Tennessee Supreme Court Adopts Revised Rules For Mediators

October 3, 2018

The Tennessee Supreme Court has adopted significant revisions to its rules regulating court-approved mediators in the state. The revisions to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31, and the adoption of Rule 31A, are the first in-depth changes to the rules governing mediation and arbitration in Tennessee since Rule 31 was first adopted in 2001. These changes, most of which are effective November 1, 2018, clarify and enhance the current rule.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission (“ADRC”) administers the procedure for training and approving mediators for use by the courts pursuant to Rule 31, which established court-based alternative dispute resolution in Tennessee. The ADRC is responsible for evaluating the success of and making suggestions pertaining to the rules and revisions regarding Rule 31 alternative dispute resolution proceedings. 

Beginning in 2016, the ADRC undertook a two-year project to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the alternative dispute resolution process in Tennessee courts through clarifying the rule. The project consisted of numerous ADRC and committee meetings, work sessions, and feedback from interested individuals and bar associations.  In March 2018, the ADRC filed a petition with the Tennessee Supreme Court for the adoption of amendments to Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31, Appendix A of Rule 31, and a new Supreme Court Rule 31A.  Highlights from the rule revisions include:

  • Division into Rule 31, covering mediation, and Rule 31A, covering alternative dispute resolution requiring a lawyer or a judge to serve as the neutral;
  • Clarification regarding the definition of eligible civil actions encompassed by Rule 31;
  • A step-by-step process for grievance procedures, including when decisions are appealable and when they are final;
  • Removal of inactive mediator status, and a new requirement that Rule 31 mediators must renew each year, or re-apply at a later date, if he/she would like to be re-listed;
  • Removal of Appendices B-E (Form Orders for Non-Binding Arbitration, Case Evaluation, Mini-trial, and Summary Jury Trial) from the rule, and placement on the Administrative Office of the Courts website as true form documents; and
  • Clarification that Rule 31 mediators may assist parties in filling out the Parenting Plan Forms, a Marital Dissolution Agreement, and other forms approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court for use by self-represented parties in memorializing their agreement.

ADRC Chairperson Ed Silva said, “This has been a tremendous team effort on the part of the Rule and Policy Review Committee, the entire ADR Commission, the Court, and the staff of the Administrative Office of the Courts. We are proud that this comprehensive amendment proposal received significant attention and input from interested groups and individuals.  We believe that this amended rule will provide clarity for Rule 31 mediators and the public as the field of mediation continues to serve as an important process for resolving disputes through party-driven decision-making.”

Justice Sharon G. Lee, who serves as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the ADRC, expressed her appreciation to members of the ADRC for their hard work in clarifying Rule 31 and 31A and for achieving greater transparency in the mediation process. She noted that mediation serves as a valuable tool for parties to resolve their disputes more efficiently and effectively and is of particular benefit to those who cannot afford expensive and prolonged court cases.

ADRC members from across Tennessee are: Larry Bridgesmith, Nashville; Frank Cantrell, Memphis; Leslie Gattas, Memphis; Linda Nettles Harris, Memphis; Celeste Herbert, Knoxville; Richard Ladd, Jr., Bristol; Steve Shields, Memphis; Ed Silva, Franklin; Virginia Story, Franklin; Jack Waddey, Nashville; and Mary Ann Zaha, Chattanooga.  Bridgesmith served as the Chair of the Rule and Policy Review Committee with Cantrell, Shields, and Zaha serving as Committee members.  To learn more about mediation, please visit https://www.tncourts.gov/programs/mediation.

To read the order click here and here

To read the appendix showing the changes to the rule click here