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Tennessee Removes Sovereign Immunity for Claims Against Tennessee Governmental Entities Under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act

Posted on Jun 8 2014 6:36PM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  I am working on several blog posts to try to update everyone on important Tennessee Legislative changes that came out of the 2014 Tennessee Legislative session.  These posts will touch on various topics and will be published over the next few months.  One change from the recent session is the removal of sovereign immunity for Tennessee governmental entities for claims against those entities under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”).  The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act is found in 38 USC §§ 4301-4334.  Basically, this federal legislation strengthens military veteran’s reemployment rights when they are required to serve in a war.  This has always been an important principle to protect in America and has been protected by numerous statutes over the years.  Basically, soldiers who fight in wars for this country should not lose their jobs because they had to fight in a war.

 

Under Tennessee law, however, governmental entities are provided with sovereign immunity under many circumstances.  Specifically, T.C.A. § 29-20-201(a) is one of the statutes (there are others) that addresses sovereign immunity and provides as follows:

 

(a) Except as may be otherwise provided in this chapter, all governmental entities shall be immune from suit for any injury which may result from the activities of such governmental entities wherein such governmental entities are engaged in the exercise and discharge of any of their functions, governmental or proprietary.

(b)(1) The general assembly finds and declares that the services of governmental entity boards, commissions, authorities and other governing agencies are critical to the efficient conduct and management of the public affairs of the citizens of this state. Complete and absolute immunity is required for the free exercise and discharge of the duties of such boards, commissions, authorities and other governing agencies. Members of boards, commissions, authorities, and other governing agencies must be permitted to operate without concern for the possibility of litigation arising from the faithful discharge of their duties.

(2) All members of boards, commissions, agencies, authorities, and other governing bodies of any governmental entity, created by public or private act, whether compensated or not, shall be immune from suit arising from the conduct of the affairs of such board, commission, agency, authority, or other governing body. Such immunity from suit shall be removed when such conduct amounts to willful, wanton, or gross negligence.

 

In 2014, the Tennessee Legislature adopted Public Chapter No. 574 which amended Tennessee law to add T.C.A. § 29-20-208 as follows:

 

Immunity from suit of any governmental entity, or any agency, authority, board, branch, commission, division, entity, subdivision, or department of state government, or any autonomous state agency, authority, board, commission, council, department, office, or institution of higher education, is removed for the purpose of claims against and relief from a governmental entity under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 ("USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301-4334.

 

As a result, for claims that accrue after July 1, 2014, USERRA claims can be brought against Tennessee Governmental entities.  Sovereign Immunity that is inherent to Tennessee governmental entities (unless voluntarily removed by the Tennessee legislature) will no longer protect Tennessee government entities from lawsuits under the USERRA.  This is a good change in the law that further protects soldiers who are sent to fight for our freedoms and they should not be penalized for volunteering for this service.

 

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

TAGS: 2014 Tennessee Legislation, GTLA, Employment Law, Immunity
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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
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