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Judge-Elect GTLA Liability

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CaseJudith Moore-Pennoyer v. State of Tennessee, et al.

Issue:  Does a judge-elect (who has not yet assumed office) act as a “state officer or employee” for purposes of the Government Tort Liability Act?

Facts:  A judge-elect told the incumbent judicial assistant that her services were no longer needed, and the AOC provided her with a separation notice. The assistant sued the judge in circuit court for tortious interference with her employment, and then sued the State in the Claims Commission. The judge-elect moved to dismiss the circuit court claim, contending that the claim against the State in the Claims Commission waived a claim against the judge-elect as a “state officer” pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(b). The circuit court denied the claim, holding that the judge-elect was not a “state officer” because he had not yet taken office. The intermediate court granted interlocutory review.

Appellate Decision:  The intermediate court affirmed the trial court, holding that the judge was not yet a “state officer” because he was not “qualified” and had not yet taken the oath of office as required by the state constitution.

Review Granted:  August 18, 2016.

Prediction:  Ben thinks the supreme court will affirm for the reasons stated by the intermediate court. The judge-elect could have told the judicial assistant that she would be replaced upon his ascent to the bench, but he did not yet have the authority to act as a state officer. It is unclear what sort of damages the judicial assistant would get for a week of allegedly wrongful termination.