Civil Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2023
Style: Kenneth J. Mynatt v. National Treasury Employees Union, Chapter 39
TSC Docket Number: M2020-01285-SC-R11-CV
Date of TSC Opinion: May 4, 2023 (seven months after oral argument).
Opinion of the TSC: Click here.
TSC Summary of the Opinion:
Kenneth J. Mynatt (“Plaintiff”) served as the vice president of the local chapter of his union. He filed an action for malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy against the union, the local chapter, and several individuals associated with the union. He alleged that after he publicly criticized the union’s financial waste, its leadership accused him of misusing union funds. Those accusations led to his indictment on two felony charges. In the resulting criminal case, the State filed a motion to retire the charges for one year, and those charges were ultimately dismissed after the year passed. In Plaintiff’s complaint for malicious prosecution, he stated that he continued to maintain his innocence, that he refused any plea deals, and that the criminal case terminated in his favor because it was ultimately dismissed. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the retirement and dismissal of the criminal charges was not a favorable termination on the merits. Thus, they argued his complaint was missing an essential element of a malicious prosecution claim. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the underlying criminal proceedings terminated in his favor. The defendants sought review from this Court, arguing that the Court of Appeals did not apply the correct standard for determining what constitutes a favorable termination for the purpose of a malicious prosecution claim. We conclude that the prohibition in Himmelfarb v. Allain, 380 S.W.3d 35 (Tenn. 2012), precluding a factintensive and subjective inquiry into the reasons and circumstances leading to dispositions in civil cases also applies to dispositions in criminal cases. We hold that plaintiffs can pursue a claim for malicious prosecution only if an objective examination, limited to the documents disposing of the proceeding or the applicable procedural rules, indicates the termination of the underlying criminal proceeding reflects on the merits of the case and was due to the innocence of the accused. Under this standard, Mr. Mynatt did not allege sufficient facts for a court to conclude that the dismissal of his criminal case was a favorable termination. We therefore reverse the holding of the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court’s judgment granting the motion to dismiss.
Link to Court of Appeals Opinion: https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/mynatt.kenneth.opn_.pdf
Summary by the Court of Appeals:
This case involves claims of malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy. The trial court dismissed the claims pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 12.02(6), determining that the plaintiff could not prove that the underlying criminal prosecution had terminated in his favor, a necessary element of a malicious prosecution claim. Regarding the civil conspiracy claim, the court determined that the conspiracy claim was only actionable if the underlying tort were actionable. Having found that the malicious prosecution claim could not stand, the court concluded that the conspiracy claim had to be dismissed as well. The plaintiff timely appealed. Based upon the applicable standard of review, we conclude that the trial court erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s claims, and we accordingly reverse the judgment of dismissal and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.
Permission to Appeal Granted: January 25, 2022
Appellants’ Briefs Filed: March 18, 2022
Appellees’ Briefs Filed: June 2, 2022
Appellants’ Reply Brief Filed: June 23, 2022
Appellees’ Reply Brief Filed: September 29, 2022
Amicus Briefs Permitted: None
Oral Argument Date: October 5, 2022
Link to Oral Argument Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2v2E6LsBYk