The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Tennessee County Municipal Advisory Service

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Grounds for a Suit Against a Municipality

Reference Number: MTAS-1154
Tennessee Code Annotated
Reviewed Date: January 29, 2016
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Injuries Caused by Its Employees

  • The negligent operation of motor vehicles or other equipment by municipal employees in the scope of their employment. T.C.A. § 29-20-202.
  • Defective, unsafe or dangerous streets, alleys, sidewalks, or highways, including traffic control devices (provided the municipality has notice of the unsafe or dangerous condition). T.C.A. § 29-20-203.
  • Dangerous or defective public buildings and structures of various kinds (provided the municipality has notice of the danger or defect). T.C.A. § 29-20-204.
  • Failure to create safeguards and procedures for ensuring that confidential information regarding citizens is securely protected on all laptop computers and other removable storage devices used by a municipality. A citizen of this state must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the citizen was a victim of identity theft due to a failure to provide safeguards and procedures regarding that citizen’s confidential information. T.C.A. § 47-18-2901.
  • The negligent acts or omissions of their employees. Exceptions to this include injuries arising from what the employee did or did not do in the following areas. (In other words, municipalities, counties and other local governmental entities would still be immune from suit for these acts of their employees.)
    • Discretionary functions, whether or not the discretion is abused. What is a discretionary function? In Bowers v. City of Chattanooga, 826 S.W.2d 427 (Tenn. 1992), the Tennessee Supreme Court adopted the “planning-operational” test for determining what constitutes a discretionary function. Under that test, said the court:
      • Decisions that rise to the level of planning or policy-making are considered discretionary acts which do not give rise to tort liability, while decisions that are merely operational are not considered discretionary acts and, therefore, do not give rise to immunity.
      • The planning-operational test focuses on the type of decision rather than on the decision maker. It is not always clear which decisions of municipal employees are planning functions and which are operations decisions.
    • False imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, intentional trespass, abuse of process, libel, slander, deceit, interference with contract rights, infliction of mental anguish, invasion of privacy, or civil rights.
    • Issuance, denial, suspension or revocation of, or by the failure or refusal to issue, deny, suspend or revoke, any permit, license, certificate, approval, order, or similar authorization.
    • Failure to make an inspection, or by reason of making an inadequate or negligent inspection of any property.
    • Institution or prosecution of any judicial or administrative proceeding, even if malicious or without probable cause.
    • Misrepresentation by an employee whether or not such is negligent or intentional.
    • Riots, unlawful assemblies, public demonstrations, mob violence, and civil disturbances.
    • Assessment, levy, or collection of taxes.
    • Failure of computer software occurring before January 1, 2005, which is caused directly or indirectly by Y2K-type computer problems. T.C.A. § 29-20-205.
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