Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure-Solving the Motion to Reconsider Conundrum

Academic journal article The University of Memphis Law Review

The Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure-Solving the Motion to Reconsider Conundrum

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Do motions to reconsider even exist in Tennessee? Although the phrase itself is not found in the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, the substance behind the phrase is undoubtedly recognized in Rules 54.02,1 59.04,2 and 60.02.3 These three rules, however, on their face, do not apply to the numerous other situations where an issuing trial court reconsiders and revises its previously entered order. As such, this note discusses the intended situations that Rules 54.02, 59.04, and 60.02 were created to address. Furthermore, in light of the apparent limited nature of these rules, this note addresses the other situations in which a court may reconsider its order despite the lack of a rule permitting reconsideration.

This note also responds to the somewhat confusing state of these motions in Tennessee legal practice. As an example of the precarious nature of these motions, the Tennessee Court of Appeals stated the following: "Regrettably, some lawyers continue to call their Tenn. R. Civ. P. 59.04 motions 'motions to reconsider' despite our repeated warnings of the confusion this practice causes."4 Accordingly, this note attempts to reconcile the Tennessee courts' apparent rejection of the motion to reconsider phraseology with the courts' continued acceptance of the substance behind these improperly-styled motions.

It is important to preface this discussion of motions to reconsider by noting that two legitimate, yet conflicting, interests surround these motions. On one hand, motions to reconsider should be allowed in the interest of justice and fairness. Ideally, in order to insure that justice is served, an order or judgment entered by a trial court should be based on all relevant evidence and applicable law. If it is brought to the court's attention that other relevant evidence should be considered or that the applicable law has changed, a court should be able to change its order or judgment in accordance with this new evidence or newly applicable law.

Competing with this ideal image of justice and fairness in the court system is judicial efficiency. Based on the court system's limited number of resources-most importantly, money and time-a court's decision must enjoy some characteristic of finality. The conclusiveness of a court's ruling encourages lawyers to either present all discoverable evidence and relevant law in a timely manner or suffer the consequences of a malpractice suit. Allowing an unlimited number of motions to reconsider undermines judicial efficiency and encourages lazy lawyering.

With the above-noted conflicting policies in mind, Part II of this note discusses the rules that apply to motions made after the trial court has disposed of all claims-post-trial motions to reconsider. Specifically, Rules 59.04 and 60.02 give a party only one chance to move the trial court, based on reasonable grounds, to reconsider its judgment.5 Generally, these two rules address very well-defined situations that arise after a judgment has been entered.

In contrast, motions to reconsider orders entered before a final judgment are much less clear and, as a consequence, more problematic. Part III addresses pre-judgment motions to reconsider. Specifically, the relatively amorphous parameters of the second part of Rule 54.02 are discussed. In addition, this note proposes the theory that specific authority in the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure, in addition to Rule 54.02, permits pre-judgment motions to reconsider. This note also posits the possibility that the trial court possesses some inherent authority to reconsider its previously entered orders. All of these aforementioned possibilities are considered in light of the previously noted conflicting policies surrounding motions to reconsider.

II. POST-TRIAL MOTIONS TO RECONSIDER

A. Rule 59.04 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure

One motion commonly referred to as a motion to reconsider is a motion to alter or amend a judgment that is made pursuant to Rules 59. …

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