Should an Appeal from a General Sessions Judgment in Tennessee be Dismissed for Failure to Post a Surety Bond when Appeal Court Costs are Paid?

Posted on Oct 28 2013 7:45AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Brief Summary:  In the context of a General Sessions appeal, when a party pays the appeal court costs under T.C.A. § 8-21-401, a case should not be dismissed for failure to post a surety bond.


Analysis:  The Tennessee Court of Appeals decision of Adrian Fields v. Byron Williams and Sterling Marshall, No. W2012-01949-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 1845450 (Tenn.Ct.App. 2013) involved an appeal from a circuit court dismissal of a general sessions appeal for failure to post the surety bond as required under T.C.A. § 27-5-103.  In this case, the general sessions court entered a defense verdict and on that same day the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal and paid the costs pursuant to T.C.A. § 8-21-401(b)(1)(C)(I) which provides as follows:


(C) In the following specific types of civil actions, the clerk shall charge a standard court cost of one hundred fifty dollars ($150) at the institution of a case:

(i) Appeals to the circuit or chancery court from juvenile court, general sessions court, probate courts, municipal courts or an administrative hearing; writs of certiorari from lower courts; or administrative hearings;


However, the plaintiff in the Fields matter did not submit a surety bond as provided in T.C.A. § 27-5-103. T.C.A. § 27-5-103 provides as follows:


(a) Before the appeal is granted, the person appealing shall give bond with good security, as hereinafter provided, for the costs of the appeal, or take the oath for poor persons.

(b) An appeal bond filed by a plaintiff or defendant pursuant to this chapter shall be considered sufficient if it secures the cost of the cause on appeal.


As a result of the failure of the appealing party to pay the surety bond, the trial court dismissed the case finding that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction.  The Tennessee Court of Appeals, however, reversed and found that when the appealing party pays the “standard court costs” under T.C.A. § 8-21-401, then the requirement to give bond for the cost of the appeal to circuit court are satisfied. 


The court found ambiguity in the statutes as a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals decision determined in Bernatsky v. Designer Baths and Kitchens, LLC, 2013 WL 593911 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2013).  These two very recent decisions provide a growing body of case law that is contrary to prior case law on this issue.  At the end of the day this case stands for the proposition that a failure to post a surety bond under T.C.A. § 27-5-103 is not fatal to an appeal from general sessions court as long as the appeal court costs are paid under T.C.A. § 8-21-401.  However, I would recommend that you not risk this issue and instead simply comply with both statutory requirements to ensure you do not have a potential dismissal on your hand for failure to comply with these statutes.


Follow me on Twitter at @jasonalee for updates from the Tennessee Defense Litigation blog.

TAGS: Appeal, Civil Procedure
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com