Tennessee Supreme Court To Hear Oral Arguments At The University of Tennessee at Martin As Part Of SCALES Program

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases at the University of Tennessee at Martin on Wednesday December 6, 2023, as part of its SCALES program.  SCALES, which stands for Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students, is an initiative launched by the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1995 to educate high school students about the Tennessee legal system and the functions of the judicial branch.  The SCALES program provides students with the unique opportunity to hear oral arguments for an actual Tennessee Supreme Court case in a nearby community.  SCALES has provided more than 40,000 students from more than 500 high schools the ability to witness the Tennessee Supreme Court in action.

“All of the Justices on the Court are looking forward to our SCALES docket in Martin,” said Chief Justice Holly Kirby.  “For the students, it will demonstrate civics in action. For the Justices, it gives us an opportunity to personally engage with students, educators, community leaders, local lawyers, and judges. The SCALES programs are always an enjoyable and rewarding experience for members of the Court and students alike.  We are grateful to the Martin community, the local educators, the local lawyers and judges, law enforcement, and local volunteers who are facilitating this event.”                      

The proceedings will begin at 9:00 a.m. CST on December 6 and will be livestreamed to the TNCourts YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/TNCourts/featured.

Here are the cases the Court and the students will hear:

  • Robert L. Trentham v. Mid-America Apartments, LP et al.  –  Plaintiff Robert Trentham was injured after he slipped and fell on a pedestrian bridge at an apartment complex in September 2018.  Mr. Trentham filed this negligence action against the owner and operator of the apartment complex, Mid-America Apartments.  After a two-day bench trial, the trial court found the Defendant liable for negligence and awarded damages to Mr. Trentham.  The trial court found that a slimy substance growing on the bridge was a dangerous condition.  It stated the Defendant would owe a duty to Mr. Trentham if it had actual or constructive knowledge of the substance prior to Mr. Trentham’s fall.  The trial court found that the Defendant had no actual knowledge of the substance on the bridge.  However, it concluded that the Defendant had constructive knowledge of the substance.  The trial court found that the risk caused by the substance was reasonably foreseeable and could have been reduced or prevented by the Defendant treating or pressure-washing the bridge.  The trial court further found that the Defendant had a duty as a landowner to remove, repair, or warn against the substance.  The trial court then concluded that the Defendant breached its duty by failing to regularly inspect, maintain, clean, or treat the bridge.  The trial court awarded Mr. Trentham $2,086,842 in damages.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s conclusion.  The Tennessee Supreme Court granted the Defendant’s application to appeal to determine whether the foreseeability of a dangerous condition is legally sufficient to impute constructive knowledge of the condition on a landowner.
  • Pharma Conference Education, Inc. v. State of Tennessee – Plaintiff Pharma Conference Education, Inc. (“Pharma”) provides continuing-education conferences and programs for the pharmaceutical industry.  In July 2016, Pharma entered into a contract with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (“UTHSC”) to provide programs for UTHSC over a five-year period.  The contract provides that Pharma “will produce as many scientific and/or pharmaceutical programs for consumption by the pharmaceutical and Health Industry as is feasible.”  In January 2017, UTHSC attempted to end the contract.  Pharma then filed a complaint for damages for breach of contract against the State with the Tennessee Claims Commission.  The State filed a motion for summary judgment, which the Commission granted.  The Commission found the alleged contract to be unenforceable based on a lack of legal consideration.  The Commission found that, in order to have legal consideration, there could not be an illusory promise.  It concluded that Pharma’s obligation to produce as many programs “as is feasible” was an illusory promise because it gave Pharma the sole discretion to decide how many, if any, conferences or programs to produce.  The Court of Appeals affirmed.  The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Pharma’s motion for permission to appeal to address whether the contract between UTHSC and Pharma was unenforceable because it lacked consideration.

Media members planning to attend oral arguments should review Supreme Court Rule 30 and file any required requests.