Supreme Court Rules Memphis Housing Authority is Not Immune From Negligence Lawsuit

April 2, 2012

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that a negligence suit against the Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) is not preempted by federal law and that MHA is not immune from potential liability under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA). 

In March 2007, Charles Cornelius Brown Sr. was killed by a stray bullet from a gun fired by fellow tenant L.C. Miller. The lawsuit against MHA was filed by Brown's survivors. The plaintiffs claimed that MHA was negligent in failing to properly investigate Miller's criminal history and failing to evict Miller after he committed an assault on MHA property in 1998.

MHA filed a motion for summary judgment claiming federal regulations preempted the plaintiffs' negligence claim and that it was immune from suit under the GTLA. The trial court denied summary judgment and the Court of Appeals reversed that decision. In a unanimous opinion, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. 

The Court held that the plaintiffs' claims against MHA did not stand as an obstacle to the purposes of the United States Housing Act of 1937 as amended and therefore was not preempted by federal law. The Court also held that MHA's decision not to evict Miller was an “operational” decision that did not afford MHA immunity from suit under the GTLA.

To read the Cheryl Brown Giggers v. Memphis Housing Authority opinion authored by Justice Janice M. Holder, visit http://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/giggersopn.pdf.