In June 2014, a group of fresh-faced workers’ compensation judges in Tennessee – none of whom had actually heard a case yet – developed a set of rules for the newly minted Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims. They relied on their lengthy collective experience as trial attorneys and specialist 4s to come up with a set of comprehensive practices they believed would interface well with the existing administrative rules and the new Reform Act.
For the most part, their vision played out well. Almost four years later, most of the rules haven’t changed and have served the system well. However, some rules have proven unnecessary, while new rules were developed to offer guidance in areas where the need for a rule wasn’t previously anticipated.
The latest iteration of the Practices and Procedures recently landed on the Court’s website with little fanfare. This blog post highlights the changes.
Briefs. Rule 6.03 now reads that trial briefs “shall not exceed ten pages exclusive of attachments absent Court order.”
This bears repeating: The Court now has a ten-page limit on briefs.
The truth is, most cases don’t need more than ten pages, especially at the expedited hearing stage. Some do, though, and the judges accommodated this to allow lengthier briefs with a court order. In those cases, file a motion or make the request at the scheduling hearing.
Dispositive motions. Summary judgment and other potentially dispositive motions have steadily increased over the past two years. Over that time, the judges noticed that a fair number of these motions didn’t give self-represented parties direction about if, when or how these motions were heard. So, Rule 4.04 now provides, “The date and time for the hearing shall be designated on the face of the motion when filed. The filing party shall contact the Clerk before filing the motion to obtain the date.”
Interpreters. The rule reads that they must be either a “state-certified court interpreter” or “state-registered court interpreter.” However, revised Rule 3.02 explains that, “In cases where there are limited state-certified or registered court interpreters, the assigned Judge may waive this requirement.” A practical necessity.
Settlement approvals. Rule 9.01 now states, “the required documents shall be prepared using the most recent templates approved by the Court.” These templates are on the Court’s website; please check that you and your staff are using them.
Further, Rule 9.02 now makes it clear that, when closing future medicals, the parties “may attach a written statement from the treating physician stating that no further medical treatment is anticipated, documentation of the anticipated cost of future medical treatment, and/or medical documentation supporting the requested closure of future medical benefits.”
In addition, Rule 9.03 has always read that approvals by affidavit are prohibited unless there’s good cause. The rule now gives a procedure for making that good-cause request: “Requests for approvals by affidavit shall be made in writing to the local Bureau office no later than two business days in advance of the requested approval hearing and shall include a copy of the proposed settlement documents. The assigned Judge may require appearance by the party or counsel by telephone.”
Audio-visual equipment. Rule 3.03 now clarifies that “the parties or their attorneys shall set up or install all equipment before the Judge commences the proceeding,” and that they should dismantle it after Court is no longer in session.
Expedited hearings. Infrequently, parties or attorneys wish to appear or call a witness telephonically. Rule 7.02 now gives the procedure for making that request: “Any party seeking permission to attend a hearing by telephone or present witness testimony by telephone must file a motion requesting permission from the Judge no later than ten business days prior to the hearing date.”
Courtroom security. Rule 1.03 now clarifies that it’s a Class E felony to carry a weapon into any building where a judicial proceeding is in progress.
Some offices recently acquired security personnel for expedited and compensation hearings. Counsel, whenever you have genuine concerns about safety, let the Court Clerk or assigned staff attorney know well in advance.
Finally, Access to court records and documents. Rule 10.01 now references the Bureau’s new electronic filing platform. For cases involving DCNs issued on or after Nov. 1, 2017, all documents relating to court records will be maintained on TNComp. In these cases, parties and/or their attorneys must register for access approval.
As always, thanks for your input and compliance with the evolving Court rules.