancellor Martin said there is a national trend toward specialty courts.
“The whole idea behind having a business court in Tennessee is that it is great for economic development because businesses want to operate in states where they know that there is a court that is equipped and experienced to handle their complex business needs,” Chancellor Martin said. “And, also, it is helping us build a body of business law so that judges do not have to default to a state like Delaware, which has a deep history of really significant business decisions, and we developed Tennessee–based business law instead.”
ACBCJ meetings are sponsored by the Antonin Scalia George Mason Law and Economic Center. In addition to providing continuing education programs for judges, the center offers its assistance and input in ACBCJ programming. The ACBCJ, however, is an independent organization.