Wednesday, April 28, 2010

GTLA statutory cap on damages upheld in absence of express waiver from City of Memphis

FAYE BLACK v. CITY OF MEMPHIS (Tenn. Ct. App. April 22, 2009)

This is a wrongful death case against a municipality. In 1987, the plaintiff's teenage son was shot and killed by a police officer. The plaintiff sued the officer and the municipality, asserting claims under both federal and state law. Years of proceedings and delay ensued. By 2005, the only remaining claims were state law claims against the municipality. The parties filed crossmotions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiff then filed a motion for entry of judgment in the amount of $130,000, the maximum damage award under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. The plaintiff filed separate motions for interest and costs. The municipality stipulated that if the court entered a judgment it should be in the amount of $130,000, but argued that the plaintiff was prohibited from recovering interest or costs in addition to the $130,000 judgment because such an award would exceed the statutory damage cap. The plaintiff argued that the municipality's misconduct prolonged the case and drove up costs, and that the court had authority to award costs in order to sanction the municipality for this misconduct.

The trial court entered a judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $130,000, but denied the plaintiff's motions for interest and costs, finding that the Governmental Tort Liability Act precluded an award of discretionary costs in excess of the statutory cap on damages, and did not award sanctions. The plaintiff appeals, arguing that the court has authority to award sanctions in excess of the statutory damage cap. We affirm, finding that the trial court’s order does not indicate a finding that sanctions against the municipality were warranted.

The full text of this opinion is available at the TBA website:
http://www.tba2.org/tba_files/TCA/2009/blackf_081309.pdf

“The statute specifically requires an express waiver before a governmental entity can be held liable for damages in excess of the statutory cap. Ms. Black cites no authority to support her argument that a governmental entity can be deemed to have constructively waived its protection under the GTLA damage cap. This argument is without merit.” Id.

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