Tennessee Case Law
The Tennessee state court system is divided into three levels. The highest court in Tennessee is the Tennessee Supreme Court, which consists of five judges. The Supreme Court reviews appeals of decisions by the Tennessee Court of Appeals and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. It also may assume jurisdiction over an undecided case in an intermediate appellate court in an emergency situation. Decisions by the Tennessee Supreme Court are final unless the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to review an appeal of a decision.
The middle level of the Tennessee state court system consists of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which reviews civil cases, and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, which reviews criminal cases. Each intermediate appellate court consists of 12 judges, who review cases in three-judge panels.
The lowest level of the Tennessee state court system consists primarily of the Tennessee Circuit Courts, the Tennessee Chancery Courts, the Tennessee Criminal Courts, and the Tennessee Probate Courts. The Circuit Courts are trial courts with general jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. The Chancery Courts are also trial courts with general jurisdiction, but these are courts of equity rather than law. This means that legal rules are applied less strictly, and judges have greater discretion to tailor remedies to the specific circumstances. The Criminal Courts have jurisdiction over criminal cases. The Probate Courts review cases that involve probate, estate administration, conservatorships, and guardianships. Appeals of decisions by the Chancery Courts and the Probate Courts go to the Court of Appeals, appeals of decisions by the Criminal Courts go to the Court of Criminal Appeals, and appeals of decisions by the Circuit Courts may go to either intermediate appellate court, depending on the subject matter.
Tennessee also has a set of lower courts that review very limited types of cases. These include the Tennessee General Sessions Courts, the Tennessee Juvenile Courts, and the Tennessee Municipal Courts. The General Sessions Courts typically handle misdemeanor cases without jury trials, preliminary hearings in felony cases, and civil matters that involve an amount below a certain threshold. (Their jurisdiction varies from county to county.) The Juvenile Courts handle all cases related to minors. The Municipal Courts review violations of city ordinances. Appeals of decisions by Juvenile Courts go to Circuit Courts, appeals of decisions by Municipal Courts go to Criminal Courts, and appeals of decisions by General Sessions Courts may go to either Circuit Courts or Criminal Courts, depending on the subject matter.
The Special Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel is a division of the Supreme Court that reviews appeals of decisions in workers' compensation claims.