Courts & Justice Law Journal
Advocatus Iustitia Aeque
1 Cts. & Just. L.J.
ARTICLE | VOLUME 2, ISSUE 2
A State-Circuit Split:Reconciling Tennessee Damage Caps
after Lindenberg and McClay
by Bailey D. Barnes, University of Tennessee College of Law 2021
2 Cts. & Just. L.J. __ (Forthcoming 2020)
A divided panel of jurists on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit invalidated Tennessee’s caps on punitive damages in Lindenberg v. Jackson National Life Insurance Company on December 21, 2018. The Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, denied an application to rehear the case. A year later, the United States Supreme Court denied the petitions for writs of certiorari of both Jackson National Life Insurance Company and the State of Tennessee. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Supreme Court heard a challenge, via certified question from the Middle District of Tennessee, to the Volunteer State’s statutory limits on non-economic damages. In early 2020, a divided court held the caps did not violate the Tennessee Constitution’s protections for litigants’ right to a trial by jury, separation of powers, or equal protection. Accordingly, the law of damage caps in Tennessee remains unsettled. The court of last resort on issues of state law, the state supreme court, has issued a ruling that seemingly conflicts with the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation of the state’s constitution; however, the Tennessee Supreme Court majority, while acknowledging the Sixth Circuit’s opinion in a footnote, explicitly chose not to address any issues of punitive damages. Therefore, the constitutionality of Tennessee’s punitive damage limits is currently unsettled, and this situation presents a rare state-circuit split of authority.
/ Spring 2020 / C&JLJ
Andrew M. Crespo
Emily M. Strak